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’ve often thought about this phenomenon as well, being the child of a British national and a US citizen. By the time I was 16, I had lived in three different countries (and different places within those countries) and attended six different schools. My friends were movers too, due to our parents’ jobs, so I had a new best friend every two years or so. Although I am very grateful for the slightly more ‘global’ perspective and open-mindedness my upbringing gave me, I’ve always longed to be part of a strong group of friends that have known eachother since they were in school, and having my extended family right around the corner.

    My ‘mover’ upbringing followed me into adulthood – I studied languages at university (in the UK, where my immediate family eventually settled after my father retired) and ended up living in Spain for two years and Portugal for a month. I’ve always been open to the prospect of packing up and living in a different place for a year or two and then moving on. However, I then met my now-husband, who comes from a long line of stayers. He’s never lived outside of his country, although he is open to it. I love the fact that all his family lives so close by (while half of mine are on the other side of the Atlantic), and that his friends have known him since he was a teenager. I tend to forge friendships with other movers like myself and, as a result, they are prone to moving! Three of my closest friends now live abroad, and although we stay in touch, it’s not quite the same as seeing eachother every week to chat and hang out.

    I’m beginning to realise that relationships are more important to me than anything else. I’m still envious of people who are part of groups of friends that have known eachother since they were kids. That was never an option for me. Making friends as an adult is arduous, and I’m more inclined to stay put so I can form close relationships with stayers or other movers-turned-stayers like myself.

  2. I don’t know where I fit into this! My parents are definitely movers, and I lived in four different places as a kid. When I was eighteen I moved out, and moved a long way from my parents. So I would have thought, mover? But then now I’m here, I really have no desire to leave. I just had to get the hell away from where I was!

  3. As I’ve been reading through the comments, I’ve seen an interesting pattern emerge. It seems like there is a fine line between life experience (being moved/staying) versus patterns of desire (wanting to move/stay). I know my husband is a bit of a frustrated stayer – he’s very attached to his childhood home and community (which no one in his family still lives in) but he has moved a bit over the past decade for all the usual reasons – education, jobs, etc. But I know deep down he’s a stayer and he’s looking to stay.

    John Steinbeck describes the opposite in Travels with Charley. When he mentions his cross-country trip to people in small towns, he can tell that some of them are just itching to go but they never will. Frustrated movers, if you will. He argues in a sense that moving/moverness is an American characteristic; after all, most of us wouldn’t be here if our ancestors hadn’t been willing to explore.

  4. That theory makes so much sense!

    I am one hell of a stayer. I always joke that for me, the world is divided into ‘South London’ and ‘All The Other Places’, which is… not far off accurate.
    I lived in the same house for all but three years of my life, and my current home is just over ten miles from the hospital that I was born in.
    I think the longest I have ever been away from South London is ten days.

    In recent years I’ve become better at travelling. I struggle with anxiety and unfamiliar places, but my partner likes to travel so I’ve had to stretch my boundaries a bit.

    At the same time, I’ve become more militant about identifying as a South Londoner… to the point of writing angry folk songs about local town planning.
    I think a big part of that has been my partner moving down here. When you’ve always been in one place, it’s easy to get into a rut and ignore what’s on the doorstep because it’s not part of the set routine.
    Wandering round with someone who had never really been here before made me realise just how much more there was to explore. It made the area both familiar and new-and-shiny at the same time, which was rather magical. Still is, really.

    • It’s funny that you mention anxiety – my anxiety is actually better when I’m travelling.
      I always feel as if I’m slightly out of place, or that everybody else knows what’s going on while I have no clue. When I’m travelling that actually becomes true, my interior matches my exterior, which then helps lessen the anxiety about it.
      As long as I can eventually go home to my burrow and my stuff.

  5. Like the author, I’m a mover descended from movers. Part of this is growing up as a military brat (ie. my parents were in the military). When you’re part of that particular subculture, it becomes the norm to pack up and move every 3 years or so because your parent has a new assignment. There are some really fascinating articles out there on how that influences the personalities of military brats, but one of the assertions is that thanks to those early experiences, moving every few years becomes a comfortable norm for us. (Horrific run-on sentence for the win!) I’ve found that to be true for myself and my brothers and sisters, but I do know people who grew up in the military and want nothing so much as to stay in one place and put down roots. From my experience, they’re in the minority, but they’re out there.

  6. I’m a stayer so hard. Until I was 10, we would move around every 1-2 years, and I hated it. Then, when I lived in the same town from 4th grade until I graduated high school, I swore that when I had kids, I would raise them in the same town from birth to graduation.

    I don’t know if the *stayer* part is also connected to the fact that once we settled in a town, I met my husband a year later (in 5th grade!), but I know that it takes me a long time to make connections and feel close to someone/somewhere. I love feeling like a place is home, but it takes years for that feeling to kick in.

  7. I’m a stayer, but I like to explore. I fantasize about moving to other places, but when it comes down to it, I realized that it takes me a long to establish myself and build a community (I’ve lived in the same place for 4 years, and just now feel like it’s become my community and I have friends and people I wouldn’t want to leave.).

    My husband and I are talking about selling our house, and moving somewhere nearby, but possibly in a different community. My instinct is to dig my heels in and stay- the neighborhood’s not bad, I like my house, we have friends and family nearby- even though there have been many times we have wanted to move to a different area.

    I’m a homebody and I don’t want to give up my safe zone. I think I’m slowing getting on board with moving, but it takes a lot of convincing myself that it’s actually a potentially good idea.

  8. I’m definitely a mover. I have never lived anywhere for more than 5 years my entire life. And my 5 year old son has lived in 6 different homes.

    …but… I really, really am trying to be a stayer. I think there’s something healthy in an emotional attachment to a community that I am missing. And I really want that for my kids.

  9. I am a mover by upbringing and a mover at heart. I’m a stayer by circumstance. For the time being. I’ve been in not only the same state for the last nine years, but the same house. I have been itching for at least seven of those years to be elsewhere. Not because it’s a terrible place (though it doesn’t suite me as well as some others have) or because I don’t like the house or my roomies/family. Just because I like being in new places. I like the process of setting up house anew and getting to know a place. I’m hoping that in the next two years I will finally be in a position to move somewhere new. In the meantime, I’m hoping to increase the amount of traveling I do- even small day trips- to help feed my need for novelty, which has been sorely neglected this last near-decade.

  10. I married a stayer, but I’m somewhere in the middle. Even though I grew up in Florida and only moved once within town, I found myself traveling a lot because my dad’s family had done a lot of moving over the years. They were Dutch-Indonesian immigrants that first escaped a revolution then came to the US when my grandfather landed a job at Boeing. Even though my dad ended up being a stayer, I understood the draw to be a mover that dominated the rest of my family. I came to detest Florida and wanted out when I graduated high school. However, the state gave me money to go to college, so I didn’t leave until 2007. I adore Minnesota but am ambivalent about how I feel in regards to it being a more family friendly area. The stability is nice, and job opportunities are better. However, I’m pursuing retraining in IT so I can be open to new jobs in other places so we might be able to leave when we’re in our early 40s and the mortgage is paid off. Of course, if the US attitude toward atheism gets any worse, we may have to leave, anyway, and a part of me would be more than okay with that.

  11. I have the desire to be a mover without the means. I relocated to another state for college and felt like I was some kind of failure for ending up back in the town I was from when it was all done with. My parents are both movers – my mom relocated to MA from ND and my dad from ME. So I always anticipated being in a different state once I had settled into my adult life. My fiancee is definitely a stayer – we live close to where she grew up and she likes it that way. I’m trying to convince her to make a solid plan and set aside savings for an out of country move. We’ll see how that goes!

  12. i’m somewhere in between. my mom did a little bit of moving around for a little while in her twenties and settled a couple hours from her family and my dad’s (both stayers). i lived in the same place from birth till i moved 1/3 of the way across the country for grad school. then i stayed there as long as i could before moving even farther west. i think, really, i’m a stayer at heart though. that’s not to say that i don’t want to see the world and travel…i just need a place to put down roots, if that makes sense. a place to come back to and recharge after doing said travel.

  13. YES! I am a mover. My husband and I moved to our 3rd state (my 5th city in 10 years) almost 2 years ago. Being somewhere where we both have amazing, long-term, career building jobs and buying a house has freaked me the fuck out. Staying in one place is scary to me. I keep searching for the next adventure. This piece puts it such simple terms, I can’t believe I never realized before that I am a mover. Everything makes so much more sense!

    FYI. I by no means plan to stay here forever, just for the next 5-10 years (that freaks me out). I still haven’t lived in the mountains, somewhere tropical, or a foreign country, so obviously I have more moving to do.

  14. I’m definitely a mover! My parents and me moved two times before I turned eighteen and moved out, and then I moved another three times. So I’m twenty-two now and have lived in five places in three different provinces (my current city is one I’ve lived in before) and lived abroad for a year as well. I had some trouble adapting to small town life when I moved away from a city at age twelve, and as someone who grew up in an international school environment as a kid even though I was not an immigrant, it was tough to slip back into non-expact mode after I moved back to this country. Nobody to speak English with and nobody else struggling with the locals – because I AM a local! And so are my friends! It’s so weird. Like someone else commented above, I also can’t wait to finish graduate school so I can move again!

    It’s going to be tough when my parents are older. They will be the only ones in the small town old people’s home who don’t speak the local regional language, my father will definitely be deaf anyway, and I’m an only child, so I may have to reconsider my options then to save them from utter isolation.

  15. I was raised a stayer so I have a strong homebody desire. However, my whole adult life has been two years here, two years there, three years somewhere else, and I’m itching to move again. I think I’d love to stay someplace, I just haven’t found the place I want to stay yet.

  16. I may be the stayer-est stayer that ever stayed. I never moved as a child, my parents bought the house they live in, and I grew up in, four years before I was born. I went to a local suitcase college, only about 45 minutes away and in the beginning I came home almost every weekend. My fiancé and I were high school sweethearts and we grew up just 5 blocks apart. He also never moved growing up. When we were looking to buy a house we looked mainly in the neighboring city just to do something different, but I was having major anxiety over the fact that “Home” would be more than 20 minutes away and it was hard to think about. The house we ended up buying is only 10 minutes away from our parents, still in our hometown. I can’t imagine the thought of my parents ever moving out of “our house” even though my mom has mentioned that she thinks she could someday, and my in-laws mention moving when my sister-in-law graduates college in a few years on a regular basis.
    I’ve always thought that it must be so much easier to move later in life when you’ve done it before as a child, but since I never have, I get very attached to my home and it’s history. I really do wish I was more of a mover. It would make things much less difficult down the road if we ever decide to move to a bigger house when we have children! I want the freedom to be able to decide to move to that other city some day, but I know it’s going to be hard on me.

  17. I’m a mover, hard. I’m not always able to go anywhere but I have the itchy feet. I get restless especially when I feel like things are going wrong which is usually the catalyst for a trip, house move or city move.
    I’ve got a ‘not all those who wander are lost’ tattoo which I love to death. Definitely an identity thing for me, for sure.

    I’ve married a homebody who has already travelled. Luckily he’s willing to follow me around some on holidays when we can afford it but I really need to make it happen, take full responsibility. Luckily I enjoy local roadtrips even though it ‘s not quite the same as a big trip

    He did flip out a little when I wanted to move out of our house when the lease was up. It’s natural to me and exasperating for him. He said we don’t have to move just because we can. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve moved couch/house/city. It’s coming up the longest I’ve continuously lived in one city soon.
    I’m travelling for work currently which is good though lots of unrelated things have gone wrong which is hard.

    I think I’m in a bit of a weird transition state. I’ll always have the wanderlust I think and curiosity to discover but I’ve been lucky to find stability in every sense with my partner and also I’ve grown up since we met so I think the panic roots of my need to move around all the time is less. It’s complex!

    • I started to edit but I think it needs its own comment.
      Another complex thing for me is how rooted I feel in my earth, papatuanuku. If I have a spirituality this is it. I feel it in my feet when I am home, and it is different when I am away. When I was born the placenta was planted under a native tree on our front lawn and I believe this is part of it. When I shaved my head on a significant occasion I buried it there too.
      So I have this connection to my country and even the hometown I will never live in again but also this need to just keep going
      The other factor for me is a partner whose family are all in one place vs mine who are spread all over the world and not close – also a complex coming of age thing for me

  18. This is so spot on for me right now! I’ve been having this exact conversation with my parents, my best friend, and my boss recently. I am absolutely a mover. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a special kind of excitement that I associate with house hunting and the potential of empty rooms, just waiting for them to become “mine.” My best friend is absolutely a stayer. She and her husband recently bought a house, which they plan to live in basically forever, and I expect them to start that whole baby thing before too long. I did a year of graduate school in the same town as her for the sake of being close, and then got restless again and went back to full-time work. Right now I’m only 60 miles away from her and happy enough in my job, but really I want to move to Thailand or Africa or Turkey or . . . and everyone in my life wants me to stay exactly where I am. I love where I live right now. I loved where I lived last year, too, and where I spent the first 18 years of my life, but I’m feeling that itchy feeling between my shoulder blades (or maybe on the soles of my feet, I don’t know) that says, “there are SO MANY PLACES! And I want to know them ALL!” Oh so terrifying, the thought of actually buying a house and having to live in it for some undisclosed amount of time.

  19. I moved alot as a child but mostly from house to house in the same city. i wasnt until i was in highschool that i actually was moved out of state and you know what i actually liked it down there in alabama. I moved back to my old home town when i was 20 and now that im 26 i wanna move again. But not to far i wanna move in state. but its some place i wanna raise a family in so im a bit of a mover and a bit of a stayer. i kind of think of it as if your not happy with your place change it. If you wanna find someplace better then start hunting. but i like the idea of a place you grow up in and your parents living there and you inheriting the house. i just couldnt see myself being that person

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