Why is Moving So Hard? The Struggle to Lighten Up, Give Up, Let Go

Moving out — moving on

“Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris.

Everything changes.

I just emptied an apartment full of furniture, things, stories, and stuff. I carried couches, desks, and pieces of furniture up and down (and up and down) many flights of stairs across hilly San Francisco. I donated 600 books and gifted them to friends across the city.

Moving is so freeing and yet so hard.

And I wrapped up a life living in this beautiful home, this beautiful city, with so many good friends.

“We’re making space for new adventures,” my husband reminded me. “Don’t keep anything you don’t remember you had in the first place.”

But it’s so hard. The labor of moving everything. The memories.

Moving is exhausting. The energy of lifting, analyzing, purging, and letting go — it’s no small task. When I got overwhelmed recently in the pile of stuff that somehow accumulates around one’s home, I went online in a desperate plea to my minimalist friends — “Help!” I said, “How do I do this?”

Joshua wrote back a simple truth — and it made me laugh:

“You are not your dishtowel.” — Joshua Fields Millburn

Right. Right!

I am not my things.

I get to keep the stories, the memories, the transformation. My life is not a couch. My memories are not held inside of a sofa.

When I got back to New York this weekend, I decided to continue the cleansing: we piled up four more bags of books and clothes and cleaned out our home. More and more, I’m inspired by lightness, ease, minimalism, and letting go — letting go of past stories, details, habits, and junk.

Why do we each need to keep our own personal bookshelves? If I need a book in the future, I’ll borrow it or get a digital copy. I trust that the world will have this information, regardless of whether or not I house the words within my own tiny square-foot home. I do not need to own hundreds of books to continue to thirst for knowledge.

“There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.” — Jackie French Koller.

“Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” — Linda Breen Pierce

What is the weight of holding on to all these “things”?

Plus: what is the weight of carrying around a hundred books I haven’t read yet? The oppressive weight of “should” on my shelf must hold substantial weight in my mind, pinning me down to past wishes, thoughts, and dreams.

What if I free up that shelf space — mental, physical, karmic? Send those books to places they will be loved and cherished, rather than collecting dust in my own life? Root to rise, my yoga mantra. My roots come from my community, my connections, my spirit. My rise comes from weightlessness, expansiveness, ease. If I hold on to unread books, I hold on to unfinished committments. A bookcase full of shoulds and one-days and look at what you haven’t done staring down at me in my morning meditation.

“Any half-awake materialist well knows – that which you hold holds you.” — Tom Robbins.

The sadness of leaving + the freedom of space.

As I prepared to leave San Francisco, my home — my only permanent residence for most of my waking life — I kept tearing up about the friends and the people I would miss. Would giving up my home and apartment mean I could never come back? And then my friend Leah reminded me that I’ll always be back. The cool whispers of San Francisco’s foggy oceans will also be one of my homes.

“You’re family here. We’ll have space for you whenever you return. It’s not about the couch. Just come, whenever you want. It can be easy.” 

And I remember that I get to keep all the stories, all the memories. I so grateful to this beautiful coastal city and to the rich community of people I have met over the years. I love it here.

And I love what’s next, even if I have no idea what it is.

Let go of what’s not serving you, even if it’s as innocuous as books. Make space for your future self. 

To adventure, creative living, the sharing economy, and change.

And as Carol Pearson writes, to a new story, to a new narrative:

“Most of us are slaves of the stories we unconsciously tell ourselves about our lives. Freedom begins the moment we become conscious of the plot line we are living and, with this insight, recognize that we can step into another story altogether.” —Carol S. Pearson, The Hero Within

To an adventure. To freedom.

For more quotes on simplicity and minimalism, check out Joshua Becker’s list of inspiring quotes on minimalism — many of which I used as part of this essay. 

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10 Responses to Why is Moving So Hard? The Struggle to Lighten Up, Give Up, Let Go

  1. Brianna says:

    I moved eight (almost nine) months ago. My parents are moving within six months. There is much flutter about cleaning things out and it feels good. I am not living with them now, but my stuff is, and I am realizing it’s just stuff. The library is a wondrous place. Used bookstores are a wealth of excellent books if there is something I must own for a specific reason. It gets easier to let go of things as time goes on.

  2. Amanda says:

    I’m an international teacher, so I move around a lot. Whenever I return to my hometown I always try to get rid of my stuff. The hardest part for me is always the books- so I really empathize with you!

    Great post!


    • Sarah says:

      Amanda – I know! Books are SO HARD! I still can’t quite believe that I let go of as many books as I did. I am an avid lover, reader, and collector of books, so this was quite a stretch for me.

  3. Hey Sarah,

    I love how you wrote this post through the lens of your love of books. And I love that you remind us that if we don’t physically own a copy of a book, the information will not cease to exist. I’m having fun with a tiny bookshelf at the moment, passing on books as I finish them, and downloading the rest to my kindle. Ready for new adventures, armed with a plethora of books, at a moment’s notice!


  4. Jeff Bronson says:

    Getting rid of stuff is so freeing! I’ve been downsizing and preparing for long term travel quite a while now. It feels great to know it’s possible to live out of a backpack and not feel tied to your ‘things’!.

    • Sarah says:

      Jeff — I know, it’s so great! You really do find freedom with letting go of things, don’t you?

  5. […] recently moved both across a country and between countries I can empathize with a lot of this post. Lighten up and move […]

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  7. Janet Cochran Butler says:

    This is a great article as well as the responses too. I am 73 years old and downsized again into an independent Senior Community complex. it about wiped me out to get packed and then to move and decide to let go of half of what I moved because there was not room for it. It has been terribly exhausting for me. Being a former licensed Professional Counselor with my own challenging school for special needs children and youth who have not done well in reg. school. I am the kind of person who is just short of a self thinking person and love my art and music. I lived through many many books that all related to either education, human development, theology and other pursuits. I absorbed those books and they became my answer to my curiosity and they reformed and informed my inner life and soul. They reshaped me with mountains of knowledge and insight to what life is all about. I just wanted to say that it was so easy this move to put all of the framed photos under my bed, give away gifts that have no more meaning for me, and to totally remove clutter from my life and let the freedom of space and creativity fill up my soul. I was needing to move and find new visions of meaning for my life. Sometimes I wait too long to move. When things get dull, living alone, and enjoying new things, people, and ideas along with deeper faith in trusting God has continued to help me grow up. Blessings to all of you and your books.

  8. Lynette says:

    Incredible. This is the first real smile I’ve had all day – just from knowing I’m in good company. I love all the comments too! (Thanks Janet!) I am 53 and downsized from a rather large single home to a bedroom in a shared home situation back in May. It was excruciatingly difficult deciding what to keep and what to let go of. I kept my bedroom furniture and about 500 books and the book shelves they’ve been on for years. It never occurred to me to ‘accept’ the furnished bedroom that was offered me in this shared living arrangement – it was too important to me to keep MY stuff. I almost broke my body moving all of that up to the 3rd floor of this farm house. (did I forget to mention I live on the 3rd floor of an old farm house without an elevator?) It is now December, and I’m moving again. This time, across the country. From PA to South Florida. This time, I know better. I just sold my bedroom furniture to a young lady who is picking it up tomorrow. I am allowing myself no more than 2 boxes (liquor store sized) of books. All the rest are getting donated. And of course I’m taking my clothes (summer clothes only!). The only other thing I need is a beach chair and my computer. I feel the pain of everyone who goes through this. Silly how we get attached to stuff, but many of us do. Sentiments, memories, fear of lack, whatever the case may be, I thank you all for helping me to lighten up a bit and look towards the freedom I’ll experience without all this stuff weighing me down. Thank you :)