ESCAPE PLAN

How to weigh up a life-changing move

Life is full of big decisions.
But deciding to leave a city you’re familiar with to move to a regional town, is one of the biggest.
Psychologist Christine Atkins shares the keys to making the move a positive one

STORY: JANET BOND     PHOTOGRAPHY: KAREN WEBB capturebykaren.com.au

Q : How should we weigh up a life-changing relocation?
A:  You need to be confident about the choice you’ve made to move.  It helps to be really clear about the reasons for choosing this town above others and the reasons that drew you to moving in the first place.  Having a clear idea about the value you place on a range of things in your life will help with this process.  The priority and importance you place on areas such as work, health, leisure, parenting and relationships, will ideally be taken into consideration when contemplating a significant move from the city to the country.  Asking yourself whether a move to the country and to the particular town, will be consistent with the value you place on certain aspects of your life over others, will be a useful exercise in planning any move. 

Q: People react differently to change. How can we manage that?
A: There will be a loss and change process with such a move – leaving family, friends and community connections like your local retailers, the parent body at your local school and sporting clubs can be very emotional.  Being prepared for this emotional task will be important along with having an understanding of how you, and those who may be going with you, manage change.  Do you like change? Do you embrace it, or do you find change of any kind difficult?  Having a knowledge of how you cope with change will help guide the process of deciding to go and then actually executing the change.  For people who find change difficult, a lot of warning and preparation will be helpful.  Little warning of a significant move will present greater challenges for most people, even for the most adventurous and adaptable.  This is particularly relevant to children and teenagers who are part of a move.

Q: What are the key considerations?
A: There are many, here’s some of the most important.

  • Will your new community support a range of job options? What would happen if you lost your job?  Being cut off from good friends and family can add to the distress when you lose a job. 
  • If you are educating children, does it have the educational choices you consider important for children, from kindergarten to secondary school and beyond? Feeling like you’ve taken the needs of the whole family into consideration will support a good adjustment to a new town.
  • Distance between the old and new homes – can you easily visit your friends and family if you move and can they easily visit you? Is it affordable to visit whenever you choose? For example, do you have to fly or spend a lot of money on petrol to get there?  Where will you stay if you go back to visit family and friends and you need to stay overnight.  Access to your old home town will ease a sense of loss and help with adjustment to your new community.
  • Will your new home have space for friends or family to visit you, for example, a sofa bed in the lounge or a spare room? If you’re not able to accommodate people in your new home, does your new town have accommodation options for visitors like a caravan park, holiday units or Airbnb options? This may not be a game changer, but just something to consider.
  • If you have a partner, are you both ‘on board’ about the move? If one partner feels like they’re making a big sacrifice to accommodate the desire of the other, this will make the move more complex.  Moving home is a high stress event and the partner who hasn’t fully committed will be more emotionally vulnerable than the partner who has been the driver of the move.  Being aware of this and providing more support for the vulnerable partner during the change process will contribute towards a more successful move
  • Will your new town give you access to things you already enjoy in your down-time? For example, book clubs, sporting clubs, cinema, art gallery, library, environmental groups, other special interest groups?
  • Are there supports for mental and physical wellbeing in your new town? Is there a psychologist or counsellor?  Are there personal trainers, naturopaths, and yoga teachers? These services can be vital to wellbeing and can also be part of a healthy transition to a new town. Making an appointment with a psychologist in the new town, or booking some yoga classes to coincide with your arrival, is likely to greatly facilitate a smooth move.

Photography: Karen Webb capturebykaren.com.au

Q: If it’s a family making the move, what does the consultation process look like for partners and children of varying ages?
A: Partners need to be integral to the entire process of any move from the city to the country or coast, from the contemplation stage to the decision stage.  Ideally, partners would feel like it’s been a shared decision and they have had equal say in the final decision making.  To do this successfully, time needs to be put aside to talk purposefully and without distraction about a move and details that follow.  This should be followed by frequent family discussions, where each person in the family feels like their opinions and thoughts have been heard and taken into account.

Q: How can you manage the emotions of a child who may be fearful and resistant to the idea?
A: It’s likely that there will be at least one child or teenager in the family who would rather not move.  If this is the case, this child or teen needs to feel that their opinions matter and that they have been included in discussions about why the move has been decided upon and how it’s going to be beneficial to them and the whole family.  Spending special time, again without distraction, to support this child or teen through the process will make the move more manageable for them.

Q: How should you manage expectations in the lead-up to the move?
A: Being realistic in the lead up to a move is important.  Having frequent family discussions about challenges involved in any move will help set the scene for things that might go awry or be more difficult than expected.  This could range from problems with the removal van, or finding that the club you or your child wanted to join, doesn’t have any capacity to take new members.  It’s important to talk about the extra energy that’s needed to move and settle in (and therefore the sense of fatigue that comes with it) and the time it can take to feel that your new home and community feel like ‘home’.

Q: Once you have relocated, what are the keys to ensuring the transition is as positive as it can be?
A: Supporting the family unit is fundamental to ensuring a good transition.  Noticing when someone in the family is having a hard time, or needs extra support, and regularly celebrating new discoveries and positive changes together will help.
Establishing, or carrying through, family or couple traditions such as Friday night dinner and movie night, or Sunday morning walks where the couple or family have uninterrupted time together, will facilitate a sense of strength and care for each other as the challenges of a major change takes place.

Q: What are the best ways to make friends in a new town and develop a sense of belonging?
A: Establishing a positive connection with a new community will be facilitated by joining clubs or community groups.  For those who aren’t inclined to do this, introducing yourself and making an effort to get to know neighbours and local retailers by their first names can really help.  For parents, getting involved in the local school community is often the easiest way to make new connections.  Small communities rely on people volunteering their time to make it a vibrant place to live, so even if it’s not something you’ve done in the past, putting up your hand to help out with a school fete or the local beach clean-up will help build connections and contribute to a feeling of belonging. 

Q: The decision to make a move is often about creating a well-balanced life. What does well-balanced actually mean in practical terms?
A: A well-balanced life means putting energy into a range of life areas that you consider important and reflect your values.  For example, it might have been that a move to the country was inspired by a city life that felt consumed by work with little community connection and not enough time for healthy family relationships or leisure – things you consider important.  A well-balanced life would feel like you were spending time across a range of life areas that were important to you, leading to a feeling of contentment and wellbeing.

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