Noisy neighbours, polluted air, loneliness… there are many reasons why people relocate. Geeta Padmanabhan finds out how shifting residence improves the quality of life

They want their identity protected, so let's call them Mr & Mrs X. They are moving. “Enough is enough,” said X dramatically. “Garbage, noise and uncooperative neighbours — it's terrible! We're looking forward to the quiet of the village.” Lucky, they found one.

Hyma Nathan is moving too, to a senior centre. The house she bought, re-modelled and shared with her husband didn't feel like home after he passed away. “So much happened in this house,” she agrees. “We loved its space, its relative seclusion. Now that he's gone, I don't feel I belong here.” She knows living at the centre will call for adjustments, but “there will be people to help me tide over the loss. I need a sense of community.”

Soon after retiring, government officer Mr. Chandran rented a house in the slumberous interiors of Valasaravakkam, hoping to build a cottage in the small plot he owned. After 35 years of colony life, here was his chance to not meet people from work. He would deal with his high BP by attending discourses, helping the Mrs with shopping and watching television. A year later, he moved to a 2BHK apartment in Adyar. “My kids said managing an independent house in old age wasn't wise,” he explained. “Plus shops/banks/hospitals are far away in this place!” The neighbour across the hall is a good friend now, he says. “I'm anxiety-free.”

More than a change of address

If they had known the term, my respondents would have endorsed the value of “real estate therapy”. Each hoped to work out the pain of a substantial crisis — retirement, illness, loss of a loved one, divorce — by shifting location. A new home for them would mean much more than a change of address. “I moved to Besant Nagar (from Anna Nagar) for the love of the beach,” said Kamla Ravikumar of Studio 41. “There is a world of difference in the air quality between the two. You are inspired by early morning/evening walkers. Gyms and Yoga schools abound. And residents of Kalakshetra Colony — where I live — are trying to fight commercialisation. It's great when there is no commercial activity in a residential area. Fewer vehicles, less pollution.”

That's relocation as escape, as therapy. It's a no-brainer that moving closer to your place of work or the kids' schools is beneficial to health. It affords more time for yourself and the family. “People have shifted to apartments because they can use lifts,” says actor Sukanya. “And one door means safety. Some move to suburbs for the quiet, but return to the city-centre for the sabhas.” A cancer patient abandoned her long-time address for a newly-built flat, insisting the move was therapeutic. “The new environment will help me fight the disease,” she said. “I'm betting on the future.” A friend rented a ground-floor apartment to accommodate his sick dog, but packed up immediately after the dog was euthanised. “Can't bear to live here,” he says. “Every spot reminds me of Tiger.” Mrs. Mani is going back to her idyllic Alleppey home — her children have found lives abroad. “City-life will kill me,” she says.

Is location therapy based on faith? May be. Moving house is difficult, even traumatic. Sometimes a long lived-in place exerts an emotional tug. Counsellors advise against making decisions immediately after major loss. When you choose a new residence as the best solution to a problem, you will pack your emotional baggage along with clothes and cutlery. Changing real estate may be psychologically healthy under certain circumstances, but won't make a difference if the unhappiness is internal.

“People may see a move as a way of starting over, a way of undoing bad happenings,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Professor of Psychiatry. “It’s a defence mechanism.” A healthy one? “There’s no right answer,” she said. “But a desire to run might lead you to a financially or emotionally unwise decision, unless you had always wanted to be elsewhere.” Mohana Narayanan, Reiki Master & Life Skills Trainer said it's natural to blame the environment when one is plagued by misfortune. Is it vastu defect, feng-shui flaw? Any straw is worth clutching as explanation, she said. But “if you're going to carry the negativity with you, there is really no point in shifting a geographical location. Stay on, make alterations to the current home, energise the place. More important, energise your thought process. It requires grit though. When you're down, it's sometimes easier to quit than to stay on and fight!”

HOME TRUTHS

* Houses can be designed for serenity and calm.

* Architectural features can give a sense of space, enhance patients’ sense of control and ability to cope.

* Open areas, trees, places of worship and water sources can reduce trauma.

* Environmental psychologists recommend sound-absorbing walls/glasses to reduce noise (and stress) and designs for natural light.

* Empathetic company (children, like-minded people) can be of help.