A 20-Something's Guide To Moving Out & Moving On

So you’re moving on the heels of a breakup. Please accept my virtual hug. Lord knows I’ve been there.

Over the last 14 years, I’ve lived in 11 different apartments. Three of those moves were inspired by a breakup with someone I shared a home with. By now, I have moving down to a science. But it never feels any less taxing. And it’s worse when there’s a breakup involved.

First comes the dreaded division of the belongings. I once came home to an apartment where every imaginable object was covered with Post-it notes reading, “This is mine.” Who knew that two humans could have such impassioned feelings about the origins of a paperback copy of The Artist’s Way? As if that weren't the worst thing imaginable, next you must package your worldly possessions and schlep them all over creation. Like me, you may feel like a dejected turtle, balancing your home on your back. Until you started packing, you had no idea you owned so many books, so many sneakers, so many half-used hair products.

At long last, you and your boxes land in your new space. Your hands have never looked so dirty. You have no idea where your toothbrush is. Occasionally, it dawns on you, like a bad dream you can’t escape: This is where you live now. Just you. Alone.

In truth, there are plenty of positives to starting over, many of which grow apparent with time. In the meantime, here are nine things I’ve found make the process a little easier. I hope you may find some comfort in them.

Moving is the worst. And the best. It can signal a fresh start or a devastating end. Whatever your style, wherever you settle, at the end of day, the most important thing is you find a place to call home. Check out more from our Get The F Out moving package here.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
This sounds obvious, but it can be hard to remember. Whenever your heart is creeping toward your throat, take a moment to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You are okay. This awful moment, like all other moments, shall pass. While you’re at it, get yourself a mantra. I spent the entirety of my last move repeating the phrase, “Life is easy and fun.” I whispered it when I found myself buried in the midst of a fortress of boxes. I muttered it when my movers attempted to squeeze my table around a narrow, twisty staircase. Did it actually make it fun? No. I mean, is moving ever fun? But I promise, it did make it feel easier.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
The minute the movers left, I felt how very alone I was. I could not reach the high closet shelf, I could not lift the heavy thing, I hadn’t the faintest clue how to hang things using an anchor. Now I stand by this motto: No newly single person is an island. You will notice your partner’s absence when you encounter any job he or she would have helped with. So get backup ahead of time. Call your friends to have an unpacking party. Hire a handyman. A good handyman will be your new best friend. Not only will you never worry about your curtains/bookshelf/TV/mirror crashing to the ground, you’ll feel empowered that you got the job done right.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
Look at your moving experience as a tremendous exercise in clarity. Because it is. In life, we’re so often asked to compromise, to bend and conform to the wills of others. But setting up a solo space is an amazing opportunity to figure out what the heck it is you really want, not just from your home but from your life. My last move was the most sudden (and stressful) I’ve ever had, but it forced me to learn to be mindful. By slowing down and listening to myself, I realized it was time to make other changes, too. Nine months later, I’ve changed jobs, am far more active, and am all the better for it. So sit back and enjoy the space. (I’m talking about mental space, but if you’re lucky enough to have ample physical space, more power to you!) Ask yourself: How am I feeling? What do I need right now? Listen closely for the answer.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
Before your move, pack one box full of things that make you feel good — bath products, your softest shirt, a book that lifts your spirits. (Oprah’s What I Know For Sure or Heather Havrilesky’s How To Be A Person In The World are two favorites.) Label it clearly, and unpack it first. This way, when you’re going through the disheveled organizing phase, you can breathe a little easier, knowing your immediate needs are taken care of.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
There is power in editing down your belongings and starting with a blank canvas. In the immediate emotional aftermath, feel free to toss or hide any belongings that trigger memories. Does an object feel laden with bad energy or complicated emotions? Marie Kondo that right out of your life. Do NOT, however, put said items in a box and ship them to your ex. After one breakup, I received a giant shipment of photos, mementos, and even a stuffed alligator purchased for our never-to-be future child. A dear friend helped me sort through it, to minimize emotional impact. The alligator lives with said friend to this day.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
In my new space, I painted the walls a dark navy, something we could never agree on in our old shared space. It is, by far, my favorite décor decision, mostly because it feels so much like me. Celebrate all the stuff you can get away with now. Proudly display your burgeoning tarot-card collection, your color-coded bookshelf, or your borderline creepy shrine to your cat. (You can always hide it once you start dating again.) While you’re at it, don’t temper your behavior. If you’re obsessively neat, revel in the way all the labels in the medicine cabinet can face forward. If you’re naturally slovenly, make little piles all over your space and bask in the mess. Wear sweatpants or hot pants, or no pants at all.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
There will be feelings. This is okay. When I moved into my solo space, I missed things about my partner that I never anticipated: the way his feet reminded me of Fred Flintstone’s when they smacked against the floor, how he’d leave a glass of water near the bed and never, ever drink it. I was suddenly tormented by the way the toilet seat was always, always down. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. The emotions will come, and eventually they will pass.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
The night before I moved into my new place, I hosted a painting pizza party. My friends and I painted the walls of my new living room so that upon my official arrival, it already felt like a place that was touched by people I love. Likewise, you can throw a decorating soirée. Host a housewarming. Invite a friend over to watch The Bachelorette every week. Convince your out-of-town buddy to visit. Whatever you do, fill your new space with positive nouns — support, warmth, laughter. It will feel like home in no time.
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Illustrated by Natalia Spotts.
If all else fails, remember this quote from the inimitable Martha Beck: “Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact.” Loneliness, while uncomfortable, isn’t actually a bad thing. It’s just further evidence that you are a person, bound for future happiness. It may feel crappy, but you’ve got this. Congratulations on your new beginning. One day not too far from now, life will be fun and easy again. I promise.
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