Here’s the thing about moving house… you completely forget how personally victimising it is until it’s 1.46am on moving day and you’re still packing wondering why the hell you didn’t start this three weeks – not days – ago.
I can’t believe it’s only been five months since I moved into my new place.
It feels like two months. And because of this, I’ve been inadvertently lying to people who ask how the new digs is going.
‘Oh, it’s only been a couple of months,’ I say.
The truth is, I’ve been there far longer. In fact, it’s probs closer to 6 months. I had to check my Instagram to make sure. I have no idea. I should pay far more attention, clearly.
I put it down to amnesia. Like, all of a sudden, you’re in your place, living the lyrics to Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads:
And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
But moving into my new flat meant moving out from another one.
This is that story.
About two years ago, the Mister and I had been split up for about a year and we’d just sold our house and, at this point, settlement day was less than two weeks away.
Thing is, while The Mister had already moved back with his parents months prior, I hadn’t made any similar arrangements. So at this point, I had nowhere to go.
My parents were now living a really small house and the spare room wasn’t so spare. The only space they had was, essentially, an office/mum’s wardrobe.
I couldn’t move in with my boyfriend at the time – not only were we not at that stage of our relationship, he was a 40+ guy living in a hovel of a sharehouse with two blokes in their 20s (mum recently pointed out that this house was actually a brothel back in the day, which made me roar, lol), so yeah, no.
The rental market was so tight I could barely breathe. Remember when you would see news stories of renters spilling out onto the footpath, clamouring for a one-bedroom shitbox? That was the market I was up against.
Then, just as I was about to consider living in my car (not a joke) or with my Nan in Rockingham (50kms away), my brother, who didn’t know my situation at all, rang.
He sounded really stressed and asked me if anyone I knew needed to rent his flat as his tenant had just suddenly broken lease.
“Uh, yeah, me,” I said in total disbelief.
He got a tenant, I needed a place to stay. Done.
(Now, the following might come off as ungrateful when it was actually the state that the vacating tenant left the flat in)
Thing is, while the place looked tired, what I had to remember was that my brother always had a tenant in there and, because he worked fly-in, fly-out, the window of opportunity to properly refresh the place between tenants didn’t always line up.
I picked up the keys to the apartment (my brother kept no less than 50 million on the keychain) and when I (finally) opened the door, something was obvious. The previous tenant didn’t just leave…they fled. At least that’s how it seemed.
I hadn’t been in this apartment since my brother had lived there, so, nearly 15 years -when calico curtains were fashionable. Back then, it used to have shiny parquetry floor throughout and, you know those crazy displays in IKEA that show how you can have a fully-functioning flat that’s 6sqm? My brother had decked it out like that – it was the height of IKEA-chic.
The beige-coloured walls now, however, looked tired and the parquetry was now only in the kitchen, the rest of the flooring was a typical hardwearing carpet you’d find in an office. But it was practical. It was fine.
Some of the stuff I found:
- Clearly once part of a set of six, a lone chair with weather-beaten wooden legs and yellow-and-while vinyl upholstery was on the balcony.
- A well-worn futon.
- A very small TV cabinet made of chipboard that could keep a handful of DVDs (when the kids visited) inside. The glass cabinet door kept popping out.
- Six copies of the White Pages.
- A very dusty white pedestal fan from Kmart. You know the one.
- A shoebox in the pantry containing the very first modem ever made
- A solitary piece of blue nylon rope strung up across the balcony to save oneself from using the Hills Hoists three levels down. And three mismatched pegs.
- A greasy old wok with no handles
The plan was to stay 6 months. It ended up being 18.
I called it the ‘sad single man’s apartment block’ as it was a pretty loose place to live. It’s on the corner of a main intersection and to say it’s a slice of life is an understatement.
The power went out every three months or so – not fully on the reg, but enough times to know that when the lights went out, it triggered one particular individual to yell.
Then there was the woman who I guessed was in her early 70s but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was actually in her late 50s. She definitely had issues and she’d definitely ask you for a cigarette. For the 18 months I lived there I’m guessing she asked if I had a dart no less than 500 times. Annoying? For sure, but for a couple of months there, her relentless question was probably the only consistent thing in my life.
But there were some pretty weirdly great moments, like cutting a wifi deal with my neighbours – without actually meeting them.
This is relevant, BTW.
For reasons (still) unknown, my wifi had been knocked out and it created a responsibility-standoff between Optus and the strata management of the building. To work out what happened to the connection, a technician had to access my neighbour’s apartment because, for some reason, my phone line went into their place. Hey, it’s an old building, there wasn’t even a power outlet in the bathroom.
They weren’t home so I slipped a note under their door with my number, asking them to text me a time that suited them.
They texted me back within 24 hours, saying that anytime suited them. They were also mortified that I was going without, so they included the password to their wifi. Legends.
Over the next few weeks, we were unable to come up with a suitable time. Life kept getting in the way. A couple of months later, I thought it best I actually chip in for it – I thought a carton of James Squire 150 Lashes beer would be a good starting point for negotiations.
I left the carton at their door and a handwritten thank you note.
Hours later, I got a text saying how stoked they were at the gesture and that they didn’t want money, they were just happy to know I was connected. Needless to say, I continued to pay in beer. Not gonna lie, what I loved about our little arrangement is that I had no idea who they were, so we never really knew if our paths had crossed.
Fast-forward to me getting ready to move house.
I was about three weeks to moving day when I did a shoutout for packing boxes on Facebook. But not just any packing boxes. Free ones.
Nothing really goes up and down in value quite like packing boxes, except perhaps Bitcoin. In a space of 24 hours, you can go from being desperate for them, to ‘OMG, come and take these things off my hands before I set them on fire’. It’s a volatile economy.
I was lucky enough to score a whole bunch off a girlfriend who had just moved. And really, that kind of timing would’ve been some kind of holy grail – to not just be done with them, but someone to just swan in and take them all off your hands in one go.
That’s the thing about packing – timing is everything.
You don’t want to start packing too many boxes too soon because your place starts to fill up with boxes pretty quick. And I didn’t just live in a 1-bedroom flat, it was a bed-sitter flat, a studio. The living room and bedroom were kinda one room. So, effectively, there was no room.
My best advice? Don’t pack cutlery first and don’t start packing a week before movers arrive. The latter especially refers to those who are single and work full time. You think ‘ah, it’s a small place, it’ll take no time to pack this!’ – this, friends, is the ‘moving house amnesia’ talking.
Welcome to the awful realisation that you’ve forgotten the difference in how long something should take, versus how long something actually takes.
If you think that, say, packing the stuff from under your bed will take, like, an hour, you’re dead wrong.
You need to realistically schedule time for three very specific things that will happen:
- You will get 10 minutes into the job and will get the sudden urge to lie down on the bed or sit on it and stare at the wall. For at least half an hour.
- You will underestimate your need to sift through the SHIT you’ll come across. I found the same shoeboxes and old tins of birthday cards, ticket stubs and notes passed to me from my classmate Aileen in Year 8 that I was meant to thin-out last time I moved. This stuff is never thinned-out. You go through every single bit of nostalgia before returning it all back in the container and re-packing it, exactly as it was. Meanwhile, you’ve lost an entire afternoon.
- Procrastination will take the form of watching four entire seasons of Millionaire Matchmaker.
So schedule your time wisely. In fact, as soon as you start to even entertain the thought that you might move house, that’s the right time to start packing.
You’re also supposed to pack in a way that makes sense. So, really, best practice is to start with the stuff you don’t use every day and work your way back.
This presented another problem.
I had been following the rules perfectly. I had been packing stuff I wasn’t going to use between now and then, and labelled the boxes like a champ:
- Bedroom: winter jackets, hoodies
- Living room: DVDs + spare power boards
- Blankets + cushions
- Kitchen: Cake tins + large pots
- Dinosaurs: various
What broke my momentum, however, was an unusual cold snap.
I had to unpack the box that contained warm clothes… and the one with the extra blankets.
This unravelled me.
I was four days out from moving day when the packing went from reasonably methodical to full-blown Lord of the Flies.
Instead of packing like with like and labelling the boxes correctly, blind panic was causing me to use my entire arm to slide everything off sideboards, bedside tables and bathroom shelves into boxes, saloon-style, and label the box ‘crap’ or ‘heavy’.
Two days out, I ran out of boxes.
I found myself stuffing shit in backpacks, eskies, and insulated Coles bags. You know what holds makeup well? A slow cooker.
Another thing you don’t consider when you’re 48 hours from moving day – food.
The fridge, other than some last-scrapings of butter and flat mineral water, was pretty much empty, and the two last sachets of cinnamon oats I had was now redundant because I had sold the microwave on Gumtree the previous weekend. On top of that, I had been using scissors to butter toast.
This is where UberEats was a godsend. Before I knew it, my dumplings and hot and sour soup was knocking at the front door.
“Hello! Thank you!” I told the guy.
“How are you?” he said in an almost-familiar tone.
“Uhh, yeah, good, how are…you?” narrowing my eyes to study his face. I had never seen him before.
“Are you… moving?” he asked, clearly seeing the sea of cardboard boxes slowing murdering me.
“Uh, yeah, sorry, what, have we… met?” I said.
It was my neighbour, the patron saint of wifi.
My jaw hit the floor.
“Oh my god,” I said. “Hello! I mean, wow, sorry, Thiago, thank you, nice to finally meet you in person, hello!”
It suddenly dawned on me that the person who I had been exchanging beer for wifi with was now delivering me food. I suddenly felt incredibly uncomfortable.
“Well, I won’t be using your wifi anymore, so that’s good, right?”
“We don’t mind, we’re neighbours, we’re happy to help,” he graciously said.
“Well, thanks again, I really appreciated it but I’m going to get on to this hot and sour soup before it turns to just plain ol’ sour soup, yanno?” I awkwardly joked.
“Of course, enjoy,” he said as I slowly shut my door and died.
The very next night, the night before the move, I again ordered UberEats.
I joked to myself about Thiago, surely lightning wouldn’t strike twice, right?
You’d think it might be less awkies the second time around. It wasn’t. But we were both polite enough and laughed that we had to ‘stop meeting this way’ before he was mercifully called away to another job.
The next morning, after wrapping myself in a sheet and falling asleep on the bare mattress (hey, it was the sad single man’s apartment block after all, gotta look the part), I woke up exhausted, stressed and excited.
The movers arrived and I left them to it.
Leaving that flat was saying goodbye to one of the darkest chapters I’ve ever walked through… which is why opening the door to my new place was so overwhelmingly beautiful.
I sat quietly on my kitchen bench for about 45 minutes and contemplated a few things before the movers arrived. OK, look, not gonna lie, I was on Facebook too. But seriously, looking at my new kitchen, a quote jumped into my head: “Remember when you were dreaming about the moment you’re living now.”
I felt like I had finished a marathon I hadn’t trained for, that instead of triumphantly crossing that finish line, sometimes you just fall over it.