Megan Poorman completed her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at CU Boulder. When she's not disappearing into the mountains, you can find her on twitter @meganpoorman or on her website.
Since graduating high school, I have lived in 16 different places with 15 different people, amounting to a total of 19 moves in 3 different countries and 3 different states. In case you were wondering, that averages to more than one move a year. Seven of those places and one foreign stint were while I was in grad school, meaning that I moved more than once a year for the entire time I was working on my PhD.
Yes, it was exactly as exhausting as it sounds.
Why would I subject myself to this, you may ask? I wonder that myself. Looking back, I’m surprised someone didn’t shake me by the shoulders and tell me this was insanity. Whether it be extortionist landlords, too many people in not enough space, sublets, studios, foreign sabbaticals, or finding the perfect roommate and location, I’ve experienced it all.
Sometimes a move is unavoidable. Maybe you’re going to grad school in a new city, or, like me, your hand was forced and you’re moving yet again. Moving takes a lot of precious time that you could be spending on research. Yet, with some planning, it possible to balance the stress of moving and not fall behind on your responsibilities. In my way-too-many number of moves, I have found that there are ways to make the process easier.
First, let’s say it all together. Moving sucks. Now take a deep breath. If you need to go to the gym and do some kickboxing before you can accept the inevitable, be my guest. It’s okay to be upset, stressed, frustrated, or overwhelmed. It’s also okay to be excited and eager – after all a move can be a hallmark of an exciting life change. Whatever you’re feeling, take a minute to be mindful about the situation. It’s going to be a busy time, but you will prevail.
Next up, let’s think about the logistics. What is your timeline, are you moving with roommates, what area of town do you want to be in? If you’re a first-year graduate student moving to a new city, consider making a house-hunting trip. My first year I rented a place sight-unseen with two other grad students. It worked out alright since we had friends in the area who could give us a phone tour of the place, but there were some hiccups (like black water coming out of faucets) that could have been avoided by an in-person trip. On that note, if you can check out the place before signing the lease, consider testing all the faucets and opening the cabinets during the tour. It will be awkward with the landlord standing there, but it’s much better than spending an evening scrubbing mold out of cabinet hinges.
If you’re moving during grad school, first and foremost – give your advisor a heads up. In all my moves I was able to make up for my lost productivity in the weeks surrounding my move, but I wanted to let him know that I might be flakey for a few days. On that note, try to plan your move around any major research deadlines. One year, my roommate and I moved the weekend after her qualifying exam and right before a conference. She passed with flying colors, but it meant she had to pack everything in one day and I had to arrange the logistics alone. If you can afford it, consider overlapping the leases, even by just a few weeks. Moving day is exhausting, but unpacking is even worse. By overlapping the leases, you can organize as you move things in small batches, saving yourself some stress and energy.
Moving can get expensive. Start early and plan out your expenses in a spreadsheet. Look at the differences in rent, utilities, and cost of moving. See when/if you’ll break even on expenses and consider your options. Many times, I’ve been able to cut back on random shopping for a few months and break even with the cost of hiring a mover. To me, that was worth the sacrifice, but this will be a personal choice. If you’re trying to save money, entice your colleagues with beer and pizza, and rent a truck. It’s not just practical, you get friendly bonding and a workout to boot! However, you can only use this trick a few times before it becomes unfair. After my second or so move, I decided that our time was worth more than the $100-$200 it took to hire some help. I’ve done every combination of renting my own truck and hiring some help to load/unload it, doing it all in my car in pieces, hiring movers with their own truck, and renting a U-haul box that movers picked up, filled, and took away to be stored until I asked for it back. Yes, it costs money, but hiring help means you get it done in a day without tiring yourself out, instead of letting it drag on for a week. You could also arrange your move for a weekday, when rates are cheaper. Just make sure you let your advisor know and have a plan to work the weekend or makeup the time some other way.
As far as packing materials, reduce, reuse, recycle. Most of my moves were done in laundry baskets and plastic bins with towels, clothing, and blankets for padding. Taking this approach does mean you have to store bins somewhere when you aren’t moving, but if you think you’re going to be moving a lot, they’re worth the $20 investment. They are sturdier than cardboard and can be used over and over. Alternatively, places like Costco always have massive supplies of boxes. Consider nabbing a few of those on your next trip or check out the craigslist “free” ads for moving supplies.
Last but not least, start packing in advance. Doing a little each night will make the entire task less daunting, This will minimize the impact on your work life and give you a chance to declutter as you go. Nowadays there are so many sites like LetGo and PoshMark for selling items you don’t want. You might be able to mitigate some of your costs by simply getting rid of things. Binge some decluttering videos (Marie Kondo anyone?) and pack along with them.
Finally, the bonus round. The following is a list of things I’ve learned through my many moves that are extreme hacks. I don’t recommend for everyday use, but if you find yourself moving a lot they can really come in handy. Grad school is a temporary state. While there is immense value in giving yourself a permanent sanctuary at home, sometimes life doesn’t work out that way. Save the nice dining room table purchase for when and your friends you won’t have to lug it up and down multiple flights of stairs.
Only buy Ikea furniture: It is cheap, sturdy, lightweight, modular, and easy to move.
Embrace minimalism: Only keep things you need and want in your life. There will be a time in the future where you have a permanent home and can store specialty items you don’t use often, but until then, why waste the energy moving them or the storage space?
Don’t hang pictures or curtain rods: Spackling a hole in the wall is easy, but no one really has time for that. Opt for renter-friendly solutions like command hooks, over the door racks, and propping pictures on a bookshelf to make moving out a breeze.
Invest in a really nice vacuum: You might be able to save the cleaning fee on move-out.
Live on your own: This won’t always be the cost-effective solution, but you eliminate having to move because something in your roommate’s life changed. Just be sure to have people over and do not become a recluse.
Live in a managed apartment complex: Sure, there are annoying fees and you don’t have a yard, but you have maintenance at the click of a button. You also avoid potential private landlord issues, meaning you may not have to move as much.