Preparing to Move
Let's dust this blog off, shall we?
Though I have not made it here much in recent months, I do post almost daily on Instagram (which you can view without having an account of your own), so feel free to visit anytime. Life has been full to say the least, and if I'm being perfectly honest, it's possible I gravitate to the other platform these days because I feel like I can write lazily there in a way that I try not to here. I have no idea where that self-imposed rule came from, but for now, it seems to exist.
(And growing/preserving tons of food.)
That has been my world this summer, times two, because we've also packed up mom's house in Maine. (If you're open to receiving life advice, might I offer don't move two homes in one summer.)
I was asked to share more detail about how we organized our move. I am happy to do that, but am not any kind of an expert, so take our process for what it's worth.
We expect this move will be our last. One never really knows, of course, but every other place we've lived we have known from the outset that it was not our forever home. This is not the feeling (or plan) we have this time. To coordinate this move, we decided to take an honest inventory of our belongings and determine what was worth carrying into the second half of life. This was for a few different reasons. First, our previous house was bigger than this one, and this house is bigger than the one we are moving to; you just can't keep carrying the same fully furnished house from one address to the next when you happen to be downsizing each time. Also, we saw this move as an opportunity to handle every single item we own and decide if we felt like hauling it ourselves (we are the "moving company"). It's amazing what you can live without when doing your own heavy lifting. Finally, our main consideration when going through each and every item was: Would this shoebox of concert ticket stubs from my teenage years be a burden to whomever goes through my things should I die tomorrow? Yes, it's kind of a morbid way to look at things, but also practical.
But this post isn't supposed to be about how we determined getting rid of things, this is about how we organized the process. Specifically, how we organized a move that came with a desire to eliminate any and all unused stuff from our life, not because we strive for minimalism, but because it seemed like a reasonable midlife thing to do. Adam and I have been together for 25 years, and as it turns out, a lot of stuff creeps in over the decades. Especially when you're the homeschool/homestead/DIY type. The following are my long-winded thoughts on the whole process, apologies in advance to any of you who might do this professionally. I am sure my "tips" are not particularly special or even correct, but for what it's worth, they did manage to work for us, so I'm happy to share with you.
One more thing before we get started! You don't have to have an impending move in order to have a midlife (or anytime in life) pare down. It's felt great to go through everything, keep only the good stuff, let go of the rest. It's funny, going into it you think it'll be a physical/spacial cleanse, but after, you feel it was much more of a spiritual/mental health cleanse.
Okay, here's how we went about it.
1. Take as much time as you possibly can.
We had the luxury of knowing several months in advance that we'd be moving this fall, so we've taken a couple hours here and there several times a week for the entire spring and summer to go through every box, tote, closet, and drawer in sight. In talking with friends and family recently, so many have told us they still have unopened boxes in their basements from moving into their homes 6, 12, or 15 years ago. Us too! But no more. We took advantage of time being on our side and went through everything. Now, all of my personal mementos from 46 years of life are whittled down to one five gallon tote; mostly it is filled with letters and homemade cards from Adam and Emily. Sorry concert ticket stubs from my teen years, you didn't make the cut. But I do still remember sitting next to David Crosby's wife at a CSNY show, seeing Brent Mydland's last performance with the Dead before he died, how fine of a show Bowie put on, how wild Neil Young gets when playing with Crazy Horse, Fleetwood Mac being Emily's first concert (tucked inside my belly), that year I practically went on tour with Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and Buddy Miller... and on and on. Endless concert memories. Who needs ticket stubs.
To begin, I just picked a spot and started. I think it was my vanity. From there, it snowballed. I moved to the next bureau, then bookshelves, then this closet, then that closet, one junk drawer, then the next junk drawer. One bite at a time until months had passed and the entire house had been combed through, top to bottom. Here is one big thing to share: Aside from Adam's tools and his personal things, I pretty much was the one who went through everything. BUT! And this is big, Adam was right there by my side providing the muscle. He kept me supplied with three receptacles at all times; one for trash/recycling, one for donations, and one to repack things we'd keep. As any of those receptacles filled up, he'd take them away to their designated spot and bring me empty ones. It was like magic, and kept me motivated to keep going. I cannot emphasize enough what a great system this was.
2. Have a plan for purged goods.
You need to have an exit strategy before you begin. For me, until items are off my property, they are no different than any pile of random clutter to my brain. Basically, you're going to sell, trash/recycle, donate, or give away anything you don't want to keep. Create your plan around these areas of removal. We sold a few things that had decent value, but we just couldn't give the mental space to finding buyers for $5 trinkets. Around here, tag sales are hit or miss (mostly miss), so that was not going to be a smart investment of our time. We gave away plenty of things to friends and family, and then we donated the rest. If you live in an area with a lot of friends and neighbors nearby, you can share photos of things you're getting rid of with locals on Facebook or email, saying "these things will be on the porch tomorrow, come take what you'd like. The following day they'll be going to the donation center. Come and get it!" Something like that.
Locating a good donation center in advance is critical, and not always easy to find. We all know there is too much stuff in the world, and never are we more aware than when trying to get other people to take stuff off our hands, even when it's free. The ease or difficulty with finding a donation center varies by region. Up north at my folks' house there are no Goodwill type places, but we did luck out and dad's church was accepting donations for their annual tag sale during the one week we were there in July. I honestly do not know how we would have handled the things mom was not bringing to Florida without that perfect timing. Here, we are lucky to have Goodwill, and most locations have generous policies around what they'll accept. Many thrift stores are so overwhelmed with goods that they need to decline many perfect household items because they just don't have the space. Goodwill has been our saving grace. And, their drop-off centers are set up drive-thru style with plenty of employees to help unload. Most weeks we brought a truckload to Goodwill, and we'd spend less than five minutes at the drop-off spot. Such a dream. Another donation spot for us was WAIM (if you're local); they accept goods that they turn around and offer free of charge to families and individuals setting up new housing. Their donation hours are much more limited than Goodwill so it can be tricky to get there, but it's a great place to support.
Basically, you might be surprised by how hard it is to find a place to donate a large amount of goods. Just have that awareness up front.
3. Gather and set up a central location for packing supplies.
Because we are doing our own move, I gave myself grace when it came to spending money on new boxes from U-Haul. For the amount we needed, I couldn't imagine the time it would take to drive from dumpster to dumpster collecting enough boxes in decent shape. Buying boxes is cheaper than you'd think, and U-Haul buys back what you don't use, I'll use the cardboard in my garden next year, and the clincher for Adam: Because we are only using boxes in three different sizes, he'll be able to pack the moving truck nice and tight. He is normally the last person who would pay for boxes, so if he sees the value in it, it might be something worth considering. We also got plenty of packing tape from U-Haul (the brown paper kind), wrapping paper (it's like thick newsprint), and have about a dozen sharpies kicking around for labeling. One or two won't cut it because you'll forever be looking for the one you put down and now can't find. Having many allows one or two to always be missing... don't worry, they'll all turn up in the end. We also had a pretty good bubble wrap stash saved from packages, so that was useful when needed. Beyond this you can get into all sorts of novelty wrapping supplies, but this was enough for us. Oh! I did have a box of those foam-type sheets that you place between plates and bowls, leftover from my Etsy vintage-selling days, so those were useful.
One final thing: if you have plastic totes, use them. Especially for long term storage mementos such as photos and keepsakes. They keep contents so much more protected than a cardboard box. For us, anything that goes into attic storage (photos, family memorabilia, Emily's childhood items, seasonal decorations) has been packed into totes. Take that, mice!
Once we collected our packing supplies, we set it all up in one central location so we'd know where things were when we needed them. Highly recommend this. We chose a corner in our dining room.
4. Boxes should be labeled well.
Once boxes (or totes) are packed, they are labeled with two critical elements:
- room they are designated to at our next place
- a short bullet list of content highlights - this is not every item inside, just 3-5 identifiers that feel most important
- bonus: I just assume every box is fragile and should be handled with care, but Adam (the main truck packer) appreciates knowing when things are REALLY fragile
Labeling will make things so much easier on the unpacking end. Kitchen boxes will wind up in the kitchen straight off the moving truck, and when you unpack the kitchen, the short contents list will give you a good idea of what needs to be opened immediately, and what can wait a few days if needed.
5. As you pack, have a space designated to collect boxes.
Because we took months to do this, and because our house is now on the market with our move not happening quite yet, we designated one side of our garage to collect all packed boxes. A spare bedroom could be used, or even one side of a room. The point is to corral all packed boxes and totes so the rest of your space feels "done" and not cluttered. Pack it up, move it out. This really helps to keep things clear and organized.
6. Find a way to make peace with (a certain amount of) trash.
This is the part I struggled with. Trash is the dark underbelly of moving and purging. Finding a good place to donate things you no longer want will save on landfill impact, but I don't think we could have done what we did with zero waste. Even if by comparison to western waste standards, the trash we generated was minimal, there was still trash. It's not a good feeling, a little sickening even, and I'm not sure I have a great solution to offer, just wanted to give a heads up. Something to think about if you have a move coming up. Again, access to a great donation center (and metal scrap yard!) helps tremendously.
So that's about it. This is by far the most careful, organized move we have ever pulled off, and as all-consuming as it might come across, it's actually been the opposite, giving us more peace of mind than we would have had without giving such care to the process. Imagine what it would look like for you to touch every item you own and decide if it's worth moving? That's what we needed to do. Plus, we're middle aged now and it was a good time to notice how the stuff of life had crept in over the years.
And lastly, where are we moving to?? Truth is, my inner superstitious Catholic is coming into play here and I'm not ready to share yet where we are going. Soon. But not yet. Gotta have that key in hand first.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, hopefully there is a takeaway somewhere in here for you.