Starting Over in Your 30s (how to move cross-country on a budget)

You see, I never planned on moving cross-country. Maybe moving closer to the center of Cincinnati, Ohio, sure, but to another city and actually surviving there?

Oh no.

Just a fantasy unless my career paid for relocation.

At least, that’s what I thought going into 2017 and planning a vacation to Miami with friends. It was during said planning when I decided to extend my time off by another week and fly from Miami to Seattle. The original idea to meet up with a friend and honestly, just to check out a city I had always wanted to visit, but never had a chance.

Three days.

Just three days in the Emerald City and I found myself sobbing into the shoulder of a random stranger, who merely patted my hair, smoothed it away from my face and told me one thing that cemented the rest of my life.

“You’ll be back soon enough.”

She wasn’t wrong.

My relocation story is atypical, but I learned some pretty valuable lessons from the experience that I’d like to share with you.

Moving Across The Country: Part 1

Lesson One: When looking for an apartment, be prepared to move fast.

I found my studio right around Christmas 2017. There were about 99 listings I sifted through and applied to a good majority of them, but the property managers either wanted me in Seattle to see the spaces, make arrangements for someone IN Seattle to see them, or flat out did not want to rent to a transplant. Some listings were online for months, others for mere hours before they were rented.

If I wanted a space in one of my dream neighborhoods, then I learned super quick to move fast. My studio was online for 6 hours before I contacted the property manager.

Yvonne contacted me about an hour after I emailed and the rest is history. Once I had the apartment settled, I had to address my belongings.

Lesson Two: Vacuum-pack bags are a God-Send.

Selling, giving away, donating or trashing everything I owned prior to this move, some furniture, and other items stayed at the apartment to be delivered to my grandmother and my move was essentially split into four parts.

Part 1 was my first cross-country flight to meet my new landlord and his business partner, who did most of the legal legwork with me. The house is a little unorthodox. Each floor has a separate unit or two, so they vet future tenants to ensure each person is a good fit for the “community”.

Yvonne characterizes Ed as a grumpy curmudgeon and she’s not too far off the mark. He’s not so grumpy as he is when bored. They didn’t look for the pristine credit scores other apartments wanted. Or a long rental history. Or other hoops I’ve seen repeatedly. They pretty much just wanted to make sure you were a good tenant and could afford the rent.

I passed muster.

Working from home interested them because Yvonne works from home herself and during one chat we had, mentioned that the shared house would be good for me as I wouldn’t be completely isolated from people.

The first cross-country flight was with a weekender filled with a week’s worth of clothes, my work backpack, a suitcase with lights, silverware, two pillows, a blanket, and an air mattress all vacuum-packed into Zip-loc space bags so they’d fit and minimal toiletries. I would purchase the rest here in Seattle.

Lesson Three: Crossing three time zones wears on you.

HARD.

Working from 6 am to 6 pm because your day job expects you to work East Coast hours when you live on the West Coast wears on you too. Oh, and day job expected me to also work West Coast hours.

I stayed for a week after making a large IKEA trip via two Lyft rides. I regretted nothing. Except for the curtain rods and curtains I purchased and ultimately passed along via the neighborhood buy-nothing groups. I did wish somebody warned me about the soda tax and the plastic bag ban.

Moving Cross-Country: Part 2

picture of studio through mirror closet doorsLesson Four: Amazon Prime pays for itself when buying furniture in a hurry.

My second trip was with the same luggage, but also more lighting, power tools, some decorations, and more clothes. This trip heralded a fun step that I was looking forward to for weeks.

I wouldn’t be sleeping on an air mattress. After flexing my Amazon muscles, I somehow managed to strike moving gold. My new mattress, bed frame, and chairs all arrived the day I did. That week was also spent painting and putting together a dresser I would revisit and actually finish nine months later.

Lesson Five: Seattle Winters Are Brutal.

I won’t lie though. That week was lonely. Bearable, but lonely. February in Seattle can be brutal because it’s gray and dreary and as much as I love when it rains, even I felt the wear. I also spent that week painting and putting together a dresser that I’d actually finish nine months later (long story and another post).

Day job got harder this time around as the time zones once again took their toll. My landlord would pop in daily because each time he saw me on the cameras, I just looked sad (his words, not mine). I told him my ex-roommate wasn’t really being helpful (I was paying for both apartments in full each time) and my Ohio friends weren’t handling the move as well as I had hoped they would. I expected some tears and angst, but not complete isolation.

Part of the reason I moved in the first place was I was tired of being invisible. The last person you’d invite to a party to round out the group. The warm body. My Ohio crew proved what had eaten away at me for months.

I had to make Seattle work for me.

Moving Cross-Country: Part 3

Lesson Six: Shipping your car across the country is expensive.

Driving your car cross-country is about $400 in food and gas. Between both of us, we’d at least keep each other entertained and awake, even if we were only stopping for food, gas, and sleep during the whole three-day trip.

The day I left, my father told me that he was homeless. He had been evicted from his apartment because he refused to pay rent due to a bed bug infestation. Due to a bed bug infestation in his apartment, he failed to pay rent and didn’t put it into escrow.

A part of starting over is learning how to save yourself. I offered up a plausible solution, but neither my roommate or my own father refused to utilize it.

Leaving Ohio is the best thing that’s ever happened to me with a dark caveat which would come to light in the next few months.

April ended with my landlord offering to take me to a casino with his family in an effort to get me out of Seattle. Day Job Natasha was more a gasoline-soaked pile of kindling waiting for a spark to ignite another meltdown rather than the sparkly Email Gremlin she usually is.

I cracked quickly.

Moving Cross-Country: The Aftermath

It started with a question asked by an old friend in March 2012. “How depressed are you?”

I functioned with Depression up until I removed myself from a physical comfort zone. Doing so triggered a massive slump that nobody wanted to talk about.

Except for my Day Job Manager. Courtney saw a powder keg ready to implode. The long days work required and my tendency to self-isolate when the pressure increased did not help.

She suggested therapy. Our company has a deal with a psychological group that allows us eight therapy phone calls before we are turned loose on an actual counselor.

Lesson Seven: Asking for Help does not mean you are Weak.

Jeff’s first diagnosis confirmed what I already knew. I’m a chameleon with great coping mechanisms. Usually high-functioning, but moving and other stressors exacerbated my condition. Our sessions are primarily discussing how my coping methods work for me and making lifestyle adjustments when something isn’t working.

His second diagnosis was another confirmation. I had an inkling about General Anxiety Disorder when I had a meltdown in 2013. My occupation requires a certain amount of paranoia, but the nightmares and soaring blood pressure when working was just a symptom of a far larger issue. Since I live in Seattle, he suggested CBD oil as a means to control the anxiety without the drowsiness. I haven’t committed to this.

Lesson Eight: ADHD does not look the same in Everyone.

The third diagnosis was a surprise. Coping mechanisms I learned handling depression also managed my ADHD, which manifests in hyper-focus, hyper fixating on one topic and “galaxy brain.” These “superpowers” allow me to turn ideas into business ideas and be a business springboard for others. Not so much the “SQUIRREL” that most folks jump to when they hear about ADHD.

It’s why I’m great with logistics and risk-assessment. I think of everything that could go wrong and prepare for if everything, well, did go wrong. Which is super helpful during event work because that compost bag Friday forgot about? There’s two in the dump bucket.

All of these mental quirks helped me create a  soothing sanctuary for my own brain and other differently-wired brains. It’s one of the few reasons I’m able to live within 400 square feet here in Seattle. I hope you join me to see just how I’ve managed over the last year.

Lessons Learned

Let’s wrap up with a quick overview of lessons I’ve learned from moving cross-country.

  • Lesson One: When looking for an apartment, be prepared to move fast.
    • Do your research because listings in hot cities will not last long.
    • Have your paperwork ready because you may only have hours to move on a space.
    • Have a friend in the city just in case the rental requirements require an in-person walk-through.
    • Be prepared for a lot of time spent on Zillow or Craigslist.
  • Lesson Two: Vacuum-pack bags are a Godsend.
  • Lesson Three: Crossing three time zones wears on you.
    • Take care of yourself. Jet Lag is a cruel mistress.
    • Do not forget to take your vitamins.
    • Bring Vitamin D if you’re moving to the PNW. It’s gloomy up here.
  • Lesson Four: Amazon Prime pays for itself when buying furniture in a hurry.
  • Lesson Five: Seattle Winters are Brutal.
  • Lesson Six: Shipping your car across the country is expensive.
  • Lesson Seven: Asking for help does not mean you’re Weak.
  • Lesson Eight: My ADHD won’t look like Your ADHD.

In closing, your relocation story will not look like mine. Your timeline will not look like mine. Your rental experience, god, I hope it isn’t like mine. But if you prepare yourself ahead of time, you’ll have what you need to make that huge move.

Update: May 2019. No regrets. I found my tribe here and I’m pretty sure they’d SKIN ME if I left.