We are three weeks into the process of moving into a new house. If you’ve moved recently, you know exactly what I mean. If this is not something you do often, you may have forgotten how physically demanding it is. We are still surrounded by towers of unpacked boxes, so it is very fresh in my mind. I’ve had plenty of occasion to think about the interplay of physical fitness, relocating, material possessions, and personal environment.
It is immediately obvious only minutes into a move that it takes its toll on the body. This is my 28th move as an adult. The great thing about it is that this is the first one I have done as a marathon runner. I’m also a backpacker, and this fall I spent a total of six days carrying a 45-pound pack up and down various trails. While I am 40 years old, this has been the easiest move for me physically. (Other than trying to knock myself unconscious by whacking my forehead on a door frame, that is!) Moving Day was 8 hours of carrying extremely heavy things, like my elliptical, an industrial sewing machine, and umpteen boxes of books, and this was after five days of climbing up and down on chairs, packing and stacking boxes, and carrying them up a series of steps into the new house. I’m tired, sure, but I haven’t had to take any anti-inflammatories.
As a former chronic pain and fatigue sufferer, I know that pain comes in many varieties. There’s the “time to go to the hospital” kind of pain: a fractured finger, various sprained fingers and a wrist, a severe muscle strain (when the muscle begins to separate from the bone), a dislocated rib, a dislocated hip. There’s the chronic stuff: the carpal tunnel syndrome, the tennis elbow, the tendonitis. There’s fibromyalgia, about which the less said, the better. Then there’s DOMS, or “delayed onset muscle soreness.” Even for very fit people, DOMS may kick in when we’ve started doing new routines. The comment after this is often “I’m sore in places I didn’t know I had places!” I had one day of this, in my quads, the first day after I had been squatting and lifting boxes. My poor hubby is still dealing with it. Part of the difference is that he has a sedentary job, while I’m up and down all day doing chores in between work segments. The other part is that, while he is very strong, I have kept up a regular fitness routine over the past two years, and he has not. He’s the control and I’m the variable.
Adding data to the experiment of our latest move, I wear an Apple Watch. I was chagrined to discover that I only burned an extra 200 calories on the day we spent 8 hours doing strenuous physical labor. That’s like a can of Pepsi and three Ritz crackers. I also barely made the goal of elevating my heartrate for 30 minutes. This is just one of many times when tracking my health metrics has clearly shown that I overestimate how often I exercise, how long my workouts are, what intensity I work, and how functionally fit I am. (Of course, I also tend to seriously underestimate how much I eat and how often I eat desserts).
The other thing about the Watch is that I tend to pace laps around the house when I’m close to my exercise goal and it’s dark or cold outside. Moving into a significantly smaller house (728 square feet) that is full of stacks of boxes has made this less feasible. Most of my clutter clients absolutely could not walk a lap through each room of their home. They tend to fill each room with as much furniture as they can find, constricting the available space. Then they add stacks of bins, tubs, totes, boxes, cartons, and tottering towers of books, mail, and other reading material. THEN they add laundry and other small items, such as cat toys, to the floor. My people think nothing of turning sideways to get through a confined space, or picking their way over landmines of potential tripping hazards. They’re used to it, for one thing, but for another thing, they tend not to get up off their chairs, couches, or beds unless they have to. There is a night and day difference between being a fit person in a clear space and being a sedentary person in a cluttered space. I walk much faster and go through a much wider range of motion than I did when I was ill, just doing things like scrubbing the tub and carrying laundry, and that’s part of how I’m able to maintain my hard-earned muscle mass with far less effort than I ever imagined. Conversely, because I worked so hard to get fit, it’s also much easier to keep my home clean and clear.
Another thing that has stood out for me during this move is just how many of our material possessions relate to physical fitness and a more active lifestyle. Right now, our garage is just as full as ¾ of other typical American garages, because we’ve only been sleeping here three nights and we’re still processing stuff. That bulk includes an elliptical, a treadmill, a stair climber, a pull-up bar, and all our backpacking gear. In another garage, the same space could easily be filled by holiday decorations, boxes of memorabilia, and old magazines. Another garage might also contain the identical fitness equipment that we have, except that it might be further surrounded by so many other things that it has not been used. Perhaps not in months or years, perhaps never. We often feel that owning something checks the box, that once we’ve bought it, we’ve changed our lives. STUFF is about whether we make the space and time to use it even more than it is about whether we own it.
We don’t really need any of our fitness equipment. You can do absolutely every last thing that a top endurance athlete does, with no equipment at all, by walking and running outdoors and by learning how to do high intensity interval training and body weight workouts. Even walking 20 minutes a day and doing a plank pose for a few seconds once a day can build fitness. Heck, sitting on the floor and getting back up again once a day would be a dramatic improvement for many people. It counts. All of these activities are easier when we can clear at least a tiny amount of space in just one room, and when we start to bring our awareness to how we spend our time. I just have fitness equipment because I like to distract myself with passive entertainment (books, true crime shows, podcasts) while I work out. It’s more practical than packing up my worldly goods and rearranging them for a few hours every day.
Moving to a new home is an opportunity to adjust one’s lifestyle. We chose to move closer to my husband’s office so that he can walk to work instead of commuting on the freeway. We choose to limit our possessions to what will fit comfortably in the available space, because the space itself is more valuable to us (and costs more each month) than any of our belongings. We choose to eat healthy food and to be active, because we’re getting older and we understand that we are running out of time to build the bodies that will carry us through old age. We choose how we spend our time. The result of each of these decisions and choices has compounded into a pretty nice life.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.