Charts & Graphs

Moving Day

Customs and rituals for changing residences.

Street of houses with a blue moving truck and boxes in the road

According to the medieval Icelandic Grágás laws, itinerant laborers could change households and renegotiate contracts once a year during a four-day period at the end of May, “when six weeks of summer have passed.” Any laborer lacking a household and position by the end of the moving period was subject to a fine.

In Plautus’ c. 206 bc play The Merchant, the protagonist Charinas prepares to move out of his father’s house by appealing to the Lares and Penates, spirits believed to guard Roman homes. “To you I commit the fortunes of my parents that you guard them well,” he prays, “for myself another city, another country, will I seek.”

In a 2020 survey of Americans who had moved within the past three years, market research company OnePoll found that 64 percent reported their most recent move was one of the most stressful life events they had ever experienced.

Before moving, elites in Heian-era Japan performed elaborate shintaku ishi rituals to appease the spirits of the new abode. One such ritual from 1063 dictates that the first people to enter the house must be two young girls carrying fire and water, followed by a yellow ox.

Among the Appalachian superstitions gathered by folklorist Judy Stewart in 1973: “When moving to a new house, never take an old broom, for death will follow.”

Owing to Boston’s large student population, around 66 percent of the city’s apartment leases begin on September 1 and end on August 31. The Boston Globe reported that on these days in 2017, the city issued more than 1,200 moving truck permits, compared with an average of 37 on a typical day.

Until the mid-twentieth century, all New York City leases expired on the first of May. “From the peep of day till twilight,” one observer wrote in 1843, “may be seen carts which go at a rate of speed astonishingly rapid, laden with furniture of every kind, racing up and down the city, as if its inhabitants were flying from a pestilence, pursued by Death with his broad scythe just ready to mow them into eternity.”

Among the Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest, lineage chiefs traditionally selected unique names for newly built houses. If disease or war rendered a village uninhabitable, the Tlingit would abandon their homes but retain the house names to reuse at a new site. “A name once given,” the anthropologist George Thornton Emmons wrote in the late nineteenth century, “survived the mere structure.”

“I encourage you to make sure that you actually pick up a negative vibe” before burning sage to cleanse a new home, advised one commenter on a witchcraft Reddit forum in 2019, “because otherwise you might be clearing out positive energy.”