Moving overseas, packrat edition
May 16, 2015 8:33 PM   Subscribe

I'll be moving from the US to the EU in a couple of months. I'm a packrat and not an organized one, so the idea of paring down my belongings to a couple of suitcases fills me with a paralyzing anxiety! How can I start to whittle things down? I'm looking for practical solutions and ideas for trimming the fat over the next couple of months, ideally to make my final days here as un-hectic as possible.

In theory, I am fine with getting rid of lots and lots of stuff and even view the move as liberating. I'm willing to expand my moving allowance to include a couple of extra boxes of sentimental items (grandma's wedding dress, etc.) but not too much more. I have no family with whom I can leave things, so what I toss will be gone forever.

I'm hoping for specific suggestions, and what has or has not worked for others in a similar situation. i.e., How/when should I sell my car? I'll need it to keep driving to work nearly to my departure date. What about furniture? I rent a two-bedroom house and don't have any furniture that's worth shipping across the ocean. How can I best organize trips to Goodwill/the dump/Craigslist? (If possible, I'd like to be able to sell things to save some money). What about boxes of photos--should I put them in albums and toss the rest? Should I discard one holey pair of socks each day? Old laptops and books and CDs?

Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
posted by pocksuppeteer to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: [edit: posting from a sockpuppet account as my work doesn't yet know I'm leaving. Suggestions on when to notify an employer are appreciated, too!]
posted by pocksuppeteer at 8:35 PM on May 16, 2015

I once moved from the EU to the US. I rented a storage in the EU. After 1-2 years I canceled the storage, shipped some stuff to my EU based relatives and trashed the rest. A friend said I paid a storage for one year for nothing. No, I paid for the option to come back any time. You might want to consider this.

- Furniture? Hard to sell. Try craigslist or a yard sale.

- Books? I hate to throw away books but they are hard to shop. Sell or donate them. Keep a few that are important. (In the future: ebooks are your friend)

- Old laptops and CDs: Trash them (Move to mp3s)

- The car: If you need it to the end, consider a car dealer. Otherwise, craigslist.

- about boxes of photos. How many do you have? Can you scan them?

- notify an employer. What does your contract say? Don't burn any bridges there but also don't give too much advanced notice (they may fire you before your leave date).

You can ship a decent sized USPS box to the EU for around 100 US$
posted by yoyo_nyc at 9:27 PM on May 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Old laptops and CDs: Trash them (Move to mp3s)

For the old laptops: if they still run, consider donating them to a charity which refurbishes laptops and gives them to those who can use them. If not, make sure the hard drive is wiped (either use "Darik's Boot And Nuke" utility or remove from the computer and hit with hammer) then e-waste recycle the laptop to keep it out of a landfill (Best Buy accepts e-waste, I believe.)

For boxes of photos, there are services that scan your photos for you. Scancafe is one, but there are others.
posted by bluecore at 9:32 PM on May 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Goodwill and other charities like the Salvation Army will pick up stuff at your house if you call them.
posted by vickyverky at 11:30 PM on May 16, 2015

I would think moving overseas is stressful enough without the worry of selling stuff a little at a time - do you have the time/bandwidth for that? Something to think about.

I know nothing about moving overseas, so I can't help you there. But as far as the "unorganized" and "minimalist" thing goes, when it comes to permanently simplifying your life by paring down all of your possessions to the essentials, I can't recommend "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" highly enough. There's a review here and a TED talk here. I'm going through a process of simplifying in general, and I've found a wealth of practical, how-to, nitty-gritty information in this book. It's shocking how much stuff we think we need. The book took me about three hours to get through, and was worth every minute. I've completed weeding through 80% of my possessions - everything I own - in 2 weekends. YMMV. If you do go the garage sale route, my advice would be to wait until you've decided exactly what to sell and gone through EVERYTHING before you deal with the hassle of selling it. Then you only have to deal with selling it, not paring it down AND selling stuff at the same time.

1. Most importantly - go through your items by category, not by room. All the clothes get dumped in a pile and assessed. All the books get dumped on the floor and assessed. Same thing with movies, office supplies, documents, cosmetics/toiletries, handbags/luggage, storage stuff, kitchen stuff, sentimental things, knick knacks. Everything. This is radical, but trust me - it works. If you have someone helping you, all the better.
2. Take pictures of sentimental items.
3. If it isn't useful, or doesn't bring you joy, get rid of it.
4. One suggestion for books: Donate all of them except the ones that are useful or memorable. This should only be a shelf or so. If this makes you nervous, make a wishlist on Amazon of all the ones you donate so you don't forget them in case you want them again.
5. Invest in a scanner. We bought a Doxie One for $100 or so last year, and we swear by it.
6. Read the KonMari book. Do it now.

Good luck!
posted by onecircleaday at 11:32 PM on May 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

I moved from the US to EU a number of years ago, and I'm a total packrat. The strategies that helped me were:

* Go through every pile of "stuff to keep" multiple times. Never go through a "keep" pile without moving something to the "sell", "donate", or "trash" pile.
* Don't keep anything physical that you can keep digitally. Scan photos, rip CDs, sell books.
* Limit yourself to a couple of weeks' worth of clothes. They take up a lot of space, and you can always buy new clothes after you move. Same with shoes.
* Don't bother taking any small electronics (like a hair dryer, blender, etc.). Don't take any laptop or tablet that you aren't already using every day. You won't use them more often after you move.
* Visit Goodwill at least once per week. Doesn't matter if you've only got a shopping bag's worth of stuff to donate. The idea is to keep up the momentum. Get stuff into an "out of sight, out of mind" state as quickly as possible.
* Don't rely on being able to make much money from selling. If it happens, it's a nice bonus; but it takes a lot of time to sell things, and it can end up costing you money because of fees. Laser-focus on the goal of "get rid of stuff by any means necessary".
* Try to give away as much as possible to friends, family, and neighbors. That's how I dealt with most of my furniture. Do you know anyone who works at a church, community center, etc.? Sometimes they'll take furniture, if it's in good condition.
posted by neushoorn at 12:40 AM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

We did this a couple of years ago and moved to Europe with two kids, two large suitcases and two carry-on suitcases. (We did ship over our bikes and kayaks, but nothing else, and we left nothing in NZ.)

Instead of thinking about what you want to get rid of, think about what you want to keep.

We did this with the children's things. For example:
* Your five favourite books
* Five keepsakes (toys, in their case)
* See what clothing you wear in two weeks, and what you don't. Keep the things you wear regularly.

Digitise your photos and put everything in the cloud. Do the same with letters/cards other ephemera. (Incidentally, scan ALL your official documents e.g. passport, contracts, drivers license at the same time.)
Sell the large stuff on eBay/craigslist etc.
Have a yard sale.
Give smaller things to family/friends/neighbours.
Donate to Goodwill or your personal choice of charity.
If your local waste collection place accepts older or soiled bulky items (e.g. mattresses), drop those sorts of things to them.

Be prepared: you will probably regret leaving something behind every now and then. But it will pass. I suddenly missed a particular dress yesterday, for about two minutes.
posted by tracicle at 1:36 AM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I moved from New Zealand to Europe, and then five years later, I moved from there to Australia. Both times I got my possessions down to a couple of suitcases.

The key, in my opinion, is to make a psychological adjustment. You are not going through your stuff choosing what to get rid of. You are going through choosing what to keep.

It sounds similar, but it's the only way you can get rid of a whole houseful of possessions. Get the suitcases and/or boxes you are taking, fill them as you would for a three or four week holiday, and then add on a couple of sentimental things that you wouldn't normally take on a trip, like photo albums, or whatever. Now you are done.

Wait a couple of weeks to make sure that nothing else essential occurs to you. Then have a garage sale and sell everything else. For anything that doesn't sell, put a big free sign on it, and leave it by the side of the road, or call the Salvation Army to see if they'll pick it up.

You can buy just about anything you need when you get to where you are going, if it turns out you made the wrong decision. For most sentimental things, you can take a digital photo of them instead of keeping the actual object. And digitise all your paperwork (old tax files, contracts, receipts).
posted by lollusc at 1:42 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've done this a couple of times now. The first time I had a lot of photos, a relative's journal, flyers, and other stuff to digitize, so I bought a scanner and started that first. I also bought a Kindle and as I went through my books, I bought the Kindle version of ones that I thought I'd really need and donated the rest. I took photos of objects that had emotional value and then sold or gave them away, with no regrets later.

I also did a daily run to Goodwill or similar places: I'd fill the car without caring much about organization, drive to the drop off place, unload, and do it again the next day. So rather than sorting things in the house, my technique was to grab stuff nearly at random and put it directly in the car.

I had a one-day open-house sale for friends, who cleared out a lot of my stuff. I listed the remaining furniture on Craigslist. It was actually easier to sell to strangers on Craigslist than it was to sell to friends. Although I'd made clear that the open-house sale was "You buy it, you take it away immediately," my friends wanted me to deliver stuff to them, or wanted to come by later and then didn't, or wanted to pay with a check that they would leave under their doormat at their house to which I would have to drive 20 minutes… In contrast, strangers came on time, paid with cash, and took the thing away.
posted by ceiba at 2:17 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I was in a similar situation, I handled the car-selling by taking it to Carmax. I had done some research so I knew what they should offer me, and I was right. I could have gotten a significant chunk more if I'd sold it myself, but it was worth it to know I could use the car up until essentially the last possible minute, drive to Carmax, sit around for a while, and walk away with a check.

For the other stuff, I tend to do some amount of clearing out as I go (with several trips to drop stuff at charity shops/Goodwill), but at some point you cross a threshold where it makes more sense (and you have more space) to accumulate stuff and make an appointment for Goodwill/whatever to come and collect. Check with them to make sure what they take - different people have different rules about electronics or condition of goods, etc.

And if you can afford it, do consider storage - a small unit for just some boxes shouldn't cost too much, and it does buy you time. If a year of storage is equivalent to a month's rent (which it has been for me in the past) it might be worth making your load lighter now, as well as just keeping stuff like family mementos there rather than schlepping until you know whether you're perching or settling down.

Lots of really really good advice above, but I have to say that lollusc's

You are not going through your stuff choosing what to get rid of. You are going through choosing what to keep.

has been a perspective I've found useful over the decades.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:16 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Selling your car to Carmax or another dealer is going to be faster and less hassle than selling it privately, though you will get less money. I sold a vehicle to Carmax not that long ago and the entire process, from walking in to being handed the check, took perhaps half an hour total. I'd try the private sale first, but keep the dealer option in the back of your head in case things come down to the wire.

On the question of how to sort your possessions, Marie Kondo's approach has gotten a lot of attention on Metafilter, with at least two FPPs (one, two) and lots of comments around the site.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:25 AM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Every Sunday, spend 20mn and fill 2 grocery bags of Goodwill items. It's doable but a stretch after the first few weeks, and it allows you to tackle this over a series of weeks instead of all-at-once (perfect for packrats). This is how I whittled down an apartment to just what would fit in my car. By the end, I was actively looking for things during the week I could donate away on sunday.
posted by samthemander at 8:04 AM on May 17, 2015

Pack to go on a trip. Fill your suitcases as though you were going away for, say, a month, to a place where the weather would vary and where you'd want to be able to wear your favorite clothes and have things you need with you.

Then, fill a single box with mementos and other irreplaceable things. Choose the size of the box before you decide what to put in it. Do not overfill the box. This will force you to make choices. (For example, I might rather give up my grandmother's wedding dress, which will likely sit in a closet for most of the rest of its life, in favor of filling the box with stuff I can display, crafts made for me by loved ones, and other things that will be both beautiful and a part of my daily life when I arrive in my new destination.)

Then, digitize as much as you can. Photos, music, home movies, most paperwork, etc. can all be digitized. Do that. Do not pack anything that can be digitized or that can be replaced with a digital version. Take lots of digital photos of mementos that didn't make the box (like the wedding dress), or other items you'd like to remember.

Everything else is trash. It may be trash that is worth some money, so have a garage sale or do Craigslist or whatever. But the bottom line is that you are getting rid of more stuff than you are taking, so it makes much more sense to decide what to take than to decide what to get rid of. Start from the premise that you are going on a trip and that you will need and want your best stuff with you. Pack your stuff in order from best to worst. When you run out of space to pack, you are done, and everything else is trash.
posted by decathecting at 9:54 AM on May 17, 2015

If you have furniture that you think you could get a couple hundred dollars for, you might try Craigslist for that first, but for most of the stuff, I would probably go the yard sale route. It's not worth the hassle of Craigslist or Ebay just to get rid of a bunch of small things that will go for say $50 or less. (Unless you're super tight on cash, but you have to weigh how much your time is worth versus how much money you can make, and it sounds like you're probably going to be short on time since an overseas move is quite an endeavor.)

Anything that doesn't get purchased in the yard sale I would donate to charity. There are places like the Salvation Army that will probably come by and pick up larger items. You can also check in with local schools, libraries, homeless shelters, etc.

As far as digitizing everything, one important thing is to make sure you have backup copies of your files. This is something that's a good idea in general, but it's especially important when you're making such a big move. Aside from making one or more backups via an external hard drive, I would also go with an offsite cloud option. I use backblaze, personally.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:49 AM on May 17, 2015

Should I discard one holey pair of socks each day? Old laptops and books and CDs?

As a general rule, if your house burned down and you would NOT replace the item in question with a like item, get rid of it.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:19 AM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm moving from the US to overseas shortly too. Here's things I've found useful...

Check your town for events like a 'Spring Clean' and for Household Hazardous Waste days. There's a lot of surprising things that are probably not supposed to go in your municipal trash, so it's good to start figuring out how to deal with them now. I didn't think to check and missed my HHW day by 3 days. Argh!! Now getting rid of cleaners, paints and stuff is going to be a lot harder.

My town has spent the last two weeks doing spring clean stuff - there have been 'drop and swap' events for big items, and a free large trash day to get rid of lots of items without having to pay an extra fine. These things don't come around often, so if you have anything upcoming, that can affect your time table.

I made a google spreadsheet of everything that I think is 'good stuff' that I can't take with me. The spreadsheet is shared with local friends and family to see if there's anything they're interested in. It makes it easier to put on the list if you imagine it's going to a good home. Maybe even ask around at work if anyone knows people who need things. (I know work doesn't know, but they don't need to know you're moving, just say you watched one of those Hoarder shows and decided to go Minimalist) I was surprised at how many people wanted the things I figured were going to be hard sells like my crummy car, and art supplies.

Start with the small and manageable bits and then move deeper. I started by doing things like focusing on cleaning out my video games and makeup/beauty stuff, then moved on to the hall closet and bookshelves, and so on and so forth. I've spent the last two weeks going through the Big Scary Stuff Saved for Last- the piles of 'why did I keep this, is it important?' paperwork, the garage full of spiders... and they turned out to be not a big deal at all.
posted by Caravantea at 12:54 PM on May 17, 2015

Response by poster: These were wonderful suggestions, thank you!
posted by pocksuppeteer at 8:54 PM on June 1, 2015

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