Moving is scary. The last time I moved was from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. That was in 2003 — a lifetime ago! — and I had help from Phil, my then-partner who came to D.C. with me to look at places, meet with potential property owners, and negotiate costs and move-in dates. This time, I had to search all by myself. The process, which required a task-driven approach, was both frightening and cleansing.
Last Wednesday, when it came time to start looking seriously at apartments, I was overwhelmed by the listings I found online. Various housing websites are updated every minute, which can create even more consternation for the looker. Seizing thoughts regularly came into my head: Is this place better or worse than the other place I just read about? Is this place too expensive for the amenities it offers? Is it located in a neighborhood I would like to live in? And then after scrolling and scrolling through the lists, I asked the dreaded question, have I missed the perfect place for me?
Who did I call in my hour of need? Phil. As I have said before, Phil and I remain good friends. He was able to calm me down and settle my mind. Make three lists, he said: what is a must-have, what can you put up with, and what will you absolutely not tolerate. His process was very much like selecting fiction for a literary journal: separate the material into the yes pile, the maybes, and the nos. I know how to do that, I thought, so I did it.
Must haves: stay in Washington, D.C. Although it would be cheaper to live in Maryland, where I would also be closer to work, I consider myself a Washingtonian and very much want to stay here. My car is registered here, my voting rights (however limited) are exercised here, and over the last eight years, I have created a community for myself here. Staying here was a must.
What I could put up with: I have lived in a sharing situation for sometime. A house full of three young professionals sounds like a lot, but the house was large and quiet, and the others guys were rarely home. I wouldn’t mind having a flatmate.
Absolutely not: I never want to feel unsafe walking home. Washington, D.C. is a diverse city and its charm comes from the mixing of many cultures, but I wouldn’t kid myself and say I’d live anywhere outside of Northwest. Glover Park, where I have lived since I moved here, is north of Georgetown on Wisconsin Avenue. It is sometimes dubbed “Upper Georgetown” but the community is characteristically distinct from the one down the hill on M Street. It is safer, quieter, friendlier, and has an almost small-town feel. I can walk around the neighborhood at anytime and not feel threatened. There was no compromising here.
Phil’s advice helped very much. I found an apartment on Wisconsin Avenue at the border between Glover Park and Georgetown. It is close to friends who live in the area, convenient to shopping, on the safer and quieter side of the hill, and walking distance to M Street should I feel the urge to relive my Georgetown days.
The fear subsided, and as with most things, I discovered it was just a matter of facing the fear head-on.
The cleansing part of my story involves getting my hands dirty, literally. I had eight years worth of stuff in my old home. That includes clothes I stopped wearing five years ago, souvenirs I purchased on my many trips to London and had never given away, books I read and re-read, and papers-upon-papers-upon-papers I wrote for my undergrad and graduate programs. In other boxes I found photographs of people I don’t know anymore, high school year books I had long forgotten, old love notes from various and sundry suitors, including one gentleman who had flown twice all the way from California to visit me, and journals from 1998-2003, one in which I wrote an account of helping Laura Bush do her Christmas shopping when I worked at Barnes & Noble.
How do you decide what to keep and what to throw away? The answer to this question is in an A&E marathon of the show “Hoarders.” The groundbreaking series follows “people whose inability to let go of their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of personal disaster.” These people keep everything from old newspapers, clothes, appliances, and in some cases animals (i.e. the lady with 50 cats). Watching the traumatic experiences between the hoarders and their families who desperately want them to get help is one way to get inspired to clean. I kept “Hoarders” on in the background the entire time I sorted through my stuff, and it helped me make necessary decisions.
One tip they give is if you haven’t used it in a year, it can be thrown away. That was the tip I used when I went through a closet full of clothes. The St. Alban’s Opportunity Shop will be receiving quite a donation in a few days. In one episode, a woman could not throw away her legal documents — the stuff you are given at the DMV, mailings from Social Security, doctors’ reports, and law suits — because she had been so convinced that you were supposed to “keep these for your records.” Never mind that most offices today keep their records in computer databases and can pull up any information she needs with one click. That episode helped me fill an entire garbage bag with documents, old mail, and graded papers (especially that B+ Professor Ortiz gave me on a paper I wrote for Literary Theory).
I managed to do all of this in one weekend, and was able to move into my new place exactly a week from the day I started looking. Moving is scary, but with help from friends and courage from people who are suffering with the real disorder of not letting go, moving can be a cleansing and rejuvenating experience. Even I marvel at how fast the transition took place. As my old roommate said as he helped me move out: I spent a few days throwing dead weight off the ship so that the ship could move faster.