Before I moved to Rome in 2002, I held two large yard sales and sold a lot of my stuff. I donated a bunch of books to the library. I gave away a lot. What I had left – a few pieces of furniture and 59 boxes – I put into a storage unit near my parents’ house.
Six years later, I’ve spent well over $7,000 to keep that crap out of the elements. Today I’m paying the August bill – at a time when I could really use the $112 here in Montpel, even though with the exchange rate it’d only be 72 Euro. But, there’s a lot I could do with 72 Euro, lemme tell ya.
The point is, I don’t want the great majority of the stuff that’s sitting in storage. However, I lack the funds for a round trip ticket home to deal with it – so, what can an expat do to avoid a similar fate (i.e., having your mother run around trying to find someone who wants to sell your stuff)? Here are some tips from someone who learned the hard way, after the jump.
There are two situations in which you should bring all your stuff to your new country: 1) Your company is paying for the move; 2) You’ll be living for the rest of your life alone on a deserted island. Otherwise, GET RID OF YOUR STUFF.
You should bring clothes, treasured books in your native language, and photographs. Maybe – MAYBE – a trinket or two. That’s it. If you have, say, wedding china you want to save for your children, or your grandmother’s bedside lamp that has great sentimental value, find someone who will let you stick a box or two in their attic. EVERYTHING ELSE MUST GO! (Note: Number your boxes and keep a detailed inventory of what’s in each one. Trust me on this one.)
This can be hard for people to understand. I mean, look around your house. You’ve got a lifetime of stuff around you. You LOVE your Cuisinart. You would take a bullet for your coffee table. Your spoon collection took you years to acquire. Your garden gnome is like an old friend.
Adorable! Now, say goodbye to it all.
- Give treasured items to kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or a favorite student.
- Sell as much as you can. Use the money to buy new stuff wherever you’re going. Especially if it’s electronic – you don’t want to be messing with foreign electrical grids. This goes for plug-in clocks, hair dryers, kitchen stuff, stereos, lamps, and the like. DVD regions vary, but don’t bring yours just to watch your favorites – buy a new one when you arrive, and go online to find out how to hack through the region codes. It’s easy and will not break your player.
- Furniture is available all over the world. For everything else, there’s Ikea.
- If you really love something but you know it’s ridiculous to keep it, before getting rid of it, have a moment of silence for it. You mock, but I’ve done this and it works. I had a jewelry box that over the years had served many purposes, and I loved it. But, its value was known only to me. I couldn’t even give it away, it was so old and ugly. So, into the trash pile it went – but not before I placed it on the kitchen table for a moment. I made my ex stand beside me, head bowed, and I told a few stories about the fun I’d had with this jewelry box throughout my childhood. I told it I would miss it, and that it still had a place in my heart. Then, we gently placed it in the trash. (He did the same thing with a pair of cherry-red Capezio jazz shoes, but that’s a story for another time.)
- Donate books to your local high school or county library. They need them.
- Pictures and, if you must, prints should travel WITHOUT their frames. Come on.
- Another thing about pictures – get them on DVD or scan them into your hard drive. Then you can bring as many as you wish! But, I know how much real photos can mean – growing up on an island, we had to evacuate for hurricanes, and the photo albums were loaded into the car every time. Choose your absolute favorite photos, buy a small photo album, and bring them. I did, and it’s been the one thing I turn to time and again when I need a little dose of family love.
- If you’re undecided about something, or if something you want to bring is just one thing too much for your luggage or is fragile, leave it with a trusted friend or family member. Then, you can do one of two things: 1) With the passage of time, you might realize it wasn’t as important as you thought, and you can let it go; or 2) If you realize you want it, wait until the next person comes to visit you – it will become their price of admission. They won’t feel as bad for crashing with you, and you get your treasured item in one piece without having to pay customs duty!