The smell of moving

            There is a smell associated with moving.  Like most smells, it is one I forget until it is upon me with all its traces and associations.  It is the scent of cardboard boxes, dust reluctantly uncovered, cleaning solutions, and persistent yet low-grade perspiration. 

            It is a smell from my earliest days, a smell that has changed its composition over the years.  As a child, packing up for my father’s sabbatical in San Diego.  We were renting furnished and were traveling with only the suitcases we could fit in the back of our car under six little feet.   Yet, we still needed the boxes, to tuck our personal items away from the prying eyes of the renters who would be living in our Amherst home.

            The smell was absent when I moved again, leaving my father’s house.  It was a move unworthy of fanfare, a simple suitcase filled with threadbare clothes.  We were off to camp.  When, at the end of the summer, we realized we would not be returning, there was nothing more to go back for, and so the formalities of moving were dispensed with.  We were erased from my father’s house and his life in the time it took to fill that one suitcase.

            And so, over the years, move after move.  Each time, I owned a few more things.  Leaving my grandparents’ house.   Each time the moves were a little more elaborate.  Heading off to college from my aunt’s house.  The smell built up, developed its complexities as my moves became more noteworthy.  Apartment to apartment in college.  I learned to assemble a stereo in less than two minutes.  My first job, my first real apartment.  My first order of business was helping the cat to adjust.  Following J to D.C., then more boxes a year later when we moved in together.  Security deposits, packing tape.  I dipped further below the Mason Dixon line, shipping off to graduate school. I could fill out the change-of-address card blindfolded.  Moving in with J part-time while we attended graduate schools in different states.  I could write a comparative assessment of DMVs.

            And then, the moves got more complicated.  There were two of us now.  We bought our first home, filled with starry-eyed visions of renovations and children, only to struggle to sell it two years later, moving into the house of our dreams.  The house we knew we would restore and raise our family in.  A house we rented out two years later to move to London, then sold when we found that once again we would be unpacking boxes in an unfamiliar place.

            The moves are more complicated, and the first order of business is now helping the children adjust.  But, the fundamentals have stayed the same.  Moving is about erasure.  One moment, we live somewhere; the next, the house is empty.  People who were part of our everyday lives cease to exist, and we cease to exist for them.  There is a woman I have passed every morning as I take Zach to school and as she walks to work.  We smile and nod.  On Friday, I will just disappear.  Will she wonder?

            As we leave this place, this place we have not liked, there is still a sadness.  A knee-jerk feeling of nostalgia, perhaps.  The smell triggers it, this realization that we are all erasable from places, from people’s lives.  We are traveling with everything that really matters, the boys and their spare blankies.  We all will remember this place, but it will quickly forget us.

            The house smells of cardboard boxes.

25 responses to “The smell of moving

  1. “On Friday, I will just disappear. Will she wonder?”

    That gave me chills.

  2. Best of luck! I hope you are happy in your new place!

  3. sigh.

    yes, i know this smell, this feeling.

  4. i wish you the best of luck during your move. it’s always hard to leave one place and start new in another.

  5. Moving is hard – the physical work of it (even when you have movers) exhausts you, allowing the emotional side of it to really take a toll.

    I hope everything goes smoothly. Eat your favorite foods – that can help you feel at home, no matter where you are.

  6. Good advice De! I’ve moved 25+ times in my young life and I can tell you that there is always hope in the place where you unpack again. There’s always hope.

  7. I hope you enjoy LA more than you’ve enjoyed London, Emily. And travel well, friend.

  8. Sending wishes for the smoothest possible of moves!

  9. I know the smell very well (having moved 17 times so far in my 27 years).

    Good luck with the move, hoping all goes well with your transition to the land of palm trees and eyebrow shaping.


  10. I have not moved frequently, but I do think back to the first house I lived in with my husband and how 2 of our babies were brought back to that house. And how the big tree in the front, that was a wedding present, was the backdrop for every 1st day of school picture and seem to grow with our kids. And then I realize that our home, is where ever our heart is. This is an overused phrase, and it doesn’t erase the uncertainty of change, but it is often truth. Good luck and I hope we hear about your adventures in LA soon.

  11. The idea that we are woven into the daily fabric of others’ lives, yet we remain unknown to eachother as human beings is such a sad one to me.

  12. I know that smell. Someday I hope to forget it for whole decades at a time.

    I hope you find a lovely home in LA that will fill at least some of the void left by the one you had to sell.

    And my fingers are crossed that your long flight with the boys goes smoothly. 🙂

  13. I usually feel terrible when I have to encounter loss, and yet one of the sentences that gives me instant moral fiber is, ‘Everything is expendable’. There is nothing we cannot live without, no place, no view, not even the people who surround us, and that’s a bit sad but viewed in a different light it can be liberating. The memories you need will travel with you very lightly indeed. Take care on the transit.

  14. happy and safe move…a new place to make a home…full of love and happiness.

  15. I wish you the best of luck on the impending move, Miss Em.

    And maybe, just MAYBE, I am sad that you’re not moving here, to Chicago.

    Maybe you can just come and visit us.

  16. “On Friday, I will just disappear. Will she wonder?”

    Wow, I never thought of moving in that way but you’re right. For some people when you move you simply disappear and they don’t know why.

    I’ve moved far too often in my lifetime, mostly self-imposed moves after graduating from college. I’m happy to be settled down in the home we’ve owned for nearly 3 years now.

    Best of luck with the move. Moving is never easy but I think you’ll all do fine.

  17. You know, I’ve thought about that many times – every time you move, you’ve got either more stuff or more people or both. But moving country I think is extra special – everyone and everything travels a long way … including the smell! 😉

  18. There is always that wonder – if we have impacted the lives of others as much as they have impacted us.

    Now, as I recall the smell of moving, it makes me cringe my nose. I hate moving.

    Best Wishes on your move!

  19. Take care of yourselves and your babes. All my best, warmest thoughts go with you all.

    Safe journey, my friend.

  20. What a thoughtful and moving post. Absolutely gorgeous.
    Good luck to you and your family in your new adventure. I hope the move goes smoothly.

  21. I’ve 16 moves in 26 years, I know that smell all to well. In a way, its comforting….

    Best wishes in your traveling – I’ll be thinking of you!!

  22. Wow-great post. It made me cry. I identify with it all too well. I was wondering something similar recently, about the people I encounter on my daily walks. Will they give me a second thought when I’m gone? Would I them?

    This piece made my day. I really mean that. Thanks.

  23. Ah, I know that smell well. I just tried to count how many times I’ve moved and lost track at 15…

  24. I will never forget the way our flat smelled when we left London. So many scents remind me of that time, most especially jet fuel.

    Hope you traveled safely. And yes, you will miss it.

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