The Psychology of Moving to a New Home

Age 55 seems to be a life milestone when many think more seriously about future eventualities like retirement or moving out of the family home. The latter can be driven by many motivations:

  • The existing home feels too big once the kids have moved out
  • Home maintenance has become overwhelming
  • The neighborhood has turned over, and old friends have moved away
  • The current multi-level home has stairs that will become a concern with age
  • A change in health status that makes the current residence impractical
  • The local climate forces consideration about a place with better weather
  • A desire to be closer to family

Questions to Ask

No matter the reasons, the decision to move can only be made after certain questions have been answered.

Am I Willing to Give Up Familiarity?

"Panic can really set in around your home and your apartment," said Ronnie Greenberg, a Manhattan psychoanalyst in a New York Times article. "It's a matrix of safety, so moving is incredibly stressful and people don't realize it — they mainly talk about the packing and the external part of moving."

For those who may have been living in the same home for decades, the prospect of moving can feel very uncomfortable. Moving is considered to be one of the top five most stressful events in a lifetime, according to an article by University Hospitals in Cleveland, OH. Aside from mental distress, such stress can cause a variety of physical illnesses related to:

For couples, differing attitudes about moving can cause significant problems. For example, a husband resists moving even though his wife's health is at risk by staying in the current residence.

What is my Health Status?

Health weighs in as a key consideration in moving. For example, difficulties with dressing and medication tasks may clearly signal that moving to an assisted living facility is essential. On the other hand, current good health reduces the feeling of urgency about moving. That lack of urgency could turn into procrastination, resulting in waiting too long and being forced to move due to health.

Can I Afford to Move?

home packing moving boxesMany people have only a vague idea of how much it costs to live in their current homes. They assume out of hand that moving is out of the question due to cost. This assumption can lead to anxiety and a feeling of being trapped if other factors favor moving.

What Type of Residence?

Along with health status and cost, personal preferences also factor into consideration of future residence alternatives.

While health and cost represent concrete needs that constrain choices, personal preferences steer the "want" factors in choosing a residence. For example, social interaction availability, religious affiliation, or welcoming of LGBTQ residents could be "want to have" features that influence the choice.

What Will I Do With My Stuff?

Letting go of things can be a crucial roadblock for some people when considering a move. Moving in one's later years frequently means going to a place with less square footage. Going through years of accumulated things presents a logistical challenge and often an emotional one. Sentimental attachment to objects may make downsizing difficult. It might even scuttle a move that would be in one's best interests.

Dealing with psychological barriers to moving can be challenging. Yet, facing the high probability that a future move will be inevitable can be a powerful incentive to act early. It makes sense to plan a move on one's terms rather than being rushed into it by a health scare or some other life-changing event.

Feel the Fear

Admitting one's fear of moving represents the essential first step. Talking about these fears with a family member or trusted advisor may clarify the issues driving anxiety. Viewing a move as just another of life's necessary and emotionally survivable transitions could help in preparing mentally.

Coping with Loss

Focusing more on the potential gains of a move rather than perceived losses can help to manage the grief that will invariably accompany the transition. With technology today, staying in touch with family and friends is easier than ever. With a little effort, those connections can be maintained, easing the transition.

Also, even though it is hard to break the ice sometimes, meeting new people can be a great relief from the feeling of unfamiliarity in a new environment. It is often the case with senior living facilities that residents feel a sense of a shared experience of all "being in the same boat."

Getting a Fix on Cost

The real costs of the current living arrangement need to be calculated. This will serve as a basis for comparison with future living alternatives. The current cost analysis needs to be thorough. For example, it might be tempting to ignore the cost of groceries because, theoretically, the same grocery items are purchased no matter where one lives. However, the cost of living differs between localities. Failing to take a factor like this into account will result in an incomplete picture.

Dealing with All That Stuff

Home clutterLetting go of the accumulated possessions of many years can be a painful process. However, it can also be a liberating experience. Physical objects frequently serve as stand-ins for underlying emotions. Understanding this can help get the process started. By taking small initial steps with items of less sentimental value, a feeling of freedom can begin to form. Emboldened by the first steps, more challenging housecleaning can move forward. If needed, many personal organizers offer services to help sort through the pile.

Inviting Others to Help

Inviting family and friends to help plan and execute the move delivers multiple benefits. First, from a practical perspective, it makes sense to share the many tasks of moving with others. A high priority should be placed on preventing burnout. As noted above, moving is both physically and mentally taxing, so spreading the work among several people makes a challenging project more bearable.

Second, having familiar people around will provide an emotional bridge to the new environment. This becomes a great way to ease into the new situation.

Placing Good Memories Front and Center

family-roomPictures and videos need to be carefully curated before the move. These represent comforting memories that will also help to smooth the transition. Decorating walls with favorite pictures, placing photo albums close by, or setting up a digital picture frame will make the new home feel more like home.

Taking it Easy

Expect anxiety to be a part of the experience. To keep stress at a reasonable level, plan ahead for the various steps, and allocate plenty of rest time. If the stress is too high, ask for help or take a break. The moving project won't be perfect, so accepting that will take some stress out of the situation.


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