Moving is tough. Almost everyone reports feeling physically and emotionally drained after a relocation. In my work with clients I find that even if you wanted this move, planned for this move or sacrificed for your move – it is still very hard on your body, mind and emotions. Why? Because you have just lost most or all of your routines, support networks, communities, friends and sometimes even family. Many people assume that once the the “hard work” of a move is done they will feel settled. This “hard work” includes: packing, saying goodbyes, loading the truck and then unpacking at the new house. What is not taken into account is the work that you are left with after you unpack; you have to rebuild complicated by the anxiety, grief and stress that comes up with any change – especially a change as big as a move.
If you recently moved you might be feeling out of sorts – perhaps unmoored, tired, tearful or easily angered. The first thing to know is that it takes 1-3 years (yes, years) to settle into a new city or town. Many clients get frustrated that they can’t just “get it together” after a few weeks or months following their move. This can easily cause a spiral into a self defeating inner monologue which makes everything feel worse.
Here is a list of a few things to do right away to begin to feel grounded in your new home, neighborhood and community.
1. Set up a ritual.
Go to the same coffee shop each day; get ice cream on Friday evenings; watch your football games at the same place. Whatever you choose, it is important to set a daily and weekly rituals to begin to structure your time. This is important for your family, your marriage and yourself. These don’t have the be routines or rituals that you keep forever. This is just a way to begin to feel held within your day or week. It also allows you to see the same people over and over which is how we build community.
After we moved, my family and I went to get ice cream every day at 3pm. No, I don’t advocate this as a long-term healthy food choice. However, for us, this was a way to begin to feel like we had a routine during this time where we all felt completely unmoored. We also took our dog to the dog park at the same time each morning where we saw the same people over and over. As they became familiar and we began to feel like we were part of this small community.
2. Tell everyone you just moved.
It may feel awkward to begin every conversation with ‘hi, we just moved here…,” but it is a wonderful conversation opener. People, for the most part, want to help and knowing that you are new to their community allows them an opening to offer help. As I used this opening with folks I discovered that many of the people I met were also transplants (some a year before and some 20 years before) and they wanted to offer advise on settling in or finding resources. They remembered how difficult it was for them.
Once you have told people you just moved this sets you up for Tip #3
3. Ask everyone for advise.
If you can be brave enough to let people know that you just moved you will most likely find that people will want to help you. It is a great idea to give them something to help you with. And you do need help – you need a doctor, a barber, a mechanic, a place to hike, a place for brunch and the best place for Thai noodles. You job is to ask for something specific – even if you know you can research, Google and Yelp your way to an answer. Ask them anyway – even if it is the same question you asked the last 10 people.
If there is something that you desperately miss from you old city – ask for that. Miss your poker night? Ask everyone if they play poker or know of a regular poker game. You might just find you get an invitation and suddenly find a wonderful group of friends.
You may not be able to think of anything that you want to do or find. This is when you need to use your imagination and remember to get specific. Perhaps it is Dim Sum, the best consignment shops or where to find gourmet ice cream. If nothing else this will get people talking, thinking and then offering to get back with you or even inviting to take you somewhere.
I find that the asking for advise is mostly about finding openings to connect with people. Finding friends takes time and you will need to meet 20-30 people before you find someone that you might consider for a friend.
4. Go out for walks.
Even if you don’t have a dog – go for walks. Try to go walking at the same time each day so that you begin to see the same people. People who are walking are mostly moving slowly and have a minute to say hello. This is where you use your now familiar opening of “hi, we just moved here” and then throw in a question.
Walking along your block also gives you an opportunity to catch your neighbors outside so you can introduce yourself. Not all of us live in places where neighbors go out of their way to bring over a pie and introduce themselves. You might need to go out and find your neighbors. When you do meet them I find that many “nosy neighbors” will want to pop into your house if you let them – so invite them in for coffee or simply a “want to see the house?” People are nosy and want to see if you repainted; they want to check out your stuff; and they want to share neighborhood gossip. Remember to ask them for their contact information, permission to contact them with questions and then write down their house number. And thinking about Tip #3 – follow up by emailing them with a question. Again, make it up if you need to. This is about opening conversations not actually finding the best ice cream in the neighborhood.
My father was out walking in our new neighborhood and started a conversation with someone who had kids close to my daughter’s age. He ended up dragging the family over to our house so that their daughter could meet my daughter. This ended up with a party getting organized by this wonderful family for all of her daughter’s friends so they could meet my daughter. This was all initiated by my father going out for a walk, saying hello and asking for help.
5. Have kids? Stay at drop off and pick up.
It is so uncomfortable to spend time in a crowd of people who all know each other and are all greeting one another. You can feel so longly as you walk between groups of friends laughing and sharing inside jokes. What you will want to do is flee – for home or your car. But what you need to do is just stay – for 5 or 15 minutes every day. Remember Tip #2 and #3 – approach people and say – “hi, we just moved – do you know a good place to get my car worked on?” But at a minimum just stay.
Just seeing people over and over again begins to build a sense of familiarity and a relationship. When you first move everything is new and unknown and you are new and unknown. As you simply spend time next to the same people – over and over/day-in and day-out (even if you don’t speak to them) – they become familiar. And as familiarity and comfort grows it becomes natural to say hello. And after a few weeks of saying hello, you will find it feels normal to ask them a question, tell them a funny story or commiserate about the news. The people you meet at your kid’s drop off may never become your best friends but you just never know. It is amazing how day-in and day-out greetings can quickly blossom into intimate friendships. Don’t underestimate the power of proximity with friends. Put yourself in their proximity.
6. Exercise – join a gym or a class.
First, exercise is a great stress reliever; it is good for your body, your soul and your emotional balance; and it is good for your skin. Secondly, classes or gyms can be great social environments especially if you stay after or arrive before class and ask people questions. Where to get good shoes? Any smoothy places nearby? Or if you are like me and are a bit introverted – just hang around and after a few months of seeing the same faces over and over again, I promise that they will begin to feel familiar. There is a strange phenomenon that happens when you just see the same people over and over – you gain comfort with them and begin to feel like they are friends. You might even feel comfortable asking them for coffee after class. And yes, this process takes weeks or months. You cannot get angry at yourself that after one spin class you don’t have a bestie.
7. Put everyone you meet into your address book.
Everyone is exhausted after a move. Just think of all that you just accomplished: packing, saying good-bye to friends, family, jobs and routines, moving and finally unpacking). It is exhausting and a tired brain cannot process new information well. It will be difficult to remember all the new names and faces you will be meeting. You need a way to store this information. I decided to enter every person I met into my address book – along with a short description of their physical appearance, where I met them, their address and the sometimes something obvious like the word “neighbor” if there were on my street. Before my move I would not have needed all these descriptors in my address book; before my move I could have relied on my memory. You can’t expect your brain to keep up with the torrent of information coming at you – outsourcing is a wonderful way to remove the expectation that you will remember anything.
8. Be gentle with yourself.
This is the most important piece of information that I want you to take from this blog. You need to be very gently with yourself right now. Not just for today or for a week – but for a year or three. Gentle means allowing yourself to fall apart when you can’t find the eggs in the grocery store even though you have been there 5 times. Gentle means that it’s OK to have many movie nights at home on the weekends or to purchase season passes to local amusement park because you don’t have any invites yet. Gentle means that it’s OK to cry when your other new neighbor who moved the same week as you has girlfriends to hike with and go on weekend excursions with. Actually, I will amend that to just say it is OK to cry at silly things. Gentle means understanding that you are transforming and changing and that no transition is without pain, mistakes, missteps and feeling like it will never be completed. If you are crying reading this then you are doing it exactly right – you are totally normal. Yay.
9. Remember that it takes time to truly feel settled.
It truly takes 3 years to feel settled in a new city or town. Even using all of these tips you will still have a large amount of time where you will feel anxious, depressed or like you have lost your identity. It is normal for the first year to have many at-home nights, or to spend more than budgeting on eating out. Give yourself a break and allow for there to be a year where you don’t do big outgoing events but rather spend time being quieter and focusing on comfort foods and comfort events. Many people look back on this coccooning year as a precious family-building time. One thing that can help is to say to yourself (outloud) “I am exactly where I should be and things are unfolding in the exact right time.”
10. It bears repeating – be kind to yourself. And if needed, ask for support from a counselor, therapist or religious leader.
Change is difficult and if you find that you would like some additional support to discuss how this move is affecting you, your family or your marriage please call for a free consultation or to schedule a session in my sunny central Boulder office. I can be reached at 720-551-8084.
– Ashley Seeger, LCSW