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The Psychology of Moving

Dorm rooms, to apartments, to a duplex, to a town-home, and finally to a house. Is all this moving normal in your 20’s? This has been my experience in the last 10 years. As I get ready to move again, I find myself a lot less anxious than that first move to college. Honestly (and you’ll get a lot of honesty in this blog), I cried when my parents dropped me off in that teeny tiny dorm room. This time around (my 11th move in 10 years? I’ve lost count…), I’m pretty excited. I get to live with some amazing people while looking to purchase a house of my own. House hunting is thrilling, exhausting, and a little terrifying by the way, but that’s another post.

Shortly after I moved into college - clearly hiding my anxiety under that fake smile

^ A picture of me shortly after I moved into college freshman year - clearly hiding my anxiety under that fake smile.

So how have I gone from that anxious-ridden teenager going to college to casually packing up, grabbing the pup, and moving again 10 years later? One would initially offer the reason of age and experience. Going to college is scary. Those roommates of yours who seemed so confident? They were either the minority, or they were faking it. Research has found that homesickness and difficulty adjusting in college is a common experience. Yes, this dissipates over time for many, but for many others, it causes social difficulties, academic consequences, and even anxiety or adjustment disorders.

Humans have to adjust, we always have. When a predatory creature entered our environment, we fought, or moved. Today, we choose to move for very different reasons: new job, spouse, finances, etc. Humans are resilient and adaptable, but that doesn’t always make it easy. Other studies have found clear “adjustment effects” in adults and children. Especially in adolescents, where a distinct disruption in their environment can cause long-term negative outcomes. Think moving across the country, not across town. Most research in this area focuses on the adolescent’s social aspects: ending friendships, making new friends, etc., we know this can be rough for the typical teenager. Moving also comes with opportunities. Researchers found that housing vouchers for those in poverty increases chances of college attendance, increases earnings, and reduces single parenthood rates, all of which can lead to a higher quality of life.

Even though stability has proven successful in social and cultural factors, I realize I'm going a little backwards here! It’s easier for most of us in early adulthood to move. We see the opportunities in front of us. Kids live in their bubble; they don’t have the developmental ability to see what we do. In my case, I now have the opportunity to spend a summer with my best friends, and save money to buy my own house. Also, the fact that I have moved so many times helps me with the adjustment. I’m used to this. I’ve become a pro at packing and labeling. I actually love unpacking, organizing, and making a new, cozy room for myself. At the same time, I love being settled in and comfortable. My initial adjustment in college may have taken a little longer than most, but I eventually found that home is where your heart is, not the physical things around you. It’s the relationships you build in your neighborhood and community that make adjustments to a new home more relaxed. Maybe that’s why, in Minnesota, we greet new neighbors with a hot dish. It’s important to remember that any move can cause adjustment issues, so talk about it with your roommates, partner, children, and parents, and see the opportunities that lie ahead!


Brandburg, G.L., Symes, L., Mastel-Smith, B., Hersch, G., Walsh, T. (2012). Resident strategies for making a life in a nursing home: A qualitative study. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69(4), 862-874. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06075.x

Chetty, R., Henderen, N., Katz, L. (2016). The effects of expose to better neighborhoods on children: New evidence from the moving to opportunity experiment. The American Economic Review, 106(4), 855-902. doi: 10.1257/aer.20150572

English, T., Davis, J., Wei, M., & Gross, J. J. (2017). Homesickness and adjustment across the first year of college: A longitudinal study. Emotion, 17(1), 1-5. doi:10.1037/emo0000235

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