8 lessons I've learned from moving 14 times in 12 years

Katia_L/ShutterstockMoving brings new opportunities to meet people and explore different cultures.
  • Moving can be overwhelming, both financially and emotionally.
  • On the other hand,movingto a new place brings the opportunity to meet new people, explore a different area, and have meaningful experiences.
  • Author Yan Mei moved 14 times in 12 years, including international and cross-country relocations – here’s what she learned.

I’ve been living contentedly in the same neighbourhood for almost four years, yet my friends and family still ask, “Will you move again soon?”

I don’t blame them: I have a bit of a nomadic history. I moved 14 times in 12 years, including three international moves (from China to Great Britain, from Great Britain to Switzerland, and then Switzerland to the United States) and one cross-country move from the San Francisco Bay Area to New York City.

I consider myself fortunate, because my moves have gone hand in hand with positive steps in life – a graduate degree in London, career growth for my husband, a bigger apartment before I gave birth.

Moving so many times commanded a great deal of planning and effort, not to mention stress. However, the excitement of reorganising my life and being part of a new place has always given me an adrenaline rush.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned as a serial mover:


Always research the cost of living, job prospects, and healthcare details prior to moving to a new country

YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/ShutterstockResearch before moving to a new place.

I didn’t know that London would be so expensive until I moved there from China for grad school.

The city really honed my maths skills: The number on every price tag, times 15, would yield how much it would cost in Chinese yuan. At least the UK’s public health insurance,National Health Service (NHS), is free.

For every subsequent relocation, I made a list of pros and cons of the cost of living, job prospects, and health care in my new prospective home prior to moving.


A short trip to the country you’re moving to before the move can leave a misleading impression

canadastock/ShutterstockSan Francisco.

Moving to London taught me that cities vary widely neighbourhood by neighbourhood, and one sightseeing trip might leave a skewed impression.

My husband’s company offered us visits to Switzerland and San Francisco before our moves, but we turned them down. We decided to leave neighbourhood navigation until after we landed.

Once we arrived, with a clearer big picture, we had no qualms making the final decision about where we wanted to live, even though we hadn’t set foot in the cities before we moved.


Find your bearings through research before moving

Mostovyi Sergii Igorevich/ShutterstockUnderstand every detail about your new neighbourhood.

While calculating the financials and having a big picture of relocation is crucial for people like me, who either can’t or choose not to visit a new city or country before moving, visiting and investigating different neighbourhoods is equally important after you land.

A neighbourhood’s public transportation, commute, schools, neighbourhood safety, grocery shops, and entertainment options will all affect your daily life, so you want to get to know them as well as possible before making a decision.

During our last move, daycare hunting was the last thing on my mind. I naïvely thought that there would be abundant choices in a cosmopolitan city like New York. This was a big mistake. In reality, it took me three months to find suitable daycare for our son.


Downsize your belongings

Patty Chan/ShutterstockFreeing yourself of excess belongings will make your life easier.

I’ve learned to dedicate a few nights before each move to getting rid of things that I haven’t used for a year or more before professional movers come to pack.

It was psychologically liberating and saved me time unpacking when I moved to a new place.

For instance, I donated half of my book collection to a local library before moving from London to Switzerland and purged a few pieces of old furniture prior to the cross-country move.


Organise your possessions strategically before packing them

Solis Images/ShutterstockPack by category and label boxes.

After my husband and I moved from London to Switzerland, we found a ballpoint pen wrapped in three layers of thick paper in a box labelled “Kitchen.” Professional movers will wrap and pack anything, but only the owner knows where everything belongs. I learned to pre-pack similar items in the same cupboard or area, which made unpacking in my new home much easier.

Many moving companies pack and label boxes by room, but I’ve found that the most efficient way to pack is by category, as organising expertMarie Kondosuggests: clothes, books, tools, games and toys, etc.

Another reason to organise things by category is that it helped me remember to back up important documents digitally and keep the original ones with me when I moved. These are items that I never want to get damaged or misplaced.

A word of advice: If finances permit, hire a moving company. I used professional movers for every move that required furniture moving. The way they protected and ensured the safety of furnishings, and reassembled them efficiently, was a life-saver.


Declutter your mind, too

Mariia Golovianko/ShutterstockI took a leap of faith and moved to Switzerland.

It took a big leap of faith for me to decide to move from Great Britain to Switzerland, because I had a job that I enjoyed, and everything in my life had fallen into place in London.

We moved for my husband’s job. However, since I’m not an EU national, I had great difficulty obtaining a working visa in Switzerland.

First of all, not speaking a local language fluently was a substantial hindrance. Additionally,employers in Switzerlandmust give priority to Swiss people, EU citizens, and foreign nationals with Swiss work permits when looking to fill a job, according to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. They even need to be able to prove that they couldn’t find anyone suitable for the role who met those requirements before hiring a foreign national from outside of the EU.

Since it was a joint decision to relocate for the overall benefit of the family, I knew dwelling on my negative experience wouldn’t make things any better.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, in a TED talk, said, “Whenever you’re choosing one thing, you’re choosing not to do other things, and those other things may have lots of attractive features, and it’s going to make what you’re doing less attractive.”

I’ve learned that moving is really about what I am willing to give up and letting go of regrets and doubts.


Be open-minded about others’ opinions of my country and culture

Rawpixel.com/ShutterstockMoving has opened my eyes to other cultural habits and behaviours.

“Does everyone in China eat dog meat?” When a local girl posed the question soon after I moved to Switzerland, every part of me wanted to scream, “Of course not!”

As Carl Jung has said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Moving around has encouraged me to see my country’s history, cultural behaviours, and habits through other people’s eyes.


Observe and adjust to different cultural preferences

Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesPersonal space is constantly invaded in China, for example.

The nature of politeness changes from place to place. Each culture has unwritten rules of how much distance people give each other in a line and how loudly people speak in public spaces.

China is the world’s most populous country, so it’s inevitable that personal space is constantly invaded and it’s always touchy-feely in lines or on public transportation.

In the UK and USA, people are more conscious of personal space and stick to themselves. I had to reconsider what I considered polite and work out the norms of each culture with each move.


Keep close friends closer

mimagephotography/ShutterstockAfter so many moves, I have a small circle of close friends.

Moving frequently has enabled me to build a large social network, with one caveat: Each move tests my ability to maintain relationships with close friends.

A paperby two scholars from the universities of Kansas and Dayton shows that people’s tendencies to dispose of possessions and social ties are related. Frequent movers may feel compelled to choose which relationships to invest in and to keep, and which to let go.

After so many moves, I’ve realised that a small circle of close friends is all I can manage.


Home is where I make it

Grekov’s/ShutterstockWe now will factor in my son’s well-being before making a decision to move.

I’ve been away from my hometown of Shanghai for 16 years. Before we moved across the US, my husband gave me a piece of wooden wall art for my birthday, painted with “Home is wherever I’m with you.”

I carry the memories of each place I’ve lived in, both sweet and bitter, with me every day. Each move has bonded my family closer as we share new experiences and explore new cities. It doesn’t matter where I live, home is where I make it.

The only move we’ve done with our son was the relocation from San Francisco to New York, when he was 20 months old. Since he was so young, the experience didn’t take a toll on him. Butmoving’s social and emotional effects on my childas he grows are now factored into when I need to make a moving decision in the future. For now at least, we are staying put.

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