Decision-making when moving
June 1, 2020 11:32 AM   Subscribe

We're moving! And we don't know where or what we're doing yet. We won't have any idea until after we have moved. So how do we decide what to pack?

Some plans involve keeping lots of things for a household. Some plans include keeping next to nothing. We definitely won't want the burden of having kept things if we need to be traveling light, and we are very low income so if we need the various things it would be nice to have not gotten rid of them.

How do we make this decision given that we need to decide before we have the relevant information?
posted by aniola to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pack in layers - minimum to get by, get by more comfortably, nice to haves, everything. Put everything in boxes and label everything.

Take as much as you feel you want to or can to the new place. When you get there, don't take anything out of a box until you need it. If you haven't opened a box within a year of arriving, get rid of it without worrying about the contents.
posted by mhoye at 11:38 AM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Keep tools that are smaller than a breadbox and weigh less than 10 lbs.
Keep a sewing machine if you have one and know how to use it.
Keep stuff that helps you make/fix stuff, is the main idea, including a few reference books if you have them.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:42 AM on June 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I would start by thinking about how much you can afford to move. Can you afford to rent a truck or even a mini-van? Do you have a large vehicle available to you? Will you have to move by taxi? How many trips can you afford?

Then think about how much space that affords you.

Then think about what are the most valuable (in terms of both utility and replacement value) items per volume. It's not easy calculus. A chair may be very necessary but it is also high volume and usually cheap to replace second hand. Cutlery is very necessary and very cheap to buy second hand but also takes up very little space.

Then pack with those principles in mind so that you can abandon whole boxes if you have to, without repacking. But also have a few extra boxes of things that didn't necessarily make the minimalist cut but that you can take if there is space.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:43 AM on June 1, 2020

Response by poster: We do not use motor vehicles. This includes cars, planes, trains, buses, etc. We will be shipping whatever we bring to my partner's parents.
posted by aniola at 11:45 AM on June 1, 2020

Response by poster: I am not very interested in what we should take. I am interested in HOW to make these decisions without having the relevant facts.
posted by aniola at 11:46 AM on June 1, 2020

Take things you can't replace in the short term given expected resources, factoring in difficulty of doing without the item. So: personal information, sentimental keepsakes, valuables, essentials for living day-to-day. Everything else is logically spurious.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:52 AM on June 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Shipping as in postal mail / UPS / etc? That is generally a hideously expensive way to move stuff. I would plan to take basically nothing except what I'd take on vacation (clothing, toiletries, medications, personal electronics, jewelry), plus items of great sentimental value or legal importance. Everything else can probably be replaced used for less money than it costs to ship them.

This would potentially vary depending on the range of places where you might end up. There are places in Northern Canada, for example, where acquiring new things is so tremendously difficult that shipping them (while even more hideously expensive than normal) starts to become part of a reasonable calculus again. But among normal, regularly resourced places with reasonable access to a Dollar Tree and a Goodwill, that's what I'd do if I had to ship things.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:59 AM on June 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

There is a lot of missing information in this question since it involves tradeoffs between shipping, storage and buying.

My suggestion is to figure out the 2-4 scenarios that are most likely. For example, one might be stay with family for 3 months then move into a 1 bedroom apartment. Or stay with family for 2 weeks and move into a studio apartment, or a furnished apartment or move into an RV or boat. Whatever you think are the most realistic scenarios. For each specific scenario, think about how you would plan for that move if you knew that was what you are doing.

Then step back and think about how you can make a plan that is flexible enough for most scenarios. For example if several include very minimal space for your own things, then think about whether it would be better to store the extra (that you might wish you had brought if you end up in a different scenario) or just downsize now and gradually reacquire as needed.
posted by metahawk at 12:00 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: metahawk, we have plans that are at extreme opposite ends of the keeping-things spectrum
posted by aniola at 12:03 PM on June 1, 2020

Just to clarify your initial statement - you don't know where you're moving, but you must decide what to pack and move it to/store it in an intermediate location (your partner's parents) before you finalize where you will end up?

If you plan on shipping via post, I agree with jacquilynne that you will want to ship as little as possible. If you will go with some sort of freight solution (PODS, etc) then you'd need to factor in how much you are capable of storing in the intermediate location, and for how long.
posted by btfreek at 12:04 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's enough information here.
Are you going to know what you're doing before you go out the door? (If not, I don't think this is answerable - then you're preparing for two mutually exclusive situations.)
If so, then what is your time frame? If you're leaving in a week, that's very different from leaving in six months.

My first suggestion would be to pack up the stuff that you don't want to move with you no matter what. Those things either get thrown out (if they're basically junk) or go in boxes and get donated. Next, pack up the stuff that you would only keep if you have a lot of space. Those go in boxes that will get donated if you end up with the minimalism scenario.

You could also try boxing up everything and then getting things out as you use them over time (again - this is hard to answer without knowing how much time we're talking about). That tells you what your necessities are. Then you could try to determine what you'd really like to have that isn't strictly necessary.
posted by FencingGal at 12:05 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Knowing the cost of shipping might be useful, because it might let you know how much you can keep at a reasonable-for-you shipping cost.

There are a few ways to ship that are somewhat more economical than the regular post: I've used Amtrak freight before (when shipping things to store with Mr. Nat while I moved overseas for a few years; yes, it was very nice to come back to some of those items).

Another shipping possibility within the U.S. is library rate; if you have books, cd's, or other physical media that you might consider shipping, it is cheaper to use the book rate. (I took photos of the books before shipping because I was worried about losing them).

And the last option to consider is getting a storage unit local to you now; depending on where physically your new plans might take you, shipping to/from your parental storage location might be more expensive than just putting things in a storage unit for a few months until you know what you need to keep long term.

For sentimental items, sometimes having a photo can be as effective as having the physical item itself, and electronic photos are much easier to move.
posted by nat at 12:14 PM on June 1, 2020

Since you mention that income is low, I would decide based on how likely you would need to replace it if the place you are moving to doesn't have it.

So (for example), if you don't bring your towels / cookwatre / TV , and you arrive and there are none, would you need to re-buy them? In cases where you have multiples, you can choose only to keep the amount you think you would buy to go up from zero.

I'd also keep anything that can't be replaced (any items you treasure).
posted by Mchelly at 12:16 PM on June 1, 2020

Pursuant to metahawk, I have in the past found it useful to conceptualize the possibilities as a set of nested bowls or a Russian Doll -- the first level is the most limited, so I will take only items A and B. The second level is less restrictive, so I will take everything from Level 1, and now add items C & D as well. Then Level 3 becomes all A, B, C and D from before, with items E, F and G now being added, and so on.

...I mean, I literally wrote up the lists that way, cascading through my various levels of item retention from "must-always have" to "only if there's all kinds of extra space". Next, I packed away items in reverse order, so that the items I'd identified as least necessary were disposed of. Second-least items were put in deep storage in another state, third-least was with a friend, etc. etc., all the way up to "things I intend to have on my person at all times".

And thus, I had organized all of my items and storage, and had further consolidated my mental framework for handling things. When things got ... eventful ... it was easier (and faster) to say to myself "everything from level 4 and down is now gone, oh well".
posted by aramaic at 12:22 PM on June 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

Based on the information you're willing to provide, it sounds like the answer is to purge everything other than important keepsakes, valuable things, and things that will be really difficult to replace. Shipping things a minimum of two times will be expensive.

Generate a quote for what the shipping will cost (and whether your partner's parents have the space to store it all for whatever period of time you'll be there) and multiply it by two (with the guess that you'll pay more or less the same to move it to wherever you end up). If that cost is more what you estimate it will cost to replace items you don't have any particular attachment to, you need to get rid of it.

If you want a backup plan for everything else and have a friend that you implicitly trust to wrap things up for you if necessary, rather than getting rid of all the other stuff you can put it in a storage unit in/near your current location. When you reach the final destination, you can evaluate whether it's worth shipping the rest of the stuff or getting rid of it. You can just abandon it in the storage unit but the owners may go after you for additional money and/or damage your credit for doing so, so it's better to have someone that will either supervise the shipping process or handle disposing of the stuff.
posted by Candleman at 12:26 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify your initial statement - you don't know where you're moving, but you must decide what to pack and move it to/store it in an intermediate location (your partner's parents) before you finalize where you will end up?

Yes, this is correct.
posted by aniola at 12:31 PM on June 1, 2020

How will you transport whatever you *do* decide to take if you don't use any motor vehicles? "cars, planes, trains, buses, etc."

Literally, how do you ship anything without involving one of those methods?
posted by mccxxiii at 12:36 PM on June 1, 2020

Response by poster: We live in a society that revolves around motor vehicles. We do what we can, and try not to let perfect be the enemy of the good. Motor minimalism. We're ok with shipping some things via ups/usps/amtrak/etc at this time.
posted by aniola at 12:43 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Well to use minimal transportation to get your stuff to a shipping facility would mean to ship as little as possible.

How do you feel about your stuff? Do you feel like cleaning is a pain cause shit is always in the way? Then do the minimal move and see if a fresh start helps.
Do you feel like you don't have an unruly amount of possessions and they keep you grounded because other aspects of your life have been less stable? Then prepare it all to move or store (after a cursory purge of unwanted things).
posted by WeekendJen at 12:48 PM on June 1, 2020

One factor is how much your partner's family can help. If you store furniture with them and later decide it doesn't make sense to move it, will they be able to take care of giving it away? Are they fine with the burden of having to deliver your things somewhere to be shipped? If there's a chance you may stay in the area versus a long-distance move, it probably makes sense to keep furniture. If you're definitely moving farther away, as long as you'll be in a city of a reasonable size where it's possible to use Craigslist, I would not keep any furniture. Especially if you're concerned about the environment, it makes more sense to get secondhand furniture in your new city rather than shipping your old furniture around (also $$$).
posted by pinochiette at 12:49 PM on June 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

You are in the US now, yes? Media - books, music, cd, tapes - has a special reduced USPS rate. Convert music to .mp3 if possible, you may have done that. Clothes - thrift shops will reopen and clothes are often very easily replaced. Same with most cooking gear. Books, to me, are deeply personal and I would prioritize some of them, but you may feel differently.

I would label boxes very, very well, i.e., Art - drawings, paintings, posters and a number from 1 - 5 with 1 being Keep this: it is irreplaceable and has high personal value and 5 indicating This is nice to have and use, but not personal or sentimental. Be extremely ready to then ship either everything to Place where you will need Stuff or to get get rid of all boxes labeled 3, 4, 5 without opening them again. Never label things to sound expensive, as someone may heist stuff. Certain tools, clothes, etc., esp. if they're specialized, are not easy to replace, so factor that in.

For some things I get at thrift shops, the price is rent. This fleece vest is warm and looks fine, and I'll use it while I'm on this trip since I underpacked. Stuff can (usually; Pandemic Time is weird) be donated to a thrift shop when it is no longer needed.
posted by theora55 at 1:38 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

To clarify your question and responses in the thread a bit more:

You are definitely leaving your current place, and you don't know where you will end up, or what resources you will have there, but you need to move stuff to an intermediate location meanwhile.

You don't have enough information to know what you will want at your final location, so you will have to guess (other answers have given strategies that can help with that).

In a way, it doesn't matter though. Your immediate question is how much stuff you should move to the intermediate location.

So focus on that. How much space is offered in the intermediate location? How much stuff can you transport there, given the constraints you're operating under (distance to location, amount you're willing to spend, desire to avoid motorised transport, etc)?

So that's your first really useful bit of data. How much, in terms of size and weight, can you get there? Anything you can't needs to be sold / freecycled / recycled / etc already.

We definitely won't want the burden of having kept things if we need to be traveling light, and we are very low income so if we need the various things it would be nice to have not gotten rid of them.

Presumably in the first case: everything can be either stored or freecycled / otherwise disposed of from the intermediate location if you need to travel light.

So only the second clause matters here: "if we need the various things it would be nice to have not gotten rid of them."

This is where you want to look at the other answers given here about scenarios and prioritising. Will you be fetching stuff from the intermediate location? Then sort stuff into categories like "kitchen"; "bedroom" etc, and when you know what you'll need, you can come and grab the most important stuff from each category up until your limit.

Will stuff be forwarded to you? Then it's unreasonable to ask them to go through boxes and repack on your behalf. Instead, prioritise stuff into boxes based on likely scenarios ("stuff we'll need for vanlife in boxes 1-4"; "stuff we'll need for a one room apartment in boxes 1-2 and 5-8"; "sentimental stuff for an apartment but not backpacking in box 1" or whatever based on likely scenarios) and number them, keeping a list of what's in each box. Then when you know, just go through your list and ask for boxes A, B, C, ask them to hold on to D, E, F and ask them to dispose of X, Y and Z. (You'll probably find that you naturally use a combination of the two approaches: boxes 1-5 for the kitchen in order of priority, 6-10 for bedroom, etc.)

Anyway, focus on defining what you can get to the intermediate location... and then on a categorisation system for that stuff so that you can easily get the important stuff for a given scenario and have the rest stored or disposed of.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 1:43 PM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

The thing you know is how much shipping costs. I’d look at a few scenarios (once I moved by shipping a pallet via FedEx plus a media mail box and it worked well) and see if there’s a clear method that makes sense. Focus on the stuff you do know and see what falls into place.
posted by momus_window at 1:56 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

How to decide may come down to a question of money.

How much stuff fits at your temp location? That's free storage. There are things you'll always need in a permanent place (pots and pans, mattresses.) You may not need them at your temp place but you'll need them eventually. Decide what those things are. Can you store those things for free?

If not, look into storage facilities near your temp location: how much will it cost to store those needed items that don't fit at your temp location vs how much would it cost to replace them?
posted by kapers at 1:59 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I would pack like I were moving to an RV and downsize all but the very minimum you would need to get by. Then you can get by no matter where you go and decide later what else you need. Or, if you have too much, you can get rid of it more easily. So things like, two pillows, a set of sheets, blankets. Two towels. One pot, one pan, two glasses, two plates, two bowls, two sets of silverware, one knife, a cutting board, a spatula and mixing spoon, a big bowl, a can opener. Warm weather clothes and cold weather clothes. Laptops, phones, chargers. Medicines, cosmetics, etc. etc etc.
posted by umwhat at 2:07 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

My strategy for dealing with underdetermined problems like this is to break it down into smaller sub-steps until you do have a well-defined problem, and then focus on getting that solved while keeping the maximum amount of flexibility for your next move.

So in this case, you do know where your stuff will be going: your partner's parents' place. Now if they ran a climate-controlled storage facility and you had unlimited ability to pack and move your stuff, you could just pack everything up, move it there and deal with it when you figure out your final destination. Obviously this isn't possible, so you can start paring things down by asking things like:

- How much stuff can you afford to move via your preferred shipping methods (both to and from the intermediate location - you'll have to assume some number for the second part, or that they will be able to help out)
- How much space will you be able to take up?
- What kind of space is it - indoor, outdoor, exposed to the elements?

and so on. When deciding on things to keep, prioritize things that you'd want in the maximum number of scenarios you can think of. When deciding on things to leave, I would prioritize things that are easily sold in your current location (if you have time to try and sell them prior to moving), that are bulky, and have little sentimental value.
posted by btfreek at 3:02 PM on June 1, 2020

Also consider how many items might be sold for a near cash-equivalent, as that is easier to move.
posted by nickggully at 4:13 PM on June 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sell any furniture that isn't a family heirloom.

Keep only your high-quality cookware and high-quality kitchen gadgets, sell or donate the rest.

Pare down books and then ship them via media mail.

Keep small electronics and good tools that you regularly use and sell or donate the rest.

Donate all food and household supplies.

Basically, do not keep anything that you can cheaply replace at Walmart or a thrift store on the other end.

The less stuff you have to pack/move/store, the less stress and more flexibility you will have.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:27 PM on June 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

In your situation maybe packing backwards would work. First pack things you never use or think about. These may be things you may want to discard or donate. Then pack things you have seldom used. Keep packing until you only have things unpacked that you use or need all the time. Also, you could move a few things to storage at at time and the things you least use would be at the back/bottom.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:50 PM on June 1, 2020

This is why funeral bonfires should make a comeback... nobody wants to deal with your stuff after you die. YOU don't want to deal with your stuff, even when you are still tripping over it.
Who has money to store possessions you will (almost) never use again? Let it go.
So now is the moment to konmari that stuff and make a bold statement about what you really want to do with your living space.
Empty space is just fine. Embrace that concept.

The Five Questions --
1) Do you remember that you have it? If you don't remember having it, you don't need it. Get rid of it.
2) Do you remember where you put it? Same thing (unless you are like me and had it in your hand ten minutes ago, which is another issue entirely).
3) If you remember you have it and where it is, can you get to it in a reasonable amount of time? No cookie if you have to unearth it and make another mess. The first five inches of a pile is what you use -- the rest can be thrown away.
4) Have you used it in the last two years (insert a reasonable amount of time here). If you are not using it, get rid of it. You are not a storage facility. Buy it when you actually need it, then pass it on to someone who will use it this week.
Addendum: A $1,000 item that is scattered in pieces and unused is still a piece of junk. Either take care of it and use it, or get rid of it.
5) How many copies do you have? This is a failure of questions 1 to 4, since if you could get your hands on it you wouldn't need a spare.

Good luck on letting go of all the possessions that hold you down. Stuff is overrated.
posted by TrishaU at 8:04 AM on June 2, 2020 [1 favorite]


This is being made really complex when it is very simple because you are low-income. (Gives you simpler, harder choices, unfortunately).

You have to keep everything you possibly can unless/until you can't afford to store any more of it. That means take everything, I think, given your constraints above. You can't afford to get rid of something you need, so that means you have to default to keeping everything.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:09 AM on June 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

On top of the culling, layering and grouping -- pack into numbered boxes, with an inventory of each box's contents. Organize thematically. You'll then have the information needed later, when you need it, for deciding what to take, what to repack and store, and what to let go of.
posted by lathrop at 12:30 PM on June 2, 2020

You have to keep everything you possibly can unless/until you can't afford to store any more of it. That means take everything, I think, given your constraints above. You can't afford to get rid of something you need, so that means you have to default to keeping everything.

Nope. I'm poor and have done the research and math (sometimes with detailed spreadsheets!) several times for several moves in my own life. It is almost always cheaper to replace most stuff as necessary on the other end than to pay to move and store it. Especially if you are moving your stuff via shipping packages, as OP stated they are.

That's why the short list of stuff I advised keeping (some books, quality cookware, quality tools, etc.) is all stuff with a high value-to-weight/volume ratio. Otherwise you end up spending more money on shipping your used stuff than it would cost to just buy brand new stuff on the other end.

A more precise way to make this decision would be for OP to do is to look up how much it costs to ship a 40-pound box to their parents, then assemble stuff in prioritized piles of about 40 pounds each, and ask for each pile "Would I be willing to pay $X for this stuff at a store?" where $X is the shipping cost.

We sent a bunch of Covid-19 PPE and cleaning supplies from New Hampshire to my brother in Seattle a few months ago and the shipping cost was more expensive than the stuff itself. The only reason it made sense to do it at the time was that he literally couldn't buy that stuff in Seattle whereas we still had plenty on the shelves here.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:07 PM on June 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I sounds like you need to ship things to your storage facility, but storage will be free. But then you don't know what you're going to do at all.

Shipping costs money. You need to figure out how much it costs, in order to make the best decision financially. However, you might not have time to research every option cost wise, so you'll have to do the best you can. There is also a hassle factor in selling or disposing of your current items then rebuying things, and only you can decide how much that weighs into your decision making (I hate shopping, so will often ship things just to avoid having to deal with buying them again).

The four considerations are:

How much you need the item?
How much you like/love the item?
How much will it cost to ship?
How easy is it to replace?

If it's small and sentimental, or small and super useful, then ship. If it's large and you don't like it anyway, trash. If it's large and is available secondhand everywhere eg. ikea furniture, sell and replace from the secondhand market if necessary.

Selling does take time and effort that you might not have, but it'll probably still be better not to ship it. Secondhand furniture is cheap.

You might find the konmari categories useful in making creating order in your packing/decision making. There are a lot of nice check lists on the internet that will help you capture everything.

When you do pack create very comprehensive lists of what's in each box. You will forget, and you will forget fast. If you pack the "definitely keep" in some boxes, and "maybe keep" in others, you'll be able to separate them easily when you make your next move.
posted by kjs4 at 8:06 PM on June 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’ve moved 8 times between 4 countries. If you’re serious about motor minimalism, keep as little as possible. Fuel spent shipping low density, large volume items is expensive, monetarily and resource-wise. With more people konmari-ing, the ability to find higher quality second-hand goods is easier than a few years ago. Absolutely take the advice given above: take comprehensive inventory per box and paste a copy on outside. If you don’t know what’s in a box, how do you know if anything is stolen? How will it be possible to find something quite specific? Since you’re offloading storage and shipping responsibility to your partner’s parents, being mindful about taking up as little room as possible should be a factor, too.
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