The idea was to write a post about relocating, starting over in middle age. Between sofagirl and I, combined, we have moved to different countries 6 times and I had been thinking how it would feel to make such a move just about now, at this age. I have lived in California for 20 years, 18 of which in LA. Sue has been back in South Africa for nearly a decade.
Many people, as they get closer to slowing down or retire, start pondering downsizing, traveling the world, or just moving altogether: in the US, Florida if you live on the East Coast, maybe Mexico if you are in the West. In Italy, many pensioners have figured out that relocating to the Canary Islands stretches their savings a lot further.
Confronting a move in the latter part of our lives becomes also a reckoning of how we have used our time, an exercise in tackling possessions and disposing of them, often not in a Marie Kondo’s type of way. I was thinking about what would persuade me to start again far from the connections I made over the years and what is lost and gained by such a move. I asked Susan Roberts, the writer behind Susan’s Musings, who recently moved from South Africa to Australia to be closer to her sister, about the mechanics, both emotional and practical of such a move.
Susan was extremely generous in her answers.
“The hardest was leaving my friends, the easy camaraderie with people who have known me for years and accept me the way I am. Working in theatre, you share a special bond with people and I knew I wouldn’t be able to work in theatre in Australia. Most of my friends are my theatre friends, and it was very hard to picture life without them.
I knew that I wouldn’t see most of them again, and even if I go back to visit, it’ll never be the same. It never is, even when I’ve gone back to cities in South Africa where I used to work. It’s always fun picking up with old friends, but the circumstances have changed and can never be repeated. I knew it was the end of an era and I wasn’t sure how it would feel once the truth of that hit me.”
While reading her words, I considered that making a transition is a right of passage of middle age, whether we physically move or not. We take stock: of where we go from here, of what is important, of where our family is. Moving to a new locale, whether spurred by the vicinity of relatives, a new love, or just a need to get away from what is old and true, can be a way to start afresh, to reconfigure the time we still have ahead of us, of trying new paradigms. But, whether we add the stress and exhilaration of a physical move to such a transitional period, those mechanisms are already at play in our mind – even we if we are planning to stay in the same house we have inhabited for the last 30 years.
Knowing who we finally are and what to do with such consciousness are thorny issues. But, flipping the coin and looking at if from another angle, it is also an incredible opportunity for shedding unwanted baggage, relationships that don’t work, concentrating on what does. The field of action is narrower but more focussed.
Starting anew on fresh shores is not for anyone but, should it be something you are contemplating, Susan has some sage advice on the practicality of it.
“Two years before my move, I began going through things and getting rid of excess clutter.
Of course it didn’t all go according to plan, but at least some of it did. When I got the green light, I planned every detail of my final six months in South Africa and worked it like a project, with deadlines and countdowns for everything, and I stuck to them. I had a whiteboard year planner on my wall, which became my blueprint. I also kept a daily To Do list with a weekly check-in on my computer.
I also stayed at my job until the night before I got on the plane. In retrospect, I think that kept me sane because it was the one area of my life over which I had some control, and it gave me a physical break from the sorting and packing six days out of seven.
When I arrived in Australia all I wanted to do was eat and sleep, and that’s all I did for weeks. I didn’t get back to writing my novel until I’d been here nearly three months. I pottered around doing the housework and playing with my cats – they both settled in quicker than I did!
Unlike moves I made between cities in my 20s and 30s, where I always went somewhere because of a particular job, this move was because of family, and there is no likelihood of a job because I’m not allowed to work until my permanent visa is processed. For the first time in my life I am not identified by what my job is, but by who I am aside from any job, and it’s taken me a while to adjust my attitude to that.”
And that is the crux for many of us: we find ourselves in middle age wanting or needing to redefine ourselves, to separate from what defined us for so many years, be it a career, a marriage or motherhood. It can be daunting. But it also opens us up to possibilities. And, sometimes, to new worlds.
Top image from Vogue
Banana seller courtesy of Donatella B.