The Mover’s Dilemma

No matter how much you move, you still take yourself with you. – Elizabeth Stirling

What my living room looks like currently.

Over the past three days I have been doing everyone’s least favorite pastime: moving.

Boxing up junk you know you don’t need; lugging said boxes that may or may not cause everlasting back injuries; and then reopening those boxes and wondering why you decided to move in the first place.

However, like everything in life, there’s a large amount of psychology behind it, and here at Everyday Psychophilosophy, we have you covered.


According to the US Census Bureau, about 11% of people relocated their home between 2013 and 2014. However, among renters (e.g., myself), that number more than doubles, with nearly 25% of renters living somewhere different than they did the year prior (compare that to homeowners who only moved 5%).

As one may suspect, the young (18 – 35) are the ones to move the most frequently, while only 2% of people over the age of 70 decide to switch residences.

And although moving to a new community may seem like a common feature of everyday life, nearly four in ten people have never left the place in which they were born!


In explaining why people would ever want to change residences, research shows that people typically move for an economic opportunity (e.g., a new job) or because their prior place was too small. Those who stay put, however, typically do so for family and social connections.

Interestingly, geography also has a role in whether you choose to move. For example, in the Midwest, almost 50% of people indicate they’ve never left their hometown, whereas in the Western states, that number drops to closer to 30%. Education also plays a role in moving likelihood, with over 75% of college graduates saying they have moved at least once.

However, “home” can mean different things to different people, so even for those who’ve moved residences, close to 40% say the “home in their heart” is somewhere other than where they’re currently living.

But wherever you decide to settle—in your current place or a new one—there’s always some background psychology to consider.


Decades of research has shown that happiness with your housing—even after controlling for happiness in other important life domains—predicts your overall life happiness. Indeed, research has shown that even objective features of one’s house (e.g., its age, size, structure, etc.) can have a direct impact on a person’s wellbeing.

In which case, how does moving affect your overall happiness?

Looking at a nationally representative sample of German residents, researchers found (a) prior to moving, there is a sharp decline in satisfaction with one’s current residence (i.e., likely a result of cognitive dissonance), which is followed by (b) a sharp increase in satisfaction after relocating to a new place, before (c) satisfaction begins to decline in the following years as one “adapts” to their new environment. However, (d) when satisfaction finally settles with the new place, it’s equal to or higher than one’s satisfaction prior to the move.

So as it seems, although moving can be a real hassle (speaking here from both empirical and anecdotal data) it seems to pay off in the end. Just don’t expect all your problems to go away simply because you have a new key to open your door.


Psychophilosophy to Ponder: What are your reasons for staying in your current place–your job? Family? Proximity to a Dairy Queen? If you are thinking about moving, though, a more simple solution may be to change up the interior of your house. Briefly mentioned above, over time we adapt to our environment, in which case, it doesn’t provide the same stimulation or happiness that it once did. Simply rearranging your furniture, exchanging old pictures for new ones, or adding a new light to the room, though, can help to give the feel of a “move” without all the head (and back) aches that come with an actual one.


Nakazato, N., Schimmack, U., & Oishi, S. (2011). Effect of changes in living conditions on well-being: A prospective top–down bottom–up model. Social Indicators Research100(1), 115-135.

Wolbring, T. Home sweet home! Does moving have (lasting) effects on housing satisfaction?. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1-17.




Author: jdt

Jake writes weekly posts every Wednesday on the intersection of psychology and philosophy. To learn more about him, or to propose a topic you'd like him to cover, go to

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  1. “Education also plays a role in moving likelihood, with over 75% of college graduates saying they have moved at least once.”
    Many people have to move simply to go to college, wouldn’t this account for most of the difference?
    Great stuff though, thanks for doing these!

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    • Great point! I had the same reaction when I read that statistic (heck, I had to move myself when I went to college). Unfortunately, the data set I pulled that info from didn’t elaborate on it; however, I would surmise that your reasoning is correct.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted” also presents a good reason to move: Landording has become a lucrative business, rather than a pastime and passive income for landowners. Rather than a family owning a couple properties downtown, businesses see any property with any potential whatsoever as an opportunity for profit, and that opportunity for profit receives no financial stimulus unless a direct profit is visible. Profit motives, rather than driving progress, improvement, caring for one’s tenants, end up driving awful environments and situations for renters.

    It’s incredibly disappointing. I honestly encourage anyone interested in landlord/tenant relationships to read the book.


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    • but also, congrats on your new rental 😉

      Post a Reply
      • Haha And thank you. I wish it were the one next to you…

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    • Whoa…that’s a really interesting example of “capitalism gone awry.” There seriously is little motivation for renters to improve living conditions, especially when they have tenants already living in them. Of course, if other renters are cleaning up their places, one may be motivated to update theirs in line with the others. However, if big businesses own all of those properties, they’d only be competing with themselves, which inspires no innovation/advancement.

      I just added “Evicted” to my Amazon book list…

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  3. Hey Jake, congrats on your new place. Enjoy!

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    • Thank you! Let’s hope I follow the psychological pattern and come to have more satisfaction with this current place compared to the last one 😉

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