In two weeks, I'll be packing all my worldly possessions into a truck and driving across the country, a thousand miles from the only place I've ever really called home.
I've lived in Milwaukee pretty much my entire life. With the exception of my time away at college, this city has been home. And even then, Milwaukee was still home in a way that the cinderblock dorms and cramped off-campus housing never was. I grew up here, made friends here, have friends here. But it's time to move on.
When my last job ended, I knew it was an opportunity that would probably not present itself again for a while. I have no real estate to sell off, no children to pull out of schools, no real concrete reasons not to pack up and go try something new somewhere else.
So we're moving to Denver. My girlfriend Sarah and I are packing up everything we own and moving from a great city on the coast of a beautiful lake to a great city at the base of a gorgeous mountain range.
Why not? It's beautiful in Denver. You can see mountains from just about anywhere. Seasons don't try to kill you. In Wisconsin, winter lasts nine months, during which the snow never melts and you forget how to be warm. Summer lasts maybe three months, during which the sun has a personal grudge against you and you forget what it's like not to sweat. Spring and Fall are myths.
We thought about a few other places. Portland is weird but has never seen the sun first-hand. San Francisco is amazing but has no concept of personal space. Denver has a great climate, tons of places to go hiking, and won't bankrupt us within days of arrival. And, perhaps more importantly for Sarah, it has tons of good breweries.
Sarah and I spent a week there earlier this year to figure out where to live, get a lease in place, and get our bearings for where we'll be spending our time. It turns out the housing market is insane, and the rental market specifically is worse.
Quickly learning our true housing priorities. Affordable house with yard & garage! Okay, house with garage? House? Apartment with parking?— Tom Henrich (@tomhenrich) February 28, 2014
We were originally hoping to find a nice two-bedroom rental house with a fenced yard for Sarah's — scratch that, I've been informed the correct pronoun is our — dog Tiki and maybe a garage. That dream quickly devolved into "let's just find somewhere we can be afford to be not-uncomfortable." We settled on a very nice apartment complex, which isn't quite what we had in mind but is nice enough and affordable enough to make do for a year while we find somewhere closer to our ideal.
The physical preparations
The physical side of this process has actually been remarkably easy, if somewhat tedious. You're forced to step back, really evaluate the things you own, and decide just how important your stuff truly is. You have to look at every possession and decide whether it's really worth it to pack it up, load it into a truck, unpack it on the other end of a long drive, and find somewhere to keep it. A lot of the time, the answer is "not worth it" and you find yourself making routine trips to Goodwill and finding friends and family willing to buy or just take the rest. (It helps when you know there's very limited storage space on the other end of the trip and can use that as a perfectly legitimate excuse for why you're trying to get rid of things.)
After months of preparations and waiting, it's down to the last two weeks, and now there's this need to be done with it, to get it all over with. Everything that can reasonably be packed has been packed. Everything that's left out either can't be packed (big bulky items like furniture or my vacuum cleaner) or is needed until right before the move (clothes, some kitchenware and the like). I keep looking around my apartment trying to find something that can be put away, yet finding nothing.
Every unsealed box is radiating a sense of incompleteness. Anxiety incarnate.
My spare bedroom is a study in ordered chaos. Mostly-full cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins sit on the floor and atop a desk along one wall. Empty boxes and packing materials lay along the opposite wall, waiting their turn to join their friends on the other side of the room. Boxes that were once taped shut are pulled open to give access to some item previously thought safe to pack away.
There's also the process of shutting down one life before starting a new one back up elsewhere. There are utility services to be cancelled, change of address forms to be filed, insurance policies to be transferred and apartment showings to conduct. The pantry and fridge need to be depleted. The chest freezer needs to be emptied and defrosted. A truck has to be rented. Each individual thing is easy enough, but it makes a formidable to-do list.
But at the end, it's all just stuff, so it's not so bad.
It's the not-so-physical part of the move that's difficult. But that's a subject for a later post.