We just celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary. According to those ridiculous gift-giving charts, while some milestones get very fancy symbols like gold or silver, “ten” is the “aluminum” anniversary.
What’s that supposed to look like? Exchanged beer cans? Tinfoil hats at dinner?
Instead my husband got me one of the most romantic gifts I could imagine: a double hammock.
I cried all over myself, of course, which probably wasn’t the effect he was expecting.
Thirteen years we’ve been together, long enough to bore each other or drive each other nuts. Instead he’s telling me that we’re upgrading to a family-size hammock.
We used to have a single hammock. I bought it for him when we first started dating, as a souvenir from my trip to Cancun with my brothers. He stayed behind and did my taxes for me and I figured he deserved a nice present.
That hammock got a lot of use. We used to take turns in it. Our dog learned to jump up in it, where he would stretch out on someone’s torso and try not to stick his feet through the holes. One or the other of us would swing and read in the back yard, parrot on her perch nearby, the crazy-fast respiration of the dog’s chest making it very hard to believe he was relaxing.
Doing this separately has its own special cachet. There’s a message in there, one that I find extremely important in a long-term relationship. That message says that each party has the right to relax and do nothing on a regular basis.
HQLT. High Quality Leisure Time.
The secret to a happy relationship is to maximize your partner’s HQLT and facilitate it in any way possible. This is usually wildly different from any experience they’ve had in the past. In return, they can be taught to do the same for you.
Hammock time is sacred. There are almost no emergencies dire enough to demand an interruption of hammock time, and almost all of them can be seen from the hammock anyway:
Squadron of UFOs overhead
Sudden appearance of DeLorean vehicle racing down the street with flaming tire tracks behind it
I’m the one who messed it all up, of course. The hammock was getting a little musty from spending so much time outside, and I thought it would be a smart idea to run it through the washing machine.
It wasn’t. Never do that.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to detangle it before realizing too many of the strings had come untied. Oh well. That was fun while it lasted.
Then we moved, and most of the time since then, we haven’t had a yard. Instead we occasionally bring out the inflatable camping couch, also mostly a single-player experience.
Having a hammock again is very suggestive of one day having our own yard again. It also hints at retirement.
The double hammock? Have we even both been in a double hammock together?
We tend to value experiences more than things, but a hammock is the kind of “thing” that is really an experience in itself. Even looking at it strung up, with nobody in it, can be a bit of a moment. We used to walk past a neighbor’s yard that had a fancy hammock. Nobody ever seemed to be in it, but it turned a fairly ordinary yard into a romantic image. Conspicuous leisure, remember that?
Now all that’s left is to wander our new neighborhood and see if we can find somewhere to test out this fancy contraption. May it put some ideas into people’s heads about leisure time and comfortable companionship.
You try to prepare for anything when you travel, but you don’t really count on coming down with a cold. My hubby woke up ill on vacation. Later in the day, we determined that we should go out and find some cold medicine.
That’s when it got complicated.
Objectively, I feel that we are very lucky this is the only thing to have befallen us. All sorts of things can go wrong on holiday.
In fact, our first night out, we had just sat down to dinner when an elderly man fell on the pavement. He was alone. The waiters of our restaurant ran out to help him, offered him a seat (which he refused) and probably would have brought him water, called him a doctor, or anything else he needed. We’re right down the block from a hospital, after all.
He did what a betting person would assume an elderly British gentleman would do. He waved off all offers of help and limped off on his own. He probably would have done the same even if he had a crocodile attached to his leg.
Fortunately, all we had was one case of common cold and one case of man-cold.
We walked to the closest pharmacy to see what they had in stock and test my language skills.
This is one of the toughest parts of travel. Not only do you not have the terminology for anything you didn’t explicitly study, but your cultural and commercial assumptions only apply sporadically.
At home, we knew exactly where we would go to buy our preferred cold medicines and how to take them. We’d just go to a large grocery store and buy some NyQuil. Maybe they have the same brands?
Answer: No they do not.
At this pharmacy, even the vitamins were kept behind the counter. Almost the entire store revolved around skincare, shampoo, and baby stuff. We checked the grocery store later, and they don’t even sell bandages or aspirin.
We didn’t recognize ANY brand names or packaging.
Cover me, I’m going in.
My Spanish is pathetic. I mean, I have successfully bought train tickets, gotten directions, ordered food, and made change, okay sure. But there are probably junior high school kids who have covered more than that in their first term. I feel that as an adult person who has spent weeks in Spanish-speaking countries, I have no excuse for not trying harder, studying more. Practicing with my many Spanish-speaking friends. Preparing.
It doesn’t help that I am shy, and my embarrassment at my sloppy efforts makes this worse.
I’m going to leave out punctuation and accent marks here, because if you heard me talking, that is how it would sound.
Hola, mi hombre esta enfermo.
The pharmacist looked extremely professional and intelligent. She raised her eyebrows.
I nudged my husband and had him hold up his phone, where we had looked up “translate Spanish common cold.”
‘Resfriado comun,’ it said.
“Ah,” said the pharmacist, and gestured, holding her hand in front of her nose and mouth. She had two drugs to offer, one for cold symptoms and one for dry cough. That certainly simplified things. She told him (me) to take it three times a day.
We bought the cold medicine, and then it got slightly more complicated.
We were only a couple minutes from our hotel. I started reading the package of the medicine, looking for instructions. While I realized that this would be a powder to mix with liquid, there were literally no instructions on how much to mix it with.
This has got to be one of those vernacular things. Like when we buy tablets or capsules and we know that you just swallow it with whatever helps you wash it down, unless you are a chaos magician and you dry-swallow. A lot of countries sell their over-the-counter medicines in this powder form, and people probably figure out their preferred delivery method in childhood.
Like, don’t mash up headache tabs and put them in jelly. To this day I think raspberry jam tastes like aspirin.
My husband, an engineer, shrugged and poured the powder into a glass of water while I was still puzzling over the instructions.
My reading comprehension is really pretty good when it comes to jargon like this. Most of the key words are Latinate and medical terminology is similar everywhere. I was able to read through the list of contraindications. “Be careful if you’re lactating,” I tell him, and he replies, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The one thing we couldn’t figure out was whether this would be a wired-and-tired drug or a knockout drug like our friendly neighborhood NyQuil. The answer to that came a short time later, when he descended into a two-hour nap.
The next day, the maid came in. I had waved her off the previous day. “Mi marido es... sick.” (I haven’t been feeling that well either). She cleaned around us. After she left, I realized that she had brought us a pack of tissues, a very thoughtful gesture and not on the regular checklist.
Then I realized that she was checking IN, making sure that these strangers to her country were alive and kicking. I have no doubt whatsoever that, if she found us passed out or in distress, she would have taken the appropriate steps. She unlocked our door with purpose.
We had all sorts of plans when we came here to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. They definitely did not include lying around feeling ill or testing our language skills at the pharmacy.
You know what, though? Like most shared adversity, this is helping us feel closer. We’re taking care of each other, somehow throwing together hot meals, pouring juice and tea, knowing that everything could certainly be worse. We’re safe and friendly people are looking out for us.
Here’s hoping we’re over the worst of it before our dinner reservations, or at least our flight home...
I had a moment, a little moment of glory that probably wouldn’t impress anyone but me. Still, it was exciting.
We were standing around at our gate in an airport in Belgium. It had only been posted a few minutes before. Belgium is such a laid-back place that the reader boards literally say, “Relax,” and that the gate will be posted at a later time. For almost every flight. They leave about half an hour between notification and boarding. Until then, you’re left to sit wherever seems likely.
We were standing around, having waited for no fewer than six hours, feeling like our flight would finally be underway.
Then I heard an announcement in French.
Belgium is a multi-lingual place. Everything is posted in French, Dutch, and English.
The announcement mentioned our flight, but instead of gate fifty-five, it said fifty-eight. I was sure of it.
Then the same announcement came through again in Dutch. I barely know fifteen words of Dutch, I only dabbled a little a few years ago, but the counting words sound pretty similar to either German or English. That was definitely an eight, not a five!
I was nudging my husband, knowing we would need to change gates. I figured the English announcement would come through any second now. Then he would hear it and I would be validated by an unimpeachably authoritative source.
There was never an announcement in English!
This might have been because we were the only English-speaking people on this discount European flight. Who knows? In all our travels this was the first time we weren’t catered to as monolingual Americans. In our complacency it had never occurred to us to prepare for a flight where we would have to interpret everything.
Either the gate change came through via text, or it posted somewhere, because I finally got my hubby into motion. Through serendipity, not only were we at the correct end of a terminal that includes sixty gates, but we happened to have chosen the correct gate for lounging purposes. We had to walk only a few yards, back to where we had been sitting earlier.
We were on the plane not even ten minutes later.
Could we have sat there stupidly at the wrong gate, waiting while our flight left without us? Would our names have been announced? Not sure. In 35 years of air travel, I have never missed a flight.
In any case, this experience rekindled the fire within me for language study.
I have been fascinated with foreign languages since grade school. My beloved second-grade teacher introduced the concept that not everyone spoke the same language, and that there were different words for things if you visited other countries. Nothing in my life has ever excited me that much. It seemed like maybe you could get some kind of secret decoder ring and eavesdrop on people, or that you could learn extra languages and have super powers.
I went to the public library and discovered that there were entire shelves of dictionaries and language study guides, and I was done for. Then I found a series of miniature language dictionaries at the local bookstore, and any chance of rescue was demolished.
As an adult, learning to sound out a new writing system, or recognizing one or two words on a magazine cover, makes me feel exactly as lit up as the seven-year-old I used to be.
The question is always, why aren’t we doing the things that we know delight us the most?
I’ve seen it over and over again. The mom who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since her first child was born. The dad who gave up guitar even though his kids would love to hear him play. Everyone who ever quit dance or yoga or journaling.
In my clutter work, the equipment is the reason I know about these shuttered dreams. Even decades later, we’ll still keep all our gear, our handbooks, our special outfits. This means it’s not a matter of money. The cash investment has already been made, which is of course why we hate to let go - sunk cost fallacy.
I could go back to intensive language study any time I like, without a financial hit. People think you have to take classes or buy Rosetta Stone, but really you just do a language exchange for free with someone who speaks your target language and wants to learn yours. If you live in a major city, you can even meet in person. For instance, in Los Angeles I could easily find a language buddy in anything from Armenian to Vietnamese.
Why? Because it lights me up and puts joy in my heart.
There are other things that light me up, and fortunately I know what they are. Even more fortunately, they are pretty harmless, and mostly things that my husband and/or friends and family are willing to do with me. Chief among these is travel. While language study is fun in its own right, it’s extremely helpful in the context of travel.
One of the first things we do when we get to a new country is to stop at a grocery store and buy food. Sometimes this is easy, like when we buy fresh produce and generally know what things are. (Not always!) Other times, it is fraught with peril, like when the packaging vernacular is different than what we have at home.
What else is fun? Trying to decipher a list of ingredients when there are as many as six to eight languages on the label, and none of them are English!
I once, and this is true, figured out what was in a tub of margarine partly because I can read Greek and I sounded out ‘extra-partheno.’
Being able to pick out a few cognates here and there is hardly the same as being able to do simultaneous translations, or actually develop deep friendships with people who don’t speak your native tongue. It’s little more than a party trick.
Still, developing a little polyglot power can be useful, it can help your travel companions, and it’s interesting in a way that passively consuming entertainment will never be.
If you were going to study another language, what would it be?
Something crazy and disconcerting happened. I slept for 16 hours straight.
This has never happened to me before, to my knowledge, even when I’ve been ill. Even when I’ve been recovering from finals week. I didn’t even know it was physically possible.
I woke up and looked at my sleep monitor. That’s what I usually do, and usually it tells me something disappointing, like I haven’t quite made it to six hours. This is where I got the ‘16’ number.
I figured it had to be wrong, that there was either a time zone problem or that I had accidentally turned it on. Then I checked the clock, and that didn’t make sense either.
4 PM? Who sleeps until 4 PM? Like, night shift workers?
I got up and looked out the window. Plausible.
It didn’t make much sense, though, physically. I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t even really need the bathroom. Surely if I’d slept most of a day I would feel dehydrated and weird?
I left the room to look for my husband. There he was, chilling on the couch.
“My Fitbit says I slept for sixteen hours. Is that right?”
“Yep,” he said, shortly before taking a two-hour nap.
It caught up with us.
We took off on vacation and decided it would be a good idea to do all our flights back-to-back. By the time we got to our hotel, we had been awake for 31 hours, and we still needed to get a SIM card, buy groceries, eat a meal, unpack, shower, and get ready for bed. Then I “just had to send a couple of quick emails” and suddenly I had been up for 35 hours.
It wasn’t just that. We had just moved, after all, and apparently I only slept 4.5 hours the night before we left. The previous three weeks had been a bit chaotic.
The entire reason we moved was because we couldn’t sleep under our possibly drug-affected upstairs neighbors. I mean high-test coffee, at least. Although I’ve lived downstairs from a crackhead and I have to admit that he was considerably louder.
It seems that a watershed moment has arrived in my personal history. I slept 16 hours, and everything was perfectly fine, and it looks like I am physiologically capable of sleeping.
In fact I’ve slept 36 hours in three days!
This is more familiar territory. When I first quit my day job, I would take two or three naps a day. I couldn’t stay awake for more than three hours, sometimes an hour and a half. That went on for a week. Then I slept twelve hours a day for the next three weeks.
This is the cure for burnout. Just sleep as much as possible until you feel better.
Okay, maybe that isn’t true for everyone, but it certainly seems to be for me. I’ve had sleep issues since early childhood. More sleep is the answer for just about everything. Catch a cold? Go to sleep. Tummy troubles? Go to sleep. Headache? Go to sleep.
If you can, that is. If your housemates and neighbors are cooperative. If sleep will come to you at all.
The most interesting thing about sleeping 16 hours is that physically it could happen for me. The second most interesting thing was...
I got away with it!
Most people aren’t going to plan to lose a day to sleep in that way, of course. It just happened. It isn’t something I would go out of my way to do again.
In that sense, it can be looked at as an accident of fate.
I didn’t miss any important calls or email. I didn’t hit any deadlines.
Well, okay, I missed an entire day of my blog. First time in five years. I’d be more embarrassed about this if I’d ever earned a cent off all the thousands of pages I have posted.
While I was sleeping...
The world kept turning
Everyone in my family was fine
The fridge had food in it
There were clean clothes in the closet
We had soap and shampoo and toothpaste
We had power and water and internet
None of our stuff got up and ran away
My keys and passport were right where I left them
My little parrot Noelle was entertaining our house sitter by swinging, dancing, and whistling along with Lady Gaga
Nobody missed me while I was out.
I slept for sixteen continuous hours and it was perfectly fine.
This might not be possible for everyone, for instance parents of small children, but then that isn’t my situation. I’m 44 and most people my age don’t have little kids at home. Indeed I probably couldn’t have done this at home because my dog would have signaled that he needed to go out. Other than the needs of our dependents, many of us may find that we could pull a Rip van Winkle on a Friday night without major repercussions.
Or even minor repercussions.
What if all the stress and strain and worry were for nothing?
What if there were things on your to-do list that could sit there, blamelessly waiting for several days without being tended?
What if some of those things never needed to get done at all?
What if we could all ratchet down our background stress levels by several degrees, and nothing bad happened, and everyone just sighed and sat back?
After sleeping for 36 hours in three days, this is my perspective. Sleeping more would, paradoxically, result in more time. Sleeping more and getting decent rest makes everything seem easier. It gives the perspective that is so hard to find while in a state of exhaustion. It saves all the extra work that comes from making mistakes while sleep deprived.
If you knew a 16-hour sleep cloud was about to settle on you, an unavoidable storm of slumber, what would you do to prepare? What would you cross off your endless list?
Here we go again. We’re planning a trip and that means certain assumptions. The more we do it, the truer it becomes.
I will deal with my travel anxiety by trying to add even more to my task list than I usually do, rather than less
My husband will deal with his travel anxiety by waking up two hours early
Traffic on the way to the airport will be incredibly heavy
But we’ll arrive with plenty of time anyway
I will be “randomly” selected for secondary search even though I’m a Trusted Traveler
People will constantly get between my husband and me in line or in crowds
Our gate will be changed at least once
Maybe our type of plane will change too, and suddenly we’re both in middle seats
Or our seats will be changed without notice so we aren’t even sitting together
There may be a five-hour delay some time on the trip
We are probably going to be hungry, like crazy hungry
It will rain, no matter where we go or what time of year
I will always be freezing in a hotel room and he will be hot
One of us will get a working key card and the other won’t
Whenever I leave any room, I will turn the wrong way and head the wrong direction
A lot of people will take these opportunities, and more, as reasons to complain. Complainers have no idea they’re doing it. It’s like sports commentary, like a golf announcer only less interesting.
Experienced travelers will accept that there are natural constraints, and work around them.
Because I know that my travel anxiety makes me delusional about how much I can or should get done, I acknowledge that I will always try to do a deep clean of my house or revamp my filing system, and I work around it. I have started leaving myself notes in my reminder app that pop up a few days before a trip.
Dear Future Me, quit wigging out. Love, Past Self.
Because I know my husband can only be happy if we’re at least a few minutes early, we talk through our agenda together. In the world of engineering, they may literally bill their time in 7.5-minute increments. “When you say ‘leave by,’ do you mean we’re walking out our front door or do you expect us to be driving away in the Lyft?”
We know our trips are always subject to constant gate changes, seat changes, and inexplicable delays, so we plan around it. Bring extra food and backup batteries, and shrug.
We know to check the map constantly, because I have the directional sense of a fig beetle.
We also have rules about how many attractions we try to see in a day, how often we stop to eat, and how many days we spend in a city. There is a constant temptation to try to fit in too much, and then feel frantic instead of relaxed. If we let FoMO take over, it will destroy any sense of fun. Any anti-anxiety policy is a good policy.
At this point, we’re getting it down. We do the one-minute perimeter check when we leave a room, so we aren’t forgetting stuff. We check the map so we aren’t going in the wrong direction. We help each other cross-check our luggage so we don’t forget anything.
Probably the most important thing we do is to pause and make eye contact and smile at each other. We remind ourselves that THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!
We travel under the assumption that travel itself is inherently annoying and exhausting. The better we get at anticipating these minor annoyances, the more we can avoid them. The better we get at monitoring our energy level and emotional responses to whatever situation, the better we get at knowing when to take a break.
When we come home, it will be the fascinating stuff that we remember, not the petty complaints. We also recognize that the biggest hassles make for the most interesting traveler’s tales. We never know when it will be our last trip together and it’s our job to make the most of it.
When we move to a new place, one of the very first things we do is to start in on a new ambit. Your ambit is the area where you walk around your neighborhood, also known as your stomping grounds. Everyone has one, or at least everyone who leaves the house, but for most people it stops somewhere around the driveway or the mailbox.
We chose an apartment that is technically within walking distance of our old place, two miles or about forty minutes. We had passed the place many times, on foot, on the bus, even on bikes. A big chunk of the new neighborhood was already in our old ambit, and that helped us feel at home. We weren’t necessarily looking to feel ‘at home,’ though, being more in the mood for something fresh and new.
On Sunday we set off.
We were still unpacking, but we had enough done that we both felt we could afford to take a break. There’s a certain point in moving in to a new place when it no longer feels obvious exactly where everything should go, when the remaining boxes are full of trickier items. The law of diminishing returns sets in. People start wandering around, looking into one box and then another, no decisions being made, and the work grinds to a halt.
A lot of people never get past that point! They just leave the boxes packed, sometimes for years or through several additional moves.
This is when it can be so incredibly helpful to take a break, get away from it all for a couple of hours, and walk back into the room with fresh eyes.
That’s what we did. We had no internet and it was too late in the day to go to the tea house. A local library branch happens to be open for a few hours on Sunday afternoons. There’s a closer branch, but this one is within the two-mile range we are willing to walk. We’d set out on a little adventure and go exploring.
There happens to be a very nice walking trail in our part of the world, and most of the route can include this trail. In a car we wouldn’t have thought to go that way. On foot it was obvious. At least, it was obvious because we scoped it out on a map first, and as neighborhood walkers, we look for the green blotches that indicate parks. About a quarter mile of our route wound through neighborhood houses.
This is a nice part of creating a new ambit, too. You can start to get a feel for your neighborhood, seeing familiar faces, meeting dogs and babies, checking out gardens. Your very presence helps the neighborhood become safer. Foot traffic deters crime. That’s the sad irony of people feeling like they aren’t safe to walk where they live. Go out and bring your phone, bring your friend, bring the people who live next door. That’s what my family used to do. Invite someone to walk with you and make an ambit.
The area we explored on our way to the walking trail? Was much nicer than our own block!
One of the hazards of making a new ambit is that it can spark some house envy. It’s a good place, though, to start talking about home improvements and savings accounts and repair projects. Something about seeing someone else’s nice yard is so much more inspiring than sitting indoors on your own sofa.
We walked along. “This feels like vacation,” said my husband, who had been unpacking a box only half an hour before.
THIS FEELS LIKE VACATION!
We walk everywhere on vacation, because for us that’s the whole point. You can see so much more of a place on foot. You can meet people, you can overhear their accents and check out the local streetwear trends.
I think there’s also something about the rhythm of walking that just feels right for a human. A dog too, probably. For our dog, walking is a religion. His little ears bounce with every step. It always surprises us how many people have dogs and don’t take them around, because having a dog is such a compelling reason to explore your ambit.
We walked along. We got to our walking trail. It was green and beautiful in the summer light. We got into a conversation about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird based on my recent reading of Furious Hours.
Suddenly, we were there. That was two miles, really? Are you sure??
Let me tell you, that walk was almost entirely uphill, but we didn’t even feel it.
The library itself is much nicer than the one in our old neighborhood. That library is large, new, pretty, well-lit, and reasonably well-stocked. Unfortunately, there’s a used bookstore in the lobby that runs on donations. Its musty smell is so strong that I literally hold my breath several paces before walking in the door and don’t breathe again until I’m almost to the YA section. You can smell the funky old donated books outside on two sides of the building. This is a bummer because there are few things better than a public library to expand one’s ambit.
This new library, though! I could see this becoming a thing with us.
We found two chairs side by side. WiFi, hooray!
I got a few things done, such as changing our address. It didn’t even feel like work.
Then we decided to check out the outdoor seating in the back and I accidentally set off the alarm on the emergency exit, but it was okay. I didn’t even have to go to jail.
On the way home, we went a different way, which is always a good idea when you’re working on a new ambit. Sometimes the other route is nicer. We found a place with non-dairy ice cream and got ourselves some. We sat in a tiny grassy park and ate strawberry ice cream and a dog came over and licked my husband’s face.
Then we went home refreshed and got back to work, grubbing around unpacking and breaking down boxes.
That entire day, we spent two hours exploring and twelve hours working. Guess which part of the day we actually remember?
This is an instructional post about how to inventory your stuff while you pack for a move. I’ve done this a bunch of times and it’s what works for me. I based it on the concepts from the Paper Tiger, a justifiably famous book about a system for filing papers.
The basic principle is this:
Put a number on a box. Write down the contents under that number.
Move on to the next box and repeat.
Don’t worry about - and this is the hard part - don’t worry about any more complicated system. The only things you have to worry about are making sure you don’t duplicate numbers and that anyone else who packs with you is on board with the system.
There is only one Box #1. There is only one Box #19.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if a box has logical categories of contents. The idea here is that if you’re looking for something specific, you can figure out what box it’s in. If the boxes are clearly labeled, then you have a good chance of finding that box and getting your precious thing back out.
If the boxes have been packed in roughly the order that they were numbered, then you probably even have a rough idea of where each box is!
Also, if you’ve packed in one direction, from one end of your dwelling to another, then the boxes probably got loaded into the truck in the opposite direction. What was first shall be last, and what was last shall be first.
When the boxes are unloaded into the new place, the direction reverses.
Your numbered order is, then, roughly the same all the way through.
This is pure mysticism. Don’t try to understand it, just accept it and meditate on it. Or visualize someone pulling into a parking space and then backing out again.
Moving is often the catalyst for chronic disorganization. A household is moving and they fall victim to the Planning Fallacy. This is the basic cognitive inability of the human brain to accurately estimate how long it takes to do complicated things. Everything is behind schedule and over budget because even highly trained experts and professionals are subject to the Planning Fallacy. No escape.
The household that has not planned the move with expert precision suddenly finds itself in panic mode. Every spare person who can be enlisted to help shows up and starts throwing things into boxes. I can tell you from experience that professional movers will put full wastebaskets into boxes and tape them closed. Same with wet laundry, according to lore. Random friends, relatives, and neighbors can be expected to have even less experience. They just want to get it over with and go home.
The result is a bunch of randomness multiplied by randomness. Fifty cardboard boxes of different size, dumped in whatever room had the most space, all labeled MISC (the dreaded misc).
Trying to settle into the new house feels like a disaster. Every box has items that properly belong in different rooms. Every box has loose hardware, coins, crayons, bits of small toys, and office supplies. Every room is likewise full of similar boxes of MISC (the dreaded misc). Where to start??
Most of these boxes will still be sitting in their miscellaneous form until the next move, which will be even more disastrous than the last.
Living in this kind of cardboard chaos is demoralizing in the extreme. It’s like being surrounded by Dementors. I know it because I can feel them flying out when I show up to help, and it isn’t even my stuff.
The Box Tiger method works because you can read through an inventory as you plan to unpack. You can pull a specific box because you know you need those items and you know where you are going to put them.
Box Tiger also works if you are able to maintain the placid mindset and take the extra few minutes to write down what’s in each box. Everything is under control, you breathe, and tomorrow will come. Soon this chaos will be whipped into shape by the strength of the orderly, problem-solving human mind.
I can imagine this into shape, and since I can imagine it, I can make it happen.
I can look at other people’s pinboards for inspiration.
A lot of people fantasize about having a sewing room one day, or a canning room, or a mud room, or something cool like a guitar-making workshop. What is so appealing about all these visions is that they reflect order, an ability to find the right tool for the right purpose on demand.
A whole house can be this nice.
Know where everything is. Do it one item at a time.
Box Tiger is easier for me for a few reasons. One, it’s my own system, I like it, and I’ve put it into practice. I trust it. I trust it because I’ve used it to find important items during a move, and that feeling is a huge sigh of relief and a two-inch dropping of tense shoulders.
Two, Box Tiger is easy for me because I’m a minimalist and I purposely don’t have much stuff. Why would I? Stuff I don’t use and don’t need? It doesn’t look cute and it just gets in my way.
Three, Box Tiger works well because my home works well. Keep things near where they are used, that’s the basic rule, and when we do this it makes it easier both to pack and unpack. Towels in the bathroom, towels in one box, towels in the new bathroom. Put in the extra 10% effort to carry small items to the room where they make the most sense, and that pays off in a more streamlined move.
Leave random items skewed and scattered everywhere, and that effect is multiplied with each move. Total disorganization reigns supreme and everything is hard to find.
Rationally, if something is important and useful to me, I should be able to find it and use it. If I love it and I love looking at it, then it should be easy to see as often as possible. I can’t make a case for not being able to find or see my stuff.
Box Tiger is the reason I’m able to finish unpacking 95% of my stuff in three days. I can make a move as streamlined as possible and go back to our regularly scheduled programming.
It’s also worth mentioning that minimalism enables us to fit in smaller homes, pay less rent, and live in more desirable neighborhoods where standard-size homes are unaffordable for most people. Every time we move, we downsize a little bit more, because it has always paid off.
We moved over the weekend.
Sure, most people do it that way, at least people who work a standard office job with a standard schedule. What I mean is that we moved over the weekend, and now we’re back to business.
It is hard to believe. My husband woke up Friday morning and went to work. The only disruption to his routine was shifting his schedule an hour later so he could drop off our dog at doggy day care. When he came home with the dog, it was to our new address.
When we went to bed Friday night, it was amidst a cardboard city of box towers. We could sleep in our bed, use the shower, and microwave food, but otherwise it was pretty obvious that we had just moved in.
By Monday morning, the bathroom was DONE
and the kitchen was DONE
and the desks were DONE
and the laundry was DONE
and all the furniture was set up in its correct location
and there were only two boxes left to unpack in the bedroom
and thirty-five of the fifty boxes were unpacked
and the flattened, empty boxes were carried down to the parking garage to be given away
and the old apartment was mostly clean
and there was much rejoicing.
On Friday, I sent occasional text updates. I knew my honey was super stressed and worried about the move, and I knew he would be able to focus better if he felt like everything was under control. We were ahead of schedule and everything was going according to plan. I could feel the smog cloud of stress lifting off him with each bulletin.
THIS JUST IN: everything is fine
Instead of stress, the feeling that started to come across was curious anticipation. What’s going on over there? What’s it going to look like?
I raced the clock all day, knowing I was going to be tired no matter what, determined to get as much as possible done before dinner. I also had a vision of my partner’s expression when he walked in.
He was stunned and impressed. He was also extremely pleased that he hadn’t had to haul anything himself!
The great thing about all this is that we’re closing in on our tenth wedding anniversary. As we both think about this milestone and the early days of our romance, he will be thinking of me in this context.
As the moving day updates were coming in, my hubby’s colleagues were checking in as well. “Aren’t you moving today? Why are you here?”
“You don’t understand. My wife is the logistics manager. She’s ON IT.”
“I was bragging on you today,” he tells me, and the last time it was about my homemade banana bread.
This is all part of a conscious strategy on my part. I believe that two heads are better than one head, and that a solid partnership of any kind is incredibly helpful for spiritual growth, not to mention career performance. This can be true of colleagues, friends, and siblings, of course, and even neighbors. When it’s a marriage, it can work on even more levels.
One of these mastermind benefits of marriage is that we can facilitate each other’s career growth. This is fun and it also leads directly to money.
Divorce, on the other hand, can be one of the most expensive things of all. It’s a good thinking exercise to ask oneself, What is the opposite of this?, and see if it makes sense. What is the opposite of divorce? What would be the opposite response in this scenario to what my partner’s ex would do? (Or mine).
My hubby and his ex had quite a bad fight over a relocation, their marriage was never the same, they eventually split up, and now I have him. I also have an easy visual of What Not to Do with this particular man.
What’s the opposite of a marriage-killing feud over a difficult move? Hmm, she ponders.
A quick, easy, streamlined one!
For most people, a move is an extravagant disruption. The turmoil can stretch on for months, and indeed a lot of people never completely unpack every single box. The same box of MISC (the dreaded misc) will be hauled from house to house.
I determined to do it differently. I’d make our move a mere blip. We’d leave our cruddy little studio with the inconsiderate chaos muppets upstairs, and we’d get ourselves a lifestyle upgrade as quick as we could go.
This is good in such a number of ways.
I dominated over this move. It’s true that we still have boxes to unpack in the dining room and living room. It’s true, too, that we went from Fifty Boxes to Slightly Messy Apartment in only three days. Our pets both clearly love it here and it’s so, so quiet. We don’t have to say “we’re moving” any more. My honey can work in his office and give total focus and attention to his projects.
I haven’t mentioned in all this that our home is my office. The main reason I took on this move alone, besides earning a million brownie points, is that I knew it would give me latitude to do it my way. I could choose where I wanted my desk and create my ideal rooms in so many ways. Usually women feel more stressed about cluttered living environments than men do, for whatever reason, and I know that’s true for me. If I planned the move myself, I could do it on my schedule and my terms. I could close the loop.
Now that loop is closed, the move is effectively over, and everyone concerned is back to business.
The movers showed up early and got straight to work. I had “a couple of last things” and they were done before I was, our entire studio apartment unloaded in two hours.
Everything in our studio apartment fit in fifty boxes.
I’m surprised and embarrassed about this, but what can I say. At least six of those boxes were just our bedding and pillows!
We managed to pull up to the special “only available between 11:30 am and 3:00 pm on Fridays” loading zone at 11:32, and the movers were done at 2:30.
It took longer to unload the truck than it did to load it, because they had to wheel everything down a ramp, through the basement garage, to the elevator, and up to the fifth floor.
Due to that long lag time, I was able to unpack quite a lot of stuff between loads. It wasn’t like I could leave, or take a nap, when I needed to answer questions about where things went and what direction the furniture should face. I felt like I was racing against time, that the more boxes I unpacked, the more cardboard the movers would cart away for me.
Get food into fridge and freezer
Set up the bed
Set up the shower
Set up the pet bowls
Unpack enough in the kitchen to be able to microwave something or cook breakfast
By 5:00 pm I had done all of these things - and a few more - and I am feeling pretty impressed with myself.
I have this special moving inventory system, and this time it really saved the day. I realized when the movers were bringing up our massive California King mattress that I should probably get the little floor protector coasters under the wheels of the bed frame first. I whipped out my phone, skimmed through the inventory note to find the right box, located that box (behind and under as many boxes as possible, of course), moved the other boxes out of the way, opened the correct one, dug out the appropriate container, found the coasters, flipped up the box springs, and was putting the coasters under the wheels when the movers came in.
A non-trivial task, to find four 2”-square flat objects in the midst of fifty boxes in five minutes.
That bit of effort will save the nice dark wooden floors from any further scarring - it’s quite obvious the previous tenants didn’t think of this kind of nicety - and potentially save us from having to pay for repair work when we move. Probably more to the point, it will save my husband and me from either feeling like we’ve procrastinated on a honeydo task, or having to move the mattress and box springs in the midst of unpacking.
Done and dusted!
This is how we organized the one-day move.
As of dinnertime, we can sit on the couch, feed the dog, charge our devices, shower and brush our teeth, sleep in our bed, and even find our clothes.
I’ve unpacked fifteen boxes, most of them the large size. I’ve unpacked about a quarter of my clothes and set up my desk. One kitchen cabinet is set up. All our plates, bowls, and glasses are in the new dishwasher. There is a path through the living room.
Probably the most important thing that we’ve done was to plan a housewarming party. We always used to love having an open house every week, and now there are interns in our life instead of college students. Having a social date on the calendar gives us a deadline and a sense of excitement.
It was really sweet to hear how excited these kids are about the open house theory!
Now, I can’t claim that we moved “in one day.” The old apartment still needs to be cleaned, and all our cleaning apparatus is still over there, every single thing from the dish gloves to the steam mop. We still have almost three dozen boxes to unpack and we don’t even have internet.
It is fair to say, though, that all our furniture went from OVER THERE to OVER HERE in one day, and that we can sleep here and start living a fairly normal life from tonight on. As normal as it gets for us, anyway.
Ironically, our place is more functional in the midst of a move than what most of my clients experience on an ordinary day. We have more freedom of movement from room to room, even with the boxes. We can find more stuff. We can cook and bathe. If someone needed to make a repair tonight or tomorrow, we wouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to let them in. This is partly because we are very organized, partly because we don’t have that much stuff, and mostly because we hold ourselves to a certain level of expectations.
Alas, now I’ve set the bar and all our further moves are going to have to meet those expectations! A one-day move on Friday and back to business on Monday?
We’re moving again, for the seventh time in our ten-year marriage, and I’m in charge. I’m in charge because I’m better at it. This move has been more complicated than some of our past moves, for bureaucratic reasons, and it’s better for all concerned when we acknowledge our comparative strengths.
My husband’s reaction to moving is the same as most people’s would be: a wave of depressed overwhelm.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him. I got this.
Now, as an engineer, my mate has excellent Pack Fu. Bring him a bunch of luggage, bags, and boxes, and he will expertly fit them into a given space. He can also tie down a load like a professional. Honestly I don’t think I could have married a man with no Pack Fu or tool skills.
Where he tends to get bogged down is in the planning and the logistical nightmare of all the thousand tiny widgets. There’s also a slew of phone calls and errands, personal relationships to be built, and that takes a certain kind of patience.
Having made my bones in social services, I understand bureaucratic red tape like nobody else.
Example: Where to Put the Moving Van, Chapter Five.
Apartment manager says we will need a parking permit from the city. City says there is a jurisdictional dispute with state transportation agency. State says they do not issue parking permits. City office closed for following three days; revert to alternate plan. Landlord says there is a loading zone. Street is marked No Parking between 3 pm - 7 pm, and so is loading zone, the exact window when we would be parking the van. After a full week of calls, email, and strategy sessions, I finally negotiate to have the movers come at 8 am instead of 2 pm. I have spoken to six separate individuals about: a parking spot. That will be in use for two, maybe three hours total.
Note that these movers could easily have said, sorry crazy lady, find another moving company. Look at our schedule board, posted openly right there on the wall. Anyone can easily see that we can’t make this happen for you with only four days’ notice. I wouldn’t have blamed them at all, and I would have shifted to calling other movers and asking for recommendations for other hard-working people who like money.
It helped, though, that I am so patient and easy-going. It helped that I know how to work a phone when I need to. I’ve beat the IRS twice and I can certainly figure my way through competing parking regulations.
There’s also the not-inconsiderable body of skills I have picked up while working with hoarders and the chronically disorganized. Not to mention the strong minimalist streak I have developed from same.
I married a man with a vast garage, a garden, and the components of several workshops, from robotics to woodworking to replica coins. A man who owns his own personal tree stump for artisanal purposes. He’s bought in to minimalism as a lifestyle, but he still has the instincts of a homeowner, a homeowner who aspires to a couple acres of orchard.
He looks at all our stuff, thinks about moving it, and quivers inside. I look at all our stuff, overlaid with multiple images of hoarded homes, and I shrug.
I’m picturing our new place. In my mind, we’re already gone.
We’ve done this so many times, seven times but technically nine moves. We both moved when we got married, and we also stayed temporarily in a furnished apartment when we first moved to SoCal. I can still remember what size of carton is required for certain objects and which items fit well together. I estimated forty boxes when we started planning this move, and we’ll see how close I got on moving day, but it’s looking pretty accurate right now.
Divide number of days until Moving Day by estimated number of boxes. Simple. There’s your quota. Now get to work.
In past moves, unless we’ve had the luxury of professional movers, we’ve always done multiple trips. We were able to carry over a carload at a time, unpack it, and bring the empty boxes home to reuse. This makes it a bit more challenging to count the total number.
The first time, we had one hundred.
Then we got it down to eighty.
Now it’s looking like forty.
Some of the boxes are smaller, too! A lot of the boxes that got cut were small boxes full of books, getting the numbers down and also eliminating a lot of the total mass.
Yeah, yeah, I thought I loved books as much as you think you do. I thought that until around the fifteenth move. Now I’m on somewhere around twenty-eight and you know what? Dead trees, man. They heavy. Digital all the way.
The funniest thing about planning this move is that I’ve done more home cooking during this process than I have for the past month. I even made banana bread the other night. I see it as using up containers that we won’t have to pack. Since I’m getting the baking pans down anyway...
I’m handling this process with great good cheer. I’m totally excited about the new apartment, counting off the days, and the growing box towers are visible proof that we’re almost there. I want to impress the movers with how hard I’ve worked. I want them to feel my gratitude and how much I’ve done to get ready for their 8:00 am knock.
I visualize how close I will be to fully unpacked, how great our new place will look when my hubby comes home from work. He’ll leave our old place and come home to our new place. All the machinations and wheeling and dealing and planning and scheming will have been done, not to mention the packing and hauling. How relieved he will feel.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him.
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.
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