• If you’ve ever had to relocate to a new apartment or home, you know how taxing moving can be.
  • Moving stress might be explained by Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which says that among other essentials like food, sleep, and warmth, humans need a stable home environment to achieve peak emotional wellbeing.
  • Though it might seem like renters and homeowners are in a different boat when it comes to dealing with living-space-related worries, both renters and homeowners face challenges.
  • Whether you’re a renter or homeowner, remember to give yourself plenty of time to accomplish the move, rely on your social circle, visualize the finish line (unpacking!), and cut yourself some slack.

Thinking about arriving at your new destination might be exciting, but getting there is often anything but. Moving can churn up some seriously intense levels of stress; anyone who’s ever relocated to a new home or apartment may understand the feeling well. Relocating can be difficult to manage, without us really understanding why. 

But our brains seem to subconsciously know, as we struggle to cope with having our living space uprooted, often by choice. The effect of moving on our cognitive wellbeing has much to do with our emotional attachment to where we live, as well as our age, and whether we’re a renter or homeowner. In each scenario, different factors influence how we process our moving stress, including our individual ability to cope with change.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs May Explain Moving Stress

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a well-known and accepted psychological theory that may well explain why moving sucks, for lack of a better word. Often displayed visually as a pyramid, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains that there are five levels of needs that human beings strive for within their lives in order to achieve emotional and physical stability and pleasure. These include: 

  • Level One: The first level contains physiological needs such as sleep, food, water, warmth, and shelter.
  • Level Two: The next is focused on the desire for mental and physical safety, like a stable home (which moving disrupts), job security.
  • Level Three: Social acceptance rules the third level, as people start searching for love, friendship, community, physical intimacy, and peer acceptance. 
  • Level Four: Building self-esteem becomes increasingly important as the bottom levels are satisfied. Building self-esteem may entail promotions, marriage, homeownership, or even earning affection from our children.
  • Level Five: The highest level, self-actualization, according to Maslow, is the ultimate goal of every human being: To reach their highest potential and to see one’s work of a lifetime become a tangible reality. 

The bottom four levels of needs are classified as “deficiency” needs; these are essentials that must be met, otherwise we won’t be psychologically fit to move up to level five. Moving stress is likely triggered due to our loss of a stable home environment, our “shelter”. Just think: While packing, you’re often still living, sleeping, and cooking in the same areas that are being progressively boxed up. And then when you arrive at your new home or apartment, your physical and emotional energies go toward assembling it into a visual representation of what feels most comfortable to you. That’s a lot of work! 

It’s like trying to make progress on two separate timelines, one changing, and the other trying to keep things the same. So when we decide to move (or are forced to, for one reason or another), we’re actively trying to balance our other needs, some of which are probably higher on the Hierarchy of Needs than something as basic as shelter or a stable home environment. Moving requires us to shift gears, psychologically speaking, while we focus on satisfying our basic need for shelter, and deprioritize others for a period of time.  

The Effects of Renting vs. Paying a Mortgage

Moving isn’t the only home-based source of stress. When you’re paying down on a mortgage, battling the anxieties of homeownership is a constant struggle. One poll reported that 40% of Americans viewed purchasing their first home as the single most stressful event in their lives, while another 33% admitted it reduced them to tears at least once during the purchasing process. Despite owning a home being one of the most coveted pillars of the American dream, the numbers seem to hint that we may not be great at actually enjoying such a major milestone event.

Renters may not have to worry about mortgage payments, but handing over rent creates stress on its own; those paying to lease a living space might get antsy or frustrated about doing so—after all, their hard-earned money is going into their landlord’s pockets, not toward a home of their own. Renters (which are often doomer Millennials or Gen Z’ers) shouldn’t be quick to be so pessimistic, though. Owning a home isn’t always the soundest financial decision, and while it tends to be glorified as an investment that will grow in value, that only happens if the owners have the cash to maintain the property and remodel it as needed. Even extraneous factors, such as crime, vandalism, and an unstable real estate market are all constant worries for homeowners, too. 

Master Your Moving Stress in 4 Simple Steps

Moving stress got you down? Your exasperation is entirely normal, but learning to manage the uncertainty and hectic nature of relocating will help make the process less painful and more enjoyable. Try to: 

  • Give yourself plenty of time to accomplish the move: It’s tempting for type-A personalities to try and bulldoze their way to move-in day—but if you don’t give yourself time to plan, properly pack, and wrap up loose ends like canceling utilities or forwarding your mail, you’ll hamstring your own progress. Slow is fast: Give yourself as much time as needed, if possible. 
  • Reach out to your social circle for help or for occasional escapes: When you’ve just about had it with trying to figure out what’s getting packed and what’s getting donated, put the lists and the packing tape down and go out to meet some friends. Get a coffee, take a walk through the park, or just go decompress at their place; distancing yourself from your own cluttered, destabilized living space will alleviate some of the stress if it becomes overwhelming.  
  • Visualize your new home being all unpacked, organized, and ready to be enjoyed: Creative visualization is a tactic used by therapists, scientists, and artists alike because it provides our visually-based minds with a goal to focus on. Try to picture your finished living space in your head, imagining yourself turning over your old keys, checking your new mailbox for the first time, or having a housewarming party. It will all be worthwhile—so keep your mind’s eye on the finish line. 
  • Cut yourself some slack if you do get stressed out (because it’s entirely natural): According to Maslow, it would actually be an anomaly for you to not be stressed out over your move. You’re purposefully choosing to erase one of your basic needs (shelter) in order to set up shop somewhere else. Subconsciously, you’re giving up a huge stanchion of security by choosing to move, so don’t be hard on yourself for experiencing frustration, anxiety, and tension. 

Moving stress may not be entirely unavoidable, but it’s certainly manageable. If referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helps you visualize your journey, remember that reaching higher levels of stability and satisfaction takes time; creating your new living space comes first. And if you really want to explore more in-depth ways to cope with your moving stress and new life after relocating, talk with a counselor or therapist about your new life transition.