Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

How to Ease the Pain of Relocation

After Melody Warnick's husband landed a great teaching job at a university, she vowed to make the transition a positive experience for her family.

But Warnick, a professional writer with an upbeat approach to life, was shocked at how tough it was to let go of friends and possessions and to adjust to her new town.

"Moving was really hard. I felt disappointed and lonely," she says.

Rather than allowing herself to stay miserable, Warnick, the mother of two young children, took a proactive approach to help herself and her family become bonded to their new community. The product of her planning was a book titled: "This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live."

The book details how Warnick, a natural introvert, forced herself to get involved in civic and volunteer activities that gave her a greater sense of belonging.

She also advocates "making a big effort to explore nature in your new area." To do this, she and her family now take frequent hikes and bike rides in the mountainous region where they live.

"Connecting with nature induces a sense of well-being and helps you feel happier wherever you happen to live," she says.

Ron Phipps, a veteran real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Realtors (, says that even when a housing transition is voluntary and the move doesn't involve a new town, it requires lots of adjustments.

Phipps contends that one secret to a fulfilling transition is to downsize gracefully. Here are a few pointers:

-- Ask a friend to help you purge possessions from your old place.

Vicki Norris, a former real estate agent and professional organizer, says it can take up to 24 work hours to de-clutter the average room. To avoid becoming sidetracked when preparing for a move, she says many people need an ally to help them view their possessions objectively and let go of things they can't take with them.

"It's good to have someone there with you to help you stay focused and create an organized strategy," says Norris, author of "Restoring Order to Your Home."

In an attempt to tackle the downsizing project, many people turn to family members. But Norris says you're better off with a professional organizer. One source for referrals is the real estate agent with whom you expect to list your property for sale. Another is the National Association of Professional Organizers (

If you can't afford a professional, Norris suggests you ask a friend to come by to assist -- if only to help you structure an action plan and gain momentum toward your move.

-- Ask family members if they want memorabilia.

Retirees making a move often cling to nostalgic items they believe their grown children might want someday. But Norris says many parents believe their offspring will want a lot more things than they do.

"Typically, Mom and Dad hang on to things the kids really don't really want," says Norris, who suggests that downsizers ask grown children what items they value.

-- Develop a memory book with photos of your place.

When Norris' parents retired and put their family home up for sale, they did so voluntarily. Even so, they found it emotionally difficult to let go of a residence where they'd lived for 28 years.

Still, the process of downsizing was eased after their listing agent gave them a book of photos showing all their rooms and furnishings just as they looked before the home was staged for sale.

"That way they were able to seal their memories --including how the dining room table looked when their whole extended family came over for Thanksgiving dinners," Norris says.

-- Give away functional items you can't take with you.

As they plow through their property room-by-room, most downsizers encounter many items that crowd their space and would be costly to ship. In addition, they could have many things their children no longer want, such as outdated toys or items related to long-abandoned hobbies.

Whenever possible, Norris encourages donations of serviceable items to a nonprofit institution that will put them to good use.

"When you have to let go of your old life and transition to a whole new lifestyle, it can be enormously satisfying to know your castoffs will serve a vital purpose to help others," says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at