An American Editor

November 21, 2018

On the Basics — Lessons from a Major Life Change

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

As some of you know, I recently decided to make a major life change and relocate from my hometown of Rochester, NY, to St. Louis, MO, where I lived many years ago. The process has been exciting, unpredictable and even a little scary, but well worth all the hassle involved with any move, especially one halfway across country rather than across town. Some aspects have offered insights connected to the idea of editing and being in business as an editor that I thought our subscribers might enjoy.

Own your life

This move was inspired by a combination of factors. I found that I couldn’t handle staying where my husband and I had been together — I kept expecting him to be there in our apartment, or around an aisle at the grocery store, and it was painful. The experience and impact of loss is different for everyone; some people prefer to stay where they were happy with a spouse or partner, but it wasn’t working for me.

Within a few months of losing Wayne-the-Wonderful, I fell and tore up my arm, and couldn’t drive for almost three months. Because I lived in a residential neighborhood with no amenities in walking distance, that meant having to ask friends or pay for transport for everything — groceries, doctors’ appointments, entertainment, meetings. It was beyond frustrating. A walkable neighborhood became a priority.

A change of ownership and management for our apartment building, of which the less said, the better, was the third strike. It was time.

A “field trip” back to St. Louis proved that old friendships and professional connections were still in good shape. Before I even started to look at rental places, I fell over an amazing opportunity to do something I’ve never done before — buy a place to live. All kinds of things seemed to line up as signs that this was meant to be, and here I am, back in the Gateway City, where things are both familiar and new.

Edit your life

The biggest lesson of this process has been that it’s time for any and all of us to edit our lives! That is, most — if not all — of us have too much stuff, whether it’s personal possessions or work-related items; probably both. In trying to pack for this big move, I found myself assessing what to keep, what to donate and what to pitch on a scale unlike any other time I’ve moved.

I probably kept a lot of personal belongings that I could dispense with (and I expect to do further clearing out once I’m more settled in), but those were harder to deal with than the work stuff. In that realm, it was surprisingly easy to decide that I really don’t need two or more paper copies of my published work, and that resulted in emptying out two entire four-drawer file cabinets! I have a portfolio for every year that I’ve been working in publishing or communications, so I have a copy of everything I’ve written, edited or proofread, and one should suffice for both my own desire to have a record of my professional life and any client’s need for back copies of projects.

It also occurred to me that I don’t have to keep 5¼” floppy disks, 3.5” diskettes, Zip disks or Syquest disk versions of work from 10, 20 or more years ago. Clients do occasionally ask for old projects, but rarely anything that old — and if someone asks now, I can recreate a version through photocopying or scanning. I pitched what seemed like a ton of old disks — not without some trepidation, but also with a feeling of relief, of being unchained from so much stuff.

I also cleared a two-drawer file cabinet of handwritten notes from probably a couple hundred interviews for articles that have been published without any requests to clarify or verify information. From now on, I’ll keep notes for no more than a year after a piece is published. Anyone with complaints or questions going back farther than that will have to trust my reputation for accuracy.

I went through several drawers-worth of old files and records, clearing out anything I thought was pointless to keep now. I did keep business records going farther back than required, but as minimally as felt comfortable. Several boxes of paper, off to the shredder (and the boxes made available for packing!).

As I continue unpacking and organizing in my new home, I strongly urge colleagues to pretend you have to move next week or at most next month, and use that scenario to start sorting and editing your belongings to see what you can do without. Clothes you haven’t worn in a year or longer; dry and canned goods, medications, hygiene products, etc., that are past their expiration dates or not being used — trash the expired ones and donate the ones that someone else could benefit from; anything in a storage closet, basement, attic or junk room; and old work files that no one is ever going to ask you about again or equipment that you aren’t ever going to use. (I’m not even sure why I keep all those old portfolios, much less albums of personal photos going back even farther; it’s not as if I’m famous enough for anyone to need them to write my definitive biography!)

Be prepared

Any move can mean disruption of some, if not all, business systems. A new location, even in town, can mean new phone numbers (not an issue if you rely solely on a cell- or smartphone, of course), Internet access, bank accounts, mailing information and related aspects of both daily and business life. If you can take a break from work to focus on the move, so much the better, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

As I’ve said in other contexts, having an e-mail address based on a domain name makes it easy to relocate without losing touch with clients and colleagues, because any change in your service provider is invisible to your contacts. It doesn’t matter what company I use for Ruth@writerruth.com; I never have to tell anyone a new e-ddress because it doesn’t change, even if my actual provider does. (The same is probably true for national servers like Gmail, Yahoo, etc., but those don’t relay your brand and business identity in the same way as a domain-based e-ddress.)

Then again, actual Internet access can still be problematic. As I write this, my ATT service is having serious personality issues, and the technician is finding it challenging to resolve them. That’s a function of being in an older building, and a unit whose previous owner apparently did not use the Internet. I’ve had to warn a couple of regular clients that my access to e-mail might be spotty for a few days, and to call me (yikes — actually talking clients on the phone!) for anything urgent.

Before the move, I made a point of looking for, and luckily found, alternatives to my home system. There’s a public library about three blocks from my new place, as well as a wealth of nearby coffee shops and other neighborhood joints with WiFi service. My goal of being in a walkable neighborhood is proving to be a definite plus.

Most of the other aspects of the move have been easy to manage — opening a new bank account and redirecting direct deposits or debits, updating website contact information, forwarding mail, etc. It helped to have a financial cushion for the myriad unexpected aspects of both the move and the change from renting to owning; it seems as if something new, and potentially costly, pops up every other day. (Ah, yes — the joys of homeownership! Everything you’ve heard is true.)

It also helped to be reasonably up to date, and even ahead of deadline, on current projects so changes in scheduling everything from the movers’ arrival date to delivery of remaining furnishings (my big pieces will have to come into the apartment by crane through a window, because the elevator and stairwell are too small to accommodate them!) to wonky Internet access don’t turn into major problems. I highly recommend working ahead of deadlines at any time, but especially before and the first few weeks after a move.

The benefits of editing your life

An “edited” life is likely to be a better-organized, more-manageable, less-stressful life. I’m not advocating dispensing with any and all elements that make your surroundings fun and personalized (yes, all the purple bears came with me to St. Louis); just assessing what you don’t need, don’t use and don’t want to deal with if you have to move — or someone has to manage a move for you.

Moving to a new place can be exciting, and doing so with as little excess baggage as possible is liberating. Like editing a thorny document, editing my belongings is a cathartic and freeing experience. Every emptied drawer, every donated item, every bag of trash — it was as if I was getting lighter and lighter. It felt great!

The process continues — I continue to find more things that I can do without and I’m not sure why I kept. We do reach a point, at least in editing a life for a move, where it’s easier to just bring or keep everything and worry about it later. The problem becomes, of course, that it’s also easier to keep all that stuff (assuming you have space for it) than to continue sorting and culling; editing out what we don’t use or need.

There may not be an exact parallel to editing a document, but there certainly is one to editing your business life. And every unsorted box, pile or file drawer is something to do in-between projects, during a snowstorm or at any other point of life when time hangs idle.

I’m sure that other lessons or advice will occur to me in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m going to take advantage of being offline for a while (I hope a short while) to unpack another box or two. Wish me luck!

What lessons have colleagues learned from needing or wanting to make a big life change like a move?

11 Comments

  1. It’s liberating to edit your life. I recently did it in a major way — still a work in progress. It’s a chance to learn more about yourself and what’s really important to you. Best wishes to you in your new endeavor.

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    Comment by mystiquemacomber — November 21, 2018 @ 11:37 am

  2. Retirement is a huge life change! I went through personal and financial adjustments. The house move was six years earlier with many of the things to deal that you wrote about in this post. Decluttering papers, clothes, and household goods goes on every few months. And still there are too many packed storage boxes! Yes, it’s freeing to clean out and see empty space. Editing my life does have the same structure as editing my WIP. I’m on it! Thanks for the reminder I’m on track! Christine

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by C.E.Robinson — November 21, 2018 @ 12:21 pm

  3. I’ve often thought it would be easier to move than to clean my house with all that’s currently in it. There is such a sense of freedom and breathability that comes from tossing things out, donating others, and keeping only what we love. I’m glad your move has been such a positive thing for you, Ruth.

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    Comment by datmama4 — November 21, 2018 @ 12:59 pm

  4. I made that same journey recently — my husband died early last year, and so around New Year’s I moved back to my hometown of New Orleans. As you mention, so great to be in a walkable city again!

    Luckily/foresightedly, I was able to take off a whole month to de-clutter and prep my old house for sale. Downsizing from a four-bedroom to my new near-studio apartment involved all my “editing” skills, as you describe so well; the only thing I regret, nearly a year later, is getting rid of almost all my books — my library, which used to have the biggest room in the house, now takes up barely one custom-bookshelved wall. Yes, I got a Kindle; no, it isn’t the same!

    Internet & phone transition went much smoother than expected, considering I’m now in a 130-year-old building; and I have kept my main financial accounts with my Texas-based bank, as its customer service (and mobile banking) is stellar. So from my clients’ POV, no business disruption at all, thank goodness.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Christy Goldfinch — November 21, 2018 @ 3:16 pm

  5. Great article, Ruth! I wish you every success in your new life.

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    Comment by Jack Lyon — November 21, 2018 @ 3:40 pm

  6. I dream of doing this kind of editing, but time and do-it-now motivation have yet to converge. I’m sure they will, though, life being what it is. Regardless, thank you for posting this essay — it’s inspiring and informative. Best wishes for your new, edited life!

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    Comment by documania2 — November 21, 2018 @ 4:12 pm

  7. Ruth, I am so very sorry to read about the loss of your dear Wayne. I have been retired for several years now and haven’t kept up much with the world of writers and editors, but I always enjoyed your blog posts when I was in the field, and we exchanged a few emails here and there on the blessing of wonderful husbands. My Tony had a quadruple bypass in June but is recovering extremely well, thank god. .

    I lived in University City in the early ‘80s and poked all around the city from there….my then-husband grew up in Ferguson. Glad your move went well, and may you find blessings in everything as you welcome this new life.

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    Comment by Beth Maxey — November 21, 2018 @ 6:38 pm

  8. You are an inspiration, Ruth. I’ve reposted your post to a Facebook group that I started: Go Deeper, Not Wider. It’s for my friends and family members who are intent upon de-cluttering their lives, gettin’ ‘er done. We undertook a one-year challenge. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I’m sorry to hear about your husband and wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

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    Comment by Virginia McGowan — November 22, 2018 @ 2:56 pm

  9. I was drawn to your article because I am also experiencing a major life change. My kids are grown now, so I have a bit of freedom. As I was reading your post, I found myself identifying with you; your moving experience mirrored my own paring down of possissions. I’m planning a big move as well.
    I also wanted to let you know I admire your writing style.

    Like

    Comment by McSpellCheck — November 23, 2018 @ 9:34 am

  10. How timely for me. I’m preparing for retirement next year and also trying to clear out my parents’ house that I’ve moved into. Tossing the clutter, dejunking the detritus, ridding myself of things I’ve accumulated over the years and really don’t need—it’s a major process but oh, so liberating. I wish you luck on your new life in St. Louis.

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    Comment by Nancy Bannister — November 26, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

  11. Thanks so much for this post, Ruth. Wisdom amid the changes of life.

    Like

    Comment by brynsnow — November 26, 2018 @ 7:09 pm


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