The Agony of Helping Someone Move

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“Hell is helping an unprepared person move to another place.”

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I should win a writing competition for that one sentence alone. I’ve heard legends of people who are both motivated to help themselves and be prepared in advance of moving residences. Like unicorns speaking Japanese, they are exceedingly rare, if they indeed do exist. Even the venerable Dante would’ve tossed the white towel in, contemplating someone else move from one house to another.

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Before I start, this blog entry isn’t about you. You are a great person. You’re motivated, organized, and never procrastinate. When you ask someone for help, you are going to do everything you can to ensure that other people’s time is appreciated. This story is about those other miscreants, the ones who incite insanity in their friends and family. (Likewise, I am equally innocent in the finely crafted art of abusing one’s friends and family in the quixotic quest to move.) Let’s collectively shake our heads in disapproval at those fools who don’t plan ahead – and meanwhile hope that the “lightning of hypocrisy” doesn’t smite us. (Or as John Oliver so eloquently put it, “The mittens of disapproval.”) I’m not telling this story to embarrass anyone – as no one will know who I’m talking about. If you mistakenly think I’m talking about you, you are wrong. Even if you insist that, yes, I am talking about you (which I’m not), no purpose will be achieved by your raising your hand in objection.

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Moving tip #7: ‘Moving’ is not the same as ‘packing.’ Are you asking for help to ‘move’ or to ‘pack?’ Critically important.

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Moving tip #7, part (a): When you show up to assist in a move, you expect to mostly touch large objects or stacks of packed boxes, rather than 1256 loose dolls, mismatched plates, and memorabilia from a 1997 New Kids on the Block collection – covered in dust, spider webs, or cat urine.

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If you are being helped to move, please don’t come into the living room to see a group of sweaty, irritable people and say something helpful like “Be careful with that, it’s valuable.” No, no it is NOT valuable. It is crap that no one in the northern hemisphere would want in their living room. And, as a matter of fact, we are being as careful as we can, even though we want to build a catapult and see how far we can launch your monstrosities into the field behind your apartment.

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While I’m at it, please also NEVER say this: “If you break it, you have to replace it.” Please read the Mover’s Credo. It clearly stipulates that unless the person moving is paying you twice the going labor rate and is responsible for damage to both your body and vehicles, the people helping to move are allowed to do literally anything to your stuff, including testing explosives with it, hammering things randomly with old shoes, and standing inside the drawers of your vanity.

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Moving tip #7, part (b): Time and effort are valuable. Respecting your friend’s time and energy for helping is the minimum reciprocal evidence of this. Be prepared as much as humanly possible before people show up. Each case is different. People love helping people who are helping themselves and not wasting their time. People also love not answering calls or texts from those who do not follow standard moving protocol. If you want to hear creative excuses from people, mistreat them once during a move. They will act as if your hair is shooting hot strands of Ebola and you will never see them again unless they accidentally appear on “America’s Most Wanted.”

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Moving tip #2: If you are moving, don’t get mad or frustrated at those who are helping. There are those who say that good friends (or family) will help – and help in any fashion possible. They will also say that you shouldn’t put conditions on those you are helping. (Such as, “If you show up and the people moving are still asleep, hungover, on the couch, you should smile and do whatever is asked without complaint.”) Those people are not only wrong, but also of the same ilk you might find at Amway conventions or trying to ice skate in their socks.

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Moving tip #234: If you move too often, don’t pretend you can’t understand why people aren’t lining up to help you. It’s okay to move once and a while, but if you are moving more often than someone needing a crack fix, you don’t need friends to help you move, you need a life coach and counseling. As a last resort, please also consider buying a U-Haul truck and convert it into an apartment – cutting out all the middlemen in the process. Think of it as an impromptu trailer, or as the crazy people refer to them, “manufactured housing.” (P.S. As someone who has lived in trailers, they are not housing. They are intense psychological devices used to gauge how crazy someone might get before moving to Siberia for the view.)

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Moving tip #1: If you are not using professional movers, it needs to be because you can’t afford it, and not because you’ve planned poorly or would rather use the money to go to the casino, eat lunch out every day of the week, or because you want to buy a car or purse that costs more than major dental work. Not using professional movers is a last resort. No one likes packing 16,000 boxes and loose items into every available vehicle and then caravanning down the road like a band of homeless nomads, items piled over, under, and around each vehicle. Losing a dresser on the highway is stupid. Putting your third cousin in the back of the pickup truck to hold is steady so that it won’t fall is stupid, too. It’s darned funny watching him try to not fly over the hood of the truck like a drunken trapeze artist, though. If you are driving such a vehicle, hit the brakes randomly and with considerable force just to learn what a screaming, angry cousin looks like in the rearview mirror.

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Moving tip #45: Except in cases of emergency, moving is a massive planning activity. Don’t wait until the last month, week, day or hour. Build a time machine, if necessary, to get it all done.

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Moving tip #89: The reality is that most of your stuff should probably not be moved; rather, it should be thrown without regard into large rectangular containers with “Waste Management” emblazoned on the side.

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Moving tip #3: Moving is the perfect time to evaluate your hoarding tendency. With the exception of really poor people, most people have too much personal garbage masquerading as “stuff we need.” Unless you are going to use your 7 sets of dinnerware to hold an impromptu Skeet Shoot, discard it happily.

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Moving tip #51: If you choose to have people help you move and if you are able, pay those helping you. Pay them generously. Feed them. Honor their time. Good friends won’t take advantage of your offer and neither should you take advantage of your friends.

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Moving tip #56: If friends or family offer to pitch in financially to help you pay movers, accept this offer without condition. It saves friendships, reduces stress, and avoids many of the pitfalls of moving. There is no crime in someone having money to donate to make your life easier.

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Moving tip #85: Don’t get mad at anyone for refusing to help you move – they’ve probably been abused in the process of helping others and have learned to use any available lame excuse to get out of it. People have bad backs, sore arms, and things going on in their lives that are unknown to everyone else. Don’t pressure them with anger or guilt – unless you are a female over 45 with grandchildren. If that’s the case, guilt the hell out of them, as it is part of your role in society to be that way.

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Moving tip #99: Moving is not a chance to spend time with your friends and family. If you say, “Well, moving gives us a chance to spend time together,” you need to reconsider how you plan your social calendar. Moving is not a social engagement, it is a horrid load of work and stress, one which presents constant opportunity to become stressed, angry or injured – this isn’t the case with parties or get-togethers. No one wants to help you move – not really. We will help because it is the right thing to do, or somehow hope that you will reciprocate if we ever need a hand. At any moment, there is someone helping who is fantasizing about killing you to get out of further moving. You can bank on it.

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Moving tip #46: if you are moving, have every single thing in boxes or packaged BEFORE anyone shows up to “help.” Unless someone has volunteered to help you with the boxing. (The other acceptable case is if you have rented a compactor or large trash dumpster to just throw your stuff directly into.)

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A few years ago, I was involved in a couple of moves that ruined my entire outlook. Being naturally grouchy before the moves only amplified my displeasure at how they turned out. In one instance, several able-bodied people were supposed to show up to a house with everything packed and ready to be loaded. It turned out to be me and just one other person. Nothing in the house was packed, nothing had been disassembled, and no organizational plan had been started. To make matters worse, the entire house was covered in animal feces and urine. Every item we touched was wet, smeared, or had animal waste on it or under it. The floors were slippery with it. For a week after trying to move this house, I had the stench of it in my nostrils. My wife watched me gag and recoil at even common smells. This sounds like an exaggeration for effect. I’m not embellishing. Nothing in the house should have been salvaged. It should have all been thrown in the dump. It was disgusting. I felt bad for the people I was moving, but I also felt righteously angry at myself for not saying “Hell, no!” when I realized how bad it was. We had no running water to wash with, or to drink. And the house had no running air. We were trapped in a death box of animal waste. I routinely mentally reference that experience as I watch episodes of “Hoarders.” As I watch, I sometimes tell myself that it pales in comparison to what I’ve experienced.

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I’ll never do it again. I swore to not help anyone after that incident. I broke my word to myself because circumstances put me in a difficult situation. Before I neglect to say so, that’s another key point: people who need help are exempt from all my ranting nonsense. If you are sick, elderly, or unable physically or mentally, we will jump in and help to our ability. We might crack sarcastic jokes, but we don’t resent you as a person for needing help. We just despise the act of moving. We like you and want to help – but at the same time, helping unprepared people move is only slightly better than watching your dentist do a root canal on the wrong tooth.

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If someone asks me to help, I offer to pitch in to pay for professional movers and/or a moving truck. If 4 or 5 people offer the same, we can pay for the same service I would have provided to family or friends. Except that we all know you weren’t going to have all your stuff gathered and ready to be picked up once and put on a large vehicle. We are going to show up and find you on the couch, drool hanging from your mouth, piles of dirty laundry amassed nearby, and all hope escaping from your house in a dark, black cloud.

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I highly recommend paying young people or college students to help move. They are, after all, supposed to be learning. Moving helps them to understand the cruelty of human nature, as even the “Lord of the Flies” fails to compare when stacked against the incivility and brutality of the average move. After they’ve been paid to move someone, sit them down and tell them if they fail to meet their life goals, they might have to do such a job for a living. I’m certain that the horrific experience of moving will indeed provide the exact motivation for any intelligent person to recoil in horror and to gather his or her ambition with renewed fervor.

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(I’ve heard rumors that the State of Indiana is considering eliminating prisons and instead going to force convicted felons to help people move. The ACLU is already preparing a challenge based on ‘excessive cruelty.’)

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Moving tip #134: the rolls of packing tape can be used to subdue and silence anyone standing around talking instead of helping.

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Now that I have written all that: I have just one question. Will you help me move this Saturday?

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