Are you a mover or a stayer?

Guest post by Stealmystapler

Some people depend on astrology, and they knowingly smile when you state your star sign. Others focus on personality types or the introvert/extrovert dichotomy when trying to understand themselves and their relationships. In recent years, I’ve begun to develop my own theory: people are either movers, or stayers.

The terminology is a bit simplistic, but I find that it is evocative.

I’ve met people who have lived in the same town their whole lives, and never felt the need to leave. Often, their family has lived in that place or region for generations; leaving for a job or anything more than a short vacation seems unthinkable. These are the stereotypical stayers. I’ve met others who have “itchy feet” and are constantly on the move: six months here, two years there. Sometimes they’re world travelers, sometimes they’re not; either way, they’re movers.

I’m a mover, descended from movers. My mother’s side immigrated to this country from Ireland and Scotland around the turn of the century. My father’s side moved to Maryland long ago, and slowly moved west until they reached Iowa. My grandfather and great-grandfather were pilots. Both sides are spread all over the Midwest and East Coast. After I was born, my parents moved our family five times before I was in third grade. Whether by nature or nurture, or somewhere in between, moving is just part of who I am.

I remember being astonished as a child, and then in college, to meet people who could state with pride that they had never left their state. Or that they had never been west of the Mississippi River. All I could think was, “why?” There is so much world — how could you write it off so easily? Even from simply moving from state to state, I have always found that an artificial border can create different, fascinating cultures and senses of identity.

Of course, the bias goes both ways. As a professional architectural historian and historic preservationist, I encounter stayers on a nearly-daily basis. I love entering new communities, learning as much as I can about their history and architecture, and helping people understand and preserve their heritage. However, some stayers are baffled by this and occasionally discount my knowledge and experience. They seem to think: how could someone so new to my community/region/state be of any help at all, when I have lived here my whole life and know every brick, road, and family name?

Through my moves, I’ve become very close friends with stayers. One is a committed Pittsburgher, who believes the former industrial city is a hidden gem. She loves its steep hills, rivers, countless bridges, and thriving arts community. She’s never really lived anywhere else, but in her travels she’s never found another place she’d rather be. Another is an Adirondacker through-and-through who loves the sight of mountains, smell of wood, and honesty of small communities. He’s traveled all over the world — he’s climbed mountains in Pakistan, hiked in New Zealand, surfed in Hawaii, drunk beer in Ireland, explored ancient wooden structures in Slovakia — but he has always had a home and many acres of land adjoining his family.

I like to joke that historians are better at understanding dead people than living ones, but for some reason this concept really resonates with me. Recently, I shared the concept with a mover acquaintance who was wrestling with the concept of beginning to consider dating a stayer more seriously. She hadn’t thought much of his offer to move to be with her, until I emphasized that that was one of the biggest leaps a stayer could ever make. Suddenly, she saw the situation with new eyes.

I’m a mover, desperately trying to be a stayer. I’ve found a great job in a great new place, but I’ve never stayed anywhere longer than ten years. It’s hard to say what the future will bring.

So, I’m a little curious, Offbeat Homies: where do you fall on the mover/stayer spectrum? How do you think it has affected your personality?

Comments on Are you a mover or a stayer?

  1. I am a mover who got stuck in the same place for 18-19 years. As a kid we moved every few years then after that pattern was set my parents decided to stay in the same place for a while. After a few years I was sure we would move again but we stayed put. I was miserable during those years and the longer we stayed the more I wanted to move. As an adult I am back to moving every few years and I am much happier.

  2. The older I get, the more of a stayer I am. That being said, I moved across the country for school for 3.5 years, have travelled to various places in the US, Europe and New Zealand, and I enjoy going on trips and seeing new places. I can contemplate moving somewhere else, I just would prefer not to. A lot of that is that I have a support network where I am. I happen to like 15-20 minutes being the max travel time to get pretty much anywhere in my city. Also, I’m an only child and my mother is aging and single. Moving away would mean either leaving her behind to rely on friends and the family still here or uprooting her. We live in roughly the same region as my mother’s family has been in for a couple generations. My father is more likely to travel and has remarried. His family has done more relocating although we’re only an hour and a half from where he grew up.

    My husband is slowly realizing that he isn’t a huge fan of travel although he used to do it without a thought and change also is a big deal. So while he may have had a view of himself as a nomad, he is becoming a stayer.

  3. As young-ish person (26), I think I’m still trying to figure this out. I grew up in one place, went to college in another, and moved far away for my first post-graduate job. I always have big dreams about moving on to a new adventure, but in my heart, I think I like the stability of being a stayer. I guess life circumstances will eventually reveal which side of the spectrum I’m on.

    • I agree that there is something to be said for some of the forced mover-ness of youth. I’m 27, so your story definitely rings true with my experience. Hang in there!

  4. I think I’m inherently a mover. My parents were military and while we didn’t move every year or anything, we moved quite a bit. When we moved to a small town with a mostly non-military population, I was always astounded that there were people who had lived in the same house their entire lives. I just had trouble understanding how someone could enjoy being in the same place forever. Unlike many of my high school classmates, I moved away for college and then moved across the country after college. Now, I’ve been in my current city for 8 years. My husband is definitely a stayer and now that we have a kid, it’s hard to consider moving away from our relatively nearby families (my parents moved close to us a few years ago because they are movers and wanted to be near us when we had kids). I know it makes him anxious to think about being so far away from his family and the friends he’s had since elementary school. And I have to admit that it’s quite nice knowing our city so well and having a built in support system. Still, I don’t want to live here forever. I’m fine with long-term stays, but eventually, I just want to fall in love with someplace new.

  5. I’m a mover. I stayed in my home state for the first 25 years of my life, though once I was 18 I moved every couple of years. I remember telling a friend during graduate school that I couldn’t wait to graduate and move somewhere new. She told me there must be something wrong with me because no one wanted to always move and start over in a new place. The comment stung. Until I met my significant other – a military member – and realized that I was perfect for that role. In our four years of marriage we’ve lived in four different places, including three different continents. We just moved back to the US, have only had our feet on the ground for two months and we’re already planning the next move at the end of this year. I know it’s not the life for everyone, but I’m so glad that I have the heart of a mover.

  6. I’m about 85% stayer at heart. I think if I had fallen in love with a career that let me live in Western or Central NY state my whole life, I’d be stuck here. It’s not that I adore this place, I just don’t like moving. REALLY don’t like moving. I don’t even really like traveling.

    However, I do really like science. Which means I have to move later this year to start a postdoc (once I find one) and move again 3-5 years from then when I (fingers crossed) find a faculty job. This is actually what broke up my first marriage – he’s a hardcore stayer who told me for years he could be a mover and finally realized he was lying to both of us.

    Part of me thinks I should pick a postdoc in a place I don’t really like much, because otherwise I won’t want to leave and I’ll drastically limit my possibilities. This is probably a terrible plan though. =P

    My mom is a stayer, or so I thought, but now she and her husband are thinking of moving to a new state. My dad and his wife want to live everywhere, I think – they have cut down on the number of houses they own to just two, one in NY and one in FL, but they have people they know they can visit at any time all over the country (and in Honduras, where they do a lot of work and volunteering). So I think we’re all a bit of a mixture.

    • You aren’t the first person I’ve heard to mention getting a post-doc in a place that they don’t really like, so I think you’re onto something! I know someone who did that, and it helped them keep focus during a really busy time in their lives and get the paper they needed. I would say, though, that if you can, find a place that you like the day to day life in, even if you don’t like the general area. I lived in an awesome city for awhile, but I didn’t have time to do the awesome stuff, and it was expensive and a pain in the butt to get around. Now I live somewhere where I have a 5-10 minute bike commute to my lab, but I have to travel a bit to see an awesome concert or a big art museum.

    • I was told not to pick a PhD program in a place I enjoyed living. So, I of course picked a program in a really cool place, and now that I’m finishing it, I don’t want to leave! But, I’m optimistic I’ll find something here (though I realize I have to be more open to what is available).

      I don’t think I could do a post-doc somewhere that I didn’t like. Where I live is just too important to me that if I was miserable, I wouldn’t do good work. That said, I have other friends that can thrive (intellectually) really anywhere, and their biggest thing would be finding a supportive environment (lab, department, etc) for their work and wouldn’t care much about location.

      What I hate in academia though is the pressure to take a job somewhere you know you’ll be miserable. I’ve seen more than a few friends get the advice “You have to take the job & ignore that your partner can’t find work/is too far from ailing parents/is in an area that doesn’t mesh with your values/etc”

      • I think you were right to pick a program in a place you love. Precisely because the academic job market is so rough, choosing where you go to grad school could, in fact, be the last time you really get to *choose* where you live.

        However, I think that hiring committees can often tell if you are less-than-enthusiastic about the area where the school is. They will be able to pick up on it, and the job will go to someone who is able to convince the committee (probably out of genuine interest, or maybe s/he is just really slick) that they really like the location and will stick around. I think it mostly works out in that way – everyone I know from my graduate program who got a job (which isn’t everyone), ended up in a place that was somehow just right geographically for them.

  7. When I was a kid we stayed in the same lovely house for my first 12 years. We had a beautiful back garden, I had a lovely sized room, and we were a whole and happy family. When my parents split, I lived with my father. We didn’t stay in a place longer than a year. We total, we moved 7 times in 5 years. I hated it. The moment I felt settled, we would be moved on. When my relationship ended, moving house was a part of it. I felt like a huge failure – this time I was doing it as a grown up, and with my child. I had always maintained I wanted my children to have the stable start I had been blessed with. It’s taken 6 years, but we have finally got to a place where we can settle. We are a family unit (with her nonbio dad) and we can start placing roots again. I’m not a mover. Living out of a suitcase is not a natural state for me. Home is a bubble that I like to continuously craft and evolves with every year we are in it. I can see the attraction of regularly moving, the buzz of finding a new place, getting to make a blank canvas into something that is totally yours. For me, the novelty wore off after the first 4 moves. Where we are now isn’t our forever home, that will come next, when finances are better. But to be able to put down little roots, to truly be able to call a place ‘home’, that’s my happy 🙂

  8. Stayer who loves to travel, much like the OP’s Adirondacker. I’ve lived in the same general part of Northern California since I was 5 years old, but I’ve also traveled the world (even to Antarctica 🙂 ). I love to go places, experience other cultures, eat different food, immerse myself in history that goes farther back than the California Gold Rush. But I need to eventually come back to my own cozy little home in my own beloved valley with my mountains in the distance. I recharge my batteries at home, so I can go out into the greater world again later.

  9. I feel like this is a sliding scale that changes as you age, but for now I’m a stayer. I like going and seeing places, but I like putting down roots.

  10. I’m a hardcore stayer. I don’t even rearrange my furniture. Oddly enough though, I desperately want to move. I currently live near my family, in a place I’ve been a total of seven years, and I want to go back to my college town. That’s become my place to stay; I’m just a stuck with a stayer who needs to stay here.

  11. I’m a stayer. Definitely. I like to travel, but I especially love to return home. I live 30 minutes from my parents, and don’t plan to go anywhere else. I could see living in Israel for about a year or two (but that is because my US home and Israel feel equally like home). Other than that, I’m staying put. The idea of moving frequently sounds awful!

  12. Very interesting post! Does anyone else find that their passions in life dictate whether they are a mover or a stayer?

    Many things make me a stayer: I am dreaming of the time where I know I’ll be in once place long enough to plant blueberry bushes and fruit trees. I want to have a home where I can make changes and enjoy them. I want to have a whole bunch of animals.
    All of the things that make me a mover- seeing famous works of art, hiking in a new place- can be accomplished on vacations, for me. I don’t ever really want to go the same place twice for vacation, unlike people who always visit the same beach. (Also, I would like time for a vacation.)

    • Yes! I used to move every 3 months to 3 years and was constantly planning for the next place. Now, I have put so much work into our old rental house, garden, and large flock of chickens that I hope to find a place soon to settle long-term. I greatly dislike thinking of what we will do with our chickens when we move, or who will prune the 60 year-old grapevine in the yard (thought it was a burn pile when we moved in). Also, we struck a deal that I can get a milk goat after we are settled – that’s a good bargain that I never would have bought into even five years ago.

    • Yes! This is absolutely me!

      I live in the city I was born in. I’ve lived in other places, and travelled quite a bit (New Zealanders tend to) but ended up back here, first out of convenience as a stopgap, then decided just to stay because there’s so much to like.

      But I want dogs, I want a garden, I want a house done the way I like it. I’m not averse to going somwhere else for a year or two (we did when I was a kid, thanks to having an academic father) but I can’t imagine moving around, never feeling settled, starting over somewhere and having to re-learn where the good cafes are, where the nice neighbourhoods are, where the best running routes are. I can see why some people find it exhilarating, but I don’t think it’s for me.

  13. I guess I’m a stayer, but a traveler.

    I figured out when I was 21 that I want to have a home to return to, but it’s only special if I leave it every now and then. I LOVE travelling, and as much as I love my city, I need to leave it to feel happy and alive, and to appreciate what I have. I need the extremes of going somewhere foreign with new and unique experiences, as well as a sense of home and comfort and routine. I need routine, and part of my routine is breaking it to go somewhere I’ve never been before. I want to see the world. I want to visit everywhere.

    I haven’t moved that often. I left my home state when I was 7, lived in limbo for 14 years (while I lived in the same house all that time, I never felt it was home because I knew I would leave soon enough). When I was 21, I moved, and have been in the same neighborhood (3 apartments) for 10 years. My husband and I would love to buy a house in this or a neighboring neighborhood. Of course, there are a short list of cities that we would leave Chicago for, if I got the right job opportunity.

    I have fallen in love with places like New York City and Newfoundland, which are one and two on my “nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to live there” list. But just because you’re head over heels in love with somewhere doesn’t mean you want to live there. It’s like a relationship: New York is sexy and enthralling, which can be fun to date, but I wouldn’t want to marry it. Newfoundland is sweet and endearing and beautiful, but not exciting enough for my long-term taste.

  14. As a kid, I was a mover within a family of movers. Grandparents on my dad’s side moved from Malta to the US while my mom’s family were constantly on the move (she was a navy kid). Then while growing up, we tended to move around a lot for my dad’s job (about every 2-3 years).

    But now that I have 4 chronic illnesses, I’m turning into a stayer. While I love traveling and seeing the country, it’s getting incredibly hard for me to travel. So it’s more of a chore now than actually an enjoyment. Constantly worrying about where to eat that’s safe and if a hospital is nearby isn’t all that fun. >.<

    Honestly though, being a stayer isn't all that bad now. I love the area that I live in and it's fun to find new, local places (like we found a farmers market last weekend). Plus, my hubby and I are finding day trips in the region that would be easy on me yet still fun.

  15. Stayer who loves to travel here also! I think this about most things in life–but I believe here there’s a wide spectrum in between.

    Growing up in a the third-largest city in Missouri (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much), I was always dreaming of moving to a bigger city. But life, money, marrying my first husband young, “losing my way,” etc. kept me close to home. As discussed in a recent post on here about getting an adult buddy and having”adult stuff anxiety” –the thought of dealing with the logistics of moving to a different state makes me freak out.

    But I think there’s something to be said for staying, creating stability, so that you have the ability to be a “part time adventurer!” My husband and I both have 5-6 weeks of paid time off at our jobs because we’ve been there for so long. And since we live near our families, that vacation time isn’t used to see them–it’s used for US. We have to budget and can’t go crazy, but we are able to take tons of weekend getaways to see concerts throughout the year. The way I see it, the stability we’ve created by staying in a place where it’s pretty cheap to live allows us to get a taste of adventure.

    So while I have not moved away from the place I grew up–I don’t really look at myself as a stereotypical “stayer.” I would never brag about never living anywhere but Springfield, Missouri.

  16. I’m a mover, but with a family so I’ve got itchy feet to move, but moreso to find a “home base” now. I’ve found that frequent travel will usually be enough to take the edge off the urge to move every few years.

  17. Interesting concept. This rings so true. I am very much a stayer. I do enjoy traveling, but am always so relieved to return home. I just love the familiarity of it, it’s safe. It’s soothing. It’s comfortable being home. I wonder if this is due, at least I’m part, to the generalized anxiety that I have. Any other stayers relate?

    • Yep. I’m a homebody to the core, and I think by extension, a stayer. And probably because it’s just so much cozier and easier to be where everything’s familiar.

  18. As a kid I only moved twice, once to a house when I was three and the last time to Oregon where my family stayed. In college and after I was a mover. The longest I stayed anywhere was two years and one year I moved about three times. I even sold everything and moved across the ocean to Korea. Since moving to Portland though, I found that I’ve become a stayer. Even while I was moving all that time I always thought of Portland and how much I wanted to live there. Now that I’ve bought a house in an awesome neighborhood I’m loving it but am starting to feel a little anxious, like I’m not seeing everything I could see of the world. So, I’m channeling all that traveling/moving energy into exploring my city and neighborhood. I try to look at my home like I looked at the cities I used to travel though and experience it the same way. I take walks in the park, sketch cool buildings, try new restaurants and bars, and generally try not to fall into the rut of Netflix/pizza (although that is also amazing) that you tend to when you’re staying in one place for a while. Half the fun of moving/traveling is discovering new things so I try to keep that alive while I put down some roots.

  19. No question about it: I fucking STAY. I moved out of my parents house in Hollywood, to an apartment in West Hollywood. Then when I got married, I moved from my 1 bedroom to a 2 bedroom in the same building!

  20. I’m a stayer. I like to travel (both to new places and revisiting cities I love), but I grew up in one place and lived with my parents while earning my BA from the same university where I went to summer day-camps as a child and then commuting to a library school two hours away that had a program arranged you could come one day a week and still finish the MLS in two years. I’ve worked for the same place for the entire time I’ve been working, although at times I’ve simultaneously held other jobs. Then I bought a house with my husband about five minutes away.

    In theory I could happily live somewhere within an easy day trip of NYC, or near Portland, both of which I love, but only if I could somehow pick based purely on the place itself, without taking into account jobs, distance from family, and the simple practicalities of getting our stuff there.

  21. I’m a stayer. My parents moved to upstate NY a few years before I was born. My older siblings had moved every few years for my dad’s job, and I thought starting new schools and such sounded awful. I went to another part of the state for college, then moved to Japan for six years. After ten years away, I’m back in my hometown, next door to my mom in my grandfather’s old house. I don’t see myself leaving any time soon. It took time to find my feet as an adult in a place I left as a teenager, but now I have my community and friends in the area. My husband loves the country, and we have pets and livestock. We still love to travel, and I wonder if we’ll relocate to Europe in twenty years, but for now we’re settled and happy to be so.

  22. I am a big time mover. I grew up an Air Force brat, and we moved ever year or two. My dad’s last assignment before he retired was to Charleston, and I went to three years of high school there, then three years of college (although technically in different towns). It was by far the longest I lived anywhere, and though I love it, I couldn’t wait to get out. For the last six years, I’ve been bouncing around with even greater frequency – I haven’t even spent a full year in one place! I’ve lived in eight different countries just in that time. All that being said, I miss having something of a home base, and it would be really nice to unpack the boxes in my parents’ attic that were put there when I was 19. But I’m think I’ll start with a two year commitment 🙂

  23. I’m mostly a stayer. I don’t need to be in the same city or house, but the greater Toronto area… That’s my home. I need to know I can get downtown and back in a day. All my friends and family are there.

    When my husband and I just started talking about getting married, he mentioned wanting to move to a coast. And it terrified me. I couldn’t imagine not being able to come home every holiday. I think now I might be more down for it… But not forever. Eventually, I’d have to come find a forever home in the Toronto area. I think he’s okay with that too. There’s always holidays.

  24. Definitely a stayer. I like taking vacations and seeing other places, but I want to go home at the end.

    I envy movers. That sounds like an awesome adventure! I know me though, and it’s just not my personality.

  25. Definitely a stayer. I’ve lived in the same big city my whole life – never left for college or anything (I’m 31 now). I live in a suburb of my hometown – have been in this house almost ten years – and it still feels weird to not be right in the heart of the city (even though there’s no space between the two). It also was important to me that my son was born downtown so our birth certificates share the same city.

    What’s crazy and sad is that so much political garbage has happened here in the last five to ten years that I strongly disagree with, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is home. And practically speaking, my family is all here. And my parents aren’t getting any younger, and I want them to have as much time with my son as possible.

    That said, my parents ensured I developed an appreciation for other places – we normally made at least one big road trip a year. I would like to do the same for my son when he’s older, especially to expose him to other cultures. Still, it’s always a relief to come back home.

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