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Is moving house good for you?

2017-05-25

In an era of infinite choice, the idea of packing up in pursuit of happier times tempts many of us. Yet for such an important decision, there is a surprising lack of research to guide us. What should we weigh up in making the choice?

A 2016 study by Origin Energy suggests Australians relocate an average 13 times over a lifetime. 2016 Roy Morgan research found 40.7 per cent of Australians over 14 years had been living in the same house for a decade or more. A more mobile 24 per cent had lived at their address less than two years.

So, why do we move, and is the grass always greener in a new backyard?

Is moving house a sign of dissatisfaction or a free and healthy attitude to place and possessions?

Is moving house a sign of dissatisfaction or a free and healthy attitude to place and possessions? Photo: Raquel Miguel Gueuse

Pedro Diaz, founder of the Mental Health Recovery Institute in Australia, says while our reasons for moving range from the dire (like escaping abuse) to the more prosaic (such as boredom), moving is essentially about searching for a better life.

ABS data reveals leading motives for moving include family reasons (like family breakdown or moving in with a partner), finding more suitable housing, employment or study. A more mobile lifestyle is associated with renting, younger age groups, young families, and affluence.

Some, like 31-year-old IT strategist Soren Reichelt, thrive on the vigour and adventure of a new location. Since leaving home at age 17, Reichelt has lived in 15 different houses within Australia, changing residence on average once a year.

Then: Soren Reichert's former home in South Melbourne.

Then: Soren Reichert’s former home in South Melbourne. Photo: Supplied

For the past two years he’s rented a house in Kew, Victoria, by far the longest he’s lived anywhere.

“The thought of moving is horrible, but a fresh environment is attractive,” he says. “I like the fresh place, setting it all up and exploring the community. Kew has grabbed me though. It has the best of everything.”

Reichelt attributes his mobile lifestyle to being predominantly single. “When you part ways, I’m the one that packs up and starts again. In some cases I had purchased homes and moved out of them when renovating or sold. It was easier to live somewhere else than live in the mess.”

Now: Soren Reichert's current home in Kew.

Now: Soren Reichert’s current home in Kew. Photo: Supplied

Others, like Pam Garfoot, prefer to stay put. Now in her 60s, Garfoot has spent the majority of her life in Canberra, and 26 years in one house, a decision she credits to family and work commitments.

In 2012, Garfoot and her husband downsized and retired to Lake Macquarie. “That old house was like a key player in our family story,” she recalls. “You can’t ever replace that. Ultimately, we needed to move somewhere more suited to our circumstances. It does broaden horizons, and also forces you to have a good old clear out of your belongings!”

But is moving good or bad for you?

Pam Garfoot (right) on her final night in the home she lived in for 26 years.

Pam Garfoot (right) on her final night in the home she lived in for 26 years. Photo: Supplied

Diaz says moving “becomes a problem when the person doesn’t want to move and is forced to”.

Frequent relocations in childhood are associated with poorer wellbeing in adulthood, particularly in people with more introverted, moody or highly-strung personalities, according to a University of Virginia study.

“Moving can be unhealthy if it’s being used as a means to escape responsibility or dealing with problems,” Diaz says. “They manage to take the edge off things by moving, only for these issues to later reappear.”

He says, those with an internal locus for happiness tend to be happier. “Staying put in one location is no indication of happiness either,” he adds. “It simply means you didn’t move.”

Unsurprisingly, a change of residence is included on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, a list ranking life’s most stressful events. Although, given rewarding occasions like weddings are highly stressful, that shouldn’t deter you. Unless, you’re in the midst of major stress.

Joanna Fishman, Director of Associated Relationship and Marriage Counsellors, Sydney, says they often receive calls from people who mention moving house as a factor in their stress. “For most people, their home is a tangible expression of their sense of safety and security,” she says. “Unfortunately, whilst moving house is symbolic of a fresh start, it can’t ever change who you are.”

What is certain is that moving costs time and resources. Each move consumes time equivalent to 16 working days, according to the Origin Energy study. Multiply this by 13 (the average number of moves over a lifetime) and that’s about half a year’s worth of time.

On the upside, research by the University of New Hampshire and Cardiff University, respectively, has found the freshness of relocating to a new place can boost memory, break entrenched habits and promote positive change.

How many relocations are desirable?

It’s a matter of individual preference, Diaz says. Historically humans moved a lot to survive. “We have many examples of cultures around the world that are nomadic. Moving doesn’t have to be traumatic. For many people, it’s natural.”

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