How Three Cross-Continent Moves Taught Me Everything I Need to Know About Myself

I’ve always thought of myself as an adaptable, kept-together, and level-headed individual. Sure, I have my flaws, but who doesn’t? I might be the opposite of Type-A, but I’ve always had a system in place for everything I do. But when I had to coordinate moves across continents three times (to Alaska and Scotland, respectively) in the span of a decade, I quickly realized I had been living in a bubble, unable to see my truest self.

Turns out, I was not the agreeable, come-what-may person I thought I was. Now that I’m safely in a new home in North Carolina (for now, anyways), I’d say I can be described as the conductor of the hot mess express. Yep, moving prep helped me discover more key personality traits about myself than any GIF-filled quiz I’ve taken in the past five years. Here, are the key traits I discovered about myself, and how the experience allowed me to accept these flaws:

1. I tend to overprepare (and don’t like to waste)

My first big move was in 2012, when my husband got the fateful call that we’d be moving to Fairbanks, Alaska. A huge military benefit is that the Army pays for an incredible team of movers. But, even so, the move made me anxious. So, to assuage this anxiety and make things as easy as possible once moving day came, I packed up my whole house.

But on the day of the move, turns out they didn’t need my extra help. The movers swiftly unboxed everything and put it in their standardized boxes.

After they finished, I wanted to throw myself out with the discarded box remnants. I felt so silly but also inordinately bothered watching my hard work—and expensive cardboard boxes!—go to waste. If anything, I was mad that I didn’t prepare enough by asking what the protocol with the movers would be. I’m not a person who is going to learn how to “chill” in these situations. I really like to feel in control and helpful—and that’s fine! So, going forward, I make sure to know all the advanced details (when possible) to prevent feeling like the baby thrown out with the bath water.

2. I need to create my own systems

There are few times where organization is as important as in a big move (maybe a financial audit?) You have to be on your type-A-game. Many of my friends and fellow military families took this as setting up color code systems for their boxes. I tried it this way at first, but found myself tensing up as I mistakenly switched colors.

I realized quickly that I like getting in the weeds and establishing my own ways of doing things. One potential pre-move panic was realizing I had packed something I still needed. So I created a system that focused on this: I boxed things up by room and kept them in the room in which they belonged. It was helpfully abstract, yet still organized. While other people might not have liked how this made for a tight squeeze come shower time, it worked for me. This panned out for me when I realized I accidentally packed my wallet in a hurried frenzy. But I knew it was in the office! Organized chaos at its best.

3. I’m way more sentimental than I thought

Before the moving process, I knew I was prone to nostalgia. I like to save remnants from the momentous occasions in my life. (Hello, old movie and train ticket stubs from my time studying abroad in 2012!) But I hadn’t realized that, over the years, my “handful of souvenirs” had grown into a mountain of emotional hoarding.

After having trouble throwing out an expired 2013 Scottish coupon book, I decided to talk to my therapist. With her help, I discovered that maybe I was trying to slow down time and hold onto my past through these items. While this is okay to an extent, it’s probably not helpful to keep boxes of mementos I only look at while prepping for a move.

So I decided to allow myself the walk down memory lane, take some photos of my favorite items, and toss what was ultimately emotional clutter.

Knowing my propensity for nostalgia, I’ve learned that I have to constantly remind myself that these memories will forever be with me. I do not need to make room for them in my new home—my new space will have plenty of memories of its own.

4. I take too long to ask for help

For many of my moves, I took a solo approach. I felt like I needed complete control over where my things were going (see point two) and I thought involving other people would complicate things. While my friends and family were happy to help from the beginning, I didn’t want to burden them with my ultra-specific systems.

But right as rain, a couple of days before every move, organizing and packing completely overwhelmed me. Only when it got to this really ugly place did I reach out for help—and it never felt great.

But somewhere along the line, I realized my “self-sufficiency” was a mask. I hated seeming incompetent, so I decided doing everything myself equaled fewer opportunities for criticism.

Really, I did the opposite by wearing myself thin. I’ve since learned that you can do things the way you want them done—and many people will still be happy to help! Is it easy to put this lesson into practice? No! I’m still a total work-in-progress. But I comprehend that many hands makes for lighter loads a bit better each time I attempt to lug tens of boxes from room to room by myself.

Something else I was missing out by thinking “I can do it all by myself”? The amazing celebratory beer and takeout meal with friends and family in a newly empty, clean abode. It’s the stuff of good days and great memories. (I told you I’m sentimental!)

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