Most people are aware that moving is a physical process; however moving also brings mental challenges.
As we prepared to move, we anticipated an amount of disruption to our lives. We expected that the process of settling in to our new home would take several months.
What we did not predict was the effect of moving on almost every aspect of everyday life. We did not appreciate that habits, routines, thoughts, and feelings would change appreciably.
Suddenly things so basic as unlocking the front door and de-activating the alarm, involve a new, step-by-step thought process. It’s similar to our previous house, but the keypad is more complicated, there are automatic fobs, and chimes announce door openings.
When mundane routines are no longer familiar, daily tasks and decisions take extra time, extra thought, and extra effort. Actions previously taken for granted consume precious mental energy.
Until we moved, I did not appreciate the ease with which I performed most daily activities. Finding things in the house — utensils, seasonal clothing, cleaning supplies, batteries, stationery, rain boots, or extra paper towels involved little or no thinking. I knew which file cabinet contained important files and where to locate reference materials in my desk. I knew which television channels carried my favourite shows. Repetition taught me how to run appliances and how to set ‘smart’ devices in the house. I knew where to get routine service for my car. I had a spot for keeping my keys and could easily find extra keys for cars, for the cottage and for our son’s home.
I could find products and services in the neighbourhood. Service people knew me as a loyal customer and responded quickly. Twenty-five years of history with my doctor, dentist, and pharmacist made communication easy. I took for granted that I would get an emergency medical or dental appointment. Shopping for groceries, gifts, and clothing meant going to favourite stores and making quick choices.
There was no reason to question my thought process or my memory. I instinctively knew where, in the house, to find infrequently used items. I remembered facts such as telephone numbers, dates for lawn fertilizer service, and the names of people who lived down the street.
Mental Challenges since Moving
What happened as second nature before moving has now become a challenge. Schedules and routines for eating, writing, and exercise have changed. Sometimes I feel as though I’m surrounded by a thick fog that slows every cognitive process.
Along with spending extraordinary amounts of time searching for things, I spend more time making decisions. Regardless of whether it’s an inconsequential decision such as what to cook for dinner, or an important decision like choosing an investment, I over-think, perseverate, and avoid deciding for as long as possible. Small annoyances frustrate, interrupt completion of routine tasks, and cause hours of wasted time. What I took for granted now involves several steps.
After taking most of the summer to unpack at a leisurely pace, remembering where to find things we need is a daily challenge. This is especially true for infrequently used items. Where is my favourite red scarf? In which drawer is the small colander? Did we unpack the vases that are large enough for fall sun flowers? Are there spare lightbulbs?
Today, for example, my husband scraped his knuckle while grating cheese. You might guess that a first aid kit with band aids would be easily located. It took a full five minutes before a lucky peek in a large drawer in the basement bathroom proved successful. Variants of this example happen too often.
When unpacking I used logical organizing principles such as ‘like with like’. I put seasonal items on higher shelves or into basement storage boxes. With an abrupt change from summer into fall, we need things we stowed away. While we laugh at the daily search for items like long-sleeved t-shirts, the transition to a new season tells me it’s time to find forever places for our possessions — and perhaps, to cut more of the excess!
While I recognize that unfamiliarity leads to a certain amount of stress, at this point, I’m ready for this phase to end. Instead of spending time at the cottage enjoying the beautiful fall weather, we’ve purposefully stayed at home so that routines and habits of living here begin to feel a part of everyday life.
As I write this post, we’ve slept in the house for 21 consecutive nights! Both my husband and I have joined a nearby gym to get back into structuring our days with regular exercise. The place buzzes with older people so I’m optimistic about making new social contacts. I joined a writer’s group to force routines for writing back into my life.
Rather than chastise myself about losing my memory, I’m keeping lists, lists, and more lists. What supplies need replenishing? What pesky tasks need attention? What phone numbers might be needed quickly? On which days are service or personal appointments scheduled?
Our couple relationship is stronger as we depend on each other to stay positive and get through this adjustment. With fewer social contacts, we are re-connecting with each other in new ways as we discover the charms of this community. Finding restaurants that we will visit more than once is the current quest.
Leaving the home where we lived for more than 25 years is a mentally challenging experience. Although I never expected to plunge into a new life, the mental challenges of adjustment are real.
Every passing day brings a new element of stability. My favourite chair is in a sunny spot where I can watch children walking to school as I drink morning coffee and write in my journal. My husband and the cats join in for a quick check-in and visit. A couple of weeks ago, our daughter-in-law helped with curating and hanging pictures. She re-arranged books and placed favourite pieces on the great room shelves. Such small changes had made such a big difference in how the house feels!
A year from now the mental challenges involved with moving will be forgotten. Meanwhile, I give myself a dose of kindness and self-forgiveness at the end of every day to reinforce my strength and determination to move back into equilibrium.