On Moving with Less Stress.

By: Jen Shoop

I received a lovely note from a Magpie last week in which she shared that she’d finally encountered “a year that answered instead of asked.” (Is this year asking or answering for you?) For her, a part of “the answer” was the purchase of a forever home in the midst of a stressful home-buying market. Though she is relieved to be on the downslope, she asked: “Do you have any words of wisdom, practical tips, etc on packing, moving, unpacking, and settling in with a young child?”

I have so many thoughts on this that I have trotted out to myself and to various friends and family members, not all of which hangs together neatly, but most of which promises comfort.

First and foremost, give yourself — and your child — a lot of grace during this period. Moving is a high-stress proposition. For you: drop what you can. Take as many extra days off as possible to ease the process. Say no to any and all unnecessaries. In the midst of stressful times, Mr. Magpie tells me to “close the ports.” Say ‘no’ to everything you can. Huddle inward. Turn off as much “inbound” as you can. This might mean shutting off notifications on your phone, saying “no” to all invitations or requests for participation for a two or three week period, skipping the book club for a few months. It’s not permanent. You are not hurting anyone’s feelings. You are conserving energy for a massive transition that will require a lot of time and logistics. For your little one, I found it helpful to talk early and often about the move. I remember saying to my daughter over and over again: “we loved it here, but we’re going to love it there, too! We can love both!” She really registered the move with some big emotions and observations (e.g., “But I’m never going to see my friend again!”) and one thing that helped was putting together a “New York Album.” I printed out a ton of photos from our time in NYC and bought some stickers and a little album and we worked on it together over the course of a few weeks. It was fun to write in the names of her friends, the places shown in the photographs, etc., and a physical way to help her organize the experience of living in New York into a kind of narrative. We did not do this, but I have found it useful during other moments of transition (particularly countdown to first day of school) to put together a countdown visual to The Big Day. We’ve done this in the past by simply crossing off the days on a calendar, but I’ve also seen people put together paper chains where each “link” represents a day, and you have the child remove one link each day until there are none left.

Second, remember that this move is the stepping stone to a new and fabulous adventure. Adopt my Dad’s fashioning: “You’re gonna love it.” Whenever the loan documentation or the negotiating with the moving company feels too heavy or constricting, take a breath, take a step back, walk outside, remember that this is the start of a new circle, and new circles are fantastic.

Third — and this was the most helpful to me during our more recent move — remind yourself that you have done this before. Though it may feel that you have “miles to go before you sleep,” you will get through it. Trust yourself. Know that you will slowly but surely cross every last thing off your to do list. You will arrive in your new home. And you will promptly forget (most of) the agony. I vividly remember walking down Columbus Avenue while positively contorted by stress on the eve of our trip down to Bethesda to sign the closing documents for our home. There was one last financial or legal document that had not yet been processed or finalized (truthfully, cannot remember what it was, which either demonstrates the severity of my stress or underscores the fact that it all gets done and you promptly empty it out of your brain), and we were barreling down 95 with our two young children first thing the next morning, and it suddenly occurred to me that we might not have gotten it all “done” in time for the closing? I was already working through mental contingencies. What would the seller say if we asked for an extension? Would we forfeit our earnest money in some way? You can imagine my spiraling. Anyhow, I left the apartment for a walk. It was hot and muggy and I was wearing a yellow sundress, absent-mindedly stress-marching up Amsterdam Avenue, and I started to pray the rosary. A stranger stopped me at the corner of 89th and Amsterdam: “I love your dress.” I remember feeling as though I was being touched by an alien, her voice a gibberish that slowly came into focus. “Oh – oh — thank you so much,” I said, finally. And just like that, I returned to planet earth. I swear that Mary was speaking to me through that stranger, reminding me that life would continue, that I would find my way through this, that there were so many other parts of life to attend to, that we’d made our way through multiple moves and stressful times in the past, and that I simply needed to live where my feet were. Or, rather, put one foot in front of the other.

Fourth, celebrate the magic of this transition. There is something poignant to me about the last night in a home. You eat pizza off of a moving box. You prop your phone up against a suitcase to watch TV. You see your home stripped bare, and you find strange nostalgias: the door jamb over which your son first walked, the scrape on the ceiling from your husband’s over-ambitious Christmas tree purchase, the corner of your kitchen where you stood and craned your neck for signs of life during the isolation of a pandemic, the radiator on which your daughter stood and shouted: “GOOD MORNING, NEW YORK!” The last night in a home is a time for remembering, and daydreaming. It is heavy with finality and also lit with possibility. Lean into that night — there are always hidden gems in the eaves.

On the practical side of things, some thoughts and observations:

  1. Designate a “DO NOT PACK” bag as early as you think of it, and include all of these items, which will otherwise be packed but desperately needed on moving day eve / moving day: Sharpies; spool of packing tape; scissors; plastic cups, cutlery, plates; sponge and dish soap; garbage bags; first aid kit; wipes; toilet paper; paper towel roll; cash (tips); a couple of envelopes; stamps; pens; a clipboard or something hard to write on; a big envelope (like manila size) for receipts, documents, etc; lots of snacks; hand soap; hand sanitizer.
  2. Mr. Magpie and I found it helpful to share “To Do Lists” using the Reminders function in our iPhones with one another. We added bullets for every little thing we thought of, from “updating mailing address on credit cards” to “renting a car” to “writing letter to landlord” and everything in between, and we’d regularly huddle together to figure out who should own what, and by what date it needed to happen. It was a relief to have one shared, central place to go and confirm that we’d documented the millions of tiny tasks that lay ahead. (You could also do this in a shared Google spreadsheet.). It also helped me organize my activities by date, e.g., “what needs to happen today, versus what can wait until next week.”
  3. For what it’s worth, one thing I wish I’d done when moving last time was rented a hotel room for the final night. We slept among boxes and it was not ideal for the children, who were confused and a little upset by all the commotion, but also — the movers/packers routinely underestimate how much time it takes to pack and we were just squatting in one corner of the apartment waiting for them to finish for what felt like hours which was so incredibly unpleasant with the kids, I cannot even tell you. Looking back, I wish I had left Mr. Magpie to handle the apartment and taken the children to a hotel for the evening, ordered room service, and put on Disney movies.
  4. Label boxes by number and room. Keep a spreadsheet indicating (generally) what’s in each box, e.g., – living room books, Jen’s shoes, medicine cabinet stuff, etc. You do not need a detailed inventory for most of it, but it’s really good to isolate anything valuable in a spreadsheet like that so you can find it quickly. And – God forbid – a box goes missing, you’ll know generally what its contents were.
  5. Buy more boxes and packing tape than you think you’ll need. Also – we ended up posting all of our moving boxes on Craigslist after we moved and some family happily picked it up – you might check there, too, for free or cheap boxes!
  6. Start packing earlier than you think you need to.
  7. Again, for what it’s worth (not always in the budget), we’ve found having the moving company pack for us worth every penny. It also means you can more or less live in your home until the last day or two without having packed all your pots/pans/etc.
  8. Stock the fridge with gatorade and water for movers / for yourself.
  9. For your little one, begin to put together a backpack full of activities that you can pull out at strategic moments. Lots of these “car activities” would be good for this situation. Dole out as your blood pressure rises. Ha. Games like Go Fish, Eye Found It, and Old Maid are also good ways to pass time while engaging with her.
  10. Have a few (fun! different! special!) snacks for your little one on the big day. I like to hit up Trader Joe’s for these, since I rarely shop there, and the kids are always intrigued by different packaging.
  11. A moving box is a child’s greatest dream. Keep one spare for her to decorate with markers, stickers, tape, etc.

I am sure I am missing things, and that other Magpies have fabulous suggestions to add to this list, but the main message I hope you cling to:

You will make it to the other side. One foot in front of the other!


+Be not afraid.

+A post written while in the middle of a move.

+New cartographies.

+What I thought I’d miss about New York. And what I love about Bethesda.

Shopping Break.

+Lululemon vibes for under $30.

+Obsessed with these bold pants!

+Love the bold pattern on this dress — reminds me of something by Doen?

+Speaking of Doen, they just launched a snow day sale (running through Sunday) and I just treated myself to this top and bought mini this dress. How could I not? Her namesake! All my Doen sale picks here.

+A great Gap buy — very Mille-esque.

+These reasonably-priced rattan lamps (also available as table lamps) always sell out!

+A cute $35 scalloped jute rug.

+There are some fabulous Agua Bendita finds on super sale at Matches, including this sweet floral ($132!) and this tile print midi.

+A cute way to keep your child’s activities/week organized and visible to them.

+Happy stripes.

+The mules I want to wear all summer long.

+A dino hat for a little lady!

+This fringed plaid jacket sparks joy.

+Such a chic quilted denim jacket.

+Lacquer trays in a great rainbow of color options.

+Such a sweet heart embroidered clutch.

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10 thoughts on “On Moving with Less Stress.

  1. Wow, this post (and the comments) is a gold mine! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thorough response to my question — I’m taking lots of notes (and deep breaths!)

    I love that statement from your father — “you’re gonna love it.” Such a great reminder to hold on to optimism during a stressful period.

    Thank you, Jen and Magpies!

      1. Another thing I thought of that has been helpful: labeling furniture with a sharpie on painters tape to indicate which room they will go to in the new home! I find post-its inevitably fall off. Plus, painters tape won’t damage the surface of the furniture.

        Your tip #6 is spot on. One of the “rules of the universe” in my book is everything takes longer than I think it does!

        1. Great idea on the painter’s tape labeling!! Hoping will not need to move (…ever?) but filed that one away for sure.


  2. I love tip #8 (stock the fridge with water and Gatorade for yourself and your movers)! One of the most helpful lessons my parents taught me was to always offer a beverage to handymen/repairmen/anyone of that nature that comes over, even if you’re paying them. It’s good manners, but I find that a little goes a long way and that these types of people are almost always more helpful and pleasant once I’ve offered something.

  3. Omg this is giving me flashbacks to my own 2020 move…doing the walkthrough the day before closing only to find the bathroom ceiling half-collapsed…the bank’s lawyers insisting on the closing happening in Huntington, Long Island despite me living in (and moving within) Brooklyn, necessitating me renting a car the morning of and driving 2+ hours during rush hour and making a wheels-screeching pit stop at a bank branch to cut the down payment check like 20 mins before the appointment, ALL BY MYSELF. God, what at time. But to your point, it’s awful for a period and then it’s over and it’s all out of your head and you never have to think about it again! I second the recommendation about taking as much time off work as you can around the move. I took a full two weeks off so I could close, pack, move, and unpack and it was such a good idea. I felt so unrushed and had plenty of time to settle in and make the requisite 20 trips to Home Depot.

    1. WOW – you get it! All those small-but-big-seeming errands and tasks and logistics (like getting a cashier’s check for earnest money back in Chicago, which required us to go all the way out to a branch in the suburbs because there are like NO Wells Fargos in the city and we were too lazy to switch bank accounts) that loom enormous and are so high stakes at the time! And then — swoosh. They’re over and you forget.

      Great tip on taking a full two weeks around the move!


  4. Do I wish I had these tips prior to our cross country move. They are all so practical and helpful. You learn the hard way! If I could add one more. We had a rotation of family, friends and neighbors stop over the day and night before to say goodbyes. It involved lots of tears and lots of champagne toasts, which led to waking up the next day sluggish and not feeling great for the final day of the move when we needed to be on point. An expensive vacuum was left behind as result and it was chaotic. It may not be able to be avoided, but if possible Iā€™d suggest planning the goodbyes in advance, at least with friends and neighbors.

    1. Thanks for sharing this suggestion, too – can totally imagine how that would derail / upset the morning of a move!!

      You do “learn the hard way.” Experience is a cruel teacher…!


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