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A brutally honest guide to keeping your sanity while moving house

Because moving house can be more traumatic than ending a relationship (we’re not exaggerating—there are studies!) 
Rachelle Medina | Jun 23 2019

After a contributor’s meeting one afternoon, my good friend Mabel took me out for a drink at exactly 4:30PM—thirty minutes earlier than Happy Hour. “You need alcohol,” she said thoughtfully, staring at the dark circles under my eyes and the tell-tale Salonpas plasters peeking from my blouse. “Because I know that moving house is more traumatic than ending a marriage!”

This was exactly a month ago, when I was deep in the throes of moving from a two-storey townhouse with a balcony to a two-bedroom flat with none. It also happened simultaneously with a full-on renovation of the new home, juggling several writing and decorating projects, attending events in the evening, child-rearing, and housekeeping. Plus, I only had two weeks to complete the move.

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When moving house becomes exorcising bad memories. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash 

And that bit about moving house being more traumatic than ending a relationship is true, according to a recent study conducted by energy company E.ON wherein six out of ten people rated moving house as more stressful than separating from a partner. In an earlier study, a group of psychiatrists created the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which rates the top life-changing stressors in a person’s life. Change of living conditions is one, along with the death of a spouse or family member.

As someone who has experienced all three of the abovementioned stressors, I can say that moving house is definitely right up there. There were many painful but necessary life lessons learned, so now I will share them.

Lesson #1: Forget that piece of furniture, along with the memories

Almost all existing furniture pieces, clothing, books, and random tchotchkes in my old home were acquired during my old relationship and job. Surveying the whole mess was so upsetting, not only because of the sheer amount of it, but because of what these objects represented. It was a psychological problem that I believe even Marie Kondo would have backed out of. But instead of lying in defeat on top of this pile, I had to hunker down and get rid of it.

Lest I conjure images of Kris Aquino and spirits in second-hand purses, I’d like to explain the concept of emotions being associated with objects. These inanimate, everyday things—like a chair, a dress, or even a rice cooker—are harmless when sitting unused in a store, but these become inundated with your environment’s energy and your own memories once used.

“These inanimate, everyday things—a chair, a dress, or even a rice cooker—are harmless when sitting unused in a store, but become inundated with your environment’s energy and your own memories once used.”

For example, my son’s changing table reminded me of my former partner, a contractor, who made it with his own hands. I can even remember the smell of the bright-blue paint that had faded long before the relationship had ended. And the dozens of cocktail gowns, all of them one-hit-wonders I had worn to client events, were now inappropriate for my current pambahay/freelancer vibe. These have all served their purpose; it’s time to take them out and move on.  

Lesson #2: Purge, and purge as much as you can

I realized that there was no sense holding on to things that represented a lifestyle you had grown out of, or bygone youth. Much like a dress with an outmoded style and a fit for someone with a 24-inch waistline, these types of items have absolutely no future for you, and will only add more clutter to your new life.

Organizing a garage sale is ideal, but this admittedly consumes as much energy as packing up your entire house. Sometimes, the buyers would ask about the item, causing you to unearth memories long buried in your head, like the time an elderly woman interrogated me on why I was selling my ex’s perfectly fine suits at a segunda manobazaar. Other options are to give it to friends and relatives, or ask charity institutions to pick them up.

Your trash can be other people’s treasure. Photo by Eduard Militaru on Unsplash

Since I was too exhausted to do any of these, I just bundled them up and left them outside for anyone to get. Out went the teetering event heels, tiny bags and bracelets that were frivolous monthsary gifts. Out went the design magazines I had used as pegs for a long-dead monthly print rag. Every evening, garbage men and random passersby waited with bated breath outside my former home, anticipating the barely used goodies. It was immensely satisfying to see useless things becoming useful again in the hands of others.

Lesson #3: Deal with all your utility changes earlier

Filipino service providers are like bad boyfriends. They take your money, consume your time, and treat you poorly, but you keep on going back to them because you think you have no other choice.

In a country wherein the “customer is always complaining,” a simple change of WiFi and landline provider or cable TV could take as long as two months if you’re lucky, and this is with me following up in person. So frequently in fact, that I know each customer service personnel by their first names and individual preferences in merienda.

“Filipino service providers are like bad boyfriends. They take your money, consume your time, and treat you poorly, but you keep on going back to them because you think you have no other choice.” 

This is why even in the midst of packing your things, try to pay them a visit and arrange for the move of services to your new address way in advance, unless you want to troll them on Twitter.

Lesson #4: Friends are a big help, really

When you say “movers” in the Philippines, it’s just a big truck with about four dudes to throw all your furniture in it. The real movers, the ones who would lovingly but efficiently envelop each of your belongings in bubble wrap, have services that come at a price. Because of this, you’ll need more than a manongto get you through the ordeal.

It's great to have friends who will actually volunteer to pack up your things, hold your hand while wrapping each piece, and take away whatever you’re purging. The best type of friends are the ones who will egg you on by saying that you’re doing the right thing. For this kind of friend, I am leaving with you my Jim Thompson silk pillowcases.

Moving out and the act of purging was like an exorcism of my past life; of my former relationships and of an era that I had mistakenly thought was the highlight of my career. There are still many boxes left unpacked in my new home, but the bad juju is gone, possibly swirling away in an empty townhouse, waiting to be forgotten.