Early humans were hunter gatherers, moving from one place to another in search of food. Their shelter had to be found (a cave, for example), built from the materials at hand (such as an igloo) or carried from place to place (like a yurt). When agriculture began around 10,000 years ago, the need to be so mobile diminished and people starting living in more permanent structures.
Tomorrow I’ll be helping a friend pack up her apartment and move into her own condo. This is her first venture into home ownership and she’s understandably nervous. I’m going as much for moral support as to lend a hand putting her belongings into boxes.
I’m also volunteering my services because I just plain like helping people move. I know it’s odd, but I actually enjoy the whole process—whether it’s my move or someone else’s.
Each stage is like a little game to me. Packing boxes is a three-dimensional puzzle. How do I get all of these elements into this cube? And how do I do it in a way that achieves what I call EAI packing (every available inch)?
Loading the car or truck is another 3D puzzle, though on a grander scale. Here too, I try to adhere to my EAI standards. Over the years, I’ve helped pack many a U-Haul floor-to-roof full. I’ve especially enjoyed the times where at the onset, most everyone believed that it wouldn’t all fit.
When it’s time to bring the belongings into the new place, my brain gets a break and my body a great workout. I experience an endorphin rush after hours of lifting heavy or awkward objects while walking up stairs. (And this being San Francisco, there are always stairs.) By the time everything’s in the new place, my mind and body are happy.
And then I get to have beer.
Some of my packing skills have surely come from the countless hours that I spent as a child watching the professionals move our family’s possessions from one city to another. We went from Baltimore where we were all born, to Richmond, Atlanta, Memphis, and Columbus, Ohio.*
Each move, of course, came with its own stories. I remember being en route to Atlanta when my dad spotted our moving van on the side of the road where it had run out of gas. Needless to say, we ferried back a fuel can to get the moving van moving again. I also remember the packer who asked me to write “Kim’s Bedroom” on all of the boxes in my room. I thought he was being nice and letting me help. Later, I figured out that he was illiterate and, like so many adults who don’t read or write well, had formulated ingenious ways to cover up his limitations.
There’s another memory of my 14-year-old self sitting at the top of the steps in our just-emptied house in Atlanta. I was crying out of sadness at leaving the known and fear of moving to the unknown. My father sat down and put his arm around me and tried to assure me that everything was going to be fine. He draped that same arm around me 12 years later when my nerves got the best of me the night before I moved to San Francisco.
But my absolute favorite moving story has to be about Slim. Slim was one of the workers on the crew packing up our house in Atlanta. He was indeed bone thin. But it definitely wasn’t from working too hard. Rather than be angry about his work ethic, the rest of the crew just joked about his laziness. At one point, he walked around from the back yard and up into the bowels of the massive moving van carrying a single garden rake. One of his co-workers hooted at him, “Slim, you carry that rake all by yourself?” From that day forward, whenever my family sees someone shirking their responsibilities, we’ll say to each other, “Slim, you carry that rake all by yourself?” and then break into peals of laughter.
Moving throughout my childhood wasn’t my choice, but I also didn’t question it that much. Which is good because persistent questioning wouldn’t have changed a thing. I know because my sister tried. My mother’s response to “why do we have to move?” was always the same. “We’re moving,” she’d say, “because that’s where your father’s job is.”
In other words, we moved so we could have food on the table. I guess we’re not so different from our hunter-gatherer ancestors after all.