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Lessons From an Elder's Cross-Country Move

A day or so ago, TGB reader Patricia Lee asked via email how I'm adjusting since my move across the country to Oregon from Maine. Several others have asked in the past too, so here goes.

Out of curiosity, I first checked the web to see what it has to say about old people moving. I advise against doing that. The first site I looked at warns against “relocation stress syndrome” in elders, also known as “transfer trauma.”

Give me a break; is everything a syndrome nowadays? Of course, it can be stressful to move a long distance. What else would you expect?.

That's when I stopped reading. This post is about my move, not a survey of options or “expert” input. I did it myself and I expect any healthy elder can.

It will soon be three years since I landed in Lake Oswego which is not anything like where I want to live. I was aiming for northwest Portland, the neighborhood where I spent a lot of time as a kid and which is vaguely similar to Manhattan in that there are nice old buildings from a hundred years ago and you can walk to do most everything.

But unless one is wealthy, money is paramount in choosing a home and mine would not stretch far enough to afford an apartment there.

I would have had more time to look had my condo in Maine not sold in just nine days, and closings happen quickly there, in under a month. Maybe I should have rented here for awhile, but that would have meant less money for purchase and I was cutting finances close to the bone as it was.

So I settled on a condo that is comfortable, in a pleasant, wooded area and unlikely to need costly repairs before I die. But it is certainly not my ideal.

It's only about 20 years old and is designed to be as bland as millions of other contemporaneous apartments - particularly compared to the 200-plus and 100-plus year-old apartments I owned New York and Maine.

But I put practicality over charm and I don't think that is wrong at my age – just boring.

I know now that I could have done it differently. Since I bought this place in 2010, it (along with most residential property in the area) has lost about a third of its market value which means I might have been able to rent for awhile and found something affordable in Portland after all.

But them's the breaks. You go with the information you have at the time and no one knew then how much further prices would drop. There is no point in dwelling on what cannot be changed.

What was hard in the beginning (still is) is finding my way around. Manhattan is laid out in a numbered grid and if you don't count my interlude in Portland, Maine, it's the first time in nearly 50 years I've had to put more than a moment's thought into how to get somewhere.

I find that really annoying (whatever would I do without Google maps on Android?) and for every appointment in an area that is new or relatively new to me, I leave plenty of time to get lost and not be late. It's still necessary to do that.

For the first few months, I concentrated on making a house a home. That takes longer than you would think when you're turning out a blog every day – months, in fact. But a perk of getting old is that I don't feel the urgency for everything to be perfectly in place within a week or two as when I was young.

In fact, it took a year and a half until I finally bought shelves and unpacked the books. I brought only about half my books from the east coast because it is so expensive to ship that much dead weight and, oddly, there is much less wall space here even though this apartment is about 20 percent larger.

That was a mistake. I should have paid the money to ship the books and figured out wall storage somehow. Every week, I find myself looking for one or two that I sold.

If there were to be another move in my life (there will not be unless I become physically or mentally incapacitated), I would research the near neighborhood more carefully than I did and choose differently.

This condominium of 112 units, is a NORC – a “naturally occurring retirement community” – and almost everyone looks just like me: old, gray-haired, mostly female and white. I would like it better with more young families with kids and people whose skin is a different color. The lack of diversity matches the town itself and there's nothing I can do about it.

That's most of the downside which is hardly debilitating and can be overcome or accommodated.

I've made some friends. Volunteering with the 50+ Advisory Board and some other organizations has helped. It's not nearly as easy as in New York and I have come to see that even when mobility is not an issue, it is more difficult to make friends in old age than when we were younger and/or working.

I have some more thoughts on that but I'll save them for a full blog post on elder friendship sometime soon.

Climate and physical surroundings are important (I'd be miserable in the desert) and Oregon is my kind of beautiful. I like seeing Mt. Hood and Mount St. Helens reaching clear to the tip-top of the sky on clear days, and the extraordinary amount of green that Oregon has done reasonably well in preserving.

I like being only two hours from the Pacific coast, although I don't go often enough. And unlike many people, I don't care one way or another about rain. I even rather like it.

I was born and lived here until I was 15 and sometimes I wonder if there is some innate affinity in each of us for the physical place where we are from – that someone who grew up in the desert, for example, would always feel drawn to it as I do to Oregon. (I have no idea if there's anything to that thought.)

The move itself was easy but do keep in mind that if you count my parents' moves I recall, I've done this 44 times to, from and within ten different cities. I have a lot of experience.

And nothing is anywhere near as negative as I seem to have made this post sound. It's just that I've concentrated on what is different from before and therefore more interesting - at least to me.

Overall, I am happy enough for someone who will always rather be in New York City and I let myself feel that longing as often as it erupts. That doesn't make me unhappy with my current circumstance and recalling my many years there is more joyful than anything else.

There is always discomfort in leaving home and friends behind. The biggest emotional help in my last two moves – from New York to Maine to Oregon – is the thread of this blog, the self-imposed obligation to keep it going and have a story ready every day.

Although it was never deliberate and I didn't plan it this way my interest in, study of and writing about aging sustain me. It's what I do. And it would be wise, I think, for any elders moving a long way from home to hold close and keep doing whatever it is that most engages them.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Oh, the Smell!


Everyone reacts to change differently. I've moved many times, including moves from New Jersey,to Michigan, to Orleans, France, back to New Jersey and Santa Fe, NM.
Every move has had its own novelties and problems.

We're all moving through time; why not space?

I think there's something to your theory about people being drawn to the area where they grew up. My sister has lived in Texas for many years now and I in Louisiana, but we grew up in Missouri. In 1996 we drove there together to a family reunion. About thirty miles from our destination, she opened the sun roof and we simultaneously smelled a familiar scent in the air--one we recognized from our childhood and hadn't smelled since. (I still don't know what it was -- some crop, perhaps?) We looked at each other and burst into tears at the sensation of being whisked back through time on a waft of scent. We were home again. These days I do my time traveling and old-home visiting via Google Maps street view, visiting towns and streets where I used to live. The Missouri home of my childhood has long since been torn down for the expansion of a nearby university, but I still go there on Google, "stand" where the house once stood, and "walk" the streets to nearby places I remember.

I moved 3 years ago to a small town on the northern Oregon coast and I didn't realize most of the homes are second/vacation homes, and that small towns are full of married people. I've met some lovely people, but hubby and family come first - so I haven't found that elusive 'pal' who I can call on a for a cup of coffee or a day trip. Fortunately I don't get bored or lonely, and the natural beauty is magnificent, but if I move again, I'll check out the community a bit more closely.

Forgive the lengthiness of this comment, please, but the 1st comments rang such a bell for me. When I went back to Illinois for my 40th H.S. reunion, I wrote an essay which included this apt quote. "Part of my incentive to see my childhood home again was to find my 'ancestral voice'--a necessary requirement, I’ve heard, to enable me to satisfy this latent muse of writing, now burst forth in late life. To do that, I’m told, one must go back to the place.
Indeed, I knew, when I saw those vast open spaces, why I still need--in my world--a vista of sky, a plethora of people, and yet, the contrast of solitude. I knew why it was alien for me to live for seventeen years in the woods without an expanse of sky. I knew the rightness of William Kittredge’s lines in Hole in the Sky, 'The long horizons of that country are imprinted in my synapses like a genetic heritage.'”

I spent a couple years looking for a place to retire and decided on Chicago or San Diego strangely enough. They both had all the things I wanted: good public transportation, baseball, live theatre, walkable neighborhoods, museums, etc.

Several people I knew told me it would be too expensive to live in either of those places. I decided I could die of boredom where I was or live frugally in a big city.

I chose San Diego, not because of the weather but it was closer and easier to move to. I still get people telling me how expensive it is here. I guess it just depends on what you want to spend your money on.

BTW, I grew up in Seattle and Portland. I don't miss the rain but they are both wonderful cities. My mother lives in North West Portland and I agree, it is a great area of town.

"For the first few months, I concentrated on making a house a home."

That comment made me chuckle. The last time we moved was 30 years ago. We were tired after a long day. My husband went to bed. When he awoke the next AM (I worked at that time in my life) every fork had been put away, every picture hung, etc, etc. Wherever it is that we go he says that "I nest." Or, I make the place home - as on vacation. I just cannot help it.

"I was born and lived here until I was 15 and sometimes I wonder if there is some innate affinity in each of us for the physical place where we are from – "

I have spent many hours during my lifetime thinking about just this thing. Many. What I have come up with is that the time of which you speak in each person's life is the time that a child's/person's emotions are forming. This is the time of one's first memorable and fully formed set of emotions (spoken as a total lay person not a physician or psychologist). They are very rich emotions and we are as older adults drawn to what we first felt. Well just food for thought.

I am moving. Now. G and I chose to go with the Quieter Home Program (See today's blog entry,) which will get us new doors, windows, and HVAC. It's a very sensible move, and will upgrade this tired condo.

Except, like you, I read. Like you, G has computers. Our computers take up a whole room and G works at home.

After I take down the art, move or wrap bookcases, move out of the office, and move out of my closet, I'm going to move to a motel for a short stint.

I need to be a happy camper about this but am not because of my hip and two damaged wrists. It'll get done despite me. :) And I'll smile later.

One day in Okla. City, my hometown, it occurred to me that with no job and no spouse, I was finally free to fulfill a lifetime dream and move to Colorado where I'd vacationed all my life. Spent about 2 years in an apartment, surveying my options, and finally concluded, with huge disappointment, that I could not afford a place in the mountains or even a small place with a great view. I found a little house, no view but all on one level, and bought it. Sensible, not great. But an hour's drive puts me in the mountains. And my son lives just a mile away. (Confession: 5 years later, I still have a couple of unpacked boxes!)

Since a divorce over 30 years ago I have moved many times.
Built a home and would move on - it became my income and passion. At 70 I returned to a special place where I started over. I love being surrounded by nature. The downside is everyone I knew years ago were much older then me and have passed away.
Also my children would like to have me in the big city - tried this but did not like it. Also I need to be around people more. There may be one more move and it is not at this time...

...it would be wise, I think, for any elders moving a long way from home to hold close and keep doing whatever it is that most engages them. I think that is an excellent piece of advice, Ronni. What seems to me to make old age meaningful is to remain involved in something that has heart and meaning for us - something that is bigger than the personal, whatever it might be. It is that, I believe, that makes us not just 'old folks' but elders, continuing to care, to participate and to serve.

I've traveled some, but I still live in the town where I was born. In fact, about 10 blocks from where I grew up -- the historical district of a southern USA town.

No regrets, though I had my wanderlust in younger years and longing to relocate. Now that I'm older, I seem to be happier here than ever. I have nearby family -- wonderful grand-nieces I see regularly. And there's a nice mixture of different age groups in my neighborhood.

What I am concerned about is if and when I become disabled to the point of needing care. Not sure "home care" would work, so I've been visiting local "assisted living homes." Some are beyond my means, but others are not. One can have a car, come & go when wanted. I know a lot of people think it would be just awful, but I have no children of my own, some serious back issues I fear might limit my mobility at some point. So my research is to find an acceptable, affordable place ahead of time.

I wonder if you might do a post sometimes about "assisted living?" It would be interesting!

I moved to Walla Walla 13 years ago to be near my son and his family, now both sons are here and 8 grandchildren. The other house I looked at was in Lake Oswego: I have three sisters within 10+ miles there. House prices were much more reasonable then. I have never known really if I made the right choice. I grew up on coast as our family moved with Dad's blossoming career as a fisheries biologist. One I my odder triggers of home is the smell of fish food in hatcheries. I looked quite seriously at the ocean coast as well but the then lack of medical facilities and no family there said no. For better or worse I need to be close to family. As Lauren mentioned about small towns, WW is filled with married couples and finding a coffee or movie buddy is hard. They are all nice but not inclusive. Still I have found a couple of good friends one of them married. So there's the exception. Last summer I looked in SE Portland at condos in my price range near my youngest sisters home, so I guess I haven't resolved this yet. Having moved a jillion times in my life I'm sure I'd survive another, but it's not on the top of my favorite things to do list. And after 13 years I am still not unpacked 100%.

I appreciate your "leave nothing out" account of your move since moves have positives and negatives to acknowledge. I think your advice in the last paragraph is wise indeed.

As you know I, too, lived in NW Portland in the early 50s. Went to Sitton Elementary in area called Saint Johns - 83 Weyerhauser Street. In the front yard was this huge oak tree - the biggest tree around! As a youngster I'd climb that tree and sit there, it seemed, for hours. I loved that old tree!

Though I live in Florida now, I have since traveled back - to see my tree. After sixty years it is still there and just as majestic - my tree.

Nostalgia is a strange phenomenon . . . it draws me back to homes I've lived in, friends I have made, and relatives I have never met.

What a great life this is . . .

I've lived in Montreal all my life and can't imagine moving anywhere else, even with the language tensions brought about by the new Premier of Quebec, who is bent on making Quebec all French all the time, even though Montreal is multilingual, multi friendly and multi great as it is.

The language police (I'm not making this up) go around looking for English words on signs, and then hand out fines.

You might have heard of "pastagate."

Montreal is a vibrant, creative city with buildings reminiscent of San Francisco, Paris, London, NYC, Madrid, etc.

But right now we are dealing with a tsunami of corruption in the construction business, and an on-going commission inquiry which is rooting that out bit by bit.

Quebecers are fixated on the day-by-day take down of bad guys (politicians and contractors)as they are raked over the coals by a crack shot woman, named Francois Charbonneau.

Our city has deep potholes and the interim new mayor is weighing how they should be filled.

In other words, should the corrupt contractors taking the stand daily do the job?


We are bilingual Anglos who will remain in our city and province as we were born and raised here.

But if we had to move, we'd probably want to go where there is no winter.

So far we escape 2 months of snow by going south.

We're one sixth American when we do that, and we like it.

I love driving by my ex-houses and thinking about what was going on in my life at that time and how I have changed, improved.

Most of our friends are bilingual and have chosen to stay in Montreal.

I enjoyed this article...I'm 65 and have moved many times in my life (not by choice). Settling into a new home can take about 2 years , according to studies on moving. That estimate may be minimalistic. To feel at home takes much longer.
The biggest drawback is that you can't take your history with you... your new friends/neighbors will never share your memories and jokes. But the new experiences and friends can be valuable. Bloom where you are planted.
As a senior two years is a precious amount of time....settle as quickly as you can. I think it's important to find a place that will accomodate our life changes...increased medical care and more difficulty with driving etc. I like our diverse neighborhood. We can help with the neighbor kids if we want to and they take out our garbage dumpsters when we travel. I accompany my next door neighbor when she has surgery etc...and she has kindly invited me to see "Wicked" with her family. I would perfer to live in a New York City highrise, but being in a suburb in N CA is a nice 2nd choice.

I love your way of seeing reality.
Thank you for your blog.

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