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It’s Personal: Putting Down Roots Makes Me Twitchy

If you ever asked me to describe my childhood bedroom or recall my favorite hangout as a kid or try to remember the route I took to school most often, I probably couldn’t do it. And it’s not because I have a poor memory. I still know the birthday of the little girl who sat next to me in Mrs. Tachikawa’s first grade class in 1982. But the details most people remember about the homes where they grew up — the way the bathroom door would stick after a steamy shower or exactly what week in the spring the dogwood tree in the back yard would start blooming — are much fuzzier for me simply because I never stayed anywhere long enough consider it home.

By the time I left for college at 17, my family had lived in ten different addresses (and that’s not counting a hotel we lived in for nine months while we looked for a “permanent” home). Ten years later, I’d added nine more places to the tally, including two dorm rooms, one apartment I shared with a college roommate, three apartments I lived in alone, two apartments I lived in with a boyfriend, and one apartment I shared with a friend post-breakup while I (tried to) figure shit out.

When I moved from Chicago to Manhattan in 2007 to close the gap in my long distance relationship with Drew, I’d been living in my current apartment for three and a half years — the longest I’d ever stayed anywhere in my life. Leaving the apartment was the easiest part of the move, though — much easier than leaving my friends and the city and the lake I loved so much. Leaving walls and rooms and closets behind is what I do. It’s what I know. It’s all I’ve ever known.

When I moved to New York and slowly began merging my life with Drew’s, paring two apartment’s worth of things into one, discussing marriage, and talking about our future, I liked the idea of finally putting down roots. After four countries, two states, and nineteen different bedrooms, I welcomed the idea of stability and I felt absolutely certain that what I wanted for my own children was the one thing I never had myself growing up: an anchor — a neighborhood to grow up in, life-long friends, and a city to call home. And I still want that. Or, at least, I want to want it. But as I begin to put down roots with my husband and son in a neighborhood we talk about staying in until we’re done raising kids, I’m realizing the nomadic lifestyle I grew accustomed to may not be as easy to shed and I imagined it would. After less than three years in our apartment — the place I’ve lived second longest in my life — I’m already scouting new homes (within our neighborhood) for us to move to, if for no other reason that to provide a change of scenery.

“But moving is such a pain in the ass,” Drew said the other day as I started rattling off the newest apartment listings in the paper.

“I’m not saying we have to move now,” I replied.

And I’m not. But the familiar twitchiness has returned and I find myself fantasizing about what our next place will look like and how I’ll decorate it and make it home (for a few years, anyway). I try to explain to Drew just what the twitchiness feels like — the best way I can think to explain it is when you’ve been on vacation a couple days too long and you’re restless and kinda bored and you just want to get back to your normal routine (even if your normal routine is also kind of boring). Moving every two or three years is my normal routine. I get restless when I stay in one place too long.

I try to explain this to Drew, but he spent his whole childhood in the same place — the very apartment his dad still lives in after nearly five decades. Drew has moved once in the last 18 years and that was with me, at my persuading. He thinks it’s crazy to already want to leave where we are now (and it is crazy, considering we have central air and a walk-in closet, two amenities that are practically unheard of in New York City). He’s barely even memorized his route to the nearest subway stop (three blocks away), and still sometimes asks me what our zip code is when filling out paper work. He, obviously, takes his sweet time settling into a place while I’m already hoarding moving boxes under our bed “just in case.”

Growing up, all I wanted was to stay put — to develop the kind of connections to a place that might make me consider it home. And now that I finally can — now that I’m no longer chasing fantasies and “searching for myself” everywhere else but where I am — the idea of staying rooted in one place makes me twitchy. Which would be fine if I were married to someone equally twitchy — equally in need of a scenery change every two to three years. But I’m not. And I know it isn’t fair to force my weirdness onto Drew, especially when I never expressed my nomadic impulse before now (in my defense, I never realized that I had nomadic impulses until now, mostly because every move I’ve made always seemed in some way “necessary”).

But then, how do I tame my restlessness? How do I embrace a life that seems practically stationary if it’s lived in the same home for years and years and years? I don’t know the answer, but I know that for my own sanity and for the benefit and happy longevity of my marriage and family, I’m gonna have to figure it out. And I will. Right after I check the apartment listings one more time today.

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avatar lets_be_honest March 13, 2013, 2:44 pm

This was a fascinating read. I’ve never lived more than 10 miles from the house I grew up in. Now I only live about a mile, probably less, from that home. I’ve already told my mom that if she ever considers selling the house, to offer it to me first. I often feel guilty for moving around (albeit in the same town) because I wasn’t giving my daughter “roots” in a home like I had. She likes all the upgrading though.

avatar kerrycontrary March 13, 2013, 2:54 pm

I think this is interesting. And I do think some people are more nomadic than others. Sometimes its ingrained and sometimes it’s the way you were raised. I’ve moved a good amount since I was 18 (2 dorm rooms, 1 bedroom in france, and 4 apartments). Sometimes I feel this itchiness just because I’m ready for a new space and a new apartment to decorate. Whenever I’m about to move I get so excited about how I’m going to decorate. I think there is always something new and exciting about a new home. Usually you are upgrading so you can think about all the great new things the new place will have. Or how it’s bringing life changes (i.e. moving college dorm rooms, moving in or out with a boyfriend, moving to your own apartment). So maybe you are attached to the excitement and the expectations attached to moving. But Drew is right, moving is a pain in the ass. And it costs MONEY. Like not a little money, but a good amount of cash for the security deposit and the moving truck. So stay put until you need more space :)

avatar lets_be_honest March 13, 2013, 2:58 pm

Maybe she does need more space, or will soon…wink, wink, wink!

Dear Wendy Wendy March 13, 2013, 3:16 pm

Like I told my doctor yesterday, if it happens in the next year, it (probably) won’t be planned.

avatar lets_be_honest March 13, 2013, 3:17 pm

I was wincing to see your reply, wondering if that was rude of me. :)

Fabelle Fabelle March 13, 2013, 3:10 pm

I agree—maybe find other things to satisfy that itch until it’s actually a necessity to move for whatever reason. Like redecorating, painting a wall (or a mural on a wall)? Or if that’s against code, maybe hang a wall covering or something?

I get urges to leave the area a lot, but it’s usually in the form of nights out a bit of a distance away, or something. I’m like Drew—lived in the same house since I was born!

Fabelle Fabelle March 13, 2013, 3:11 pm

Also, oops. My suggestions were pretty shitty (Walls? Something with the wall, maybe do a thing to, um…a wall?) but you get the idea ;) haha

landygirl landygirl March 13, 2013, 3:09 pm

I hate moving yet I’ve moved at least 4 times in the last 8 years. Every place always feels temporary to me. When I dream of home, it’s usually my Mom’s house where I grew up and where she still lives.

avatar TheTruth March 13, 2013, 3:12 pm

Answer: get a travelling job like mine in which I get to spend approximately 250 days a year on the road.

Benefits: it pays very well, my sex life is awesome, and I am never home long enough to get restless enough to move.

I have never lived in a city longer than four years…. I’ve never lived in the same country longer than 10 years. (I’m 43)

In all seriousness, if you have wanderlust… the sort of person that constantly craves some new adventure, then I recommend following it, because otherwise your relationships are pretty much doomed.

KKZ KKZ March 13, 2013, 3:12 pm

I don’t get twitchy to move, but I do get twitchy to shake things up once in a while. Rearranging the furniture & decor in a room always makes me feel better. Or for a severe case, a new paint job.

I get twitchy too when I think of spending my whole life in Ohio. On the one hand, I love Cincinnati. I grew up in a suburb of Dayton, about an hour north of here, and every visit to Cincinnati made me want to move there, which I finally did last year (and moved from an apartment to a rental house around the corner this year).

My husband and I both love Cincinnati and now that we’re in a house that suits our needs, we are both ready to stay here for a long time. But I get twitchy when I think about living here *forever.* I just always thought I’d get the hell out of Ohio at some point, yet I already feel like my roots are pretty deeply planted. My parents still live in the Dayton area for now (though plan to retire to Florida), I have a really good job that I’d like to stay at for a while, I’ve gotten involved with a local nonprofit and started teaching and consulting, and all of my best friends are here.

I worry sometimes that I’m boxing myself in to living here for the rest of my life, that I’ll never make a big crazy move out West, or to a bigger city, or even to England (I can legally get citizenship there through my Dad’s side of the family) or something. I am an explorer, I want to see as much of the world as I can, and not just on vacation!

FireStar FireStar March 13, 2013, 3:14 pm

I moved around after I was 18 and lived in about eleven different places but since I bought my house my favourite expression has been I’m dying here. No way I’m moving again. This house is perfect for me and will be everything I could ever want as soon as we finish the addition. I am open to buying a vacation home somewhere warm eventually but this house stays.

avatar MissDre March 13, 2013, 3:22 pm

I’m so jealous…. I hope my boyfriend and I can find a house like that next year. Once I move into a new house I never want to move again!!

avatar GatorGirl March 13, 2013, 3:15 pm

Since I was 18 I’ve lived in a dorm at boarding school, 2 college dorms, 2 college apartments, 1 apartment with 2 crazy roommates, my parents house, my own apartment, and now share an apartment with my fiance. 9 places in 9ish years. Wow. I love moving.

avatar GatorGirl March 13, 2013, 3:25 pm

And as a child I can think of at least 7 places I lived. I know there are more too. I think I’m just a nomad for life.

avatar ktfran March 13, 2013, 3:19 pm

Growing up, I lived in the same house. My parents still live in that house. Once I turned 18, I only went home for holiday’s, special occasions and the I need my family visits. In college, I lived in two different dorm rooms, and apartment, a house and then another apartment. I also spend a summer in Yellowstone and a summer in Knoxville. I moved to Florida after college where I stayed for five years and lived in no less than five places, three of which were in a span of one year. Once I moved to Chicago and found an apartment I liked, which was immediately, I stayed. This summer is going on five years.

My problem is that since I left home, I have not bothered making any place home. My furniture and decorations are sparse. Seriously, sparse. I keep thinking I need to do something about this, but I never get around to it. No place has felt like home yet. Or maybe I don’t make it feel like home. And around, and around I go.

I’m 33 and haven’t had a real home since I was 18. Maybe one day.

CatsMeow CatsMeow March 13, 2013, 3:20 pm

I get “twitchy” too – I change jobs or geographic location (or both) every few years. I never really realized that until now, but I guess I’m still not really “settled.” I’ve been in my current apartment for 2.5 years and it’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my *adult* life.(As a child I lived in 3 houses, all in the same town).

avatar Ally March 13, 2013, 3:22 pm

That is one of my favourite songs, ever! <3

I understand that twitchiness (great word). I would love to move from our much too small flat but there's just nothing else that's 'right' out there it seems! For me, escaping from the familiarity of home base on a regular basis is the way round it, as many trips away as I can afford. Have been to visit my parents a few hours away, would love to go to Amsterdam or Prague or another city and we're planning a weekend in a wigwam with friends in September :) So until something worth moving to comes up, we'll try and see a bit more of the world.

avatar kerrycontrary March 13, 2013, 3:25 pm

My sister goes in 3 year cycles. college, job for 3 years, law school (3 years), then she joined the army which moves her every 3-4 years and works out perfectly!

avatar kerrycontrary March 13, 2013, 3:26 pm

sorry, supposed to be in response to catsmeow

Copa Copa March 13, 2013, 3:29 pm

This was interesting to read since I also grew up moving a lot: 3 US States, 3 countries, probably a dozen cities within those states/countries, and I believe 10 schools before I’d graduated from high school at 17. I’m an expert packer and an expert at travelling without looking like a tourist. Ha. I think the longest I’ve ever lived at any one address uninterrupted was the 2 years I spent in the same apartment when I was in law school. I don’t feel like I have “roots” and sometimes I think it’s awesome, sometimes it makes me sad. I’ve been pretty good at keeping in touch with one or two people I was particularly close to from each short-lived phase of my childhood, but feel sad that I don’t have that same core “hometown group” that a lot of people seem to have. But, on the other hand, I adapt fairly easily (even though I hate change) and relate easily to others.

I dread dragging a forgetful friend, acquaintance, or colleague through my life’s timeline because it’s a lifestyle that’s quite foreign to many people. Not to mention, I feel like an accidental douche when I have conversations that go something along the lines of:

Person: I’m from (Insert City Name Here). I’ve lived here my whole life.
Me: REALLY!? YOUR WHOLE LIFE? THAT’S A LONG TIME. THAT’S WEIRD.

I’ve learned over the years not to say that even though I’ve never meant it in a rude way — staying put is simply foreign to me. Still, though, it sounds rude or condescending.

Or maybe my favorite conversation because I tend to make it unecessarily awkward:

Person: Where are you from?
Me: Oh, uhh, I dunno…? Right now I live (Insert City Here). But I’m not really from here…?

Even in my mid-20s I still feel like I crave that stability that I never really had as a kid/tween/teen. It’s still not something I’ve found because I’m still trying to figure out my next career move, and part of that entails where I think I ought to make that move.

I always wonder what it would be like if/when I settle down with a husband and (possibly) kids. Will I still love staying put when it finally does happen? I hope I do. I can’t imagine dragging a husband or kids through the same nomadic existence I had even though parts of that lfiestyle seriously rocked.

Thus ends my pointless, incoherent rambling.

avatar bethany March 13, 2013, 3:41 pm

I get what you mean about thinking it’s weird… My family moved to my “hometown” when I was 1, and we have no relatives closer than 5 hours away. So when I’d meet people whose family all live in the same town, I thought it was SO WEIRD. Actually, I still think it’s kinda weird, but I try to keep that to myself now.

avatar GatorGirl March 13, 2013, 3:45 pm

All 4 of my dad’s siblings live with in a 1/4 mile of each other and their mother. It’s seriously weird.

Copa Copa March 13, 2013, 3:53 pm

My boyfriend’s HUGE extended family all lives within 90 minutes of one another, my boyfriend being the black sheep for being the only one over 30 minutes from anyone else. It BLOWS MY MIND. I mean, it’s cool that they’re this tight-knit, cohesive, fun family, but still. WEIRD. I suppose my dad’s family is like that. With the exception of my immediate family and one aunt’s family, they all live in the bay area within an hour of one another and are a sizable bunch and ALWAYS together. But since I’ve never experienced it, I honestly just think it’s bizarre. Haha.

avatar kerrycontrary March 13, 2013, 4:11 pm

My whole mother’s family (including cousins, and their children) all live in my hometown. Me and my siblings are the only ones who have left. It’s super convenient though–especially for holidays, and great support during family emergencies. So me and my siblings are the weirdos.

avatar Christy March 13, 2013, 7:22 pm

My entire family lives in the Baltimore area. I’m the weird one for living in DC. (They’re about 50 miles away from each other.) Hell, my uncle lives one COUNTY over and he’s really far away for them.

I love this, actually. I wish I lived closer.

Lindsay Lindsay March 13, 2013, 4:43 pm

I have weird conversations like that, too. I’ve been meeting a lot of people while doing grad school interviews, and whenever someone asks where I’m from, I’m like, “Well, I live in this place, but I went to school in this other place.” Then they ask how I got from Point A to Point B and I have be like, “Oh, I lived in some other places in between.” They seem fascinated by it, but I’m really just bored talking about it by now.

avatar Taylor March 14, 2013, 10:19 am

I could have written that post =) Growing up in different places is my normal, and I find it annoying when people make a big deal about it. I’m currently working on settling in one place (with a guy who isn’t a nomad) and it’s been weird, but good.

avatar jlyfsh March 13, 2013, 3:34 pm

I’ve also moved around a lot and get a little ‘twitchy’/scared thinking about being here forever. I think I’ve lived in 15 different houses that I can remember, and in 5 different states. I think the longest I’ve lived somewhere since I left home for college, was 2 years (not counting the city my college was in, i lived in a different dorm every year of college). I don’t see us leaving the area we’re in now for a very long time, but we’re getting ready to move again in May. Maybe this new place will be where we are for a few years? I don’t know, I tend to start focusing on the things I don’t like about my current place instead of the things I do. Which I know I need to work on, along with focusing on redecorating instead of moving.

However, I am so ready to get out of our current rental. The house is older which I love on one hand because it has a ton of character. But, the power bill is outrageous (like $400 outrageous this month) and I am so ready to have a house that is better insulated and easier to keep hot/cool :) And now I know a few more things I don’t want from a more permanent home. Like I actually hate yard work and having to mow and take care of flower beds. And the whole insulation/old house thing. I always thought I wanted to live somewhere older with more character, now I realize I want that with the power bill of new construction.

avatar KarenE March 13, 2013, 3:37 pm

Oh my god, this describes me to a T. I’ve moved every six months to a year since I was 21. And now I’m 43, so that’s a lot of moves. Some were to other countries, some were down the block in the same city. But I get really itchy feet if I stay anywhere too long. There is just something exciting about a new apartment, a new neighborhood, a new city, new people. Luckily my boyfriend is a nomad too, otherwise I’d be screwed relationship-wise. We are currently plotting our next move… to Ecuador? The Caribbean? The Middle East? Atlanta? The paradox is that I crave community and long-term local friendships and want to put down roots somewhere, but the nomadic side of me always wins out. Sigh… not sure what the solution is. Moving around for me is like an addiction. Some people need a fix of drugs or alcohol, I need the high of discovering a new place.

avatar bethany March 13, 2013, 3:37 pm

My parents bought their house when I was 1, and have lived there ever since. It literally hurts my heart to think about driving past it one day and having other people live there. If we lived in the same town, I’d buy it from them in a second.

I lived in the dorms at college for 2 years, then moved 5 times in the next 5 years and lived with girls I went to college with. Then I moved into my own apartment for a year and half. Then I moved in with my boyfriend/husband. We lived in our apartment for 3 years, then moved into our house, which we bought last year. I’m not moving again for a LONG time.

avatar CaraM March 13, 2013, 3:44 pm

I grew up in the same house from age 2 to 18 and my parents still live there, but after that I lived in a dorm room, my own studio, a dorm for a summer program, an apartment with roommates, a dorm room for a year abroad, and two different apartments in grad school, plus two other rented rooms while doing research abroad — so 9 places in 8 years! But all I want to do is put down roots! I would love to have my own apartment to really feel settled, but because of my field, it might be a while before I get a permanent, well-paying job, so the stability might take a while. I am a definite homebody, so I think that plays into wanting a more permanent place.

And along the lines of the letter from earlier this week, I wish I could live closer to my parents (or at least to any relatives!). I’m from California but am currently living in Canada and home is a 10 hour trip and I really miss my parents and siblings.

avatar AliceInDairyland March 13, 2013, 4:00 pm

Wow, I had no idea so many people moved so much…. I moved once in my childhood, and it was from one town to another about 20 minutes away. 8/10 of my aunts/uncles live within a 40 minute drive, and the other two only live a state over. I have moved every year since 18, but I am only 22 so that’s not a whole lot. Already though I am exhausted and really want a place that is “mine.”

Even at this young age though, I have a strong sense of wanting ownership, community, and an emotional investment in a place. I want to be a veterinarian in a town where I form long connections with clients and patients over years. I want to live on a farm and watch apple trees grow from seedlings up into big trees. I want to invest so much time and heart and soul into building a place that I am incredibly proud of. I want my kids to play on the same land and form deep bonds with the same people. Not that I think doing it the other way is wrong at all, I just have this really weird visceral gut feeling about needing that steadiness in my life.

However I also frequently get compulsions to run away back to the farm in Italy I worked at for a summer, and travel from farm to farm wwoofing and hiking, and working in tons of different cities. Whenever I get that aching, I try to channel it into smaller “novelties.” I was just talking to my boyfriend at length about my need for novelty and how it is a “low, pulsatile, frequent novelty-needing.” It can be satiated by taking a new class, meeting a new person, traveling, or even just trying a new type of beer or food or restaurant. I feel like this way I will get the stability and the novelty that I need.

Lindsay Lindsay March 13, 2013, 4:33 pm

I can relate to this. My family never moved when I was a child, but during college, I lived in various cities for internships and then have moved a couple of times since graduation. I always find myself thinking of where I can go next. Though I think part of that is that I haven’t found the right place, and don’t want to put down roots until I’m somewhere I like better.

LK7889 LK7889 March 13, 2013, 4:55 pm

Hmm, these are things I’ve never really thought about much and it’s very interesting to see the (huge) differences among people’s circumstances growing up and adults lives. I’m loving reading everyone’s comments on this!

I lived in the same house my whole life as a kid – I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn to the same house that I left from to go to college. I lived in 5 different places during 3.5 years of college and then moved back to my dad’s house – the same house I lived in as a kid. And I stayed there until I had the down payment to buy my own house. My dad still lives there.

It’s funny because I never expected that I would end up in this area long-term. I hated it as a kid. And there are a lot of things I still hate about it. But it’s home. Eventually I’d like to move to the Appalachian Mountains (north GA, south TN, south NC, or there abouts) but I don’t see moving from this house until I’m ready to buy my dream home in the mountains.

I *really* want my father to sell his house and move though. Lots development is happening near his house and I’m worried that if he doesn’t sell it before too long that he’s going to get stuck in a neighborhood that is going downhill and won’t be able to leave without losing a ton of money. He’s always said that he wanted to live in the country and I wish he’d do it!

Lastly, while I sort of understand the desire to move to change the scenery, I HATE the moving process and I don’t think that it’s appropriate to ask for help moving every couple of years like so many people I know seem to be comfortable doing. Asking for help once every five years or so is fine but if you move more than that – seriously – hire a mover.

avatar painted_lady March 13, 2013, 5:04 pm

I TOTALLY get this. I didn’t live in different countries (or even different states, except the brief foray into Pennsylvania that didn’t go well), but new school and house is still new school and house. I went to six different schools growing up, I’ve lived in 12 cities and as much as I hate the actual process of moving (packing, loading it up, unpacking, finding everything, replacing all the stuff that was lost and broken, waiting for the cable guy, in some cases persuading the Internet company that you haven’t hallucinated your apartment no matter what their system says), I love finding a new place to live, arranging the furniture like I want it, finding the new pizza joint and Tex Mex restaurant that we’ll go to on nights we don’t want to cook, letting someplace start to feel like home…I love all that. Walter likes it, but he’s not used to it like I am – he still doesn’t know how to navigate our town because he never lived more than a few miles outside the town where we graduated high school. He has trouble making friends, weather changes freak him out, and differences like driving styles and regional restaurants (or the lack thereof) really get to him. I think roots are awesome, and I hated that I was constantly having to make new friends and I was never in on trends because they can be really region-specific (one town, the preppy look – polo shirts and loafers or white Adidas, ponytails, khaki shorts – was really in when we moved away, and in the new town the grunge-girl look was in) and that it took till adulthood to feel comfortable in my own skin, and that there were never those people who knew what I was like way back when…I miss never having that. But then I’m adaptible. I know how to find the fun I need wherever I go. Getting lost doesn’t freak me out; I know everywhere in the world, there are assholes and completely wonderful people and sometimes finding them just takes a little bit. I’ve posted some about my friend who’s new to town and just isn’t happy; she’s never lived outside of her home state and only moved once, for college. So I keep wanting to tell her, wait, quit panicking and dwelling on home, and start looking for some of the awesome stuff here instead of looking and expecting to be disappointed.

Walter keeps talking about places we could retire, and I just can’t imagine a day when I would decide, “Yeah, I’m done exploring new places.” People say, “I love visiting there, but I’d never want to live there,” and really? I don’t get that to a large degree, at least in terms of bigger cities. If I visit a city I like enough, I add it to the list of places I want to live. Maybe that’s just a thing I do, but if I enjoy visiting there, I want to know what it’s like to make it my home – to belong there. I like the adventure.