I moved house a fortnight ago. In fact, not only did I move to a new house, I moved to a new country as well. Okay, so it's only the one next door that we have the direct Ryanair bus route to, so I don't classify it as emigration, but nonetheless I braced myself for the stress.
Not least because I have read in countless magazine and newspaper articles over the years that moving house is the third most stressful life event after a death in the family and divorce. Knowing that gospel made the very thought of moving stressful; tell someone enough times that something will leave their nerves shot to pieces and the apprehension will often be worse than the event itself. It's like the moment before a roller coaster drops, the build up is always worse (unless you've just eaten nachos from an unlicensed street vendor, but that's another day's sorry tale).
And so as the anticipatory tension rose, and the palpitations kicked in, I started thinking. Let's back the panic truck up a minute; how could moving house be the third most upsetting life event there is? How could it be more stressful than being diagnosed with a serious illness, losing your job, going to prison (jump a few points for a crime you didn't commit) or buying the wrong size bin liners?
Concerned that the inclusion of 'moving house' on this list of human pains may have been fabricated by an unscrupulous removals firm with obvious ulterior motives, and worried about the effect this monumentally stressful occasion might have on my already fragile state of mind, I did what any curious hypochondriac these days does; I googled it. And lo-and-behold-you'll-never-guess-what-happened-next. I couldn't find it on any officially researched list. It wasn't there.
The original 'most stressful life events' list was compiled in 1967 by two psychiatrists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in a bid to determine whether difficult situations can lead to, or cause, illness. Of course, their findings were a resounding yes. The list includes all the usual inescapable suspects, from illness to death, pregnancy, marriage and retirement (even in-laws get an honorary mention), and although an enormous mortgage and a change in living conditions (meaning to lose your home or standard of living) made an appearance on the extended list, simply moving house didn't feature.
I was heartened by this. Admittedly this new-found knowledge didn't miraculously turn moving house into Christmas Eve. There was still some bickering, minor arguments over where the couch should go, bruised shins (from box-lugging, not kicking each other), dust clouds, three meals worth of stale garage sandwiches, and assembling of flat pack furniture. Note to others; post initial assembly, IKEA furniture is not designed to be disassembled and then reassembled elsewhere; and for the love of God, keep the instructions.
Then there were the inevitable rows with faceless robots at the end of utility company phone lines (all those calls recorded for training purposes, and still no one can answer a simple question about broadband), a leaking shower, a broken oven and a proprietary neighbour setting out their stall over parking spaces.
But all in all, the act of moving house should be seen as a positive experience. Dealing with estate agents is surely the worst of it, but once they're out of the picture, the chaos, clutter and commotion is only short term. Whether you're downsizing or trading up, saying goodbye to an old life or starting a new one, alone or with someone else, change is a good thing. If someone you know is moving house, offer them a hand, a car boot (for stuff, not their spouse), a meal that might make it easier. Take their pets or kids for the day (hell, take their kids for a week and they'll love you for ever). Look up the 'Holmes and Rahe Stress Inventory' and be reassured that the act of moving house is not in fact third on the list, and that 'sexual difficulties' comes in seven places higher than taking on a significant mortgage.
And one final thing - unpack the wine first and don't throw away any allen keys. Ever.