5 Things I Learned From Moving 12 Times in 9 Years

Growing up as a military brat, a love of travel was instilled in me at a very young age. I spent the first five years of my life living on two different islands and I had been to five different countries before I turned 4-years-old. 

My dad retired from the Navy the same year I graduated from high school, and by that point we'd been living in the same house for six years — longer than I'd lived anywhere else before. With a military retirement following six years of stability, you would think frequent moves would have been behind rather than before me, but I have moved more times as a single adult than I ever did as the daughter of an active duty naval officer.

 
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Over my 28 years of life, I've lived in nearly 20 different homes, some for as few as four months at a time. Between the ages of birth and 19, I moved eight different times, with a couple of those moves being from a rental house into a more permanent residence, rather than to a different state or country. Between the ages of 19 and 28, I have moved 12 different times.

That's right. Over the last nine years, I've moved 12 different times. 

It's an impermanence I don't love but have grown rather used to over the last near decade, and one that has taught me a lot of lessons about stuff, space, and what truly makes a home.

IF IT FOLLOWS YOU IN BOXES, let it go

It was right after my second move in four months, as I sat surrounded by countless boxes full of random stuff, that the first spark for my simple living journey was lit.

By this point, I'd moved three times during my years in college, and now five times in only three years post-grad. Though I'd gone through and purged a good amount of things right after I graduated three years earlier, I still had stuff that followed me from house to house and did nothing but sit in boxes.

With the exception of memorabilia from your childhood (though I personally believe even that should be limited) and potentially some items you're saving for a future home or children, if you go an entire year — or more — without pulling the stuff out of a box, it shouldn't go with you to the next house, plain and simple.

If you're really concerned you'll be getting rid of something valuable, actually open up the boxes, sort through what's inside, and move anything you definitely want to keep to a place you'll actually use it. As for the rest of it? Just let it go. 

DON'T BE AFRAID TO NEST

I've always loved beautifully decorated homes. There are moments when I've feared I missed my calling as an interior decorator and the number of Pinterest boards I have dedicated to home decor borders on ridiculous.

From the time I was in late high school, I dreamed of having my own home or apartment simply so I could decorate it, but when the time finally arrived that I actually had my own apartment? I hardly did a thing. As a result, I spent years feeling unsettled because I'd never made it a priority to make my home feel like a home.

It wasn't until my ninth move (in seven years, at that point) that I realized I had to get over the thought process that since I was only going to be in this place for a year, I shouldn't make the effort to make it my own. If I maintained that attitude, I could potentially spend more than a decade of my life never truly feeling at home because it wasn't "worth the effort."

Though I never quite "finished" houses 9 or 10, largely because I did only live in both of them for a year, they both felt more like home than any of the previous houses I'd lived in because I'd made an effort to make them feel that way.

Even if you may only be in your current place for a year, take the time and effort to turn your house into a place that is home not just because you live there, but because it feels like a home. Hang the artwork, buy the rug, toss the throw pillows, paint the walls (just be prepared to paint them back if you're renting). Do whatever it is you need to do to make your home feel like it, because no one should spend years feeling uncomfortable in the place they go to sleep every night.

ROOMMATES CAN MAKE OR BREAK A LIVING SITUATION

In addition to a wide variety of houses and apartments, I've lived with my fair share of roommates over the last nine years. Some of those roommates have been absolutely amazing and I could not be more grateful to have shared a home with them. Some of those roommates were...a bit more challenging.

Sometimes you don't have much choice over the roommates you're living with, but rushing into a living situation without waiting for the right roommates can do a lot more harm than good.

While you might think that a perfect location, apartment, or particular amenity set is more important than who you live with, trust me, it's not. It doesn't matter how amazing your view is, the number of amenities your apartment complex offers, or the fact that you're in your dream location, if you're sharing that space with someone you don't get along with, it will ultimately make your home a place of stress instead of relaxation.

That's not to say you won't ever have disagreements with your roommates, because you will, but there's a difference between the occasional disagreement and living with someone you legitimately do not like. Take it from me, be patient and wait for the right person. It's absolutely worth it.

YOU DON'T NEED AS MUCH SPACE AS YOU THINK

Over the years, I've lived in apartments, duplexes, and detached houses, all with varying sizes and numbers of bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and common spaces.

The size of American homes more than doubled from 1950 to 2010, increasing from an average of 1,000 to 2,200 square feet, and with it, the amount of stuff those homes hold.

Size is always a consideration when you're looking at a new place to live, but without a point of comparison, numbers like 600 or 1,100 or 2,300 square feet are abstract and hard to visualize. You wonder if it'll provide enough cabinet or closet space. Will you be able to fit all that miscellaneous stuff you still keep in boxes, or will the size of your new abode necessitate some off-site storage?

Having lived in a variety of different sized apartments and houses over the years, I can honestly say you probably don't need as much space as you think, largely because you don't need as much stuff as you think.

Instead of approaching your next living situation from the perspective of how much space you need, think about it instead from the perspective of how little space you need, and consider the hidden costs of that extra space as well. In addition to a higher monthly rent, you'll also see higher costs for things like your heating bill, plus the cost in time to clean and maintain the additional space or the cost of additional furniture or random stuff you might purchase to fill that extra space.

I'm not saying you have to live in a tiny home and you may have certain goals for your home, like opening it up to out-of-town guests or hosting family and friends on a regular basis, that necessitate something more than a studio apartment, but even in situations like that, you likely need less space than you think.

IT'S MORE ABOUT THE HEART THAN THE HOUSE

Without a doubt, the biggest lesson I've learned from moving so frequently over the least near decade has nothing to do with what does or doesn't go on the wall, how big or small the space is, who you do or don't live with, and how many boxes do or don't get unpacked.

The most important thing I've learned is this: wherever you live, it's far more about the heart than it is about the house.

Of all the homes I've lived in over the last nine years, Homes #9 and #10 were by far my favorite. That's not because Home #10 was a 3 minute walk to the library or Home #9 was a 4 minute drive to our church. It certainly wasn't because the doors in Home #9 got stuck and didn't close properly when the humidity changed or because the battle against the ants in Home #10 felt never ending at times.

Both of those homes had some major pros and cons, but the thing they both had in common that made them wonderful places to live despite some of those major cons was the heart behind both homes.

I lived in Home #9 and Home #10 with a wonderful friend, and we had another dear friend join us for Home #10. In both homes, we had the primary aim of creating an environment that was warm and welcoming, where people could feel seen, heard, and loved.

Despite those houses never feeling totally finished, we threw open the doors wide anyway and frequently hosted gatherings for small groups, game nights, movie nights, and more. There were late night conversations filled with both laughter and tears on couches and wonderful memories made around tables and on back patios. Neither house was perfect, but they both felt like home.

I have no idea what my next living situation is going to look like, exactly where it's going to be, or how long I'll get to stay there. It may well be several more years before I stay in one place for longer than 12 months, but these are lessons I'll continue to carry with me, wherever I go and however often my address continues to change.