Moving Experiences

May 31, 2014, 12:12 pm


One of many lies you will encounter on your journey to your new home.

Facebook is full of transitions right now. Some people who already had tenured or tenure-track jobs are moving to new ones. Newly, or recently, minted Ph.D.s are leaving Grad Institution City for a tenure-track job, and others are taking a post-doc or visiting job. Some people are deciding to leave academic work altogether. They have had it with years of temporary, uncertain employment; they want to stop commuting; or they want to live somewhere that really suits them, not the place where the job market dumped them. And I say, good for you. It takes guts.

Whatever your reason for relocating, moving is a drag. I know. I’ve moved fifteen times, which is really not an accurate number. In our years as a commuter couple we would sublet our New York apartment in the summer and relocate to our Zenith home, only to reverse this mini-move in late August. So, in honor of moving season, here is what I know, condensed to a few easy bullet points.

  • Timing is everything. But when is the best time – at the beginning of the summer or the end? Is it better to ruin the end of the school year and have the summer to settle into your new home, or have a nice summer and ruin the beginning of school? The answer to this question really depends on why you are moving and who you are taking with you, if anyone. I am a “get it over with” person, and I prefer to have a more relaxed summer that isn’t filled with open boxes and trips to the Salvation Army. If you have children you may want to move as soon as you can (around the end of June) because you will need time to set up your child-care networks, health care providers, and veterinarians; you will need to find schools, dog walkers, and get used to new neighborhoods, shopping centers and forms of transportation. On the other hand, sometimes — this is particularly true if you are buying and selling real estate — you will have unpleasant gaps between the date you must leave your old home and the date you can take possession of your new one. In this case, you are simply f*cked, and I have no advice for you. It happened to us once and it may have been one of the worst summers of my life.
  • Some of you will have to learn to drive. It used to be that only people who were raised in a city did not drive. Now, because of raised insurance and complex licensing requirements, a surprising number of young people leave for college with no driver’s license and never acquire one.
  • What about the books? Weed. In our recent downsize from Connecticut to New York, I sold about $1500 books. It was an emotional moment, but you know what? I had not opened most of them in years, and many were for courses I would never teach again. I have not missed a single volume, even to the extent of wanting to check it out of the library to look something up.
  • If you are moving to your dream job in San Francisco, New York or Chicago, do your best not to whine about the cost of housing. If you are moving to a very select number of institutions, you may have access to subsidized rental housing, or the university may offer you a low-low mortgage (at a few places, these mortgages are basically a signing bonus: the longer you stay, the more of it is forgiven.) But most of us pay, like the civilians do, and it is part of the price of enjoying a desirable, cosmopolitan location. Academic workers, as it turns out, are not entitled to a special rate to live wherever we want just because we are special people. That said, most of us who live in big cities are also embarrassed about the percentage of our income that goes to housing, and how little space we actually get for it. We talk to each other about it, but are unlikely to welcome expressions of shock or direct inquiries from friends and family members who live in Tulsa, Burlington, Detroit, Wilmington, Gainesville or any other place where housing prices are normal. Please pay attention as I reframe this as direct statement: it is rude to speculate or comment on how much you think (or know, since you can look it up on Zillow) that we are paying to buy or rent our homes. Comments like: “Gee, what you spend every month is what I spend for half a year in my home!” or “Did you look in Yonkers?” are particularly unwelcome.
  • Cable TV is a racket. Your new cable service will be as bad, or worse, than your current cable service. You are likely to have no choice as to what provider you must use. You probably know this already, but it bears repeating, particularly if you are moving into a house or building that dates from (or has not been renovated since) the era that TV was limited but free. Getting my new TV hooked up has taken at least the amount of time took Henry Beecher to walk from his boarding school in Hartford, CT to his family home in Litchfield in 1832, after he read in the newspaper that his father had been called to Cincinnati and he went into a panic that they would move without him (HT: Debby Applegate.) And it is still not hooked up right. Eventually, electricians will have to be summoned. In the midst of this media crisis I had a revelation: Ronald Reagan could not have “won” the Cold War because a perfectly good broadcast television system has been completely replaced with ill-functioning, so-called “universal” cable access!
  • If you have extracted a moving allowance from your new employer, it will not be adequate to the expense of moving. I’m telling you this right now so you won’t be shocked when you arrive at your destination and, before the crew chief agrees to remove your shattered and broken belongings from the truck, he extorts another thousand dollars or so from you. You will say: “But the estimate was……” and he will respond: “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” In the end, you will pay. My experience is that the moving company with the highest estimate is usually the least likely to hold you up for more. This is because they were honest with you. The others were just trying to get your business. If you are considering sending a small load with professional movers, my advice is: don’t. Rent a U-Haul and do it yourself, perhaps hiring movers on either end to load and unload. Movers that take small loads usually take five or six of at a time and then zig zag all over the place in random patterns, sometimes stopping to visit relatives in between. You will wait for weeks after the promised due date for your stuff to show up. Once a mover explained to me, after I had slept on the floor for over a week in an empty apartment, that he was late because his mother in Alabama had died.  Although he had been on his way to my new home in central Connecticut, he had driven south from Philadelphia instead to go to the funeral. With my furniture.
  • Your cat will create panic by disappearing. Most people are concerned that the cat will simply run out the door with the movers at some point and be gone forever. Experienced movers know that the Cat Manual  (New York and London: Hairball Press, 1972; rev. 1998) actually requires Fluffy to insert herself in a piece a furniture (a sofa bed, a cabinet.) She will not only disappear, but — best possible scenario — eventually be locked inside the truck, causing you to believe she is gone forever. Instead, you will arrive at your destination (having cried your eyes out) and find her, dehydrated and hungry, wailing pitifully from within. I believed, prior to our most recent move, that all of this this could be avoided by shutting our cat in the utility room. Not so. She managed to squeeze behind the upright washer dryer, which was in a closet, and inaccessible. I had to hide behind the door for twenty minutes until she strolled out, pleased as punch and confident we were gone. As I stuffed her into the carrier, I believe she growled some version of  ”Won’t get fooled again.” In cat.
  • If you are moving from the suburbs or country to the city, your dog may refuse to pee. For a very long time. There is something about concrete that feels like floor, which translates to “inside,” which means “there’s nowhere to pee or poo here!” to many dog brains. Also, cities are full of other dogs, who have peed everywhere, and this is also upsetting because all the spots are taken. Be prepared to march around for hours with your weeping dog while she gets tuned into the fact that the city is one big toilet.
  • Is it worth moving Ikea furniture? It depends. We recently abandoned some book cases that, at a conservative estimate, have been moved four times, but only because we didn’t have room for them in the new place which has (read it and weep) built-in bookshelves. They were pretty darn sturdy, and are now decorating someone else’s apartment. On the other hand, particle board breaks apart pretty easily, and often you arrive and the stuff you paid to ship isn’t worth keeping. On the other hand, it is so cheap — why not just buy fresh furniture on the other end rather than pay the extra weight? On the other hand, money doesn’t grow on trees. On the other hand, they don’t have Ikea everywhere. On the other hand, why would you fill up landfills with disposable stuff? On the other hand……..

Readers, what are your moving experiences?

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