Playing House

house 5 I’m moving house this morning. Those six words are enough to put knots into my stomach and I’m trying to keep the anxiety at bay by reframing this as “playing house” rather than “moving house”. There’s no escaping the fact that moving is very stressful — some stress guides put it up there just below losing a parent or a spouse. Part of me is deeply unsettled by the prospect but I’m also quite excited. There’s good stress and bad stress all jumbled together and when you most need to retreat to your favourite place to regroup, well, it’s gone, hasn’t it? And then you can’t find anything that you need, despite the meticulous labelling on all the boxes.

There are many ways to approach a move and possibly the most sensible is to tackle it like a formidable military campaign. Preparation is everything and you need to-do lists, time schedules, contingency plans and good supply lines. I’m all for making the move as comfortable as possible but I’m trying not to get caught up in too much list-writing. It also helps that my new house is only five minutes drive from my parents’ place, where I’ve been staying for going on two years. So in terms of stressful life events, this really shouldn’t be a crippling, curl-up-into-a-ball-and-start-rocking move.

Last time I moved it was the end of 2007 and one image stands out for me from that time. It was the end of a long, gruelling year and I was having to go back to my parents while I finished my thesis and waited to start my community service as a psychologist in the military. I’d just packed up my entire house into two separate storage areas and I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I remember sitting in the bath in an otherwise largely-deserted house and trying to cry and feeling utterly wretched. It was a miserable feeling but it did feel like a turning point and I could start going up again.

Today’s move seems like child’s play in comparison. For a start, the packing has largely been done. All the finding and gathering and ordering and throwing away and labelling and storing and all that. This is the fun part where I get to open boxes like presents and remember all the things that I used to have and will now have again. Books and CDs and coffee-tables and paintings and a whole assortment of unnecessary papers. I’m leaving the parental home for the last time (hopefully) at the ripe age of 39. Hallelujah! I’ve come of age! P and I are moving in together and will get a chance to play house.

Yesterday P and I got access to the house and it was such a relief to see that the keys worked, the alarm turned off and that the tenants had left it in good shape. They even left some wood in the fireplaces, which was a nice touch, although I was less thrilled to see that my new study has lilac-coloured walls and their daughter’s name on the door. In fairness to them, they did offer to paint the walls white again but I thought the lavender colour would be charming and also serve to remind us that if we ever decide to have a child, this room could easily be turned into a nursery once again. The child-like letters on the door, which now spell out “Milla” in different colours, will probably have to go but if you take away the “A” you have “mill”, which is quite a fitting name for a study. After all, it’s Freud who talks about everything being “grist for the mill”.

Apart from my hacking cough and P’s dripping nose, which are the inevitable hangers-on from a cold and wet Cape winter, we’re in pretty good shape for the move. My boxes are all packed and I’m meeting the movers at the storage park where they’ll transfer the contents of Unit 451 into a truck rather than a bakkie (fingers crossed here) and driving us to the “slum”. That rather charming image comes courtesy of my mom whose serious words of advice to me were not to let “Joschka [the dog] turn your house into a slum”. Thanks, ma, I really needed that image right now, just as I’m showing P the peeling paint and the window-frames that need replacing and the floorboards that need sanding and varnishing and who-knows-what-else.

Some words of advice from Martha Beck, the life coaching guru. I read an interesting column from Helena Dolny in this week’s Mail & Guardian in which she quotes Martha Beck’s advice on being steered by your own “body compass”:

Beck leads us through constructing our own body compass. It’s quite simple, really. Firstly, think of a time you consider to be one of your best moments ever, of feeling loved, feeling safe. … That’s you’re ‘plus-10’ reference point. Next, think of a time that was the worst of your life. … That’s your “minus 10”. … The next thing Martha asks you to do is to write down your “to do” list for the following week. … Then take your list, consider your own body compass you just set up and score the list. … Identifying the area of most dissatisfaction is the entry point into a possible conversation with yourself, or with someone you can think things through with.

There’s no doubt that the lowest score for me would be moving house. But now that I’ve visited the house again and sorted through the previous memories of moving in my mind, I think this move could also be quite fun. I’m not saying that the anxiety magically goes away but there’s room to enjoy some of the move rather than feeling on edge the whole time. What’s a dropped couch here and there in the broader scheme of things?

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11 Responses to Playing House

  1. Good luck with the move! And I hope you get lots of fabulous work done in the mill.

  2. Moving is a big pain in the derriere. But after it’s all over you’ll have your house!

  3. Emily says:

    have a child immediately and name it milla. problem solved!

  4. litlove says:

    Good luck with the move, Pete! I found the packing and the saying goodbye emotional when I recently moved college rooms. I had to remind myself that a huge amount had happened in the five years I’d had them, and there needed to be some respect for the emotions aroused by drawing a line under that. But you know, the moment I’d got into the new place, I was fine. Novelty has a lot of charm about it, and it’s very attention-demanding. Interesting that you are moving in with P. I’m sure you’re both utterly delighted about that, but inevitably it will bring some anxiety that it’s best to have out in the open. A good friend of mine told me how she and her partner wrote a list, after 6 weeks of living together, of all the things that drove them mad about the other person. They did it with humour and good will and the understanding that NO two humans fit together like gloves and she said it was the best thing they ever did. No seething resentment, just an early wake up call to change a few bad habits.

    I also like the Martha Beck advice. I am always tardy about using my inner compass, and this seems like a good idea.

  5. Pete says:

    Charlotte – Thanks, I hope so too. The first thing I should probably write is the comic story of the move. What a comedy of errors. When I’ve stopped laughing I’ll have to post about it here too.

    Lilian – I know, and a fabulous house it is too.

    Emily – I can just see how the conversation would pan out: “Dad, how did I get my name again?” “Well, Milla, it was really because we already had the name-plate on the door!”

    Litlove – I was also thinking yesterday about the emotions attached to many of the things I was unpacking. Such a strange mix of feelings. And that’s good advice about the list. Thanks.

  6. boxofbooks says:

    Have a happy move, Pete! I hope there’s champagne waiting in one of those boxes.

  7. Pete says:

    boxofbooks – Thanks Ella. The champagne glasses will be put to use soon. I was also thinking which of my blogging friends had moved recently and I was sure that your move (even across continents and with children) was a lot smoother than my bumpy move down the road. When I’ve caught my breath I really should blog about nearly setting the house alight, ramming my neighbour’s car and hiring a mover with a horse trailer. It was “Mr Bean Moves House” material but I’m not quite at the stage where I want to write about it!

  8. sandy says:

    Especially the tail-end of the move when you are stuck with all those large, odd-sized things that won’t fit in a box. A mop, for instance. I’m ready to pull my hair out and run away.

  9. doctordi says:

    I love the mill! Pete, I jumped up and down in my seat a little seeing the photo and reading about the move – it’s so exciting! Personally, I get REALLY attached to places, so VERY emotional when it comes time to leave, but I love, love, love moving for the change and thrill and reinvigoration and reorientation and, oh, a whole bunch of stuff. All the unknowns. And making this new place a home for you and P, well, I think and hope you’ll both find enormous pleasure and satisfaction in that. You may not need a list – we didn’t.

  10. Pete says:

    Sandy – I know the feeling. But it helped that I could just go back to my parents for another two nights before actually having to take the plunge!

    DoctorDi – I’m sure the excitement will come. At the moment we’re still at the stage where we’re working out which is the hot tap (since it’s always the opposite of what it appears, for some odd reason) and other little glitches. But I am loving the neighbourhood. As for the list, I think it’ll be a good way to negotiate any tensions.

  11. doctordi says:

    At least you still have two taps – our kitchen sink tap is a combo, and I think it’s about the most dangerous thing in the place. Loving the ‘hood is a big plus. Enjoy!

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