Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Ali Wenzke who’s the debut author of The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness. She moved ten times in eleven years and started a blog called The Art of Happy Moving. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.

Welcome, Ali. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Ali Wenzke: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I love your podcast. I’m so excited to get to chat with you. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. I was just about to tell you, I had so much fun going through your book. There is so much useful and fun information. It was like a home improvement magazine meets self-help life skills meets really hands-on, useful advice. It was great, and so pretty and so fun to look at. It was a treat. I felt like it was total escapist-type book.

Ali: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

Zibby: No problem. Why don’t you tell listeners what The Art of Happy Moving is about?

Ali: The Art of Happy Moving is a guide to make moving a less stressful and a happier experience. It’s divided up into two halves. The first half is really getting ready for the move, so deciding whether you should move at all and how to declutter, buying and selling a home, moving with pets, telling your kids about it, and how to go through that whole process. That’s the first half. Then the second half of the book is once you’re there and how to really live happily ever after, so how to create a home that you love, how to make connections with people when you move to a new city, how to create new habits when you move. That’s one thing that I hope readers take away from this, is that it is a fresh start and this is a perfect time to start new habits and to have your life you expected. I was thinking of it later that it’s like a makeover book. You’re starting off, and the beginning is like the before. The second half is the after. This is the new fabulous you after you move and the steps to get there.

Zibby: I also think — we’re recording this now in quarantine via Skype. This obviously has huge applications for when people are about and out and there’s tons of moving. I know there is some moving now too. I feel like this book is so helpful, particularly now because people are at home and regrouping in such a big way and looking at their home and spending time in their home. Half of your book is all about that. It’s so useful. People are talking about how they don’t have time — they’re meeting their neighbors for the first time. It’s almost like the entire world has decided to just move and live where they actually live. Do you know what I mean?

Ali: Uh-huh. I grew up in Miami. We went through some hurricane situations where everything was shut down. It was very similar where you get to know your neighbors. You’re living at home and just finding joy in where you are and the things that you love about your house, or deciding to make changes. I know a lot of people are decluttering right now. I keep seeing everyone posting on Instagram of things that they have decided to declutter all of their stuff. They’re doing their closets. I think people want a sense of organization and structure amidst all the chaos. They’re trying to find some place to have control. It’s a good time. You’re at home, so a good time to start doing your closets and everything. I do think it’s helping to find ways to love your home right now because that’s where we all are right now.

Zibby: You might as well.

Ali: You might as well, exactly.

Zibby: You might as well love it because that’s what you got. You moved ten times in eleven years. Then you started a blog about it called The Art of Happy Moving. Why did you move so much? I want to know about each one, a sentence about each move.

Ali: I would love to say Dan and I are romantic nomads who go where the wind takes us, but no, we’re very practical. We went for medical school for my husband, law school for me. We were following our education and our careers. We moved from Massachusetts to Maryland to Ohio to California to Illinois to Tennessee and then back to Illinois with a few local moves in there as well. It was really to follow our dreams and our life goals that took us crisscrossing around the country.

Zibby: Then some of that time you had children too in the mix.

Ali: Yes. We had three kids once we moved to — when we were in Chicago. We were in Illinois. Then we moved to Tennessee with all of them. Then we moved back. My youngest daughter, by the time she was a little past two years old, she had moved into her fourth house. She was like, “I’m never moving again.” She would just walk around the house and be like, “Never moving. Never moving.” She had been through a lot.

Zibby: I actually liked, you were really open about how you moved one place and you just didn’t like it. It wasn’t what you expected. It was Knoxville, right?

Ali: Yes.

Zibby: It just wasn’t the community you had in mind. The suburban lifestyle was a little too spread out for you. You had to reassess. That’s a big deal, having to come to that conclusion based on feeling. Talk about that.

Ali: It was a tough experience because we had moved so often. I just figured we could live anywhere and we would be happy anywhere. Knoxville, Tennessee, is beautiful. It is a wonderful place. The people are really nice. We had made a pros and cons list when we were leaving Chicago. On the pros list was no state income tax, the beautiful weather. I’m from Miami, so weather is important. There was no state income tax. The weather was beautiful. We’re by the mountains, a great place to raise the kids, all of these things which are true. Knoxville, Tennessee, is a beautiful place, really family friendly. Then on the other side were all the things that I didn’t really look inward to me and think of what is important in my day-to-day life. Now, for me, I know I love being at the lake and going for runs around the lake. That’s something that brings me a lot of joy. Going to comedy clubs in Chicago, the restaurants, having our kids walk to school, there were a lot of things that Knoxville didn’t have. It’s not Knoxville. It’s just the things that are important to me. I do talk about a lot in the book, to really look inward of what’s important to you. Florida is a fabulous place to live. I love Florida, but a lot of people hate living in Florida. It’s not that it’s the location. It’s who you are and what’s important to you. Connections was hard for me in Knoxville. It was a very tight-knit community. That was one of the big reasons I wrote this book, was because of social connections and wanting to help people when they moved to a city and they were displaced and they didn’t know anyone. It was really hard for me. I have found that many people find themselves in that situation. That was really the inspiration for writing the book.

Zibby: Wow. When did the blog start?

Ali: Going a little bit backwards, one of the first things that I did was I created a company called Friend Matchup. This was, again, because I wanted to find a solution to people moving to a new place. Friend Matchup was just like but for platonic friendships when you move to a new city. It was specifically for people moving to a new city. I didn’t have the money to make it what I wanted to do with it. I shut it down, but I had written a lot for my website, Friend Matchup. I had all of this information and knowledge that I wanted to share. I thought, there’s a need for this. I know because all these people from around the world had signed up Friend Matchup and said, I’m in Paris. I’m in Seattle. I just moved here and I’m really lonely. I figured, all this information, I need to get it out of me and create a book. I wrote a first draft of my book. Then I was very fortunate to get an agent. I realized I needed to flesh out my writing more. I had focused a lot on families and kids in the first draft. I started interviewing dozens and dozens of people about their moves and talking to movers and realtors and home stagers and getting the whole picture of moving. A blog seemed like the perfect place to do this, to have my different posts all the time about all the different aspects of moving. It was really fun getting direct feedback from readers and connecting with readers and just learning about the different issues that they were having and for me to be able to help them. I had my blog. Then I was very fortunate to get a publisher with William Morrow. That was how The Art of Happy Moving was born.

Zibby: You threw in there that law school was one of the reasons why you moved. I’m assuming you’re also a trained lawyer, that you finished law school?

Ali: I did. Yes, I’m a lawyer by training, but I didn’t practice law.

Zibby: What brought you to law school?

Ali: That’s a great question. Originally, I thought I was going to be an international lawyer because I studied French, Spanish, and Italian in college. I wanted to help people through negotiations and what not. Then I got married. We were going to be domestic here in the US. I just wanted to have a background in something that could help me anything. With the law, the law comes up all the time, so any contract negotiation, real estate, but then also other things that pop up. I thought I would probably use it more in a business setting than in a legal setting at that point. Actually, I love school. Going to law school was really fun.

Zibby: I love school too. Actually, what I’m doing now is more similar to school than anything I’ve done in the last twenty years because now I have routine deadlines and books to read and assignments. I feel like I’ve tried to structure my own little school.

Ali: That’s fantastic. You’re living the dream.

Zibby: Yeah, right. Oh, yeah, that’s it, living the dream. You include a five-step roadmap to moving, which is change your mindset, set goals, simplify, prepare, and focus on community, I’m just summarizing there, which is really what we can do about basically any challenge in our lives, moving, anything we’re going through now. How do you feel like this might apply to the fact that we’re all at home? Changing your mindset, setting goals, simplifying, preparing, community, which of these is most relevant to you today?

Ali: I want to say all of them. I do. With changing the mindset, for me when we first started all these pandemic — we’ve now been home, we’re twenty-eight days that we’ve been at home. I felt a lot of panic. Panic was my mindset at the time. My husband’s a doctor. Lots of his family is doctors. My college roommates are doctors. I was very worried about a lot of people that I care about. Then I started switching my mindset to gratitude where I started to feel thankful for any moment that we had together. Then thinking about food, I was very panicked in the beginning about food. Did I get enough food? Are we going to be okay? Then I switched to gratitude. We have the food that we have right now. I’m so thankful for what we have on the table. I’m so thankful for Instacart that came and brought more food. It was a very big day. I think changing your mindset is just critical at all points to really look at the positive and to try to find ways to see goodness in tough times. It’s the same thing with the moving that I try to do. It’s stressful, of course. People look at it as stressful and dread, but then at the end thinking of it as an opportunity and what can come of it. I think the same is true with the pandemic and what we’re going through right now.

I also think the setting goals was another one of them. I realized that for me it’s sort of like a coping mechanism, setting goals, because it gives you a purpose. About a week ago when we realized, okay, we’re in this, we’re going to be here for a while, being the self-help author mom that I am, I was like, all right kids, here’s some worksheets and we’re going to set goals. Each of the kids set their goals of what their academic goals are. What do they hope to accomplish in the next couple months? What their physical fitness goals are, if they’re going to try out for teams next year. What do they need to do to get ready for that? What are their social goals? Who are the people that they want to make sure to keep in contact with? whether it’s friends or family members, cousins. Even though we’re all at home, we do have limited energy of expending and time, so to really make time for those relationships.

Then also hobby goals, what are fun things that we want to do in these next couple months? I think setting goals is important just to give you purpose through all of this. Again, control over chaos where you can just find ways to make things work. Preparedness is important, reducing stress and simplifying. I do think the most important is connection. Again, it’s the reason I wrote the book. Also, if you look at all the happiness research, the number-one indication of happiness is your social connections. I think we all feel that right now. That’s never more true than this moment that we realize we need each other. Finding ways to connect with our loved ones right now, whether it is over Skype — we’ve been doing Houseparty. I don’t know if you’ve used that app, but it’s really fun because you can play games with people at the same time. I think all five steps are important, but connections, I think the connections is everything.

Zibby: I think you’re right. I didn’t mean to ask you to have to pick one. I wanted to highlight all five too. They really are great. By the way, that’s really good advice about what you’re doing with your kids because we have not set any goals. I’m going to literally get off this podcast and go write up some charts for those.

Ali: I can send you mine if you want.

Zibby: Awesome. Great. Even better. How old are your kids?

Ali: Fourteen, twelve, and my daughter just turned eleven a couple weeks ago. We had a quarantine birthday party.

Zibby: Nice. We haven’t had a birthday in quarantine yet, but I’m sure we’ll get there. I love doing quizzes. I feel like I was trained by Seventeen and YM and all those magazines back in the day. Now of course, they have quiz magazines that are just quizzes. Did you know that?

Ali: No, I didn’t know that.

Zibby: I have a tween daughter. I have tween twins. The quizzes in your book were great because it asks you how to pick out where you want to live, what type of environment. Do you want a Carrie Bradshaw lifestyle? Do you want to listen to chirping birds when you wake up? I took this quiz. I live — not right now because I’m out of the city just while this is all going on, but I mostly live in New York City and have my entire life. I didn’t pick any letter A, which would tell you to live in a city. I’m a little concerned now about my choice of where my main home base is. I got D, which was basically you just want to be around your family and your loved ones, and it almost doesn’t matter where you live. Tell me about the categories. What do you do if you are not living in the right place or you’re a D like me?

Ali: For D, you love the country. Is that true? That’s kind of the way that the quiz is. If you’re a D, you are a country person. Do you think you’re a country person in the city?

Zibby: Maybe. Right now, I’m a country person in the country and I’m really happy.

Ali: It’s fun to do the quizzes. I also grew up on Seventeen and doing all those magazines. I wanted to put them in there so that there would be just something fun and lighthearted while you’re moving, there’s a lot going on when you’re moving, but also to create it as a starting point for a discussion. If you’re moving with other people, you could see what’s important to you, what’s important to them. Let’s say you are in the city. My advice would be to focus on the things that you can change. If you are a country person or someone who just likes to be at home, then focus on making sure that your home is a place that you can entertain people, if that’s the way that you like to be with family or, if possible, to get an apartment with a garden view or a little bit quieter. There’s always tradeoffs, but to change the things that you can change or focus on the things you can change. Then also, having your vacations. Let’s say you have to be in New York City for work or whatever. Then make sure that your vacation time is in the space where you feel recharged. Instead of going to San Francisco for vacation, then find a country house somewhere that you can spend a week there.

Throughout the book and doing all the quizzes, I just wanted it as a way that people could really be more in tune with themselves. What are the little things that make them happy? Then you can incorporate that. It was fun doing it with my kids. They were doing the quiz of where they liked to be. For me, I’m a nature person and more suburban nature. I realized I need to be outside. I need to, whenever I can, go for a walk. That will make me feel better. Then hearing my kids, it’s just funny. It was a different quiz about the home and what’s important to you in your house, whether you are a visual person, or the smells. My daughter was a listener. She loved the sounds. I never would’ve known that had we not done the quiz together and talked about it. Now she has a fountain in her room. She always has music going or a sound maker. Those are things that bring her joy.

Zibby: I love that. I was a feeling person, which I could’ve told you because everything, I have to touch and put up to my face. All your tips, I was like, that is what my dining room looks like. That is my bedroom carpet. Those were awesome. I loved those. What is coming next for you? What do you want to do next? By the way, are you done moving? Are you firmly set where you are now? Or do you feel there are more moves in your future?

Ali: The average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime. I think statistically we probably have more moves left. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say never. We may be moving again. In terms of what’s next, I love helping people with moving. I’m going to continue with my blogging. I do a lot of speaking engagements. Right now, I’m trying to help people through the pandemic of moving because a lot of people are having to move right now. They had houses for sale or they’re buying places. They need to move. I’m trying to work with organizations to — donations right now, you can’t donate things because of the pandemic. That is one thing I’d love to tell listeners who are decluttering. Please hold onto your items right now while you’re decluttering. I went for a run a couple days ago. There were bags and bags and bags outside of a donation bin of things that people has been discarding during the pandemic. It’s been raining. They’re all sopping wet. They’re not getting picked up. All these items that will not be able to be used is really sad. Please hold onto your items. They will be needed more than ever when this pandemic is over.

I’m trying to find a solution. I’m working with a major moving and storage organization, and moving with movers, and trying to find a storage facility where potentially people who are moving could just leave their things in storage and leave them there in quarantine, basically, so that when this is all over all of these charities can come pick up the items. I’m hoping to get that put together. If I do, I will let everybody know. For now, I’m focused on this and trying to help people through the move. It’s different people that are moving every year. I just want to help them as they’re going through it. Eventually, I’ll probably write another book. For now, I’m just really focused on getting the message out about happy moving and how to make it a less stressful experience and to get the joy out of it because it is an incredible opportunity. I love the fresh start of moving. I am someone who actually enjoys moving because there is this goodness at the other end of it. That’s what I’m doing for now.

Zibby: I would hope you like moving after dedicating your whole life. If you were like, ugh, what a pain, then I would say maybe it’s time to look into something else. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Ali: Yes. One of the main things I would say would be to get on social media. I’m not saying this in terms of selling books. I think you hear that, you should be on social media. For me, I was never on social media until I started my blog. It was really scary because I was private. I just wasn’t on social media. Having a social media author presence where you can connect with other writers is so important because you will get to go through all the stages with them. Writing can be a rollercoaster of ups and downs as you’re going through it. To have other people on the ride with you makes it so much fun. You will celebrate each other’s victories. You will commiserate over the tough parts. It makes all the difference. I have been very fortunate throughout this whole journey to make friends all around the world through Instagram. Some people prefer Twitter, Facebook, whatever, but for me, through Instagram, just meeting all these amazing writers everywhere. I would say get on social media because writing can be a lonely profession. This way, you always have your friends with you. You will make all these great connections. Start there. You learn a lot from each other too. Any questions, you can just ask your writer friends on social media.

Zibby: I love that. That’s awesome. Thank you also, by the way, for contributing an essay to, my new online magazine that will be coming out soon too.

Ali: Thank you so much. I love your new magazine. I was reading all the articles last night. It just made me feel better.

Zibby: Good. That was the point. Thank god. Okay, I helped one person. It was all worth it.

Ali: It was totally worth it. It did. It made me smile. Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks so much, Ali.

Ali: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Bye.