settling in (happiness project, part 6)

Remember all those posts I made over the last few months about my upcoming move, and all the related feelings and freakouts and meltdowns?

Well, it happened!

In the past few weeks, Husband and I have completed the first leg of our move from the boonies of Western Massachusetts to the suburbs of New York City. Needless to say, it’s been a pretty big adjustment–we’ve gone from a single-family house on a quiet dead-end street to a small apartment in a large complex on a busy road. My commute has gone from a five-minute drive to a forty-minute train followed by a twenty-five minute walk, which, for obvious reasons, means I’ve had to make some drastic changes to my morning and evening routines to accommodate a much longer journey to and from work. That means, to my sadness, less time for writing and internet-ing in both the morning and evening, and, since I’m now held to a train schedule, much less flexibility in that routine from day to day. The last few weeks have been a pretty constant jumble of adjusting to new routines, unpacking, organizing, hanging, decorating, and rearranging. It’s been an adventure.

And the best part? In just over two months, we’re going to do it all again when we move into the housing that Husband’s job provides for us starting in June. Woo!

A few people–okay, a lot of people–have asked us why we’ve bothered to put as much time and energy into settling into our current apartment, given that we’ll only be there about three months. And honestly, it’s a fair question. Unpacking clothes and kitchenware is one thing; hanging artwork and arranging books feels like creating a much more “permanent” space.

For me, though, creating something that feels like a permanent home is what makes this process doable. Husband and I have moved approximately a bajillion times since we’ve been living together (okay, so maybe it’s more like seven, but still!), and one of the things that I’ve realized in the process of all these moves is that I need to feel like I’m home, not in a temporary or uncertain space. The extent to which I’ve been able to do that over our different moves has varied, from having only a few of our books and pictures to being able fully furnish and settle into a home for over a year, and I’m fully aware that it’s been a privilege to be able to make each place we’ve lived feel at least slightly like ours for the time that we’ve been there.

As nice as it is to stay in a hotel for a few nights, most of us wouldn’t want to live in one if we can avoid it, and the reason why is the same reason that college students decorate rooms they’ll only inhabit for four months at a time and kids at overnight summer camps set up their bunks with pictures of home and bring along a favorite pillow or stuffed animal. There’s just something about being surrounded by familiar things that brings a sense of peace and serenity that we just don’t have in temporary spaces, and those feelings of serenity are crucial to our brains’ ability to adjust after a major transition. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on studying transitional and resettlement traumas–a number I suspect will go up over the next few years, as millions of refugees are resettled across the globe–as sociologists and psychologists and other social scientists examine the ways in which people create homes in new places and work to find familiarity in the unfamiliarity. From a less academic and extreme perspective, online outlets from Buzzfeed to Reader’s Digest have put together articles (listicles, whatever) about adjusting to a new place and making a new location feel like “home.” Clearly, this is a pretty common phenomenon, which shouldn’t be surprising: the average American can expect to move 11.4 times in their adult lifetime. No wonder we’re looking for as many ways as possible to make the process smoother.

I’m a confident enough person to be able to admit that I don’t, and will probably never, have the temperament needed to enjoy moving. And I’m okay with that. This happiness project has never been about changing my core personality, but rather understanding the ways I can change my perspectives and needs to increase the amount of happiness I feel on a day to day basis. I’ve made my peace with the fact that my moves will require more work because I’m determined to make my space–however temporary–feel like home as quickly as possible. This particular time, this has worked out in our favor: Husband and I went from “no unpacked boxes” to “everything unpacked, art on the walls, internet installed, fresh-baked bread cooling on the counter” in a week and a half. It helps that by this point we’re pretty much a relocation dream team, but in all honesty? Knowing that we’re getting damn good at this makes the fact that we’ve got yet another move coming up in June feel a little less scary.

But for now, at least, I have an unpacked apartment that feels like home.

And at the end of the day, even if we didn’t set everything up right away, I know that sometimes, happiness isn’t the stuff you have in your home, but who you share it with.

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