How I Deal (or Don’t) with Moving Stress
By Lisa Webb
Originally published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 24 | Summer 2016
How far in advance do you plan your holidays? Three months? Six months? A year? I assume most people think it’s nice to have a plan in place – to organize yourself, and have something to look forward to.
Now, what if I told you that our family of four isn’t going on vacation, but instead we’re packing up our lives and moving indefinitely to a foreign country in three months… and we still don’t know which foreign country that is yet. At this point, we don’t even know the continent. Would that cause you stress and anxiety?
Welcome to expat life! What I currently know for sure is that by the time my daughter finishes school at the end of June, our house will be empty, and I will be on a flight with our kids within a few days of the school ringing its final bell until September. The ticket for that flight, however, has not been purchased yet because we don’t know where our new home will be.
Relocation is nothing new to my husband and me. In our early days as a couple, we had moved once in Canada before life took us on the wild expat ride. Our first stop was Paris, France, then one year later, the boxes were packed again as we headed to the south of France, where we stayed for four glorious years and welcomed two beautiful little girls into our family, making that little town in the south of France forever near and dear to our hearts.
Things were rolling along nicely in our quaint little French life when one quiet January night our hot water tank exploded while we were out, causing all sorts of damage to the house. A few landlord issues later, and we found ourselves living in a charming French house, covered in mold. My husband just had a meeting at work that confirmed we’d be spending our sixth year in the land of wine and cheese. But as every expat knows, just when you let your moving-guard down, settle into a place, and start thinking of it as “home,” that’s usually when the boxes somehow appear back in your life.
Thinking that we had another year and a half left in France, we decided not to continue the lease on the moldy house, but instead find somewhere else to live for our remaining time in the country.
The story doesn’t end that simply though.
We moved to a new house in the same neighborhood, unpacked boxes, set up our things, and started to feel at home within the walls of our new house. A few months later, we were informed that my husband would have a new position at work that would relocate us to Borneo, Indonesia. We were blindsided. Summer was right around the corner, and I had just finished planning our August vacation to Corsica. Suddenly things were changing, fast! I immediately found myself canceling that summer holiday and looking at flights back to Canada for a family visit before we started our new life – as far from Canada as possible while remaining on planet earth.
Maybe I like the thrill of the last-minute adrenaline rush, but I’ve never been great at packing in advance. With my husband at work and my kids in school, my job was to get us ready for our life in Indonesia. I needed to divide our belongings into piles: take to Indonesia, stay in France, send to Canada. Not feeling stimulated by the task, the writer in me decided to deal with the stress by completely ignoring the task at hand and instead, start writing a book. As the days flew by, and our moving day loomed ever so close, my husband began questioning the lack of progress he was seeing each day as he arrived home.
“But look at what I wrote today!” I’d beam at my progress, although on the wrong task.
“Lisa!” he would stare at me with his ‘I mean business’ face, “We are leaving the country in a matter of days and our house looks exactly the same as it did when we moved in.”
“It’s under control,” I told him. “Relax.”
But perhaps in hindsight I may have relaxed a bit too much, because the day that the moving company arrived was one of the most hectic, chaotic, and stressful days of all the days we’ve had as an expat family.
Our kids had been shipped off to a neighbor’s house to play so they wouldn’t feel inclined to help in the special way two- and four-year-olds do. The scene consisted of my husband and me, three movers, and a house that didn’t resemble, in the least, one whose owners were about to embark on an international move.
My husband, trying to keep his patience, asked how I planned on orchestrating this, as he couldn’t see any distinct organization in place. There were no clues as to what was going to Canada, what was going to Indonesia, and what would stay with us in France for our remaining month. It was a schmozzle of me pointing at things, while directing in French which items were to go where. When they finally finished the main floor of the house, the movers informed me that only four more boxes would fit in our shipping container.
“What?!” I was sure I must have misunderstood his French because they hadn’t even gone upstairs where our bedrooms were yet.
I’ll finish the story by simply stating that we ended up donating a lot of things in France and updating all of our bedding, towels and bedroom decor upon arrival in Indonesia.
Was it an ideal situation? Not by any means. But procrastination has been a long time friend of mine, and I don’t see us breaking our bond anytime soon. It’s how I deal with things.
So as I sit here in Borneo, listening to the monkeys howl, wondering where the contents of our house will be shipped this summer, I remind myself of a few things.
The “stuff” in the boxes is exactly that – just stuff. You realize what you can live without when it’s put in a box and life goes on without it for months, until you receive it again on the other side of the world, often times forgetting you even owned it in the first place.
When a decision is out of your hands, there’s not much point driving yourself crazy with worry. Try to be patient, and find comfort in knowing you won’t be in limbo forever.
I’ve learned that stressing over something that I can’t change (like not knowing where I’m going to live in three months time) ripples into the lives of my husband and kids. So, I try (although not always successfully) to manage my stress by focusing on the positives and trying to enjoy the adventure.
Have I completely mastered the art of playing it cool during an international move? Not exactly. But I’d rather deal with one harried moving day than months of anxiety leading up to a day that will inevitably have some stress involved no matter what you do beforehand to prepare. I try my best to keep things calm when we move, acting like this shift in homes, locations and cultures is normal – if not for my own personal sanity, then for that of my little expat kids looking up at me from either side during this crazy journey.
[Photography © Lisa Webb]
The Summer 2016 issue of Global Living Magazine is FREE in our app!
If you enjoyed this article, SHARE it with your friends, fellow expats and international networks!
Copyright © 2016 Global Living Magazine, All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Global Living Magazine is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Global Living Magazine and www.globallivingmagazine.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.