Saturday, September 1, 2012

Musings on Moving

So, we are moving again.  This move is the first one in a long time that was initiated by my wife and me.  Our youngest daughter is off to college this year and we had decided to down-size when that happened.  Our intention of course was to wait a bit and sell our current house and then find a place near where we used to live 20 years ago.  Of course, we found exactly the house we wanted much sooner than expected and decided to go ahead and make an offer.  The offer was accepted and this next weekend we’ll start moving things over to the new place while we get the current “La Casa Sherrard” ready to go on the market. 
The fact that we are moving yet again got me to thinking about how mobile we American’s are and also got me wondering how long this phenomenon of people picking up stakes and going somewhere else has been going on.  It turns out, it's been going on for a long, long time.
My wife and I have been together 27 years, and during that time, we will with this next move have changed addresses 8 times.  Before that, I had moved only once from the house I grew up in. So, in total, by the time I’m 54, I will have had 10 different addresses that I used to call home.  I thought that was a lot, and that compared with other people I know I’ve moved around quite a bit. Turns out I’m wrong.   We are an extremely mobile nation, with the US Census reporting that over the average American’s life-time, they will have changed addresses an average of 14 times.   So, I am 30% below average on the mobility scale right now and hopefully that is where I’ll stay before my final address is established at some cemetery somewhere. 
I really hate moving.  Most of the time we moved it was done out of necessity as I got transferred to this place or that and while we were able to get a lot of assistance from our company in terms of packing, transport, unpacking, etc. it is still a royal pain in the behind.  Fortunately I don’t get the really mind-numbing chores in this endeavor.  All of that stuff such as getting phones switched over, power on at the new place, finding all those damned accounts, contacts, etc. that we have to give changes of addresses to and stuff like that is the realm of my wife.  She has been the anchor around our moves and has this down to an efficient system.  I just stay the hell out of the way and wait for her to task me with something that usually involves lifting a heavy object.

Still, I was curious about how we compared with others and started asking some of my friends how many times they have moved over their lifetimes.  It turns out, of few the people I queried (not a massive sample set, more like 10-15 folks), and their experiences were much higher and in the 15 – 20 move range by the time they reached my age (53).   What I’ve discovered looking into this is that there is somewhat of a sign-wave of activity relative to a person’s economic condition.  Poor people move quite a bit, lower middle class folks tend to stay longer in one place, upper middle class people move quite a bit and the upper classes tend to stay put.  That's not true in all cases, but it seems like those who are on the move are usually looking to improve their circumstances through a job change or they are leaving because of some hardship.  According to the US Census, over 40 million people move once per year!  This is over 10% of our total population and it boggles the mind when you think of all the boxes that get packed and unpacked.  (Oh, fun fact:  My wife and were going through boxes the other day getting ready to move somethings and found boxes that we had moved 2 times but had not yet unpacked.  Guess where they went? )
It turns out Americans are a restless lot.  Compare us to other countries like Great Britain, Canada, Japan and others, and we far outpace the amount of moves the people living in those countries undertake.  I think one of the reasons this happens is that the United States is a very large country with many different regions that attract different people for a variety of reasons.   The biggest, single movement during the World War II era was a migration of people from agrarian locales to urban areas.  Cities exploded in population as jobs in manufacturing took off.  The South lost thousands of people to cities like Chicago and Detroit because of the jobs available in those cities.   Only in the last 20 years or so have we seen the trend reversing with cities like Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Tampa, enlarging their populations with people coming in from the northern states. 
I think we all have some nostalgia for the idea of the Norman Rockwellian vision of a small town with a soda shop that has a gazebo in the town square with everyone knowing everyone and life is idyllic and serene.  That of course is not reality, and I don't think it ever was. Oh sure, there were some families with multiple generations still in Boston, New York and other large, old cities.  Landed folk, such as ranchers and farmers pass down their homes from generation to generation if they are lucky, but by and large we are a people on the move.  We are like the Berber nomads in the Sahara, only we don't move as often and usually leave our houses behind when we go.
Work, college, relationships and many other events often are the catalyst for us going to new locations. Sometimes it is out of necessity, sometimes it is out of adventure and opportunity.  I think this is quite normal for us Americans and don't really see it changing anytime soon.   The ability to travel quickly to our homes via airplane, train, or even if we don't we have technology such as video conferencing that allows us to connect with those family members or friends from our past, so we can stay somewhat attached to our past should we want to.  The advent of social networking allows us to keep in touch with those we know, knew and some we wish we didn't. 
So,  I guess this wanderlust for Americans is part of us.  We seem to need to go somewhere and often times with full intention of staying only to find out in a few years it is time to pick up and go somewhere else.
I'm curious to hear from our readers how your experiences have been with regard to moving.  How many times have you moved in your life?   Is there a place you wish you had stayed put?  If you had the chance would you go back?  How many more times between now and the time you close your eyes for the last time do you think you will move?
Let me know what you think.  Oh, and by the way;  Anyone want to buy a house?






  1. Nice piece, Dennis. You've got me thinking about "social mobility" in America in a very different way than usual. It would be interesting to learn the extent to which changes in dwellings are related to (a) upward vs. downward changes in social status; (b) competitive pricing driving small moves; vs. (c) pure wonder-lust.

  2. After a quick run through I think I have had 22 addresses I called home. Worst time was when I had 3 apartments at the same time. One in Florida, one in Chicago and one in Texas. That lasted 5 or 6 months while my family lived in Florida and I moved a data center from Chicago to D/FW. Lotsa air miles and lotsa fatigue. I think you may have benefited from that effort Dennis.


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