It is universally known, that only death and divorce top the stress of moving house. In the months and weeks before my own move, (scheduled for the third week of March, 2020) I was swamped with decisions about what to keep, what to re-home, what to long-term loan, what to give away, what to donate, and what to trash. I had already purged my closets and bookshelves and given away many of my excess belongings, and I felt that I was on track with a pretty good plan in place. I had arranged a day to move my heavy furniture, Saturday, March 21—had heavy lifting help secured and had taken what I thought was enough time off work to finish moving the rest of my stuff afterwards.
I was relocating only two minutes away, in the same north Wilmington, Delaware neighborhood, so I didn’t have to say painful goodbyes to the people in my life, thankfully. And, I was dealing with friends with pick-up trucks, not a soulless company hauling off my belongings in an 18-wheeler to a destination thousands of miles away. What could be easier? But, I was downsizing to a smaller space. And most specifically I was moving from a place with four spacious closets to a place with just one so-so closet. This one circumstance was to make a significant difference in the way my move played out. Contrary to what you might assume as events unfold, I did have a plan for all my possessions.
So now, added on to the ordinary stress of moving—a global pandemic is gathering momentum just as the week of my move approaches. My initial coping with this challenge mirrored pretty much how the rest of the world coped. Let’s throw some money at it. I can get some hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, and latex gloves for my movers. Well no, I couldn’t, because those items were all sold out. I harbored some bad feelings toward hoarders at that juncture. Unlike the rest of the world, I was not stocking up on things that I would then need to move. Luckily, a good friend gave me a full container of Lysol wipes, a purse-size bottle of hand sanitizer and a baggy with some latex gloves. Also luckily for me, my heavy lifters were young in their twenties men who, while I won’t say weren’t taking this whole pandemic thing seriously, they were certainly not taking it as seriously as my own age friends who all had bad backs and who I did not ask to be my heavy lifters. So I was in good shape for Saturday, March 21 (heavy furniture day) at least. And I have to say, that day went pretty smoothly, and there was no reason to believe the rest of the move wouldn’t be just as seamless.
It’s true that I don’t really have a good sense of space and scale. What I mean by that is, I’m not one of those people who can look at the space that stuff takes up and mentally estimate the number of boxes that stuff will fill and how many times you’ll have to bend over, lift, and then stuff those boxes into the car and how many trips it will take. Once the furnishings that I couldn’t lift myself were moved, I’d thought with a couple of friends I’d get the rest done in a jiff. There was a lot more to do. The television had to be taken off the wall—I had the tools to do that, but not the upper body strength. And, there were a lot of dusty, hair-bally piles of stuff in the corners and backs of my four large closets—stuff which had somehow metastasized in the seven years I’d lived there. Yes, I could see those things—I just didn’t originally realize how much effort it was going to take.
I happily spent the day after heavy furniture day, Sunday, March 22nd, with my sister unpacking some of the boxes and arranging all the furniture we’d moved the day before to the new place. A lot was accomplished that day, but I ran out of energy in the afternoon. I sat in my recliner sipping cherry brandy (the only spirits we’d found by then) while my sister powered on setting up the kitchen. Sometime Sunday evening I thought about those closets at the old place and the stray pieces of un-homed, un-donated and un-given-away items just waiting for someone to do something with them. I’d not planned for any extra help on Monday but was coming around to seeing it might be a good idea to get some. So I contacted a friend who lived nearby and who I knew (because of Corona) was going to take some time off—a person who I was sure would say “Yes” and come help me out. But she had to say “No” because, she’d recently been to a work conference where she’d been exposed to a lot of people from a lot of different places and she was fearful she could possibly be a carrier. She was going into a two-week self quarantine. This was the right and responsible thing to do. I think that was the day Governor John Carney strongly encouraged social distancing so we could “flatten the curve.”
Undaunted was not what I was feeling. I have to confess the very first twinges of daunt were starting to appear. It seemed that the next day, Monday, I was to be on my own. I girded up my metaphoric loins and prepared to get it done. On Monday, March 23, it rained. After about three hours and three trips back and forth lugging and lifting in the rain, I just pooped out. I took the rest of the day off and binge watched BBC historic murder mysteries on my just plugged-in DVD player. That was OK because the following day I knew I had another friend, previously arranged, coming over. And, she was going to store some of my stuff for me. Yay!
Was it Monday or the next day the Governor issued an edict strongly advising only “essential contact?” And, at a six-foot distance no less. Yeah, it was probably Monday—so on Tuesday morning, March 24, my friend and I mutually decided by phone that perhaps she shouldn’t come over.
It was not raining on Tuesday. My former housemate was home for a little while at the old house, so he carried a couple of boxes to my car. However, by the end of the day it seemed that my closet piles were not that much diminished, the clusters of unwanted items still huddled in my old rooms wondering what was going to happen to them and the TV was still on the wall, and oh my god I forgot about those roman shades and the bamboo curtains! So I ran a reconnaissance mission to Good Will only to discover all their huge containers were securely padlocked and there was only one measly bin accepting clothing and shoes.
Sometime that same, my old housemate began asking me repeatedly what my next plans were—as if by asking it over and over again, my stuff would miraculously get moved by itself. I’m near physical collapse by that point and all I want is to be out of there. But I’m not out of there yet. By Tuesday evening the news about Corona Virus was becoming dire. The words “essential” and “social distancing” took on a more official meaning and a more menacing implication.
That night I called a friend for advice. I tell her what I want to do, which involved asking two close mutual friends, a law-abiding husband and wife, to defy the Governor’s edict and come over the following day and help me deal with the TV on the wall, the clusters of orphan stuff earmarked for storage or donation, the roman shades, the bamboo curtains and the last bits and pieces. I tell my friend that Governor or no Governor, it was essential that I get this stuff moved tomorrow before I completely gave out and that social distancing could just go stuff itself. She agreed and what’s even more wonderful, so did my two good friends. The three of us met the following day, Wednesday, March 25 at 10 am, and got the TV off the wall and the roman shades and, God bless them, they took all my stuff to be stored to their house where it waits for the pandemic to be over before it can be moved to the house of the friend who originally offered to store it. The stuff originally intended for Goodwill was now going to the land fill, and as much as I regret that, it’s the best I could do. As I understand it, it’s still waiting to be picked up because a few days later, the trash service announced it was no longer going to take large items. I suggested my former housemate take that stuff to the curb with a FREE sign and hope some kind soul will take it. I don’t know the outcome of that plan and I don’t care as long as it all doesn’t end up back with me. At 2:00 pm that same afternoon, my first day back to work, I Zoomed into a staff meeting. After the staff meeting, I went back to the old place, got the last precious package—my cat, and handed over the key.
So what I learned is this. No matter how big or how small your move is, you will always underestimate how challenging it is. It is way more challenging in the midst of a global pandemic. When the going gets tough, you need to know when to stop and how to responsibly comfort yourself in whatever way you can. Family and friends are what will get you through the stressful times. Sometimes your friends have to say “No” and that’s OK. You thank God for the ones who say “Yes.” And sometimes you need to bend the rules to get the essential stuff done. Unlikely events will occur and it’s not your fault. Try and forgive yourself when this happens. In my case, not even a good plan would have made much difference. Lastly, and I can’t overstate the importance of what I’m about to say; it’s so much better to clean out your closets way before your move date. Trust me on this.