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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Eat Pray Love Move--But Not So Fast. 
Use Feng Shui to Move with Purpose, 
Not Panic.
[2007 PAPERBACK] Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia [2007 PAPERBACK]

It's that time of year again: all those leases turning over at the end of August + back to school = moving season!  If you're not spending every spare minute packing or unpacking this week, and you're in the mood for a movie, keep your eye out for the scene in Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts' character, prior to embarking on a year-long trip to Italy, India, and Indonesia, puts what little stuff she has left after a painful divorce into a storage unit.  As the door rolls down, she says sadly to the guy in charge of the storage facility: "My whole life in a 12 x 12 box."  His reply?  "Most people never come back for their lives."  Or wait so long to do so, they no longer recognize that life as theirs.

When I moved to Boston for grad school, I had no idea where I'd be living afterwards, I only knew it would not be Boston.  (If you're from New England this probably makes no sense; if you're from New York, it probably does.)  The master's program I was enrolled in crammed all the coursework of a two-year master's degree into one year.  (Word to the wise: this saves you big bucks on tuition, but your sanity will suffer.)  I viewed my stay in Boston as temporary and saw no point in moving everything I owned there, only to move it all somewhere else a year later.  My plan was to live on the cheap in an apartment share, bring with me only what I could cram into my compact car, and put the rest in storage. 

Sound plan, right?  Here's what went wrong:

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1) Pack in haste, repent at leisure.  We've all done this and regretted it.  The summer I moved, Boston was tied with San Francisco for the tightest rental market in the country.  My apartment search went on for months.  A week before classes started, I still had nowhere to live.  Did I pack in a hurry?  You bet!  And learned the hard way that you can't really save or waste time.  You can only choose how and when you spend it.  No matter how much of a hurry you're in, you're still choosing between the minutes it would take to label those boxes now, while you can see what's in them--vs. the hours you'll waste in future rifling through unlabeled boxes.  No sound investment adviser would recommend choosing small, short-term, present gains at the expense of large, long-term, future losses.  Bad time-management decisions, like bad investment decisions, tend to be based on non-existent options.  Housing prices won't rise forever, and unless you have X-ray vision, you won't magically, instantly know what's lurking inside unlabeled boxes.  

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2) Even when you think you're taking less than you'll need, you're still taking too much.  I knew the apartment I'd be living in was already furnished except for my bedroom-to-be.  I knew I'd be sharing a tiny kitchen with three other people who had already equipped it with all their own kitchen stuff.  I remember deciding the only housewares I really needed to bring with me were my trusty teapot and tea strainer.  (My grandfather came from Barrow-in-Furness, U.K.--a place so cold and rainy you'd probably die if you didn't drink tea all day.)  Yet there was still a pile of unopened boxes that sat in the middle of my bedroom floor for nine months because there was nowhere else to put them.  To this day I don't know what was in all those boxes, because I never got around to opening them.  Clearly I did not need whatever was in them as badly as I thought I did.

3) Don't unpack too fast.  Right after I moved in, I bought a desk.  As soon as I got it home, I parked it in the corner, up against the wall.  Then I immediately unpacked and put away all my desk stuff.  I was a student, classes had already started, I needed to set up my desk ASAP, right?  Wrong.  There was no reason my desk had to sit in the corner or face the wall.  That was just where my desk had been everywhere else I'd ever lived.  And now that it was too full and heavy to move, that's where it would stay here too: in a spot where there was no relief from eyestrain, making it harder for me to stay focused.  (You can't rest your eyes by looking up from your computer screen into the middle distance when there's a wall all up in your face.)  If I'd taken the time to experiment with different furniture arrangements--instead of being so rushed I used the layouts of past rooms as default settings--I would've learned this sooner.  You won't have the chance to play around with your rooms like this again till it's time to repaint, so make the most of it.  Several moves later and wiser, my desk now faces a view of the Empire State Building--from Brooklyn.

The Sonnets (Shakespeare's Sonnets)
Shakespeare's Sonnets
4) Work with the space you have, not the space you used to have.  If you have trouble fitting everything into your new space, you may be trying too hard to replicate the look or feel of your old space.  Whatever you had before or happen to be used to isn't always the best choice.  When I was in the process of moving to a brownstone in Brooklyn, some family friends who were downsizing offered me all kinds of free furniture from their split-level in suburbia.  But my apartment was tall and narrow and their furniture was low and wide.  Hand-me-downs can be a life saver when you're moving on a tight budget, but in this case would have cost me more in space than I saved in money.  It's no coincidence Shakespeare wrote the best poems in the English language within the confines of sonnet form: structure stimulates creativity.  You'll find more and better solutions working within the limitations of your space than you will banging your head against it.   

5) Go bare.  Live with your rooms bare of everything but the basics for a while.  You may find you sleep better in a bedroom that's all about sleep because all that’s in it is your bed.  When it starts to feel too bare, re-introduce things slowly, as if you're testing for food allergies.  Notice how what you add can change how restful your bedroom feels.  Inhabiting a room through diminishing degrees of empty will give you a clearer sense of how much that room can hold without feeling too full.  You may discover it's not the same amount of stuff--or the same kinds of stuff--you kept in that same room where you lived before.

6) Make sure you're movin' on up, not just movin' out.  Who says you have to put up all the same artwork and decorations in the same rooms or positions you had them in before?  It's OK to give your favorite things a rest sometimes.  The art we keep around us affects us in much the same way as the people we keep around us, so it’s worth finding out whether or not you still want to see the same art all the time--or at all.  When you look at your old favorites again after living without them for a while, you may find your taste has changed without your realizing it.  It's the difference between friends you feel just as close to no matter how much time elapses between visits, and friends you outgrow.

7) Really?  Seriously?  As in, "I kept this?  Does it even belong to me?  What was I thinking?!"  When I eventually cleaned out my storage locker, there was some stuff I still remembered and still wanted (books mostly, and my kitchen stuff) but there was more I had no use for and had forgotten I even owned (the gigantic desktop computer I didn't bring with me because it was already obsolete, posters from my college days that I no longer liked, a papa-san chair mice were nesting in by the time I retrieved it).  I wasted a lot of money storing stuff I now had so little connection with it felt like it belonged to some other person.  (It did: the person I used to be.)  Instead of paying a monthly storage fee to get perspective on your possessions, imagine yourself reclaiming them from storage in the future.  Then subtract everything else you could have spent that much money on in the meantime from that vision.  Are you still as happy to see those things again as you thought you'd be?

8) Don't sweat the small stuff.  (No, I’m not going to pretend the entire contents of your home is all small stuff.)  Cocktails work well for this.  When you’re done with the heavy lifting, put your feet up with a tall, cool glass and some bags of books or boxes of odds and ends to sort.  

Moving will always be a lot of work, but it doesn't have to be a cause for panic.  Practice the feng shui principle of purposeful observation to make your next move more manageable in terms of space and time.