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 stayer, I like having a home base, pets and a garden. It took me a long time to realize that I am a stayer and although it doesn’t sound a cool as being an adventurous mover, I am what I am, I need a home base.
    My sister has always been a mover, for thirty years she has been on the move, until she moved back last year and announced that she wants to settle down and buy a house. I keep wondering when she is going to get itchy feet and want to leave, she hasn’t made it for more than a couple of years in the same location. Only time will tell if she really wants to be in one place as much as she thinks she does.

  2. I was a mover, but I found a good place to set up home base and travel out of. It feels really good to put down roots.

    My parents moved around when I was 0-4 and then settled in one place for good. So even though I only remember growing up in one place, I grew up as an outsider. I was a “Yankee” in a small Southern town where family names mean a lot, where other kids went to school with all their cousins and second cousins, and everyone knew everyone. As much as a struggle as that was sometimes, I think it was fundamental in the formation of my personality and giving me a relativist perspective. My parents had a running meta-commentary on the culture I was in, and so I never totally bought in to the prevailing point of view. From this I was always fascinated with the idea of travel, of worlds colliding and cultures mixing (one of my favorite movies was a Jetsons-meet-the-Flintsons plot, and I loved reading/escaping to other worlds, or even when characters on one TGIF tv show would make a cameo in another show).

    As a teen, I looked down on stayers as “townies” and considered them to be small-minded, boring people. But now I realize the great value in having roots, and I can only imagine how satisfying it might be to grow up with extended family and deep heritage. I think you might have a lot less existential angst than I have struggled with :).

  3. I think that, just like with introversion and extroversion, there’s definitely a sliding scale.

    I’m a stayer who has been forced into a mover’s life. In the past 5 years, I have moved 12 times. And it sucks. Royally. The longest I’ve stayed anywhere was where I am now for 1 year. Everything else has been about 4-ish months or sometimes 8. They’ve also all been in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Illinois so it’s not like I’m seeing the world.

    Growing up, I only lived in one house ever. When my parents renovated and I no longer had a room, I felt kind of devastated. My home was gone. That wasn’t my home anymore (despite the fact I hadn’t actually lived there in 4 years).

    But I also like to see new places – feel them and understand how they tick. Sadly I’ve not had the financial resources/time to go and see many other places at all (I’m one of those people from the Midwest that hasn’t made it across the Mississippi) but I’m hoping that with my new job, I’ll be able to afford some trips.

    I’m moving into a new apartment next month and I hope to god this will be the last move for quite some time.

  4. I agree with some of the other posters that its really a continuum. Some of us are both movers and stayers, sliding back and forth with life changes.

    Growing up, we moved a lot. When I moved to college, I lived in that town for 6 years, but I moved places I lived every.damn.year. Mostly because I thrived on change in my living environments. One year I wanted to be in a cute downtown apt by my favorite coffee shop. The next I wanted to live in a cute little place in the woods.

    When I started my PhD, I chose the program partly because it was on the other side of the country, and I wanted to try out living there. But, turns out? I really love it here and don’t want to leave. Funny, because as a young 20-something, I thought traveling around for post-docs and visiting professor gigs would be cool! Now, I’d rather not and want the stability and ability to choose to live somewhere I enjoy.

    Now that I’m almost 30, I love the idea of putting down roots. I see the value of contributing to and building a community. I think we’ll stay for a while here. But I travel a lot, and we still talk about moving to the PNW someday. And we might. So I don’t see myself firmly as either!

  5. I grew up in one home for 9 years, and in the next home for 13 years, both in the same small community. But then I became a mover (14 communities, six US states, 3 German provinces, and multiple homes in almost every community). Now I’m in transition to becoming a stayer (I’ve lived in the current state since 2007, though in four homes in two communities). The transition is hard, because when I first came here, it felt more of a short-term home than any place I’ve ever lived. It’s also harder to build new communities at my age – especially since we don’t have kids .

    Becoming a stayer… well, I think I have reduced my desire for adventure, but I think that is more because I have a job that is occupying so much of my time and energy. I’m open to moving again, though – but this time, only to one of the many, many communities in which I have close friends or family.

  6. Like a few other people in these comments, I’m still in that phase of my life where I am also trying to figure this out. My family is mostly stayers with a couple of movers randomly bursting out from the fold, so I am very closely connected to my family in my current region. However, I am currently in that small cluster of “movers,” though this is my first jaunt off from the pack in my life. Despite this, my career is one that sort of requires me to be a mover rather than a stayer. This has been one very big point of stress in my life as of late, so it’s funny that this came across the feed now.

  7. I thought I was going to be a mover, and I have been to some degree. In the past decade I’ve lived in three different states (in vastly different areas of the country) and in about 8 different apartments. But the last (out of state) move I made was really hard. REALLY HARD. Even though I’ve moved a number of times over the past 10 years, it was always with a support system already in place. Moving to a new city where I knew no one and had never even visited before I moved here definitely made be realize that I am just not up for starting completely over every few years. Making friends in hard. Getting comfortable with new roads and stores and a new culture is hard. I definitely appreciate my experiences as a mover (mover-lite maybe?) but I’m about to marry a hardcore stayer and that’s fine by me! (He’s lived in the same city all his life and pretty much lived within a 5 mile radius for the past probably 2 decades).

  8. I am a stayer who desperately wishes she were a mover. Where I grew up has this ancestral tug on me that I just can’t sever. I just feel like I have to be at most a day’s drive away or I can’t be comfortable. I can’t travel for long and moving far is just impossible for my mind to even wrap itself around.
    But I wannnnt to go. I looked at colleges far away, but I just talked myself out of it. I’ve thought about other places and very seriously considered moving to Connecticut, but again–so many reasons to stay, so few to go.
    I’d love to have the mover gene. I just don’t.

  9. I’m a mover who dreams of being a stayer and was raised by stayers. I lived in the same house all of my child hood. When my parents did move, it was to a house in the same small town, 5 minutes down the road. When I was younger I was the one who went to a collage out of town, moved every 4 months and lived in different cities and even considered moving to Ireland for a year (from Canada). I have been living in the same city for a while now, about 7 years, we have a house and I think my husband feels like this is a forever house. I feel like it’s a for now house, and dream of a house in the country where I don’t have to worry that my garden is to big, and doesn’t give our dog enough room in the yard. But I think that once I find the house that I truly love I will be settled.

  10. I’m a drifter. I don’t really choose to move, but I’ve moved a lot.
    I’ve never lived in a house for longer than 10 years, and I’ve lived most of my life a continent and an ocean away from where I was born.
    Problematic results of that is that I’ve become a stayer with two ‘home places’ which are 5000 miles apart and no handy way to travel between them.

  11. It has been so fascinating to read everyone’s comments – I missed the launch of the post because I was out driving for work (and relishing the opportunity to take the backroads). I definitely agree that there is a continuum, as many of you have said. As a person who is so focused on place and sense of place personally and professionally, I think the attachment to place (which both movers and stayers share to different degrees) is totally fascinating!

  12. Stayer. Stayer, stayer, stayer. I don’t even really like to travel.

    I did leave home for college, however, because I hate the cold more than I hate moving, and I grew up in Massachusetts. Now I’ve been in the same college town in the South since 2002. My husband is definitely more of a mover/traveler than I am (he’s from Oregon originally, he’s studied abroad and worked in the Czech Republic for several years), but he’s gotten comfortable with the stayer lifestyle. We’re seriously looking into buying a house here in the next year or so. I can’t wait to start a garden, get a dog, and do all the great things that come with being homeowners who STAY.

    Now, I find it interesting that the OP brought up astrological signs – while I’m not exactly into astrology, I *do* feel really attached to my sun sign, Cancer. We’re homebodies. We like our shells. We’re intensely loyal to home and family. Check, check, check. 🙂

  13. Definitely a mover! I’m currently on my 49th house and I’m only 26 yrs old! Lived on 3 continents, have done 9 international moves so far (child of a pilot). I like it but my husband is not a mover, he came with me on my last international move (N.Ireland to Canada) but he’s not keen on doing it ever again.

  14. I honestly couldn’t tell you which I am. I’ve lived in the same city my whole life (I’m 26), but I have always traveled a lot, and have been to Italy twice (one of those times I studied abroad there for a month), Brasil three times, and Mexico, as well as 45 states. Since beginning college, I have moved apartments or living situations at least once a year. I’ve been at my current place for 2 years, which is the longest I’ve been in one apartment any time in the last 8 years. But those apartments have always been in the same city (with the exception of a 3-month stint in Atlanta with a now-ex), so I’m not really sure it counts as moving. I’ll be moving to a new place in May with my boyfriend (yay!), but again, it will still be in the same city. I am also graduating in May and will be trying to start my career in marketing, and am still looking for a job. We plan on being in this city for at least a year, potentially two.

    The thing is, I’ve always loved the mountains out in the western part of the US (I’m from the eastern part of the Midwest). I spent a lot of my childhood traveling out there and camping with my family, and I really, really want to move out to Denver, which seems the likeliest place to have both a successful career and access to the gorgeous outdoors. I have no idea if I’ll end up staying there long term, since careers can take you anywhere, but I’d like to always be somewhere with big mountains and amazing hiking.

  15. Mover. Total mover. Daughter of people who moved a long looooong way from their home… but who may actually have been stayers. I should ask them. God Bless Skype.

    I had a conversation once with another mover – we were actually talking mainly about the concept of Third Culture Kids -who told me she called this phenomenon Tree People or House-Plant People, which I loved and still use. It’s such an evocative image.

    The hardest part of getting married, and I think one of the reasons I struggled so much with just dating the Dude, was coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t just walk out any more. I couldn’t decide to hand in my notice and be on a plane in two weeks. My Dude is also part mover, but a big part of being a mover, for me at least, is being free to *go.* When I met the Dude, I was actually in the planning process for another international move, and although I really really wanted to date him – I nearly didn’t. All the places I wouldn’t be able to go!

    That said, I managed it, and I’m married now, and I’m getting better at satisfying my mover tendencies without having to skip town: trying new things, meeting new people, planning interesting – even if local – vacations, taking breaks from social groups when I’m feeling too stuck… I’ll never be a stayer, though. Even if I live in the same city for the next 20 years. I can stay in one place, but deep down, I keep my roots in a nice terracotta pot, ready for heading out on the road.

  16. Oh, great question! I’m definitely a mover! I always wanted to be a traveler growing up because my traveling was limited due to family finances. Once I got married, and started having kids, I realized we are probably a long ways out from having any significant funds for traveling. Luckily, due to both our jobs, we are forced to move frequently. We are just a few weeks in to our new home state in a new area of the country and we are loving the adventure! Hopefully some traveling is in the future,but for now we’ll settle on exploring our new home and surrounding areas. Our next goal is to move abroad!

    A down side to the mover lifestyle, for us, is making new connections. It takes time and sometimes circumstances do not work out for significant bonds to form. Because we are living, not visiting, we still have bills and lifestyle choices that can sometimes prohibit us from enjoying a more social experience. But there are tradeoffs for whatever lifestyle you choose. The distance from family can be hard too. At some point, you just miss out on the day-to-day experiences with your family and some relationship distance occurs. We wouldn’t want to live where we are from, but that doesn’t mean we don’t miss the people we love:)

  17. I’m really not sure where I fall. I was raised in one town, and got out of there as soon as I became an adult, going to school across the country. Since then, for 10 + years, I’ve stayed in generally the same area. I moved across the bay after college, and have lived in the same city now for 9 years. I do want to travel all over, and my career should have me traveling, ideally all over the world, much of the time. However, I like the idea of having a home base to come back to. It also helps that I live in a major city, close to good friends, and hate the logistical aspects of moving (packing sucks!). There’s a lot of world, and I definitely want to see as much of it as possible, but right now, there’s only one place I really want to be my home.

  18. I’m very much a stayer. The only time I have moved was when I left home for University at 18. I’ve now been in my adoptive home town of Liverpool for nearly 17 years. I’ve moved house a few times in that time, and I now live across the river from Liverpool, but it is very much my home. I honestly believe that there is no better place to be, it’s so full of history and folklore, and the countryside is just beautiful.

    I do want to visit other parts of the world, but not stay. I love the knowledge that I have home waiting for me and I’m quite often more excited about the return journey than the outward one.

  19. I THINK I’m a stayer, but I’m not quite sure.

    I don’t live where I grew up. I lived for twenty years in the city I grew up in and it was never home for me. I couldn’t imagine putting down roots there – never could. I can’t even begin to understand my classmates from high school who lived there all their lives and never even went away for college. So that would imply mover. I’ve lived in my ‘new’ city for five years and don’t really want to live anywhere else. So that would imply stayer. But I love Love LOVE to travel. I can’t imagine always staying in one place – there’s so much to see and experience!

    So a stayer with a travel itch?

    Interestingly, my parents have also lived in the same city for 25+ years but it is not the place they grew up in.

    And then there’s also the fact that this is probably a wildly different spectrum for me, living in the itty bitty country of the Netherlands, than it is for most of the North-American readers on this site. I mean, sure, I moved away from my childhood home, but that is still only an hour by train away. Hardly counts as moving away for most of you, probably.

  20. I am totally a mover! Get itchy feet after a while. So far two ccountries, 7 cities, and I know I am not “home” yet. Even when I lived with my parents I had to move my bedroom furniture around every couple of months.

    I have barely been in my current city 7 months and am already thinking of where we should go next, even if I do like the city very much.

    And as much as I think of me as a sort of nomad, I am starting to think it might be time to become a stayer instead to give my daughter some sort of stability, I just haven’t figured out where I want to stay yet..

  21. I am definitely a mover. My parents are both stayers and I remember begging to move while we were growing up. I wanted to see the world! But my mom had lived in 3 houses all her life and my dad was a stayer who grew up as a military brat so they never wanted to change. That’s fine. As soon as I could I moved out. My first move was an hour away. I realized that wasn’t far enough and so at 22 I moved 12 hours away. This kept my itch at bay for a couple years but the last 3 years, my itch has been back and with a vengeance. It will settle for nothing less than a cross country move. So I am preparing for one. And I’m in luck because I fell in love with a career Naval submariner who has a similar desire for that area. We will go… and eventually, we will go again. My itch will always be soothed and the government will pay for it and now I feel comfortable considering children with such an itch.

  22. I’m pretty sure I’m a stayer, but it’s not about the place so much I think, it’s about the people.
    My mom is definitely a mover and she controlled that by moving five times before I could finish high school…but always in the same area so that I could stay at the same school. But the second I finished (like, literally, the day after prom), we moved 200 km away.

    I stayed there for 3 years and then moved back to Montreal for university. I’ve moved 4 times since I came here in 2005, but more out of necessity than anything else. I love Montreal. But what I love most is being close to my high school friends again. I don’t think I could move away from all the people I love. Moving to Toronto might be better for my career at some point, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it. Scratch that, I’m pretty sure I won’t. Not that Toronto doesn’t have potential as a city, but…my people! And I’m not sure how I would deal with living outside of Quebec. That would be something else entirely.

  23. A stayer.

    That being said, I’ve moved 2,500 miles from my birthplace for grad school, and I’ll move again for a post-doc, and I’ll move again for a faculty position. I’ll move again if I have to do so in order to get tenure.

    I have plans, and they have usually involved me having horses and a small homestead-farm and a bunch of cats and dogs. That’s hard to do as a mover. However, my career is also important to me, so I’ll move to make it happen. Once I get to a place, though – I put down roots like whoa. I also miss my old home like crazy – it comes in waves. I need my base-camp, though – my safe place from which to explore the world. I want to see the world – I’m disappointed that I’ve only made it to two continents thus far. I’d like to hit six, if not all seven in my life time. There is a ton to see and do. I’d love it if my post-doc was on another continent. All of this being said, though – I still long for that farm, those horses (friesians!), and that garden.

    So – a stayer who puts down roots, wherever she has to move to?

    • I am earlier on the career path than you, halfway through my masters, but that is one of my dilemmas in life. I am a mover, and will happily move anywhere else for the next path on my career (ideally a phd) but I have a 3yr old daughter now, and I keep thinking she will need some stability, so it might be best to become stayers, but if I move back to where my family is my career options are very limited and I would have to leave science and have to go into industry or teaching…

  24. I’m definitely like the friends you’ve mentioned. I love the Pacific Northwest, especially Oregon. Especially Eugene, though I’m not living there now for employment reasons. I would never want to live anywhere but Oregon, Washington or B.C. permanently, but I LOVE to travel, and would love to live other places temporarily. I’ve run into a lot of movers, but for me, as much as I’ve traveled, I know I want to end up in the PNW.

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