We had to switch apartments last month. No big deal. I just got a few boxes from the supermarket, borrowed a luggage cart, and the whole matter was taken care of within a day.
Well, kind of. It so happened that we moved from a furnished to a unfurnished apartment to save—oh, no big deal—two thousand dollars on rent. Per month!
I had to buy a few little things to keep us afloat, like: pots, pans, dishes, cups, glasses, silverware, towels, bedding, trash cans, an iron and an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. Oh, and we had to rent furniture and have it delivered on a Saturday.
Still, it was manageable. It occurred to me that’s probably because I’ve got lots of moving experience. If I count every address I lived for three months or more, I’ve moved 27 times in my life, including many international moves involving seven different countries. I’m 35 years old, so that’s almost once a year.
Why, you ask?
Well, that’s a long story, of course. Much too long for this post and probably even this blog. But it got me thinking and I came up with a few reasons that are behind most of the moves. And it’s not just the Foreign Service, which was responsible for less than half of them.
1. Commune living
My parents divorced when I was one, and my mom moved into a house a that was part of a "commune" or "shared living community." Don't worry, it's not as creepy as it sounds. In the 1980s, at least in the Netherlands (and Germany), it was a trendy thing to do.
Our "commune" consisted of 51 houses built in two semi-circles. All the residents knew each other. They frequently had dinner together. Almost everyone had a vegetable garden. There were many community events. People seemed to care about each other's well-being. But everyone had their own house and a lock on the door.
We lived in four different houses within this commune. We needed more space when our family grew, less space when it shrank, and for a while we lived in large house that was a "commune within the commune", which was a bit too much commune. Strangely, we moved from house number 46 to 36, to 26, to 16.
2. Big, Bigger, Buy
Once my mom was done with commune-style living, it took her a while to figure out what she wanted. The first house she chose had sun panels on the roof, which saved electricity costs, but didn't have enough bedrooms. The next house was in a beautiful neighborhood, but the rent kept going up. She eventually bought a house, which became my ninth address. When I turned 18, I moved out.
3. The perfect student housing
Once I was on my own, it took a while to find the right student housing. Just like my mom, I didn't settle for the first place I got my hands on. I was always on the lookout for a better space, and the third one was a charm: a spacious high-ceiling room within walking distance from the city center and the University of Groningen, where I studied. Two years later, I fell in love...
4. I fell in love
I fell in love with both Amsterdam and a certain guy who lived in Greece. My best friend had already moved to Amsterdam and suddenly needed a roommate. Even though I still had to attend a few classes in Groningen, I figured that living closer to the international airport allowed me to travel to Greece quicker (not a great reason, but a reason nonetheless). So I moved to Amsterdam and commuted back to my hometown to finish my degree.
5. The student exchange thing
Like most students of International Relations, I wanted to study abroad for a semester. Canada chose me (I did not choose freezing Canada) and moved to Montreal. When I came back I was homeless, because my best friend had moved in with her boyfriend. I found a little studio in the nice part of Amsterdam, where I stayed for two years. That was my fifteenth address.
6. The Foreign Service
Then, I hooked myself to an American diplomat and moving became my middle name. Nigeria. Washington DC. Uruguay. Arlington. Pakistan. Arlington. The Netherlands. Falls Church. Armenia. Falls Church. Falls Church. Next stop: Germany.
Foreign Service postings are usually 2 or 3 years and may or may not come with a year of language training. So I'll be moving a lot more in the future. Fortunately, I have to say that the more I move, the more I enjoy it. I don't worry about packing, or living out of a suitcase, and I embrace opportunities that change brings.
It's almost like changing wardrobes--a new house offers a nice chance to do away with what I don't like anymore and try something new. Every new house is an opportunity to redecorate; every neighborhood comes with new surroundings and running trails; and there's always a different restaurant or bar to explore.