Moving overseas - what not to jettison?
January 11, 2013 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to move as minimally as possible, but hopefully not make my first six months miserable and broke while I replace important things I foolishly dumped.

I'm likely going to be relocating from Chicago to London this summer. My plan for moving, such as it is, is to dump everything except some clothes, my computer, and a few personal items. The goal I'm keeping in mind is to imagine that I am driving coast to coast and I can only move what I can fit in my car (and I want to be able to see out of the imaginary windows). I plan to dump all my furniture, nearly all my books, kitchen equipment and dishware, hobby stuff, and stereo/electronics gear, keeping nothing which is easily replaced (e.g., I will keep my spinning wheel but dump my knitting yarn). I plan to put nothing into storage, with a possible exception of stashing a box of old high school yearbooks, etc., at a friend's.

My question for you, Worldly People of MeFi, is: what might I be overlooking in trying to move so parsimoniously? Have you made an overseas relo and, once you got there, realized that you really wish you would have brought some particular item? As a specific example, I'm moving with two cats, and I'm wondering if it is wise or foolish to move a bag of kitty litter and some food, in their usual brands, to ease transitioning them to new brands. But I'm open to other things, like "twelve new pairs of my favorite underpants" or "US-Imperial measuring cups."
posted by sldownard to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Someone wise on Metafilter once said, "Don't keep anything you can replace for under $30". I moved from New Zealand to London with a 30kg suitcase... and in a year and a half I have everything I need - can't remember what I kept in storage!

Things I would have liked to have brought, if I had more room:
- Mementos of home
- Emergency snacks for moments of homesickness (omg Pineapple Lumps)
- My favourite handmade soap from the farmer's market

I would have also found it really useful to buy all my NZ to UK power adapters in NZ, and brought a few multiplugs/power strips what-have-you. I did have my leatherman on hand when I landed which has proved insanely useful from day dot. Take photos of what you put in storage.

Remember, London is not the same as moving to Alaska. It has everything you could ever imagine - for a price. Someone will know where to find your favourite brand of gum, but it might be £5.
posted by teststrip at 7:44 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Are you paying for the move yourself? The cost of shipping overseas is very high and there are very few things that are not cheaper to replace rather than ship. Rather than thinking of filling a car to drive cross country, think more of filling two large suitcases that you take on the plane with you and plan to set aside a chunk of cash for replacements.
posted by saradarlin at 7:46 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you find yourself always reaching for a particular item like a favorite hairbrush or spatula, and they are a good part of your everyday routine, you should bring them. Most things are replaceable and most things you probably aren't attached to, but if you are lIke me and there is "the good spoon" or "the right tote" you will miss having those.
posted by rmless at 7:51 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is a trick for cleaning out your closet that works by turning your hangers around in your closet. As you wear a piece of clothing, put the hanger back the right way. After 3/6/12 months, anything still on a backwards hanger gets tossed. I would try to expand this system to other aspects of your life. Put all your cooking implements in a plastic bin, and when you take them out return them to their proper drawer. Turn all your books around on the bookcase, and if you reference one, put it back the right way. Put all your cosmetics in a bin and return them to your make-up bag as you use them, etc, etc.

As a specific example, I'm moving with two cats, and I'm wondering if it is wise or foolish to move a bag of kitty litter and some food, in their usual brands, to ease transitioning them to new brands.

You are familiar with the UK's pet immigration process, I trust? In any case, I would not go to the expense of moving litter or food. Maybe a large ziplock bag of food for a quick transition, but unless you know your cats have issues with transitions, I wouldn't worry too much about it.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like you're doing it right. The big choice is whether to do surface shipping or just take what you can fly with, and I assume you've gone for the latter. What I found (going NZ -> UK) was that there's not much middle ground: surface shipping had a high cost for the minimum amount, but a modest increase per unit thereafter (e.g. $400 for one crate, $450 for two crates... I forget the exact numbers, but that kind of thing.) So if you're shipping anything, you may as well ship lots of things rather than rebuying.

The main thing I've missed since my last big move are my bike and my (large, heavy) toolkit. I don't regret not taking them -- it just wasn't economical -- but if a fairy godmother had suddenly increased my baggage allowance, they would have been the first to get rescued.

When doing the "take with you vs. replace" calculation, remember to factor in the inconvenience of buying things as well as the cost -- I take socks and underwear with me because I'm a bit fussy about them, and it can be a lot of trouble to find suitable replacements in a new country. Also, remember that things you regard as "easily replaceable" might only be so in the country where you currently live. I was stuck for ages without a coffee filter cone (price: under 3 euro) in New Zealand because I had blithely assumed I could just buy one in any supermarket.
posted by pont at 8:06 AM on January 11, 2013

After 50 years in the US, I sold almost everything and moved to another country with two suitcases and a bike. I took pictures of the items that had nice memories associated with them, then sold them.

I'm glad I brought the electronic gadgets that would be more expensive here (laptop, video recorder, audio recorder). I also brought my two best kitchen knives and two weird cameras that would be hard to replace. The rest was my favorite clothes.

I'm very glad I brought the bike because the bikes here are pretty bad, but I've never wished that I'd kept and brought any of my other ex-stuff.
posted by ceiba at 8:14 AM on January 11, 2013

I moved to London with a suitcase of clothing a duffle bag of books. I've never regretted my packing choices. Having said that, family photo albums etc remained at my mother's US house, so this was not quite "burn it down to the ground and start over."
posted by DarlingBri at 8:24 AM on January 11, 2013

I moved to the US with a backpack of clothes and laptop/gadgets. No regrets. One thing I would note is that clothes are typically more expensive in the UK than the US, so (and you've probably already thought of this, but just in case) prioritise things like coats and good quality winter clothes, even though you're moving in the summer and they will take up more room.

Here's another really obvious one but people (read: me) forget it all the time: bring an ample supply of universal or US>UK plug adaptors with you on the plane. Nothing worse than getting to your new home and not being able to charge your phone or computer and having to find an electronics store while jetlagged.
posted by retrograde at 9:01 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I did this, I took anything I could not easily replace that was small enough to fit in a box and worth the very expensive cost of shipping across the Atlantic, which turned out to be very little.

I would say, just running through a mental list of what was handy in my new experience: Your clothes and shoes, since the last thing you want to do is be in desperate need of a clothing item when you have no idea what the stores stock and carry, with an emphasis on whatever season it is (you REALLY don't want to be running around trying to find a good clothing store when it's freezing cold out and all you brought is t-shirts, don't ask me how I know) and will be soon. Shoes, especially, if you have big or wonky feet. My feet are both big and wide so there was a time I had the choice between hiking boots or neon yellow clown shoe sneakers because that's what the shoe store I managed to find had in my size. (I took the clown shoes).

Your essential electronic gadgets, things like your laptop, etc. Don't bring anything else because even with adapters, smaller stuff may go a little wonky. I brought a treasured alarm clock and it never got along with European power even with plug adapters and voltage regulators and I wound up chucking it (which was space I could've used for more clothes), and then whatever small comforts fit in the available space remaining.

We shipped some books that'd be hard to replace and other doodads over but the list got culled pretty quick once we saw the price of shipping.

Oh, and a tip. Whatever your "I will part with this bag under pain of death" carry-on is, make sure it's got a change of clothes or at least a change of underwear/socks in it, because on one of my hops I had to go from 2 carry-ons to 1 and the airline lost that as well as all my other luggage. While I was definitely not pleased to show up to my first day of work wearing clothes I'd been in for over 48 hours, having the clean underpants was nice and probably what kept me from saying "Fuck it" and heading back to the States.

You're in the UK, so I wouldn't worry too much, since they have Amazon there if nothing else.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:23 AM on January 11, 2013

What I would do, especially as a crafter, is check first to see how much things will cost to replace, or how easy it will be. Yarn is quite expensive here compared with the States - maybe not enough to justify moving the lot, but be prepared for a bit of surprise at how much more you're going to need to pay. (As a rule, Alexander Henry type fabrics are twice the price per yard/metre here. will give you a guide to what wool's available here if you're wondering what to keep. London does not have many yarn stores at all given the size of the city , so unless you're after expensive small-scale yarns, you'll need to shop online or travel way out from the centre.) How much would it be to replace your spinning wheel? That might be easier or cheaper. You could probably get a good amount of yarn for the space/weight that the wheel would take up.

Same goes for small electronic gear - VAT/sales tax here is 20% (people often ask their friends going to the States to bring back things like iPads or BOSE docks) so it might prove a good idea to make space for your laptop in your luggage, and get yourself a step-down converter as well so you can plug it into mains power here.

Books are more replacable now than they ever have been, either via ebook or via buying them on Amazon for 1p plus £3 shipping. You can now trade in books for Amazon credit, which I've been doing a lot lately as I'm planning a move as well. Clothes are more expensive, but we have budget stores like Primark or New Look if you just need something to get you by if you're not a specialist size or shape. (I too have big feet so I have got used to having to spend more on my shoes.) US-Imperial measuring cups are fairly easy to find here!

If you take melatonin, buy it and ship it over - it isn't available at all here. The other things I'd recommend based on travelling overseas are preferred brands of sanitary protection, and make-up if you use it (some brands aren't available here, most are far more costly compared to the US, like OPI.) If you don't drive (most people in London don't bother, gas and charges are expensive) then you can get pet supplies online easily, as my colleagues do for their hamsters, or in the local supermarket, so you could probably get by without the kitty litter.
posted by mippy at 9:50 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

A year ago, I moved from the UK to Prague. I only took what I was wearing, and what I could fit in a carry-on rucksack. Gave away my car, books, telly and everything else. No regrets at all.

The way I think about it is, if you can't bear to leave something once, there's a good chance that you'll be dragging it around forever, like Jacob Marley's chains.
posted by veedubya at 11:29 AM on January 11, 2013

We shipped mostly artwork, books, and clothes, and that was pretty good for us. (Artwork because of the sentimental value, but also the replacement price would have been too high – we couldn't have done it, since a lot of our stuff was from artists who were friends. The books helped (pre-ebook), because we moved to a non-English speaking country, but moving to London, I would only take your most treasured, irreplaceable volumes.)

I'm glad we had all of our "serious" clothes, because they are a lot more expensive outside the U.S., and we wore our nice coats for years, as well as a whole lot of other stuff. I would have bought and brought more good clothes and shoes in classic styles, if I had grokked the big price difference.

Ultimately, for us, the single thing I really regretted not bringing along was our cheapo crockpot, even though we would have had to use a converter, because they just weren't available where we moved (Greece). But we ended up finally getting a fancy one shipped from the UK, so obvs not a problem for you. :) Oh, and a beautiful wall mirror my husband made by hand... we said he could just do it again, but that never happened.
posted by taz at 11:51 AM on January 11, 2013

Two small points:

1. This advice will sound woefully dated, but in the past when I had a big move pending, I would subscribe to local newspapers through the mail and read travel books about the area. In the sense of not wanting to "bring sand to the beach", it gave me a sense of pricing and availability which helped make strategic decisions about what was worth moving.

2. When I was bouncing around a lot, I didn't schlep my sentimentals around with me from place to place or dump them on a relative. I rented a largish safe deposit box ($30/yr) for safekeeping long-term personal stuff that couldn't be replaced. That simplified things quite a bit. Everything I carried was either essential paperwork or day-to-day possessions for living my life.
posted by 99percentfake at 12:01 PM on January 11, 2013

I keep coming upon LPs and books I regret giving up in my cross-country move.

Earlier this week I re-bought Joni Mitchell's "Clouds" album, for example.

So I'd say that one can be overzealous when culling media.

In terms of practical life stuff, if you have a can opener you like, KEEP IT. I also miss my coffee grinder, though it's really just that I keep forgetting to buy another one.

Probably the first relatively expensive things I bought when I moved into my apartment were a chef's knife and a down comforter. If you already have high quality versions of these, it might be worth bringing them.

My favourite handmade soap from the farmer's market

Yes. I packed one bar of some glorious hand-milled soap in one of my favorite scents. There's nothing particularly evocative of "home" about it, but it's nice to have one luxurious thing when you're living minimally with one spoon and one bowl, haven't found a shower curtain you like yet, etc.

Also, remember that things you regard as "easily replaceable" might only be so in the country where you currently live.

Oh god yes. I moved within the US and this was true. It used to be that I could hop on a subway and be at The Container Store, Sur La Table, or Bed/Bath/Beyond in twenty minutes. Now the same errand takes twice as long and involves GPS-dependent freeway driving and often finding a parking spot as well. I've taken to ordering things online rather than schlepping across the city.

Which brings up more advice: I don't know if AmazonPrime exists in the UK, but if so GET IT.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 PM on January 11, 2013

I just made the move from California to the UK less about three months ago. I took basically what the airline would allow (two large bags to check in and one small carry-on), which was mostly full of clothes, a few electronic devices (mostly portable stuff), and a few books and boardgames; things that I really wanted or would be really expensive to purchase in the UK.

Somebody suggested taking a down comforter, but I would advise against it as the standard sizes of duvet covers in the US vs. the UK are extremely different. The bed sizes are the same, but if you have a blanket/duvet that needs a cover, I would just suggest getting something in the UK.

It's also worth noting that cotton is really expensive in the UK, most of the cheap bedding over here is a polyester/cotton blend. If you have really sensitive skin, you may have to cough up a bit for bedclothes. The big department stores over here (Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, BHS, Debenhams) will give you an idea of what prices are.
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 12:41 PM on January 11, 2013

It's also worth noting that cotton is really expensive in the UK

FWIW, you can get 100% cotton duvet covers and bedding inexpensively at IKEA and suprisingly, at Littlewoods and at Argos if you search for Egyptian cotton. (I used to have my mother ship me sheets and pillowcases but I don't any more.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:53 PM on January 11, 2013

Have just done England back to the States. My husband's job paid for relocation of most of our stuff, but we got here on December 21 and it is not getting here until February 21, so we are living on what we brought in our suitcases for quite some time.

Adaptors, definitely. At least one. It's incredibly irritating to hunt around for those when you get wherever you're going, exhausted and stressed and just wanting to *get out of the airport*. Wehad our duvet, pillows, pillowcases, and a fitted sheet in our suitcases, and that was more of a lifesaver than I would have expected. One certainly can get by without such things, or buy them when one gets there, but if there's room, it is so very very nice to have something to make your sleep comfortable.

I am sure you already know this, but roll your clothes. And I think most international flights allow you two large checked bags and one carry-on. If that's all you're bringing with you, you'll want the full allowance.

Bring something you care about to hang on your wall, too. One of the hardest parts for me, both going out to England and coming back, has been being unable to personalize my surroundings, and make them really feel like home. Transitioning to a new place is exhausting and difficult. I'm a bit of a nester, true, but I find it really important to have something that feels like it's really *mine* in the midst of all the chaos.

Good luck. I think London is the most awesome city in the world.
posted by Because at 3:30 PM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, adaptors. I own 4 UK to Europe adaptors...and packed them all in a box full of work-related stuff I shipped, so I had to buy a new one when I arrived so I can use my laptop for the week or so until my box gets here. Please learn from my mistake.

I'm generally of the "get rid of it" party, but keep in mind that even stuff that's "easy to replace" might be difficult to find initially if you don't have anyone to ask where to buy it. When I first moved to the UK 6 years ago it took me weeks to figure out where to buy cheap plastic clothes hangers. Everyone there told me, "Oh, I just keep the hangers when I buy clothes" (something that also would not have occurred to me as a possibility), but I didn't want to buy a whole new set of clothes, I just wanted to be able to hang my own ones up! The solution to this particular problem ended up being a visit to the big Tesco rather than the local one, in case you're wondering. I'm not suggesting that you need to bring hangers with you, though, just that you should make sure your expectations for "easy to replace" are realistic.

I see you said you're planning on not leaving stuff in storage, and I just wanted to say that I fully support that. I have some stuff in my parents' basement that I wasn't strong enough to get rid of at the time, and which I now wish I had. Not only are my parents completely unwilling to get rid of it without having me there to "check it over" (no matter how many times I've told them to do so), every so often my mother will go down and choose a few random things and send them to me. My parents can afford to hire a moving company when they move, so they don't understand the burden that "stuff" is in my life. Get rid of it irrevocably before you go, so no one can do this to you.

And finally, enjoy London - it's a really exciting city!
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 1:18 AM on January 12, 2013

SymphonyNumberNine: even stuff that's "easy to replace" might be difficult to find initially if you don't have anyone to ask where to buy it... The solution to this particular problem ended up being a visit to the big Tesco

One thing that struck me about shopping in the UK is that the mega-supermarkets have a much wider array of products than they do in the US, including clothing, linens, cookware and home goods. If you are stumped about where to find something, try a big supermarket.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:01 AM on January 12, 2013

Oh, also: fridge magnets! They're the kind of thing you just collect from businesses and gifts, but they can be really hard to find in stores (and the novelty ones you can find don't have the strength for serious fridge magnet duties). Especially when I first moved, I had so many "to do" and "to buy" lists and reminders and phone numbers and take-out menus I wanted to put on the fridge but nothing to attach them with. Also, as Because nailed, the personalisation thing really is comforting amongst the chaos of moving, and it's much easier to put a few family photos on the fridge when you first move in, especially if you're renting.
posted by retrograde at 9:08 AM on January 12, 2013

I don't know if AmazonPrime exists in the UK, but if so GET IT

It does, but super-saver delivery is free for everything (minimum spend used to be £5), so I'm not sure if you really need it. I think I've only ever needed to pay for delivery once, and that was from poor planning on my part - everything else I get via the free method. Same with ASOS (though their Prime equivalent is £15 per year).

All my bedlinen at the moment is from IKEA. You can get to stores on the Tube if you need to. You should also find your nearest large Tesco, Sainsburys or Asda - all will do bed linen, cookware, and suchlike, as will TK Maxx/Homesense stores that sell homeware (not sure where you'll be moving but for me in West London I find Kingston and Hammersmith the best for this stuff.)
posted by mippy at 1:00 PM on January 14, 2013

I moved the other way from England to Chicago in August after 7 years in England. There are a number of things I did wrong.

Don't necessarily discard cheap stuff. Calculate values. We got rid of all our kitchen utensils and replacing them actually turned out to be more expensive than it would have been to ship them (they are light). Basically ditch things that are inexpensive and heavy. Move things that are light and useful.

We used seven seas. They have a cost estimator. It is a bit expensive to ship but at least you won't have to pay the $300 in U.S. Customs inspections fees. I think it was about £30 per box of 40lbs (but double check that) and they provide the boxes.

The one thing you do need to know is that shipping is slow. Like 2 months slow. So it only makes sense to ship things you can live without for the 2 months while you wait.

Shop for a bed now so you can have one delivered the day after you arrive (and not get ripped off).

Get banking and credit cards sorted right away. Turns out Visa isn't accepted everywhere if it isn't issued in the country you are shopping in.

I found it pretty liberating to ditch my unessentials when I moved to England 7 years ago and found that it became a lifestyle after that to not have much stuff. The lack of space in England helps with that.

Ebay is a great source for furniture in the UK and works better than in the US due to Royal Mail having a much better rate structure. Craigslist was a ghost town where I was.

You do know your cats will have to endure a rabies quarantine period right?

There is a Canada/America/Australia shop in Covent Garden and a couple of online shops where you get things that expats tend to miss. (why anyone would miss Hersheys is beyond me).
posted by srboisvert at 8:55 PM on January 16, 2013

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