Written by Justine Brooks


Bust a move

Justine Brooks has moved house about 30 times in her life (so far). It means she’s become a bit of an expert. She shares some tips.

snail on a twig
After 46 years of moving house on average every 18 months (yes folks, that’s 30 moves), I’m proud to share my lifetime’s experience. For ease of use, I’ve organised my guide into different categories of house move.

JB’s guide to moving house:

‘Let’s get the hell out of here’

When my ex-mother-in-law (or as I now like to call her, She Who Must Not Be Named) loudly proclaimed outside my window that the part of the divided marital home in which I was now living was to be known as “The Dark Side” (secretly I’m proud), I decided it was probably time to go.

When you’re leaving home in a hurry you have to be brutal and resourceful. It’s a bit like leaving during a fire. Only take what you can’t replace: children, pets, paintings.

Pots, pans and clothes, I discovered, are in plentiful supply from generous friends and family clearing out cupboards: you don’t need to take these, just take the precious stuff. Leaving stuff behind is as good as having a purge.

And who knows, your ex, like mine, might actually decide to put all the stuff you’ve left behind into a mouldy damp container and then insist, four years later, that you pay to have it moved to your house, where you then have to take 90 per cent of it to the dump.

In any case, you don’t need all that junk.

‘I’m having a complete life change and moving to another continent’

Ideally make sure you have some form of employment waiting for you at the other end. If that includes somewhere to live, then even better. With neither accommodation nor employment on the horizon (it wasn’t their fault), my parents left our home in Zambia in 1979 (same children, pets and paintings rule).

In those days, as now (as I understand it), it was very difficult to buy anything at all in Zambia. So before we left, a load of people and an auctioneer came to our house and everything was sold off, room by room. This gave us money to put towards a round-the-world trip, which we went on before arriving homeless and jobless back in the UK.

A variation on this is:

‘Moving to another country with just a suitcase and a vague idea’

This is to be avoided if you are over the age of 30 and most certainly if you have any dependents. However, it is great fun if you are a student going to study in another country. My university declined to support me in my decision to go to live in Berlin just after the wall came down – they thought that Hamburg was far preferable.

“People will make the most outrageous claims about pieces of furniture and will swear blind that they own that chest of drawers when it actually belongs to your friend’s mum and you are looking after it.”

After seeing Magenta Devine on the telly pursuing anarchists across Berlin rooftops I was intrigued, and despite the deputy head of department’s (sadly I don’t remember his name but I do remember his ruddy face and bow tie) helpful proclamation: “Berlin? Wouldn’t send a dog there!”, I decided to go anyway. After all, wherever you go, it’s always possible to rent a room somewhere and get a job in a shampoo factory where you get shouted at by a power-crazed foreman.

‘The eviction’

My first Berlin landlady, Venus, chucked me out because she went on holiday with her boyfriend and didn’t have any sex and I didn’t fold the towels in the bathroom nicely. She was angry.

My second landlady was also angry, it turned out. While I was away at my gran’s funeral my flatmate, Geoff, called me to say that our mate from out of town, Wayne, had fallen down a toilet after a big weekend and broken his nose. He’d consequently stayed until Monday and mistakenly allowed the landlady’s ex-best friend to enter the flat, do all her washing and hang it up everywhere while Geoff was out at work.

Enter our landlady to find broken-nosed Wayne with the ex-best friend’s washing. It was too much for her. Out came the circular saw: she knocked down a wall, put my suitcase in the middle of the sitting room, and uttering the words, “Es ist mir zu fett geworden” (lit trans: “This is all too fatty for me”, i.e. “You lot are getting on my tits”) left, telling a rather bemused Wayne that we had a fortnight to get out of there.

drawing of houses
There are, of course, also nice reasons to move house, such as:

‘Moving in with someone you love’

This, dear reader, I hate to tell you is loaded with booby traps: simply because you think it’s a wonderful fluffy lovey-dovey decision. It’s not. It’s actually all about control and territory and it’s crucial that you remember this. Particularly if you are moving in with someone – i.e. into somewhere where they already live.

You’ll find that although they say they’re open to suggestions on the decor, what that means is you can change the cushions in five years’ time but the walls are never, I repeat never ever, going to be any other shade than yellow ochre.

I’d recommend that if you have decided to move in with the love of your life, move somewhere that’s new for both of you. And make sure that not only purchases but also the acceptance of in-laws’ furniture ‘gifts’ are mutually agreed so that you don’t suddenly find yourself saddled with a 1980s pine dresser that takes up half the front room when you were actually looking for some sort of cool mid-century modern vibe.

‘The breakup’

Whether or not you ever want to see this person again, the goal in this situation is retaining your own integrity – and your stuff. People will make the most outrageous claims about pieces of furniture and will swear blind that they own that chest of drawers when it actually belongs to your friend’s mum and you are looking after it.

You have to be strong with this one. As with the ‘Let’s get the hell out of here’, weigh up what you actually need (I repeat, moving house is always an opportunity to get rid of stuff you no longer want) with how pissed off you’ll feel if you leave it behind. There’s a fine line between no regrets and being a dick.

“When you’re leaving home in a hurry you have to be brutal and resourceful. It’s a bit like leaving during a fire. Only take what you can’t replace: children, pets, paintings.”

‘Someone else is paying the rent’

So you have a company expense account. Go large. Go fantasy. Rent the most ridiculous or unrealistic property you can get your hands on. Even the mini stately home where the ceilings are cracked, there’s only a cupful of hot water every day and the pipes make a crazy noise. Because it looks amazing or it’s in an exciting area. Rent somewhere grand or super luxe that you’d never be able to afford or so ridiculous that you’d never buy it anyway. Rent it and have the best parties of your life.

‘Moving back in with your parents’

Kind of humiliating. But whatever you do, do not under any circumstances revert to child status. The moment you allow your folks to wait on you hand and foot, do your washing, tidy your room and wash your car (if your much reduced circumstances have allowed you to retain this luxury), you are giving them carte blanche to start taking over your life. Your social life and work life will be analysed, you’ll be derided for staggering in pissed at four in the morning and god forbid you have a sex life.

Treat the arrangement as a house share as much as possible. Absolutely insist on paying your way as much as you can and make sure you do your share of cooking, cleaning and shopping. That way they’ll hopefully learn to treat you as an adult and you’ll hopefully learn to behave like one.

‘Moving in with your mates’

Living with other human beings is always challenging. As with ‘Moving in with someone you love’, moving in with mates is fraught with danger. Uncool as it may seem, it’s vital to set out some sort of framework so that washing up, cleaning and cooking gets done – and not always by the same person. Then there’ll be no underlying tension, passive aggression or sabotage.

‘Moving in with your daughter’

After five years of mainly being the recipients of other people’s generosity, my daughter and I now have a lovely home. She’s the best housemate ever: funny, interesting and a joy to be around. She makes delicious cookies, cakes and pasta and sometimes she even feeds the dog. I’m hoping this will be our last move for a while.


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Written by Justine Brooks

Justine lives in beautiful north Leeds with her 12-year-old daughter and a lurcher called Lionel. She runs a PR and marketing agency and is writing a novel.