You sure do have a lot of stuff

“We’re moving to London!”  What a great proposition.

Now, seems pretty simple.  You just pack up everything and ship it over, right?  That’s what I’ve seen most people do.

I lived in the city, where a common sight was a big truck arriving with a shipping container on the back – laden with someone’s personal belongings from some exotic location.  So based on this sight, I naively had assumed that this is the way to do it.  That sounds like a lot of work and no doubt expensive.

Given half a minute, a quick search of the internet will show you that there are simpler ways of moving overseas.  Mind you, these ways take a heck of a lot more courage than packing everything up and moving it with you…

The way I chose to move to London was by selling, donating, throwing out almost everything I owned (and storing the bare minimum).  Going minimal, as they would say.

Just think about that for a moment.  Disposing of everything you own… If you’re anything like me (and I hope for your sake you’re not) – in 30+ years of your life, you’ve probably amassed a huge amount of ‘stuff’, all with its own bunch of memories, sentimental value and other unknown reason why it’s still hanging around.  Let’s face it, if you didn’t need it, you wouldn’t hang onto it, right?

Well, that’s what I thought, however, a 3 bedroom apartment can certainly hold a lot of stuff from 30+ years of 2 well to do Melbournians.  There was even the cliche boxes which had moved from home to home after several moves – yet had never been opened. (What is in there anyway???)

Between the 2 of us, we moved to London with 4 suitcases.  I’ll explain how it was done.  I’ll have to write quickly, as I’ve lost about 5 years of my life on account of stress.  Buckle up!

Step 1: Inventory – Catalogue EVERYTHING

How much stuff do you really have?  It can’t be that much, surely.  That’s what I thought, until I catalogued everything.  I did this for 2 reasons;

  • I could not put one foot in front of the other to work out what I needed to do first – it was so overwhelming – When I get overwhelmed, I write lists… so that’s what I did
  • You really need a way of quantifying how much stuff you really have – how much you’re going to sell, what you’re going to donate, who you’re going to give what to… more importantly, you need a way of making rapid decisions – A list lets you do that

So *claps hands with glee*, it was time to make a spreadsheet. (I like to be organised in case you haven’t gathered).

The spreadsheet need not be complicated – a few basic columns will get you started;

  • Room (Where is the ‘stuff’ located)
  • Summary (What is it? Something like “Books” or “Grandma’s dentures” is great)
  • Notes / Description of anything important
  • Category (This will help later if you want to group stuff)
  • Action (What do you want to do with this stuff? Sell it? Give it away? Burn it? Store it?)

Now you’ve got your shell of a spreadsheet – it’s time to take a deep breath and get started cataloguing what all of this ‘stuff’ really is and how much of it there is;

  • Take in your laptop or tablet and start in one room (I found that the hallway was a nice ease into the process)
  • Don’t leave the room until you’ve made a list of EVERYTHING in it that is moveable
  • Very importantly – SAVE the spreadsheet regularly

Now, cancel all of your plans for the next few days and move from room to room to complete your list of your life. (Don’t worry, they’re only ‘things’).

Step 2: Decide the fate of your stuff

Once you have your list (or you may like to do this after each room like I did) – Sit down with your significant other (which may be your cat, that’s OK) and make some brutal decisions.  This is not the time to umm and ahh, it really is the time to be tough, realistic and a little heartless.  Remember, it’s only ‘stuff’.

Open up your faithful spreadsheet and run through every item;

  • Is this something you want to sell? (Will it realistically attract a buyer?  Will it be worth it? or is it just something that YOU think is valuable and the person across town may not agree?)
  • If you’re not going to sell it, are you going to donate it? (Again, is this something of value?  You may encounter bad karma if you think you’re going to donate useless junk – people who are in need don’t want your useless crap)
  • Are you going to give it away to someone? (Is there someone you know who would LOVE this thing?  Is there someone you know who just would be over the moon if you gave them a years supply of washing powder from Costco?)
  • Will you throw it out?
  • Will you keep it? (Remember, things you ‘keep’ will either need to be sent over to you at some stage, or you’ll be paying for storage)
  • Will you bring it with you now? (Think bringing it with you in your suitcases)
  • Will you ship it over later?

I don’t want to underestimate how difficult this part of the process is.  You may find it useful to watch a few episodes of Hoarders to get into groove of feeling comfortable decluttering.

Step 3: Planning the timing

Now you’ve got a view to how much stuff you actually have (I know, right??) you have an idea about how much effort and time things are going to take.

It’s so important to plan ahead so that you have something to keep you on track and make sure you have time for the things that matter – like family, friends and the going away drinks!

My dear partner devised a simple planning tool (one which I should really have been on top of as I work in Agile business analysis for my job — look it up if you want some light bedtime reading)

  • A spare space of wall was used to create a giant calendar with sticky notes
  • Each milestone was written up as its own note and stuck on the wall calendar – big ticket items like, when the sofa needed to be sold by and when it needed to be picked up by, when to hand in the keys to the realestate agent, when to plan for going away drinks
  • As the days wore on, we would check in to the all daily to check our progress – anything that hadn’t been done by ‘today’ was then moved on in the week.  It was clear that if something didn’t get done when it needed to, things start piling up and the anxiety grew
  • The reward was removing the sticky notes as things were done! YEAH – progress! *high 5*

Step 4: Get selling, donating and throwing!

This step is quite urgent in terms of getting it moving.  If you’re like me, you may only have 1 or 2 months to get EVERYTHING organised.  The quicker you get this sorted, the less last minute stress you’ll encounter – but I assure you – there’ll be something that blows up last minute.

I sold most of our items via online auctions, so I’ll explain a few tips;

  • Look to online auctions to sell items of value – remember that the focus is to sell it to get rid of it – not necessarily to get a good price (This is a hard pill to swallow)
  • Advertising items with a low starting price is a great way to get attention – careful of putting a price too low as you’ll either be surprised when your dining table sells for $0.99 – or it may not sell at all as people may be sceptical
  • Take good photos for online auctions – be honest with things that don’t work or are damaged  – explain your need to sell due to a MOVE and that there’s nothing wrong with the item (presuming that there is nothing wrong with the precious item you’re selling)
  • Be REALLY CLEAR about the need for someone to come and pick up the item and be really clear about what happens if they don’t – specify a timeframe and be pretty ruthless about it – Unfortunately, my experience of people who buy from online auctions have a habit of being unreliable a lot of the time – A lot were great and very helpful and friendly – but there were also a handful that caused most of my hair to fall out
  • Expect to receive a LOT of questions from the many items that you’re selling – it’s almost a full time job selling this quantity of stuff, so be prepared to put in the time
  • Don’t forget that online auctions will also charge fees – generally charged a month in arrears
  • Don’t offer to post big items – it is not worth it and will slow you down significantly – be aware of people bidding on large items who aren’t in your location (i.e. interstate) – they’ll no doubt be wanting to organise a courier which will again, slow you down and inconvenience you

We sold large items like sofas, tables, sofabeds and they were all picked up… It was tough going advertising, responding and coordinating pickups, but gee, when these larger items started to move – the place emptied out so quickly.

Remember: You probably still need to live in your place – it’s a good idea to sell larger items like your fridge, washing machine, sofa, TV etc. as late as possible.  There’ll be a buyer for these items so long as they’re in good condition and you really do need them to live.

If you’re donating, throwing out or storing anything – now’s the time to get it all organised. Try and deal with these as early as possible too – there’ll be last minute things that pop up along the way – and believe me, if you can clear up space – the site of an empty room is very, very encouraging amongst your despair and stress.

Step 5: Backup accommodation

I rented, which involved a final clean and inspection – something that can only be done when the place is empty.  But where am I to sleep, i hear you ask.

To make sure that there was a warm bed and more importantly, a shower ready  – a short term rental apartment was organised close by.  This was a huge blessing, as it was clean and calm – invaluable when the rest of your life is chaos.

Step 6: Saying goodbye

It goes without saying, this is the most difficult part of moving overseas.  Quite simply, you’re not going to see the people you know anywhere near as often as you would.  Also, if you’re moving to the other side of the world, a simple phonecall or skype chat isn’t going to be as easy either.

Make sure you spend the time catching up with those people who you love to say goodbye.  Bring tissues and stay strong.  These people won’t be happy that you’re leaving (understandably) but you’re doing this for a reason, right?

Save your tears for after you’ve said goodbye and you’re in the privacy of your home.  This sounds horrible, but it is of course distressing for someone to see someone else crying – do your best to hold it together knowing that you can fall to pieces in the days and weeks and months and probably years that will follow.

It may be tempting to skip the goodbyes, however, I can assure you that you’ll regret those missed goodbyes for a very long time.

Step 6: Take off

Prepare for your new life.  It’s exciting, it’s terrifying, it’s frustrating and tough, and it’s probably going to be the best thing you’ve ever done in your life.

Enjoy, grow and be the best person you can be.

I treat the experience of selling everything I own and moving overseas to be the most difficult and hopefully rewarding experience of my life.  Overall, I can’t believe that I did it.  I can’t believe I’m living in a new country without anything other than my partner, a few clothes, my essentials like phone, camera and laptop.  There are quite a few lucky people around Melbourne who have picked up some bargains.

It’s incredibly freeing, terrifying and exciting.  I’m missing my family and friends terribly, but I’m also optimistic about what’s to come.  It’s far from over – stay tuned for my adventures in both bureaucracy and life!

Tell me your stories

Do you have a story of how you moved countries?  Did you bring your stuff?  Did you purge?  Let me know in the comments below.






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