Every time I move from one house to another, I remember why it’s so stressful. Moving is like childbirth—between one time and the next you forget that it’s an endeavor with long-term consequences, it takes longer than you hope it will, and it involves a lot of hard work and a certain amount of pain.
There are two approaches to moving, which are driven more by circumstances than by choice. One is the “get everything out of the old house and into the new house on the same day” method. You pack ahead of time everything you think you can do without, subsequently unpack the things you realize you can’t do without, at the last minute frantically throw everything remaining into whatever containers you can find, haul everything to the new house, and finish the day at the old house around 2:00 a.m., scrubbing floors and vanquishing dust bunnies.
The other method—which I used this time—is the “take things over a few at a time and unpack as you go” approach. You close on the new house, schedule the movers for a week or two later, paint a couple of rooms, and move smaller things a carload at a time. It sounds less stressful than the other style. It isn’t. It merely stretches out the stress.
As, with the help of my friends, more of my belongings migrated out of the old house, I began to feel increasingly displaced. I would go to get a notebook, or a coffee cup, or a shirt suitable for a required public appearance, and realize it was no longer where it belonged. It was—at least I hoped—somewhere in the new house.
Surprisingly, one of the oddest things was to walk into the kitchen and see the naked refrigerator. Even when the inside of my fridge is mostly bare, the outside is always fully dressed—with family pictures, grandkids’ art work, grocery lists, and magnetized odds and ends. Seeing only the bare white door was a shock to my system.
Just to add to the stress, this time I wasn’t simply moving. I was downsizing. This word sounds so very corporate: impersonal, brisk, and efficient. The actual process is painful and chaotic. Because what “downsizing” actually means is “getting rid of lots of stuff.” Including stuff you don’t have a clue what to do with.
We took boxes of books—two Subaru’s worth—to the library. We took carloads of stuff to thrift stores. We took pickup loads of stuff to the dump. We even took stuff to a (temporary, I swear!) storage unit. I generously passed bookshelves, furniture, collectibles, and boxes of magazines on to any friends who could be coerced into taking them.
The movers were scheduled for Tuesday, July 9. By the afternoon of Monday, July 8, everything was ready. Shelves and cupboards were empty. Boxes were stacked and waiting. I was calm. I was relaxed. I had nothing left to do except clean the last few things off of my desk.
Those things include a file folder, which had been buried several layers deep in my stratigraphic desktop filing system, marked “Things to Do.”
One of the things inside was a postcard from the South Dakota Department of Motor Vehicles reminding me that the license tags on my car would expire at the end of February 2019.
True, my life over the past months has been chaotic and stressful, but I am still a conscientious person. I pay my bills and keep track of my responsibilities. Surely I must have taken care of this.
I went and looked at my car. The stickers on the license plate were green. “Feb 2019” was printed on them. I tried to pretend I believed this meant the date they had been renewed, not the date they expired. This almost worked for a couple of hours. Until my six-year-old granddaughter asked me, “Why does your car have green stickers on it when Mom’s car has red stickers?”
Okay. What a six-year-old can see, a cop can see. Time to face the truth. I went home, dug through boxes until I found the notebook where I keep track of rarely-used passwords, logged in, confirmed that my license tags had indeed expired, and renewed them. They would be mailed to me—at the old address. They didn’t arrive at my new address until July 19.
During the four months my tags were expired and I didn’t know it, I drove all over town and made several road trips, all in perfect serenity. During the ten days my tags were expired and I did know it, I drove with anxiety, expecting at any moment to be stopped by a sharp-eyed police officer. This gave me a fresh understanding of the expression “ignorance is bliss.”
In the meantime, life went on. The movers came. They hauled furniture, toted heavy boxes, and coaxed the upright grand piano out of one house and into the other—all without a single scratch, smashed finger, or swear word. By noon, I was officially moved.
Two weeks later, everything that belongs in the new house is in the new house. Much of it is unpacked. Much of it has been put away—in some cases, several times. I have mowed the yard. I still can’t find the kitchen scissors or the postage stamps, but when I needed it the other day it only took me 15 minutes to remember where I had put the iron.
People ask me if I’m “settled in.” I guess so—sort of. Mostly. It feels as if I’m getting there. At least I do know where all the grandkids are. Right where they belong, on the front of the new refrigerator.