Moving is chaotic, but clarifying, too

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This evening, after Jay and Wally were in bed, I found myself walking upstairs in our new house in South Carolina, holding a single, dirty, kid’s sock. Moments earlier I’d been standing in front of the washing machine, warm water already pumping into the drum, holding that same sock and realizing my dilemma: If I threw it in now it likely would be lost forever among our linens, but in the chaos of our unpacking, I had no idea where to find the little mesh zipper bag we usually use for the boys’ socks. So, I let the wash run and walked back upstairs holding the sock. It’s sitting beside me now, and I still have no idea where to put it.

That’s been a common feeling these past three days. We arrived in at our new houseĀ on Friday night, after a week-long drive down from Maine (I’ll write something shortly about our summer there). We spent the first night in our house on air mattresses. The moving truck arrived the next morning. The boys mostly amused themselves while Caroline and I tore into the boxes: the boys’ room first, then the playroom, then the kitchen, then, finally, our bedroom on Sunday night. That effort, plus multiple trips each to Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s, has us basically up and running. The boys started school this morning and Caroline got the key to her new office. This evening, as we ran through our bedtime routine, it almost felt like we’d been here awhile.

But back to the sock. The mental experience of the last three days has felt like standing in the middle of a blizzard, where each snow flake is something we need to do: It’s hard to know what to do first, if we take our eyes off one task it disappears into oblivion, and there are so many competing priorities it often feels hard to get anything done at all. This is true about life in general, but moving accentuates the overload in two ways: First, there are just a gazillion more things to do when you’re setting up a new house, and second, settling in a new place creates all sorts of forward-looking, optimistic feelings about the great life you’re going to build with your fresh start. To put this is in specific terms, here is a partial list of the things I thought to do just in the last hour: buy a lawn mower, clean Jay’s lunch box, save for college, schedule pediatrician and dentist appointments, do more pushups, buy ramekins, send our neighbors a thank-you note for their welcome cookies, cultivate Jay’s interest in building things, attach a marker to the white board with a piece of string.

It’s no surprise, then, that there have been times these past three days when I’ve quite nearly had trouble breathing. But there’s a good and satisfying side to having such a long to-do list, too. While it’s been overwhelming at times, more often the scope of the tasks before us has made it easier to stop, accept that I’m not going to get everything done today, and ask the question: What’s the most important thing I need to do right now? And often the answer to that question has been satisfying. I need to make sure Jay and Wally get enough to eat and get to bed early enough so they’re fresh for school tomorrow. I need to spend time with Caroline, even if it’s just sitting with her while she hangs clothes in the closet. I need to lie on my back and listen to the sounds out the window of a place I never would have expected I’d end up living.

When life feels a little more in control, it’s easy to suffer the illusion that you can get everything done,and when you think you can get everything done, you don’t feel the need to prioritize. Moving is an exceptional time in life, but I also think it stresses a constant if easily forgotten truth: We all, always, have more ideas for our lives than we can act on, and the real trick is figuring out what the most important thing is to do, now.

Related post from Growing Sideways: “After the flood and the move, it’s good to see you again.”

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5 thoughts on “Moving is chaotic, but clarifying, too

  1. My mentor once shared this with me: All tasks have two considerations – Is It urgent? and Is it vital? If it is both urgent and vital, it has the highest priority. If it is vital but not urgent, it most likely should colme next. If it is urgent but not vital, it mostly likely can be put off (and sometimes neglected as not worth doing). This helped be sort out the seemingly urgent tasks that needed attention now and those that I could set aside for later. He went on to open the dictionary and read to me the definition of vital. This approach has served me well for decades.

    • I like that a lot, John. If it’s not characteristic of life, or living beings, leave it be. Funny to say that I can think of a lot of things I spend my time on that aren’t actually characteristic of life.

  2. Hi, Kevin! This is Caroline’s cousin Bonnie. Loved this post. (I often read but don’t reply). First, I am so very impressed that you actually separate out the boys’ socks in one of those mesh bags! So smart, and I never thought of it. I hope that your move goes well. The Carolinas are lovely. We happen to be in the middle of a move as well. In fact, I am in a hotel room with one of our cats in Meridian, MS, on my second trip with pets from OH to LA (Baton Rouge). The girls and I were going to stay the year in OH because they had not gotten into the private school we liked in Baton Rouge, but we got a call late on July 30th that they could both go, and they started on Aug. 8th! This is my 10th (or 11th?) move as an adult; every move has its own, unique challenges as well as adventures. Good luck to you four!

    • Bonnie- Thank you so much for writing! That is an amazing turnaround you and the girls made this summer, to go from thinking you’ll be in Ohio for the year to living in Baton Rouge just over a week later. I hope life has settled down a little since. Thank you for the good wishes, and the same to you and the girls. Kevin

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