place planning May 09, 2024

The average American moves about a dozen times in life. It makes sense: a few times growing up then college, jobs, marriage, kids, retirement and so on. Upsizing, downsizing, and rightsizing. Still, the figure often surprises people, especially those living in one home for a long time.

This figure is likely to increase. With people living longer, there will be more reasons and opportunities to consider changing addresses. And, with places changing due to climate change, escalating costs, and increased congestion (among other factors), it is also likely that more people will feel pushed out of their current homes.

If moving is inevitable, how can we make good decisions about where and when to move? This question is relevant to any life stage.


In the 1900s, moving west held the promise of a better life as portrayed by "the gold pioneer" atop Oregon's capitol in Salem (Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash)


Why Move? When?

Most intentional moves are a step towards a better life or looking out for your future self. In the 1900s, American journalist Horace Greeley famously recommended “Go West, Young Man” to capture the opportunities of adventure, exploration, and prosperity by venturing westward. Of course, most moves aren’t as grand in ambition but even moving across town is often motivated by a rationale that it will be better for your life.

Think about current and future needs and desires. A common mistake is to focus too much on current needs and preferences and not on what may be important to you down the road. For example, a home with three flights of stairs may limit the usability of a home, particularly for older people.

The ideal time to move is before you have to. This is true for a host of reasons and especially true for homeowners. With our current economic environment as a reminder, wanting to sell a home doesn’t mean it can happen on your terms. Some homeowners can find themselves “stuck in place” with a home they can’t sell. Advance planning can eliminate a rushed decision that leads to a sub-optimal outcome.


Making time for friends can be a way to improve your current place (Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash)


When Improving Your Current Place is The Best Move

Improving your life through a change in place doesn’t necessarily require a change in address. In fact, given the costs and risks associated with moving, it is wise to consider ways to improve your current place before going through the trouble of moving elsewhere.

Suppose you feel socially disconnected. Rather than move to a new place where you think you can make friends more easily, consider proactively reaching out to friends you’ve lost touch with or look to enter new social circles. Schedule coffees. Join a walking group. Get in the habit of saying ‘yes’ to invitations more often. As Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success in life is showing up.”

If you think your home is too expensive, think about out-of-the-box ideas. Especially for single homeowners with extra bedrooms, consider getting a roommate. Such an arrangement can provide social connection and extra help around the house, in addition to another revenue stream to offset other homeownership costs. There are increasing ways for people of different generations to live together, too, if that’s desirable.  


Think in Opportunity Costs

A challenge people often face, particularly for those in the second half of life, is a lack of imagination. They can’t picture themselves living elsewhere. In some cases, this is fine. Someone with a strong sense of identity and belonging in their current home shouldn’t necessarily move elsewhere on a whim. The more common circumstance, however, is that we don’t think enough about how a different place could lead to a better life.

Thinking in terms of opportunity costs is one way to help frame more imaginative thinking. According to Wikipedia, the opportunity cost of a particular activity option is the loss of value or benefit that would be incurred (the cost) by engaging in that activity, relative to engaging in an alternative activity offering a higher return in value or benefit. Replace ‘activity’ for ‘place’ and this thinking applies to place planning. 

Ask yourself these two simple questions: does my home allow me to thrive in my current (or next) chapter of life? What other places might be a better fit for my current (or next) chapter in life?


It may be time to go through those old boxes and see what you really need to keep (Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash)


Reduce the Frictional Costs of Moving (Even if You Don’t Move)

One of the biggest challenges to moving is inertia. Summoning the energy to move can be difficult at any age. The perceived benefit of moving must be worth the hassle. Understanding what’s involved in a move and how you would execute it will improve the likelihood of moving when it is the right decision.  

Start with your stuff. We all accumulate more than we need and, especially for long-time homeowners, stuff can seemingly take over our lives. Decluttering can be a valuable first step in reducing the frictional costs of moving. It can also allow you to better enjoy your current home.

For most of us – whether we’ve reached the magic number of twelve or not – we’re not done moving and shouldn’t pretend we are. It can be the key to unlocking a better life. Planning in advance can ensure that our next move is to the right place at the right time.



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