The last time I published a post, it was about why we spontaneously decided to move to Texas. This week I thought it might be interesting to share HOW we made that cross-country move happen in almost no time at all.
Deciding to Move in 48 Hours
We found out that the girls had gotten into their school in Texas on Friday, August 25th – just as we were getting ready to head down to WordCamp Denver, a conference that Chris helped to organize and at which I spoke about work-life balance.
My phone rang as we were trying to pack and do a million things on the way to the speaker and sponsor dinner…which Chris was in charge of and at which he had to be present. Because we were running late, I let the call go to voicemail, but I saw a 512 area code, and I knew it must be the school.
Once we had wrangled kids and suitcases, dropped the dog at the kennel, and stopped to get lunch to eat n the way down, I finally got a chance to listen to the voicemail:
Hi, This is such-and-such school calling to tell you that we have a spot for Eleanor and Zara for this upcoming school year, which starts on Tuesday, September 5th. If you would like these spots, please call us by Monday at the absolute latest to confirm that your children will be attending and reserve their spots before we move down our waiting list.
We lived in Colorado. Our children had spots in a school in Texas, and we had roughly 48 hours to decide what to do.
By the time I had listened to the voicemail, we had just 20 minutes left in our drive from Fort Collins to Denver. I told Chris and the girls what the voicemail said.
His immediate reaction was, So that’s it, we’re moving; call them back now.
The girls were on the fence – excited about a possibility of being closer to grandparents and cousins but adamantly opposed to leaving friends. I wanted to sleep on it. I still wasn’t convinced that I wanted to pack up our family and business and move across country (yet again), so we voted and the girls won: we agreed to let it rest for the evening and talk about it more throughout the weekend.
Post WordCamp Denver
The weekend was a whirlwind: from the speaker/sponsor dinner Friday night, to conference all day Saturday + after party Saturday night, to Chris leading a multi-hour workshop Sunday morning followed by an organizer lunch, there wasn’t time to seriously discuss anything. It wasn’t until we were driving back from Denver to Fort Collins that we finally had a moment to really talk. And it was there, on the highway somewhere in Northern Colorado, that Chris convinced me to take a leap of faith and shake up our whole life.
It was a bittersweet decision, for sure. 2017 was the second year Chris and I had been involved with organizing and speaking at WordCamp Denver and we had so many great business friends in the area. We were riding on the high and excitement from WordCamp; we didn’t want to lose those connections and experiences.
But, at the same time, I had been talking to amazing people about work-life balance for almost two months and it seemed like this was my opportunity to really take the reigns. I had just given a talk on balance and priorities; this was my chance to put “my money where my mouth was” so-to-speak and to truly make a change in my life – for my sanity and overall happiness.
So we agreed to move, and then we started talking logistics.
No time for tears
Immediately after I gave in to the idea of moving, Chris called his Dad. Us being able to move really hinged on Chris’ dad – we needed to be able to move in with him at least until our Colorado house sold, and we had some fantasies of living in a multi-generational household for the long haul – both to save money and to give the girls the ultimate grandparent experience.
Chris’ dad was willing to let us move in with him, so that sealed the deal, and allowed us to start making bigger plans.
7 days to get to Texas
At that point, we had seven days to get Nora and Zara to Texas for the first day of school. We didn’t want them to miss even a single day at their new school; we thought it would be best for them to come in brand new at the same time as every other child there (since this was a first-year school), for the easiest transition.
Obviously, we were not going to ready our house for sale, pack everything up, and move it all to Texas in seven days. That meant moving was going to be a divide and conquer situation. One parent had to stay in Colorado, while the other had to go to Texas.
The hard decision
Initially, we thought I would go with the girls and Chris would have been the one to pack the house, but as we talked through things it became pretty clear that the best option was actually the other way around.
I had to be the one to stay in Colorado.
Largely we decided that I would stay because I was going to speak at WooConf in Seattle in October and we had already bought my plane ticket. We spoke briefly about buying a round-trip ticket from Austin to Denver to sandwich the ticket I already had, but too many other things argued against me being the one to go to Texas:
- I had to step down from my board seat on my nonprofit.
- I was scheduled to teach a workshop at the Small Business Development Center at the end of September.
- My grandmother had already bought plane tickets to come to visit in September.
- We only have one car and the person in Texas needed it, which means that I would have had to drive two (or more) days by myself with a three-month-old, two older kids, a dog and a cat just to get there.
We added all those things up and realized the best course of action was for Chris to take the two big girls to Texas and for Addie and me to stay in Colorado. Agreeing to be separated from my daughters for weeks was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life. It was emotionally overwhelming, but it had to be done to make the move happen.
The last 5 days
It takes two solid days of driving to get from Fort Collins to Austin, so in order for Chris to get them to school for their first day + buy all the necessary school supplies, he had to leave in the morning on Saturday, September 2nd. That meant that, from the day we decided to move, we had 5 days for family time, planning, and letting the girls say goodbye to friends.
They had already started school for the year at their school in Colorado, so we let them go to school every day that week – both to give them time with their friends, and to give us time to work as usual. Then, we planned a big party for Friday night that was a combined going away party/birthday party for Nora whose birthday is on September 6th.
I didn’t take newarly enough pictures, but here’s a couple…
We had a great time with friends Friday evening, then Saturday morning I helped Chris pack the truck and get on the road. For their first month(s) in Texas, Chris took:
- his, Nora’s and Zara’s clothes + shoes,
- his computer,
- a twin-sized mattress + bedding for Nora (because his dad was one short)
- food + gear for our dog and cat
- a cooler filled with food for the road, and
- each girl took a backpack with a couple of books and toys.
It wasn’t much, but it completely filled the truck, and we figured it was enough to survive four weeks – at the time we that that’s all it would take for me and all our things to get to Texas.
The prior 5 days had been super busy – jam-packed with planning and activities… Both Chris and I had to-do lists a mile long to get the girls enrolled in their new school and all of them safely on the road, so there hadn’t really been time to be sad or even really process what we had just decided to do.
It wasn’t until the girls were buckling themselves in their car seats, that it really hit me. Up until that point, the longest I had ever been away from Nora and Zara had been just 3 or 4 days for occasional conferences. Knowing they were going to be states away for more than a month was overwhelming – both for them and for me.
We all, somehow, managed to keep it together for our goodbyes, then I took Addie inside and had a great big cry. I kept telling myself it was for the best, but it was incredibly, incredibly hard and heartbreaking.
Luckily I still had a sweet baby to snuggle
and lots of leftover birthday cake to drown my sorrows in…
Not to mention, lots and lots of work to do.
To Sell or Not to Sell
Right away, the first thing I did was call our realtor and tell her what was going on. I set up a time for her to come by and look at the house and I also called a couple of property management firms.
Exploring Renting Our House
Initially, Chris and I thought we wanted to keep the house as an investment property. We had already considered the possibility of owning rental houses at some point in the future, and Fort Collins is a great market for rentals because of Colorado State University, so we started exploring hiring a property management company and just renting our house out rather than listing it for sale.
We quickly realized that because of the small amount we had put down, our payments were too high to make renting the house financially responsible. Everyone we talked to said that we could only rent it for just about what we pay each month, which wouldn’t have left any money for repairs or necessary maintenance. It also turns out that four bedroom houses are nearly impossible to maximize rental income on in Fort Collins because of the city’s “U plus 2” occupancy laws – we would never have been able to rent our house to four students (1 per bedroom) like we envisioned, which limited how much we could charge.
Preparing to Sell A.K.A. When I Tell You Just How Crazy I Am
Once we realized that keeping the house as a rental property was out, I sat down with our realtor, Chris on speaker phone, and this is when things got crazy.
It all started with two holes in our laundry room ceiling from a kitchen plumbing mishap:
Not long after we bought the house, we had to cut these holes in the laundry room ceiling, and, because it was a laundry room – not often seen by visitors – we never fixed them. The plumbing issue was fixed, of course, but we lived with holes in the drywall for just about two years. It was something that we figured we would eventually get around to when we made other renovations down the line.
Well, the holes had to be fixed before the house could go on the market, and suddenly it dawned on me that if we were going to bring in a drywall guy to patch the ceiling, then perhaps we could also have them fix our tavernesque family room at the same time:
And if we were going to make the downstairs look better, then why not also do something about the upstairs?
You can probably guess where this is going… the Fort Collins real estate market was hot, we knew we were going to walk away from our house with a profit no matter what, but I – in all my crazy, glutton for punishment-ness – decided that it would be a good idea to not just clean up our house to sell, but renovate it first so we could sell the house for an even better profit.
Clearly, I watch too much HGTV.
I walked through the house with our realtor and we talked about what improvements would make a big difference. Obviously paint and general cleanup everywhere would make a big difference, but I wasn’t messing around: we talked bathrooms, kitchen, new flooring, and opening up walls. I wanted to make the house the way we wanted it to look the whole time we lived there, banking on the fact that those improvements would bring buyers banging down the door.
Somehow I convinced Chris and the renovations began.
How I renovated a house as a “single parent” with an infant…
I’m not going to go into all of what we did. I have before/after blog posts coming with photos and details (this week, I promise), but every single room in our 2100 sq foot house was touched in some way, and we also completely re-sided and re-roofed it. It was a major job.
Managing contractors on a short timeline + doing some updates myself to save money was a ton of work, and between working for our business, community obligations I had to wrap up, and taking care of a nursing baby, there were a lot of moments when I seriously questioned how it was all going to get done.
I didn’t do it alone.
My saving grace was that I didn’t do it alone. I had a ton of help, most especially from my mom and one of my grandmothers.
My mom flew out to Colorado for two weeks in September and two weeks at the end of October. She helped with Addie, she pretty much single-handedly painted every bedroom and bathroom in my house and also did a ton of other little things – everything from replacing doorknobs and switch plates to planting flowers and helping me stage it so it would look nice in the listing photos. My mom is the #1 reason that we were able to make so many changes to the house and sell it for what we sold it for.
My grandmother, Mim, had already planned to come to visit before we knew we were going to move. She was excited to spend a week with all three of her three great-granddaughters, but when I called to tell her plans had changed, she took it all in stride. She extended her one week stay to two weeks and helped me with Addie, helped me to organize and hold a garage sale, painted, and packed a huge amount of boxes.
Besides the two of them, I had a couple of friends who occasionally helped out by giving me a ride, and our realtor was great in getting us connected with some really excellent contractors.
When we decided to renovate the house before we sold it, I’m not sure I completely knew what I was signing up for. Addie was 4-5 months old at that time and exclusively nursing + not sleeping through the night. I cannot express how lucky I feel to have had such an amazing support system. There is no way that I could have gotten everything done all on my own, in such a short time period – just 9 weeks.
Finally back together again
Chris and the older girls moved to Texas on September 2nd. I had the renovation wrapped up, small things packed, and the house staged, photographed, and listed by November 7th. I had hoped to make it down to Texas for Halloween, but delays on the exterior kept me in Fort Collins a week longer.
Towards the end of my time in Fort Collins, I packed a few boxes of clothes and baby items for Addie, and shipped them to Chris in Texas. On the 7th, my mom and I drove to the airport in a rental car; she flew home to Michigan, and Addie and I boarded a plane for Austin, Texas. It had been 65 days since we had seen Chris, Nora, and Zara. We had talked on video chat nearly every single day, but when they came to the airport to pick me up, I wanted to hug them and never let go.
Moving Our Things
Me getting to Texas was a big milestone. We were all in one place again, finally, but we weren’t completely disengaged from Colorado. We still owned the house and all of our things were still in Fort Collins.
Since we were living in Chris’ dad’s house, we decided that it made sense to leave everything in our house until right before closing. That would give us some time together as a family again, before Chris and his dad drove to Colorado to get it all, and we figured that the house would sell better staged than empty, anyway.
With the holidays, it took us longer to go under contract than we expected, then the closing date wasn’t until the end of January, so it wasn’t until after New Years when Chris went up to Fort Collins with his dad to move everything down. They drove Chris’ dad’s pickup up there, then Chris drove a 24 ft truck down and John towed a trailer behind his truck. They just barely managed to fit it all in, and we promptly put it all into storage (3 10×15′ storage units) while we figured out where we wanted to live long-term.
Would I do it again?
Sometimes I still think about how crazy this move was. We decided to move across the country and 5 days later, half of us had moved. In 65 days, we did a complete renovation and “flip” of our house. And then we moved into a travel trailer (yet another story).
That time period was one of the hardest, most exhausting and mentally-taxing time periods of my life, and there were moments that were challenging for everyone in our whole family, but it was 100% worth it. The girls lost friends, but they made new ones, and, even better, they gained the priceless experience of getting to live near family that they previously saw just once or twice per year. We missed one another and temporarily lived apart, but now we’re able to spend more time together than we ever previously did, traveling the country and making memories.
Moving to Texas was definitely the right decision for our family, and as I’ve said previously, Chris and I don’t mess around. Our spontaneity and dedication to making things happen are among our strengths, and (I hope) set a good example for our girls.
I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.