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3 things I learned while moving across the country

There are lots of little pieces and schedules to put together to ensure a smooth transition.
Canada, British Columbia, Emerald Lake Road, Yoho National Park, van on road
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About two months ago, I packed up everything I owned and, with my husband and two kittens, moved from New York City to Los Angeles.

I had lived in New York City for 11 years, went to college in Massachusetts before that, and grew up in the suburbs of New York City for my entire childhood. My whole family (and my in-laws, too!) are on the East Coast. But we wanted a change of pace; a chance to see if we really loved living in New York City, or, as we often suspected, we just thought we loved it.

As we both approached our mid-30s, we realized living in Brooklyn often felt like living life on level hard. I yearned for a driveway of my own and some space to store more than two paper towel rolls at a time. Hello, Costco membership! We’d miss New York for sure, but there were lots of things about L.A. that seemed appealing. So in July, we let everyone know it was happening. After the holidays, we’d be leaving.

I’ve never gone through a big move, so planning one was a real adventure in logistics and spreadsheeting. I had just come off of throwing a wedding and felt like I needed some distance from color-coordinated Excel documents, but this is what moving requires. There are lots of little pieces and schedules to put together to ensure a smooth transition. Traveling with pets added even more issues.

Here are the things I learned in the process.

1. Do the math.

As a person who nearly failed out of college math (and high school math, for that matter), the idea of crunching the numbers on a cross country move was about as appealing to me as a colonoscopy. But sometimes crunching numbers is necessary. In the case of moving, it absolutely is. That doesn’t mean I wanted to do it.

Basically, there are two moving company options. The first is a flat rate to move everything in your house based on how many rooms you have. This is usually expensive. The quote we were given for our 900-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn was about $6500. If you added up the value of everything we own, it would probably come out to about half that.

We went with option two: a moving company that would move us per box and per item for much cheaper. But it left us with some decisions to make. Moving our $350 Amazon couch would cost us $450. Moving the bed frame that our kittens used as a scratching post for two years would cost us $85. Moving all of our books was going to cost us $1200, because it took up so many boxes. We needed to make decisions. As daunting as it was to think about having to rebuy all of our furniture once we got to L.A., we tried to imagine a worst-case scenario. Say we paid $450 to bring our Amazon couch to L.A., but it didn’t quite work in our new place. We could probably Craigslist it for $150, which wouldn’t make the cost of moving it worth it. We did the math on almost every big-ticket item we owned and sold the things we weren’t taking with us while we were still in Brooklyn.

The move cost us less and we used the money we saved to replace the furniture that didn’t make the cut. To make things even easier, see if you can sell some of the furniture you’re leaving behind to the incoming tenants taking over your apartment.

2. Wait until you live in your new place before you decorate it.

OK, so this isn’t just about cross-country moves but if I had a penny for every argument my husband and I had about which dining room table we wanted to buy for our new home before we moved in, I’d have enough money to buy something else because after living in our new home for six weeks, we realized we didn’t actually want a dining room table. So much time wasted having a meaningless argument!

Moving cross country
This is where we thought a dining room table would go.Caroline Moss

Try to live in your new space for four to six weeks before you make any big purchases. You want to understand how you live in your house or apartment and then start buying. Before we moved, we were absolutely certain that the second bedroom would be our master bedroom and the front bedroom would be a den and office area. We nearly bought furniture based on the layout dimensions before moving in. Once we moved in, we changed our mind three times and ended up finally making the front bedroom our master. We would have had fewer options had we bought furniture before moving in.

3. If you’re traveling with pets, book the whole airplane row.

At first, my husband and I booked an aisle seat and a window seat, taking the chance that no one in their right mind would want to upgrade to an “even more space” middle seat for $90. As time went on, I started to worry. New York to L.A. flights were usually full. Traveling with our kittens meant both of them would be in carriers, and those carriers would have to go under the seat in front of us. We’d still have our backpacks on the plane, as well as a carry-on piece for the overhead cabin, so if the cats were already under our feet, where would we put our backpacks?

Not to mention that I feared the judgmental sighs of our potential middle-seat neighbor who would learn he was sitting in between two cats and complain. What can I say, it was a six-hour flight and I am a people pleaser.

I eventually gave in and spent $300 on the middle seat. Expensive? Yes. But guess what? Everything. About. Moving. Is. Expensive. If you can swing it, that $300 may give you peace of mind on a day when everything is going to be very nerve-wracking and emotional (a one-way ticket to a new place!). I was so happy to have that extra space on moving day. So were the cats.

Moving can be ... wait, scratch that. Moving is stressful and expensive. When you move right before a pandemic that requires you to stay home and away from others, even more so. I am nostalgic for the New York City we left behind, especially because I know it’s not the New York City we’d be experiencing had we stayed.

But deep breaths, planning ahead (as best you can!), and putting in the work way ahead of time (but saving the couch purchase for your arrival) will help you keep your sanity on your new adventure.