Recently, my husband and I faced an unexpected opportunity to change houses, cities, and jobs. I jumped quickly towards the challenge while my husband, at times infinitely more thoughtful than I, held back. After all, we both were in our mid-fifties and had finally become empty nesters. At one of those rare times in life, everything seemed secure: good jobs, a nearly paid-off mortgage, healthy family members, and a support system of known doctors, dentists, friends, bosses, and car mechanics.
But adventurers at heart, we decided to take the plunge. What we quickly discovered is that moving in our fifties was quite different than moving in our twenties or thirties. During our first year of marriage, we had lived in three rental houses in three different cities. We had the moving gig down. But now, we had 30 years of marriage accumulation to consider, including the possessions acquired through raising three children, two of whom were still our dependents and still in college. Moving was a daunting task.
Along the way I picked up some tips and advice for those of you considering a major life change during your empty nest years.
5 Tips for Moving as an Empty Nester
1. Taking on new challenges will force you to grow.
I went from being a confident mentor and leader to a person who couldn’t even find the copy machine or get my computer to work. During my first few days on the new job, I sat in my high school English classroom and wept with homesickness when I was supposed to be planning lessons for my students. But I grew. I came out of my classroom and met people and asked questions because I had to. It was humbling, challenging, invigorating, and infinitely worth it.
2. Expect the change to be more difficult than you think it will be.
Everything about moving proved difficult. Preparing our house to sell required elaborate “staging.” Mail got misplaced in the forwarding process, and bills were late. Both of our cars broke down the week we moved, and we had to quickly find a trustworthy mechanic. The timing of selling and buying houses did not work out perfectly, and we found ourselves living in a temporary apartment with boxes lining the walls for two and a half months while we began our new jobs. It was tough.
We moved from a 2,300 square foot house with a 20’ by 30’ detached workshop to a 1,800 square foot house in our new city. I can’t count how many trips we took to Goodwill and the landfill, not to mention how many piles of well-used furniture and possessions we set by the curb to quickly get snatched up. My advice to those of you who see a move in your future is to start sifting through possessions early. Be brutal. If you love it but don’t use it, consider taking a photo of it and then letting the item go. Our new, smaller house and yard are so easy to clean and maintain, leaving us more time to explore our new city. I truly haven’t missed a single item we left behind. (Although my husband has mourned the loss of his workshop.)
4. Moving to be closer to family is always worth it.
I miss our church in our previous city, but I have been able to take my 80-year-old mother to church almost weekly since we’ve moved. And recently, all of my children, my mother, and my brother and his family came over to my house to celebrate my birthday. Last year on my birthday, I sat at home alone with my husband, watching a movie.
5. Moving at age 50-something can test, and reinvent, your marriage.
In the blur of child-raising and two career-building it is easy to put a marriage on the back burner. But moving to a new city provides lots of opportunities for spending time together: looking at houses, eating pizza on a drop cloth in the middle of a half-painted living room, choosing lighting fixtures and deck stains. Moving brought back memories of similar experiences from our early marriage. In the bustle of everyday routine life, we, like many other long-married couples, had forgotten how much fun the other person could be.
All and all taking on new careers and moving houses and cities has lifted us out of our comfort zones in many ways. Like recently repotted plants, there was some wilting and distress at first, but then much blooming and new growth happened as our roots began to expand.
When I talk to friends from my previous city, they usually ask some version of, “Was it worth it?”
“Yes, infinitely worth it,” I always reply. But then I quickly add, “But I’m really happy I don’t have to do it again any time soon.”
Photo credit: Nicolas Huk