Still waiting. There’s nothing quite like rushing to meet a deadline when you don’t know what the deadline is. It’s not the end of the world or anything, just that moving can be stressful. In fact, moving is considered one of the most stressful life events. More stressful than that is losing a home to foreclosure, on some scales.
But, really, why does putting our stuff in boxes and turning our lives upside down for a few weeks create so much stress? For most people, they already know where they are moving to. I have no idea yet where I’ll wind up. However, every other time I’ve moved has been stressful, even when I’ve been excited about moving.
Moving out of a space you’ve created for yourself and your loved ones changes just about everything. You are not just changing locations. You’re also changing an aspect of your identity – what neighborhood you identify with. You’re changing your routine. You’re changing your view. You’re creating a new home. You’re changing.
Unlike other stressful life events, such as marriage, the birth of a child, the loss of a loved one, there are no social ceremonies that mark the passage from one home to another.1 In all these other events, your friends and community members rally around you, lending you support, celebrating your new identity, but this is not true of moving so much.
So, moving is a stressful life event. Combine that with the high stress event of foreclosure, then add in being sued (eviction), starting a lawsuit, or adding to your family unit (moving in with relatives). The more major stress events you have going on in your life, the more likely you are to sustain a stress-related illness. There is a laundry list of stress-related illness, but some of the most serious are the higher likelihoods of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Anyone who has been through any of these events, I’m sure, can relate.
So many people, including myself, have a tendency to define themselves partly by their home. Some of the most common questions when getting to know someone are: 1) What do you do? and 2) Where do you live? Our society often appraises people based on these two questions, especially since it is socially unacceptable to ask what political party or religion one belongs to.
Yes, I’m proud of the house I once owned. I love the home I have created. I love having a pool to have summer pool parties in. I love having a fireplace to gather around in the wintertime. I love being within two miles of most of the shopping I need to do. But these things don’t and shouldn’t define me as a person. Or you.
Once you’ve created a home, it is cozy and comfortable. It becomes your cocoon. Whereas you may not have control over the décor at your work, you do at home. Whereas you may not be able to get other drivers to drive the way you think they should, you have more influence over whether or not the kids get to run in circles around the sofa in the family room. Whereas you can’t get rid of the garden gnomes in your neighbor’s yard, you can create your yard however you want. We create these spaces to be comforting, safe, and beautiful. And it is scary to leave them.
Here, I feel, is the essence of many people’s reluctance to move after foreclosure, the logic behind digging in and entrenching themselves until the last moment – the reason many foreclosed homeowners find themselves on the hamster wheel.
It’s a scary world out there.
Once you know that it is possible to lose your job and to lose your home, nothing in life seems very certain any longer. We’ve all been raised with the belief that if you work hard, you keep your job for a long time, and that you should follow the American dream of owning your own home.
When you’ve done all that, and you lose it all, it’s hard to know where to begin again. What is your new belief system? Do you keep repeating the cycle of the old belief system? What norms do we now choose to define ourselves as “successful”? You know the possibility exists that the same thing could happen again. Most of us don’t want to create the situation that allows for that possibility. It feels like it’s safer to stay where you are then to tempt fate by getting excited about starting all over, only to lose it all again.
As for me, I am going to take a leap of faith and move at least two hours away from where I live now. It’s not like moving to completely foreign territory, but it is someplace I’ve never lived before. How do I decide which city or town in all of Los Angeles and Orange counties to pick to live in? Will I still be close to shopping? Will I like my neighbors? Can I handle more traffic? Will it be easier to find a desirable job? Can I afford to rent a place the same size as where I’m used to living? Will I be able to afford a home there, eventually?
I don’t have the answers to any of those questions yet. What I have finally realized after having been entrenched in a home that doesn’t legally belong to me any longer, struggling to find even temporary work, is that this isn’t working for me. My safe place no longer feels cozy. The place that is supposed to nurture me has bound and gagged me. It has become a restrictive cocoon, and I’m ready to burst out of it and spread my wings.
Anything is possible.
1 Making the Big Move: How to Transform Relocation into a Creative Life Transition, Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. (New Harbinger Publications, 1999).