Last year, my husband had a health scare. He was in the hospital briefly, but everything is fine now, thank G-d, and he’s back home in good health. However, when this situation arose, which seemed like it happened out of thin air, I found myself feeling alone and scared. We have three married children, all of whom live out of town, one of them as far away as Israel. We have some extended family and friends who would have been happy to help out, perhaps by driving me to the hospital or running a quick errand. But it suddenly occurred to me that I really need my immediate family nearby. So after much discussion with my husband, who agrees, we figured out which of our children’s neighborhoods and circumstances would make the most sense for us, and we began the process of relocating.
We put our house on the market and asked our daughter to look for something in her area. Things fell into place quickly, and the bottom line is that we have to be out of our house before the yomim tovim.
The reason I’m writing to you is because I’m finding myself paralyzed when it comes to packing up this large house, in which we’ve lived for over 30 years; every room is filled with stuff from who knows when. My husband still works and I don’t, so the job of getting this organized and done is on my shoulders. I find that every time I open a drawer or cabinet and start pulling things out, I get so sentimental and find myself stuck and unable to accomplish anything. We’re moving into an apartment so I know I must do a major purging.
For some reason, I feel such sadness over moving on. We’ve been happy in this community and have many good memories in this house, but I know that we’ll be happy in our new home as well. I adore my daughter and her husband and I’m crazy about their five children. I know I’ll be fulfilled spending significant quality time with all of them, and I also have every intention of keeping up with my present friends. So what’s the problem? I can barely throw out one bagful of “stuff” that has no purpose anymore. I haven’t packed up one box yet. It’s crazy, because the house closing will come whether or not I’m packed up, and then I’ll be in a real pickle!
How do I get myself into motion? I haven’t even started the process and I’m getting scared. I know plenty of people my age downsize and move on. Why am I having such difficulty? And how do I get my act together and get moving?
Moving is a big deal and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise. On a typical stress meter, where people measure the levels of stress in their life, moving is way up there with other major life-altering and sometimes tragic events. Additionally, it sounds as though your history in your present home was filled with happiness, satisfaction, and joy. Even though you’re moving to an equally satisfying place (in different ways), that doesn’t take away from the fact that your home represents a life well-lived. If walls could talk, I’m sure yours would have beautiful stories to tell.
So, despite the fact that you’re not fleeing for painful reasons, thank G-d, it’s still hard and understandably brings up memories that you feel you are now moving away from. First and foremost, it’s important for you to remind yourself that the memories you cherish are held in your heart, not in your furniture or even in old birthday cards. Many of us have those “Camelot” stages from our past that we can continue to feel happiness over, even though they are just memories. Who is to say that our memories aren’t every bit as meaningful as our present situations? Nothing can take them away from you — not a moving truck or a new address. They will always remain part of the tapestry of your life.
Practically speaking, I feel that you need someone at your side to push you along. Though your husband works, there is no reason why you can’t get a jumpstart on this process this Sunday, with him at your side. You need someone to say “dump,” “save,” “keep moving,” “you’re doing a great job,” and so on. You need the voice of reason, a cheering squad, a teammate. Besides your husband, find a friend who will be willing to hold your hand during this process. Once you’re on a roll and have gotten the knack of this process, you’ll probably find you’ll be able to keep it going on your own. Though your main job is to eliminate all the unnecessary clutter that we all manage to fill our homes with, consider hiring a professional moving service to do the actual packing of the stuff you will be taking with you.
Now a look at what you are experiencing emotionally. Think about what you can do to honor this wonderful period of your life. Perhaps you can throw yourself a fabulous goodbye party, inviting everyone who has touched your lives from the beginning of your sojourn in your house. Ask everyone to be prepared to share a relevant memory. Make sure the camera is rolling the whole time. Also, take photos of every room of your house so that you can always refresh and validate your memories from time to time. Make a commitment to yourself that you will not let your good friends slip away after you move, which sometimes happens if you’re not careful.
And finally, be grateful — very, very grateful — that you had this wonderful opportunity to experience so much of your life in such a special place and that you are now welcome to start anew near family members who clearly are happy to have you nearby. You are one lucky gal!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.