Chris and I have been married for 11 years. In those 11 years, we have lived in 5 states all across the country – one, twice.
That means we’ve moved a lot. In fact, for every state we’ve lived in, we’ve lived in twice as many houses: 11 houses (or apartments) in 11 years.
Reflecting back on it, it seems like a crazy number of moves. And it is. According to a popular stats blog, FiveThirtyEight, the average American moves 11.4 times in their lives (whereas we did that much in just 11 years), and in 2016 the Census Bureau reported that Americans are moving at historically low rates.
Millennials, says Pew Research, are even less likely to move than prior generations, and though I might try my best to pretend I’m not a millenial, at 33 years old, I am squarely in that generational bracket – if only due to age, not lifestyle.
So why have we moved so much?
Gypsies by Circumstance
I don’t think of myself as a wanderer, and Chris, who loves routine, certainly isn’t one either.
New York: We moved to New York for Chris to attend culinary school, then his first job took us to Nantucket.
Nantucket: When we moved to Nantucket, we thought (and hoped, hoped, hoped) that was where we would grow old. We weren’t sure how it would work financially, but we dreamed of making that tiny island 30 miles out-to-sea our permanent home.
Wyoming: Leaving Nantucket for Wyoming was less of a choice and more of a consequence of unexpected job loss and a lack of year-round jobs on-island. I cried literal tears as we left the island and I’ll probably always feel as if I left a piece of myself there.
Colorado: We knew Wyoming was a temporary move (though neither of us expected it to be as short as it turned out to be!), but when we moved to Fort Collins just as Nora started kindergarten, we agreed it was time to stay put. I’ve always wanted the girls to be able to attend a single school with the same group of friends from kindergarten and onward – something I never got to do.
In the three years that we lived in Fort Collins, we spoke off and on about the cost of living, distance from family, and challenges stopping us from fulfilling our fantasy travel-filled life, but we never seriously explored the idea of moving cross-country for a sixth time.
We thought Colorado would be our permanent home, and that we were pretty firmly embedded in the community from a school and business perspective. At one point Chris’ corporate food job (pre-Road Warrior Creative) offered him a position in Portland, Oregon and we turned it down – that’s how fixed we thought we were in Colorado.
Any time we lamented the downsides of life in Colorado, the positives were always top of mind too:
- Our girls went to a great Montessori school, tuition-free.
- We had strong business connections through the chamber and other business associations.
- We were starting to find friends and make social connections.
- We had a good house with lots of potential for improvement in a great neighborhood.
Not to mention, I’d already moved a lot in my lifetime — I wasn’t keen to do it again, even if the thought of being closer to family did have some appeal.
Timewarp to Last August
Last August, we came down to Texas to spend two weeks visiting Chris’ family. His father lives alone and was having a minor surgery that didn’t really necessitate having us come down to help, but seemed like a good excuse to visit all the same.
Because we have the luxury of working from anywhere with an internet connection, we decided to extend the stay and also spend a week at Chris’ mother’s house. We wanted to test out the theory that we could travel as a family and work at the same time, plus it seemed like the perfect timing for a vacation: Addie was three months old, able to ride in the car for longer periods, and school hadn’t started back up yet for the fall.
So, we packed our car with baby, kids, and lots of stuff, and drove down to Austin for two weeks of family time under the hot Texas sun.
An Unexpected Game Changer
Halfway through our week with Chris’ dad, he told us in casual conversation that a Montessori school was being built not too far away from him.
Intrigued, I looked the school up and saw that not only was it a Montessori school, but also that is was a charter school, which meant it was publicly funded and tuition-free(!). I mentioned it to Chris and we drove by the building on our next outing.
It was a brand new school but, unlike our school in Fort Collins that has been operating out of churches for the past 4 years, it had a beautiful new building on an acreage. Instantly, Chris wanted to put the girls on the waiting list, and I thought he was crazy.
Not 4 days before we hadn’t even been considering moving, and now he was ready to pick up our entire life and relocate it to Texas – unbearably hot, conservative Texas, where we had family but no friends or business connections. Why would we do that?
Why We Moved to Texas
Initially, I agreed to put the girls on the waiting list for the school because, why not?
First of all: marital bliss and accord. Filling out a waitlist form is not a commitment to attend and I assumed that they were unlikely to get spots anyway. I figured the waitlist was a mile long, so I agreed and filled out the forms. It was all about keeping options open and a happy hubby.
After submitting the forms online that day, we continued to discuss the idea of moving off and on throughout the rest of our trip, and I started to sort of see reasons why it might make sense:
We would be closer to family – both Chris’ family in Austin (with lots of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) and two of my brothers in Dallas. My mom, too, who lives in Michigan has talked about possibly returning to the Dallas area.
Our children have never had the opportunity to live close to family and we’ve long lamented that, especially at the close of every visit.
Lower Cost of Living
We could live with Chris’ dad or buy a house for less money than our house in Fort Collins – either way, it would be a win.
We looked at real estate in the areas surrounding Chris’s dad’s house and determined that houses were, in some cases, $100,000 less expensive then equivalent homes in Colorado. The property taxes were higher, but Texas does not have state income tax.
Lowering our cost of living would make it possible for us to purchase our travel trailer and realize the dream that was Road Warrior Creative: working and exploring the country with our girls.
The Real Reason
We talked back and forth on all the pros and cons – being closer to family, lower cost of living – it all sounded great in a vacuum, but it wasn’t enough to push me over the edge or make me want to take the risk of starting over with friends and business relationships.
Eleven moves later, I’m still not one for change; it scares me, believe it or not.
Finally I asked Chris if there was something else I was missing – was there a bigger reason he really wanted us to move? He paused for a moment, then he looked at me with one of the most serious expressions I’ve ever seen and he said, “You aren’t happy.”
At first I wanted to scoff. What did he mean I wasn’t happy? I was realizing my goals, right?
I was a successful business owner with three kids, running a nonprofit and starting to gain recognition in my community. But I let myself pause and think about it – really, truly think about it – and I realized he was right.
I wasn’t happy.
I was exhausted. I was frustrated. I was overworked. I felt like a bad mom most of the time, and I was on the brink of burnout.
I love my business and I love what I do but working nights and weekends and all the freaking time to grow a business to afford to live in an expensive place was going to ruin it all. It wasn’t worth it. What’s the point of working hard for a family you never get to see?
Being the person that I am, it probably would have taken me a long time to realize how unhappy I was, had Chris not pointed it out. I needed someone to tell me what I couldn’t see for myself: living in Colorado on our current path was like treading water. We weren’t going to get ahead, and I needed a change no matter how scary the transition might seem.
If it’s not working, fix it.
That brings me back to the title of this post, if it’s not working, fix it, and to where I started, commenting on how much more frequently we have moved the average people our age.
Chris and I are proactive. We don’t mess around. We don’t let the world happen to us.
I said we were gypsies by circumstance but really that’s not true.
- Circumstance may have meant unemployment on Nantucket, but we didn’t wait around for a job to materialize out of nowhere.
- Circumstance may have brought a poor work environment for Chris in Wyoming, but we didn’t just gripe about it to one another.
Circumstance may have catalyzed our moves, but we are most definitely the kind of people that look for solutions to problems – even if that solution is halfway across the country.
Each time we’ve moved we’ve done so very deliberately and by choice, and each time we’ve moved we’ve bettered our life for ourselves and our children. Even with frustrations along the way, there’s no denying that moving has brought overall upward mobility and greater experiences + opportunity.
So when, a week after we returned to Colorado from vacation, we got a phone call letting us know the girls had spots at the school in Texas, I agreed to take the leap. I realized Chris was right – we were desperately in need of a change and there was no time like the present to make that change. (Carpe diem and all that.)
Making the move
We got the call on a Friday and had until Monday to tell the school if we wanted Nora and Zara to attend. Within 30 minutes we made the decision to go for it, and we had 11 days to get the older two girls back to Texas for the first day of school + formulate a plan for packing, selling our house, and moving our business to another state hours away.
It seemed crazy at the time. It seems crazy now. But you know what? It wasn’t.
At times the move wasn’t easy or fun, but we did it and everything came together, just like (just about) everything from every other one of our moves has worked out for the best.
Don’t let yourself stagnate.
Upward mobility used to be tied to literal mobility. It used to be that if you weren’t doing well in one spot, you’d pack up your covered wagon (or station wagon) and move somewhere else. For a long time, moving to bigger or different cities was part of how people got ahead.
Stats say less and less people are moving these days and I want to say that if I’ve learned anything from moving 11 times in 11 years, it’s that you can’t let fear of change or attachment to a place hold you back. Often times growth and success mean stepping out of your comfort zone – whether that’s applying for a job you’re not sure you’ll get or moving far away from everything you know to embrace a new opportunity.
Chris and I are firm believers in the power of action and taking risks, and so far it seems to have worked out – in some cases paying off in ways we never could have anticipated.
A little perspective is good too.
It’s been 10 months since this whirlwind began and I feel like the dust is just starting to settle. There are still moments of frustration or exhaustion, but there are also lots of moments when I can acknowledge that we’re 10x closer to our goals now than we were at this time a year ago. We saw a problem, dropped everything to adjust course, and lots of good has come of it.
How many times have you moved? Have you moved for greater opportunity or used moves to get a greater leg up in the world? What other risks have you taken that have paid off big? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear about it!