In the course of my life I have moved many times, but not like this. There’s always a certain amount of purging, using the move as an opportunity to get rid of things. It’s a perfect excuse to do some clutter-busting and meditate on modern materialism. I remember when I moved from Philadelphia to Albuquerque, and making the decision that as cool as they were to have, I really didn’t need that decades-long run of National Geographic magazines that I rarely looked at.
There’s often a space consideration, disposing of things so you can possibly fit into a slightly smaller truck in order to save money. When I bugged out of Tucson 5 years ago to come back to Albuquerque, I could only take as much as would fit in my little Ford Focus. I was in a hurry, so I didn’t always make the most practical decisions, but I at least had most of the essentials, and getting out was more important than what went out with me. The stuff that got left behind stayed with my ex-wife, so it wasn’t a situation where I had to worry about leaving a clean, empty house.
This time the move is to another country, and all we’re taking with us are three pieces of luggage each. One carry-on bag and two checked bags apiece. We can’t just abandon everything else. We need to leave this place in decent shape, in the hopes of getting at least some of the security deposit back. Rather than moving a whole house full of stuff, we have to deal with it.
Set Up a Staging Area
The first thing I did as set up a corner of the living room to use as a staging area. As things are “filtered out”, they go there. As I made more space, I expanded into a second staging area, which I’ll explain in a bit.
One Filter at a Time
To preserve my sanity, I came up with a very basic system. I would only deal with one “filter” at a time. When going through bookshelves, closets, and drawers, I only do one thing. I don’t try to sort into multiple categories at once. My top-level filters are:
Things definitely not going: I start here, pulling out the stuff that I can get rid of immediately. This is the low-hanging fruit, waiting to be plucked. Books I know I’m not keeping, clothes that I never wear, excess kitchen items, those sorts of possessions. The exception to this category are the things we’re not taking, but will be using in the meantime, like our bed.
This stuff doesn’t get sorted any further, it just gets pulled out and put in the staging area for later processing. I’m not worried about where it is going to go or what we’re going to do with it, I’m just concerned at this point with the fact that it’s not moving with us.
Things definitely going: These are items we know for sure we need, or precious items we don’t want to part with. This includes my laptop, important documents, clothes that I do wear regularly, and things like that. I start sorting and segregating this stuff into smaller staging areas as I identify them. For example, I’ve started a separate file with papers we know we’ll need, like birth certificates and copies of our marriage license, and I’ve got a separate drawer for clothes I’m certain I’m packing along.
Things we’re only keeping until the last minute: As mentioned before, the bed, my desk, my desk chair, and other furniture and appliances that aren’t being shipped but we intend to use until the last moment are a separate category. This is why sorting the stuff that’s going is important, so that the two don’t get confused. Clothes I’ll cheerfully still wear until we leave go in a separate drawer, books I’m going to try to read before we fly out sit on a separate shelf, and so on.
By filtering the “definites” out, this hopefully leaves us very little that we’ll have to deal with at the last minute. We can also start making plans now for these late departures, like the car, hopefully selling them to someone who can wait until the last day to pick it up, or making arrangements with a charity that will pick up donations on the day before we leave.
The undecided pile: This is always the hardest part, which is why it’s left until last. This is not the “I don’t know what to do with this” pile. This is the “I don’t know whether I want to bring this or not” pile. All of the “definites” have been dealt with, so we can actually move on to our first sub-filter.
There are two questions that I ask here. The first is whether the object is replaceable. As I’m writing this I’m drinking out of my favorite coffee mug, but it’s just a mug. I can get a mug in Finland. It doesn’t need to go. On the other hand, I’m looking at the ceramic elephant that my grandmother made. It’s just a flower pot, and I can get a flower pot in Finland, but it’s also the only thing of hers that I own. On that level it’s irreplaceable, so it goes.
The second question is how sentimental is your attachment to the item. Do you need to take all of the photo albums, or can you scan photos and make due with those? Is that memento of that vacation something you look at and handle regularly, or do you keep it displayed out of a sense of guilt or obligation? You know the types of things I’m talking about. Do you really value it, or does it sit on a shelf collecting dust, or in the back of the closet being ignored?
In the next installment, I’ll go over the sub-filters and rules for how to deal with that stuff that’s not going.