For those of you just tuning in -- and I’m afraid that includes me – my home life has gone through a metamorphosis lately. Two and a half years ago, I lived in a mountain home I owned in Colorado with a husband, two kids, two dogs and a horse.
Today I live alone in a beautiful Southern plantation-style home I rent in Florida. (I know you’re thinking: “I knew it was only a matter of time before they voted her off the island!” But that’s not what happened!)
I will spare you the twists and turns, but, briefly, a much-wanted job, a too-big-too-remote house that was holding me back, a marriage that needed a rest, and kids going off to college (the youngest just this fall) were all forces behind my new solo situation.
Poof! Suddenly my once full, rambunctious home became very, very quiet. (The years are short, but the days are long, a wise woman once told me about the child-rearing years.)
Thirty months later, I can look back and say scary as that cross-country move was, it was the right one. It allowed me to reboot my career, and send my daughter to a better high school.
Moving -- whether up, out, or on -- is never easy, says life-change expert Russell Friedman, co-author of four books including, “Moving On.”
“Even when you’re moving for positive reasons – a better job, a better house, better schools -- moving is a major grief event,” said Friedman, who is executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute, in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
He defines grief as “the conflicting emotions caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.”
“I could be your poster child,” I tell him during a long recent conversation. I don’t tell him I’ve actually moved three times in as many years as he would seriously suspect my sanity, which actually is in question.
The point I’m getting to here, and I swear there is one, is that a home – and I don’t mean a house – must be elastic. It must give, expand and contract, while helping you hold it all together, like a good pair of Spanx. And when it no longer does, it may need to go.
Although my compulsion to nest is stronger than any bird’s, I know at the cellular level that a home’s job is to support those who live there, not enslave them. When where you live weighs you down like a boulder, it’s time to roll that stone.
Friedman heartily agrees: “Many people don’t make changes at home they need to make because they’re afraid of the feelings they will have. They’re fearful, so stay stuck in an unrewarding place.”
“Oh, I am on a first-name basis with fear, postponement and uncertainty,” I say.
“You have to take some action and trust the parachute will open. There’s got to be some faith in the leap.”
“I’m also personal friends with the great unknown,” I add.
“Change is hard because our brains crave the familiar, and want things to stay the way they were.”
“My brain is just trying to remember where I put the corkscrew.”
Moving is difficult, agrees Paula Davis-Laack, an attorney turned resilience expert, and blogger for Psychology Today. The longer you’ve lived somewhere the harder it is. “Our brains often work against us, providing lots of evidence for, and reasons why, it makes sense for us to stay,” she says.
While I’m not recommending my steady diet of upheaval, I am encouraging those who are stuck in a house rut to find some courage.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I am saying it’s worth it.
To help those who are home stuck, I tapped advice from Friedman and Davis-Laack, who offer these factors to think about when deciding whether it’s time to move:
• Is your house supporting you, or are you supporting it? Strongly consider moving if your home is keeping you from pursuing goals, from furthering your career, or from a lifestyle you want.
• Has the family has changed? Kids come, grow and go. Elderly parents move in; couples separate or retire. If your home can accommodate all that, terrific, but if it’s no longer a fit for those who live there, a new place might be better.
• Can you afford to move? That’s the question most people ask. But the better question is: Can you afford not to? Run the numbers, but get creative. I thought I was trapped by a big house that I didn’t want to sell in a down market. But renting it out and selling half the furniture freed me tremendously.
• Face the feelings. People avoid moving and making changes at home they should make because they’re afraid of being sad, but sad is just a feeling, says Friedman. Don’t dodge it. Feel the feeling. “It does feel bad when the familiar is missing. People want to live on one side of the line, but if you don’t feel sadness, you can’t feel joy.”
• Acknowledge the losses, celebrate the gains. Yes, I miss having my family around the dinner table, and the clamor and laughter and tumult. But I can work late, sleep in, not make dinner if I don’t feel like it and know last night’s Chinese takeout will still be in the frig when I get home. Meanwhile, I’m heartened to know that my daughters are off thriving at college, and will be home in two weeks for Thanksgiving, and that they know, as I do, we are family wherever we are.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.