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How To Move Across The Country Without Having A Nervous Breakdown

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So, huge news: my boyfriend Nick and I are moving from Portland to Nashville, Tennessee! Remember when we visited last year and were totally smitten with the city? Well, our lease is up at the end of this month, and we’ve decided it’s the right time to give southern living a try. Neither of us has ever done a major move like this. We are incredibly excited. We are totally terrified. And we are full of questions about everything from packing logistics to saying goodbye to our dear friends, which is why I enlisted my lovely and wise coworker Ami, who is something of a moving expert–to give us some guidance. Read on for our moving Q&A, and please feel free to add your own tips and suggestions in the comments (we’ll take any help we can get!).

Alright, take it away, Ami…

Quick background: I consider myself a default moving expert because I’ve moved so many times. I think moving across country — or moving in general — is such a scary thing. I think it became less scary for me because I had done it TWICE by the age of 21 — first time when I left Arizona for NYC at age 17 for college and again when I graduated from college. That time was totally spontaneous. I flew to LA for a meeting with an agent. I signed with the agent and within a week I was stuffing everything from my Brooklyn apartment into suitcases. I had no plan whatsoever and knew no one. I would never do this now, but at the time, I was young and stupid enough not to think about the consequences. (EXTREME POVERTY AND EXTREME LONELINESS.) While in LA, I moved 8 times in 6 years, never with a moving service. One time my crazy landlord pissed his shorts when he thought my van hit his rare blooming plant. Seriously, I saw the pee trickle down. But I wasn’t there for too long, because at my housewarming party that night, I met the guy who became my serious boyfriend and moved in with him 6 months later. CUT TO 5 YEARS LATER: I moved from LA to Arizona for a year to save money and prepare to move back to NYC. Then I moved to NYC 5 years ago and I am as sedentary as a stone. I think I’ve earned it. I have been in the same apartment and plan to stay until something beyond my control forces me to move out.

What are your thoughts on the rent-a-trailer vs. sell-everything-you-own methods of moving? Right now we’re leaning toward selling most of our stuff.

I am on Team Sell As Much As You Can. Only keep the essentials and get rid of the rest. The less stuff you’re moving, the less stressful it will be. Also, it’s kind of fun to buy new furniture and start over when you get to your new home destination. I’ve sold stuff to friends, on Craigslist, consignment or yard sales. I’ve done Goodwill drop-offs for the rest or given stuff to friends at my going away party (GAP). Always have a GAP!

Is there anything we should definitely keep or anything we should definitely sell? Any random thing you’ve sold and wished you didn’t? Anything you’ve lugged across the country with you and then thought, “Why the hell did I keep this?”

The only things I wish I’d kept in my immediate possession (they are now in my parents’ garage) are all of my journals, my full collection of 4th Series A and B Garbage Pail Kids, my photos. I didn’t have space for these things, but I find myself missing them sometimes. I have a keepsake box with the most important pics, letters from old boyfriends and detritus like that. But I am a nostalgia whore, so I always want to be surrounded by a sea of memorabilia. One thing I’m so glad I lugged across the country (and from apartment to apartment for years) was my poster from the Matthew Barney Cremaster Cycle Guggenheim retrospective in 2003. I got it framed and hung it over my bed and it’s like the centerpiece of my soul. Also, I never get rid of my dried seahorse in a jar, my talisman necklace or my Ganesh statue. These three objects are essential to my creative survival.

I’m scared to have a going away party because I would just cry the whole time and being surrounded by all my favorite people would make it so much harder to leave! Please advise.

See above. Always have a GAP! You will cry the whole time, but goodbyes are important. When I left LA, I had a pre-GAP and a post-GAP as well. These can be more intimate. When I left Arizona, my friends threw me a surprise GAP, which was one of the most love-filled nights of my life. All the people I cared about were there and everyone chipped in to get me a crystal plaque with my personal motto engraved in it. These GAPs are special, do not let the fear of sadness rob you of the love you’ll feel. Ya know what I mean?

Do you try to lock down a place before you get there? Or find temporary digs while you search for an apartment? How much time should we give ourselves to find a place?

When I was younger, I was more fly-by-the seat of my pants. Now I would try to lock down a place. But that’s not always possible. When I moved to NYC, I had to stay in a spare room in my dad’s best friend’s apartment until the current roommate moved out of the place I live now. It was only for a month, so it wasn’t that bad. When I moved to LA, I had no place to live, which I wouldn’t recommend. I found a place within a month or so. When I moved to AZ, I stayed with my parents for a minute until I found a place. Also, would not recommend that. No offense mom and dad! Love ya! But after you’ve been living on your own since you were 17, going back to living with the ‘rents is rough. Back to your question. I think a month is sufficient time to find a place. I think the best way to apartment hunt is the old school way. I get in my car (or on foot) and go to the neighborhoods I like and look for “For Rent” signs. Then I stand outside and call the broker or agent. That way, I’m not getting sold a pipe dream on Craigslist. I like to feel the energy of the place.

What was your smoothest move? What was your most stressful move? What factors make a move easier or harder?

I think I’ve hit on this a bit above. My worst move was from NYC to LA after college because I had no money and no plan and I was a 21-year-old idiot. My best move was from AZ to NYC because I had a fat savings account and a great place to live lined up. I also had a job, which fell through in my first week here. I thought my whole carefully planned move had fallen apart and I wanted to die, but then I got myself together and found another job like a week later. So it all worked out.

How long does it take to really settle into a new city and have it feel like “home”?

LA never felt like home to me. NYC felt like home to me the minute my plane landed. Home is an energy, it’s not a place. And happiness is the between the ears. That being said, there are certain cities which welcome us into their womb, and others which never seem to want us there. It’s important to find a place to live that feels welcoming. Less esoterically put, about one to two years, is enough time to know if a place is welcoming you.

Other random tips/hints/tricks/ideas?

I have a packing method that I take great pride in. When I pack my boxes, I keep a detailed list of what’s in each box. Then I give it a number. So, all you see on the outside of the box is the number. When I move, I look at my list and say, “Box 1 in the kitchen, Box 6 in the bedroom and so on.” Or if I’m looking for something, I reference my master list. “Where is my seahorse in a jar? Oh, it’s in Box 9.” This method soothes the control freak in me who hates not knowing where everything is at all times.

Alright, Frisky readers, have you ever done a major move? What other advice do you have for me? Also, if you have a lead on an adorable house or apartment or want to answer a million inane questions about Nashville, please feel free to get in touch at winona@thefrisky.com. Thank you times infinity!

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