Nomadic PTSD: A Tale of Four Kitchens in One Year

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So, I have a confession: after all of this wandering, traveling, temporary living, etc., I actually feel kind of blah about moving into our new home. In the past, when we have picked a home, I’ve gotten to work right away on planning the rooms, thinking about colors, and leafing through shelter magazines for inspiration. I have a stack of magazines here, but can’t seem to get into them. I think that there’s a part of me that just refuses to believe that we get to really stay somewhere.
Our Portland kitchen, refurbished and well-used for 3 years.

The idea of buying furniture and rugs and curtains fills me with dread, thinking of how we will get rid of those things when we inevitably have to move. We’ve done it over and over again, three times in one year. We have spent so much money on stuff that we need in order to live, and we have had to turn around and sell it or give it away.

Our Bavarian kitchen, lovingly used for just 7 months.

While many people who grew up overseas tend to have the urge to pick up and move every few years, I developed the opposite pattern. Once I was back in the States, I did everything I could to stay put. As a college student, I lived in the same apartment for three years, which is very long at that life stage! I like to dig in, get to know my neighbors and my mailman. That said, I do have a strong sense of adventure and an expectation that taking risks can be very rewarding. But if someone told me “you will liquidate your belongings and leave that house you’ve been working on for three years, move to Germany, barely get settled, and then have to get rid of your things and leave again,  then you will live in the US, unemployed and wondering what is going on for five months, set up house temporarily and then disassemble it again, three months later, sleep in 20 different beds, and then move to England and live in temporary housing situations for two months before you get to be home again,” I would have gone into my bedroom, crawled into bed, and not gotten out again. Ever.

Our Bend kitchen— sparsely furnished, used for 3 months.

But here we are, and we survived. OK, so we did more than survive. We found our dream house, and we never would have imagined that we could afford to be in a home like it. Our move-in date has been pushed back twice now, but all systems are a go for moving in on Monday.

Our Bury St. Edmunds kitchen, small but full of potential…

On that day, our crate of the things we managed to keep from Germany will be delivered, and I will have graduated from our “loaner” dishes and kitchenware. We will have real glasses to drink out of, our winter coats and favorite items from German flea markets. Even our super-comfortable German mattresses, which I have missed every single night for the last seven months. Somehow, this is all hard for me to believe! I can’t seem to wrap my mind around stability. It’s hard for me to trust that we’re here, and we’re staying. Jeff has a great job, and his co-workers are wonderful, and his position is secure. Amelia is in school. I can get a job here. All signs point to permanence. There is one thing really bothering me, though– our lease is just for one year. It’s the first time the owner has let his home, and he made this choice based on a romantic relationship he is moving away to deepen. I keep thinking, “What if it doesn’t work out? What if we get all settled in, and have to move next year? What if…”  I used to be able to easily think, nothing is certain in life, but most things work out. Now it’s harder. Yes, we’re totally fine, we survived a truly crazy year, and also had fun at the same time. I just wish I knew, really knew that this was it, that we are going to be home. I have to remind myself– one year can be a very long time. Staying in one house for one whole year (at the very least) will be amazing. Now, if I can only find a dining table…

[Editor’s note: You might like to check out my updated version of this Bury St. Edmunds kitchen, now that we’ve been here a year!]

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23 Responses to Nomadic PTSD: A Tale of Four Kitchens in One Year

  1. Bethany September 29, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I’m taking deep breaths trying to stave off the panic attack nearly triggered by your post! I am exaggerating a little bit, but I was flooded with memories of my own nomadic PTSD. Did you know we moved 6 times while we were in the Philippines for 3 1/2 years? I am slowly realizing that the burnout we were feeling was more severe than we realized at the time. I hope you enjoy a year (and more) of stability. I hope your land owner’s romantic relationship works out, so you can stay longer. I hope you enjoy unpacking your treasures. I hope you find the other things you need quickly and without much hassle. Now, I am slowly learning for the first time what it’s like to live in one place. I think I have finally figured out how to clean cobwebs and dust bunnies without having to move all my belongings into a moving truck first. I didn’t realize it was possible 😉

  2. Karen Kellerford September 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Such delight! An so much angst! The angst and the delight are part of the same package; life! Hurrah! You have already done the unthinkable, and not only survived but thrived! Amelia will reap the benefits of these experiences for the rest of her life. Truly, the only thing that is certain in this life is that nothing ever stays the same. That is the way of nature. We creatures crave the comfort of perceived stability. And this is where faith in a power bigger than nature comes to the rescue! I love you, Ariana! Your posts are such a gift to the world. Thank you for being willing to share your heart. Thank you for not hiding away your gift in some journal kept in the nightstand drawer. You are an inspiration to me, and I am certain, many others! You, as you already know, are going to be just fine! Now, embrace the present and allow yourself joy. I can hardly wait to see how you will transform this newest abode into a beautiful place uniquely yours!

  3. Grandma Seelye September 30, 2011 at 12:14 am #

    Yes Ariana thanks for letting us look over your shoulder as you write in your journal! I love to hear your thoughts. Praying for you in this transition. Love you.

  4. Anonymous September 30, 2011 at 12:42 am #

    A beautiful story, thank you for sharing. Life is a journey. I once thought permanence meant home, that owning a home meant stability, and that stability was a given.

    We lost our home to foreclosure after 6 years (with three children that I thought adored our home). But after job loss and income decrease, we learned nothing is stable, nothing is permanent, and home means so many different things to different people. For us, it is where our family is (my husband, children and I).

    Now we are on our own journey of self discovery. However I neither have the skills needed to work overseas, nor the courage. I want to do it, I would LOVE to do it, instead I read your blog (and others) to get a glimpse of the beauty found elsewhere. In the meantime I am learning to make home where we live now, today, no matter how long today is meant to last. And I am learning to cherish all of the lessons learned and the memories created.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, the beauty of your surroundings, and your inspirational design in every place you have made your home.


  5. C*S September 30, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    I know what you mean. We rented and moved so many times during the first 9 years of our marriage that when we finally bought a house, it took me 3 years to finally realize we were really staying and I could do something to it and I finally unpacked the last of my boxes. I didn’t even put up curtains for 3 years because I was so tired of spending money on curtains that didnt’ fit the next house I was in. Nomadic PTSD is very real. Do only what thrills your heart in this house. Save your money for your forever home that you buy someday. Hope you get to stay for more than a year though. That is a cute kitchen. Cadi

  6. Ariana September 30, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Thank you so much for all of your encouraging comments!
    Bethany– I did NOT know you moved so many times while you were in the Philippines! That sounds so crazy, especially with two young ones! I imagine it feels really good to be home now.

    A. Karen– thank you so much for your encouragement. It has felt good knowing we had family tracking with us, caring about all the twists and turns. And I appreciate our comment about sharing– it does feel vulnerable at times, but what’s the point in writing about our life, if I can’t be real about it? We don’t have friends here yet, so this is therapeutic for me to “talk” about here.

    Gabrielle– thank you for sharing a bit of your story, as well. Life can be such a nail-biter. I’m sorry you lost your house, and wish all sorts of good things for you and your family, as you redefine “home.” And thank you for tracking with us on our journey!

    Cadi– thanks for relating to this feeling I have of uneasiness! I like your advice to just do what I love this time around, without feeling the need to complete the whole house. That is something I struggle with– I always go “all in” on everything! I’m learning…

  7. Señorita September 30, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    First off, loved the photos of the kitchens. I especially liked the first two shots. Second, your writing just drew me in. It is not fun at all to be unsettled. I have been living like that for a couple of years here in New York and I’m hoping that this year I will buy and be settled. But, life is unpredictable. Sometimes, even when we seem settled, that is when the unexpected comes and ‘unsettles’ us. I hope that the unpredictability of life does not rob you of your joy of living in your dream house… Enjoy and keep posting 😉

  8. Megan September 30, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Ah, my friend! You make such beautiful homes out of wherever you are for however long you’re there. I can relate too, those three years that we migrated across the US from west coast to east with stints of summers in Europe in between each move. I had a beloved coffee cup with a sparrow on it that I took everywhere with me, and sometimes, just putting it on a windowsill felt like claiming a space, however temporary, for my own. A year is a long – and short – time, but a comfortable mattress of your own makes things feel a whole lot easier. Three cheers for your boxes from Germany arriving. Hope it feels like the best kind of Christmas, where everything you open is exactly what you wanted!

  9. Melissa October 2, 2011 at 3:14 am #

    Until I had kids, I never gave myself a chance to settle down anywhere, so I can completely relate to nomadic PTSD! Although I lived in the same house since the day I was born until the day I went off to college, I managed to make up for all of that stability very quickly. I went to three different colleges in three different cities (none of them my home town) before I even reached the second semester of my sophomore year. I finally settled down at one college, only to escape the last semester of my senior year to study in Europe. I then headed to Asia where I lived in seven different apartments in just three years.

    But then I got married and had kids and decided to settle down for a while, so we bought a house in the US. It was nice to finally have a place that I could call my own and that I could alter to my liking. I think years of living in rentals with white walls and floor plans that drove me nuts really took a toll on me since I went a little overboard on my own home. We ended up gutting the entire second floor. We’re doing all of the work ourselves, so it’s been a two and a half year process. We are just now putting the finishing touches on all of the rooms. It’s so nice to have a place that we designed to our liking, but unfortunately, we won’t be able to enjoy t for too long. My husband’s company has asked us to go to Brazil for two years and we’ll be moving in January. I’m excited for the move, but disappointed that we won’t even be able to enjoy all our remodeling efforts, and extremely disappointed that I will have to start all over again decorating our apartment in Brazil – especially since we will only be there for two years.

  10. Andrew October 2, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    Wow, so much chaos. I hope you guys are able to stay as long as you want. It looks like a great place.
    I’m just finishing the renovations on my place after nearly 2 years of living in at least partial construction zone. It feels nice to have a home. I am also looking for a new job, but there isn’t so much here. it is annoying to think about the possibility of moving so soon. I am not a nomad either. I LOVE to see other places, but I like my cosy little cave to come back and snuggle in. We shall see.

    Again congrats on finding your dream.

  11. Ariana October 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Senorita– thank you so much for your kind comments, and I appreciate the reminder to allow myself to have the joy of being there for as much time as I can. I think writing this kind of thing out really helps me to process and release these feelings.

    Meg– you are right, tomorrow will be like the most amazing Christmas every! We are all super excited to be able to have some things back that we had grown fond of, and made us feel at home in Germany. I can’t wait!!

    Melissa– boy, it would be really challenging to live in the middle of all of those projects and then have to move away when they’re finished! Will you be returning to that house after your time in Brazil? I wonder if it’s helpful to know that you will be in a place for exactly two years when you get there, since you can better calculate what changes you make and furniture and such is going to be worth to you. But I also think it would make it hard to commit and enjoy setting up home, knowing you’ll be leaving. I wish you well in your upcoming move!

    Andrew– I wish you the best of luck in finding a new job. Especially now that you’ve renovated your place, brought a new wife, and feel so settled in. Yes, constant travel can get old; it’s really great to venture out a bit and then come home and feel at rest there.

  12. Great Scott October 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Moving around–especially with a family–is an adventure full of joys and heart pangs. It sounds like you have had your fair share of upheavals (20 beds!) and you all deserve a nice nesting and resting spot for a while. And it seems you have found it! What a strong person you are to do so much, document it all and find some positive instead of crawling into that bathroom!!! Enjoy the year and I send good vibes for a longer stay your way…

  13. Ariana October 4, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    Great Scott– thank you very much for your well wishes! I understand that you just moved to the UK as well, and so I send you the same; may your transition be seamless and full of unexpected delights.

  14. Melissa October 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    We’re not sure what is going to happen once our two years are up in Brazil. We were told three possibilities: it could possibly turn into three years, they may send us to another country, or they would send us back to the midwest but not to the same office my husbands works out of now (could be closer to our house or even further away) It’s really hard to not know what’s to come, but that’s pretty much life, isn’t it? We won’t be able to sell the house due to the housing market (it’s dropped $20,000 in value since we bought it in 2006) but we’re not sure if we will ever live in the area again so we are totally in limbo. We are going to try to rent it out, but we still need to finish remodeling before we can do that. My husband leaves in about a month and a half and I’ll meet him there in January, so we are really running out of time to finish all the work!

    Hope your house is coming together! The pictures you posted earlier look so charming. At least you have a great base to start from. Our apartment in Brazil is completely white – walls, flooring, counters and all. It’s very blah and not at all homey in it’s empty state.

  15. Ariana October 5, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Melissa– it must be such a strange feeling to really not know what will be next. We are sort of in the same boat, except that we have no property or belongings in the US anymore. When we were in the States this last time, we went ahead and emptied out our storage unit and got rid of most things there (mementos are in the attic at my in-laws) but in that way we feel completely uncommitted to any certain place. It feels both a little lonely and also a relief. I hope you and your family love your upcoming adventure and can feel good about the unpredictability of it all. And I hear the rental market is good (for owners,) since many people are losing their homes and need to move into rental properties. Good luck!

  16. Hausfrau October 19, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    I hope everything works out well for you in your new home! And can I just say that I am in love with that little corner of your Bavarian kitchen?!

  17. My Mid-Afternoon Daydream November 30, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    Hello! Found your very enjoyable blog somehow while searching for expat info…we are leaving with our two little ones in March for Germany. We are attempting to quickly finish the reno’s and rent out our house, get rid of things, and find a place to live in Germany – all while my hubby is gone for at least half the month traveling. Leads me to my silly but burning question – you mention your fabulous German mattress. Does this mean I can toss the awful old one we have here? Where can we find a great one over there? It’s the important things you know? ;o) Thanks! Devon

  18. Ariana November 30, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Hi there Devon. I wish you lots of good things as you tie up all the loose ends there and start a new adventure in Germany! As to the mattresses, it depends on what you like. I could never really get comfortable on American ones, and I think it has something to do with the springs. The German ones are a thick cushion of latex foam, and are firm, but sort of mold to your body. Kind of like a futon, maybe. We had American friends that tried German mattresses and then had to go look for the kind they were used to. I think that if yours are not doing it for you, you should start over. Keep in mind that if you are bringing US spec beds, the mattresses there will not fit– the sizes are quite different. Good luck!

  19. marcinsen June 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    I know, I’m digging your old posts, probably you have forgotten about them, but I can’t help myself – it’s just like reading myself:)
    How many times we were building those sweet nests, and then we were just moving out, leaving everything behind. I don’t like that Gypsy feeling anymore.


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