Moving house: the health effects

Written by Douglas Ross in Finance

A man lifts a couch when moving house

Moving house is almost always in pursuit of something better. It must be, right? Even if someone’s lease has ended, they aren’t going to start looking for a home that is worse than the one they just left. If they are downsizing to save money, then the ‘better life’ that person is seeking is more financial stability. Because of this, it is easy to assume that moving must be good for your mental health but this is not always the case. Mental and physical health effects of moving is nuanced and affects children and adults in different ways.

A couple move into a new home carrying boxes

Health effects of moving will affect individuals in different ways.

Health effects of moving house: Adults

PROS: Moving house is a powerful way to create change in your life, and change is an important part to maintaining your mental health. A study by at the University of New Hampshire revealed that moving can actually have a positive effect on a person’s memory.

On top of this, moving can simulate the health effects that the turn of spring, the New Year, or the start of a new job can have on an individual’s ability to change unhealthy habits.

CONS: There is no denying that moving houses is expensive and both mentally and physically strenuous (especially when it comes to furniture removal). Research from Origin suggests that in the course of their lives, Australians lose half a year of time spent preparing, organising and carrying out a move. Beyond the costs of a removalist, the lost time is indicative of just how expensive moving house can be both financially and emotionally.

In the debate between renting and owning a home, the repeated costs (financial, loss of time, emotional) of moving house as a renter should be considered.

Repeated moves can also be a symptom of an existing issue, what is called a ‘repetition compulsion’. Moving can be used to put off other issues in a person’s life, or can be a hangover from a childhood spent on the move. Rather than be complimentary to a person’s ability to adapt and develop, in these cases moving can be a negatively compounding influence.

Health effects of moving house: children

PROS: If the average Australian moves homes 13 times in their lifetime, it makes sense that a child should become acquainted with the idea of ‘home being where the heart is’ so that future moves are not a traumatic experience. If moving is done correctly, so that links to a previous neighbourhood and friends/family are maintained for a child, it can instil independence and adaptability within a child. What is most important is that children are brought into the decision process, as most home relocations for a child are, by definition, a forced move, otherwise you could create one of the adverse health effects of moving.

CONS: Children are often told that they are moving, rather than consulted. It can be much more effective to help a child come to the decision that a move is necessary and their life at home is not being deleted but simply adapted.

A study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health followed 850 people across 20 years and found that those that had moved three or more times were twice as likely to have used illegal drugs and three times as likely to have experienced suicidal thoughts.

Humans were traditionally a nomadic people, so there is an argument that moving can’t be inherently damaging. But if we move for the wrong reasons, or move children without providing support, there is a risk to mental health. A child does not have the verbal abilities to express their feelings about a move like an adult can, so extra care needs to be taken.