How to move house without losing yourself

I’ve just moved house for the tenth time in the last two-and-a-quarter years. Anyone would think I was running away from something. I’m not. I’m running towards a better place, each and every time; that’s what I tell myself anyway.

The last place I felt really settled was the house in Dunedin where I lived for three years. I’d returned from a stint overseas and all I wanted was a kitchen and a garden and to stop living out of a backpack. I loved that house, I fantasised about buying it and doing it up and living there forever.

I replaced the missing panes of glass in the glasshouse and grew tomatoes and cucumbers and basil and chillies in there. Outside I grew beetroot and red onions and peas and carrots and coriander. When I first started contemplating leaving Dunedin for Auckland it was the coriander patch that yanked the most firmly on my heart strings: the few plants I’d initially bought had multiplied into a miniature forest that burst through the soil of its own accord early each spring, proving that it had survived yet another gruelling Dunedin winter.

Interestingly, the spring that I left Dunedin the coriander never came up.

I remember lying in my bed looking around at all my possessions and wondering what the hell I would do with them all. The bed itself, a dresser, sets of drawers, couches, tables and chairs, a TV, none of it was worth shipping to Auckland so it all had to go. The memories that had been created within the parameters of that house and garden also had to be dismantled and stored away in little boxes in the recesses of my mind.

My friend and flatmate, Kate, and I had had some great times in that place; we were the hostesses with the mostess: we’d invite friends around for barbeques and everyone would always know that they could expect a mean spread to be laid on. Other times we’d get the fire blazing and play endless hours of cards or scrabble or poker, or do 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, or watch episode after episode of Outrageous Fortune or Dexter.

The trick to moving house without your life completely coming apart at the seams is to pack up the stuff you use least first. Pictures can come off walls, books into boxes, linen and towels and other-season clothes can all be packed away. Leave out the things you use every day until the very last minute – you’ll need them again soon and you don’t want to be rummaging around in the bottom of a box searching for that elusive hairbrush/toothbrush/most comfortable pair of undies.

You’d think that with all this packing and moving and unpacking I’d have whittled down my possessions by now but I haven’t. I still have my jigsaw puzzle collection that I cart around with me – some of them I’ve had since I was little and they’re filled with memories of doing puzzles with Dad. I have Rupert the Bear books that Dad also used to read to me and I want to one day read to the children in my life. I have records and CDs and framed pictures and textbooks and clothes and exercise equipment and pots and pans and cups and bowls and teaspoons… And a great collection of cardboard boxes that I’ve learned to not throw away.

If I didn’t have all these material possessions I would still be me, but these things help me redefine myself whenever I move house. My coffee cup and frying pan and chopping board help me to feel at home in a new place. My memories and experiences and all the things that make me me are embedded in the nooks and crannies and creases of all these objects that I refuse to stop bringing with me.

I never moved house as a kid. I was born in the house where my mum still lives now and my roots run deep there. I think if I hadn’t had this foundation in life I would be finding all the moving around I’ve been doing over the last couple of years really hard. But moving around and trying different options has helped me to know who I am and where I come from, and, little by little, I’m figuring out where I want to be and what my purpose is. It’s kind of a process of elimination – each living arrangement that doesn’t work gives me a clearer idea of what my ideal is, I take the snippets that did work with me and I leave the rest behind.

One day (soon, I hope) I’ll be putting down a new coriander patch, and making much more permanent gestures too, like planting trees and arranging vegetable gardens and unrolling and framing that beautiful print I bought in Thailand 16 years ago. I might even get around to framing all my degrees and diplomas and certificates too and finally allowing myself to acknowledge how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved, even if it has been in a very higgledy-piggledy, roundabout kind of way.

The brain tells the body how to feel

This will be a life-long lesson for me, I think. There was a time in my life, a few years ago, when I felt so good that I seriously started to wonder if there were steroids in the Chinese potions I was drinking for a mysterious illness I was trying to fix (more on that soon).

I was living in Dunedin and winter was approaching, which is usually a time to batten down the hatches in preparation for the grim months ahead. Yet here I was, bursting with energy and enthusiasm. There was a spring in my step and all I could see was beauty all around me. I was waking up early feeling excited about each day, exercising more than usual, and doing weird things like switching off the TV in the evening to do the vacuuming because I was too hyperactive to sit still. It was such a deviation from where I’d been that I was pleasantly surprised, but with equal measures of suspicion at how good I felt, like when a friend is uncharacteristically kind and helpful just before they ask for a massive favour.

It was a boy, of course, who brought about this change in me. Meeting someone new allowed me to finally and fully extract myself from the dregs of a relationship that was well and truly dead. And had been for some time. It was no one’s fault but my own, but sometimes when you’re so deeply entrenched in a situation you cease to see the wood for the trees, right?

What I was experiencing was like waking up from a very deep and troubling sleep to find that the world is beautiful, after all. Unfortunately, things promptly went pear-shaped with my new love interest and what ensued culminated into what has been the most difficult year of my life to date. But that’s not the point. The point is that I freed myself from a bad situation and I felt bloody good for having done it. I also completed my thesis that year and healed myself of my mysterious illness. I guess sometimes a bit of adversity can actually do us some good, in the long run.

More recently, I experienced the flip side. I felt so low that I was almost convinced I had hypothyroidism, or if not that then a brain tumour, or cancer. I wanted there to be a physical ailment which could explain why I felt so depleted. I was thirty-something, single, childless, career-less, penniless, and feeling like a complete failure, drifting aimlessly with no sense of place or purpose.

I was the same person as I had been before; I occupied the same body, I ate the same food, I exercised the same, yet my situation was completely different and that’s what was wearing me down. My mental happiness affects my physical sense of well-being one hundred per cent of the time, and yet so often I lose sight of this fact. Do you? It’s where my head is at that determines whether I wake up early feeling excited about life or whether I sleep late, unwilling to face the boring reality of my life. It’s my brain that puts the spring in my step, or makes my limbs feel like they’re made of lead. The brain tells the body how to feel. The brain is the master controller and the body is its vessel, to try and separate the two is folly.