Severing Ties: What Expats Should Bring, Keep and Throw Out

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!

17 thoughts on “Severing Ties: What Expats Should Bring, Keep and Throw Out

  1. This is excellent advice. For me, I didn’t *know* I was coming here for, like, ever, so I didn’t want to get rid of all that householdy stuff b/c it’d have been silly to just buy it all again in a year. Now, like you, I have stuff sitting in storage–and i probably actually want like three boxes of it. Mah.

    Do as we say and not as we do people!!!!!!!

  2. I’ve been living in a dorm room with my stuff in storage about 3 hours away for the past 2 years, and I’m just about ready to toss most of the stuff when I return from Europe.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said.

  3. Ooooh, that hurts. Yes, it is good advice and I double your command NOT to pay for storage. I paid for storage for a year, then cleared that sucker out.

    It *really* is easier once it is gone, folks. Most of the stuff you will forget about – we promise!

  4. I agree with Barbara. You become far less sentimental about something the more times you have to move it. What was a treasured keepsake becomes “that heavy damn thing with the sharp corners”.

    I still have a box of my college term papers in my garage and at some point it’s going to get the heave-ho.

  5. Excellent advice. I had a yard sale, sold things on Craigs list, donated items and the rest I had sent to Italy.

    The cost for my crate was cheaper than me buying a printer, all my nice pots/dishes/linens etc. here in Italy with this crazy exchange rate. Books took up most of the crate and this is after I donated the majority of my collection. As a writer I couldn’t give away all my books. Not going to happen.

    I knew I was moving here long term and storing things in a city I would never live in again (L.A.) didn’t make sense. My siblings live on the east coast and my parents in the Caribbean so the cost of shipping things to them for storage would have added up.

    The best thing about the move was getting rid of things I didn’t need and really downsizing. Now the dollar is so low I can’t afford to buy any new stuff anyway. boh.

  6. @ maritofrosciochehacaldo: that’s CALDEZZA to you, papi.

    quel post mi ha fatto ridere DI morire.

    POORS GO TO SIDIS: THE MISS EXPATRIA STORY

  7. You could let them auction the stuff off if you don’t care about any of it. If not, maybe you could get your parents to save the stuff you want. On the third hand – could you replace the stuff you like for less than the cost of a plane ticket?

    Math is not my strong suit.

  8. @ blogenfreude: Unfortunately, I don’t get a cut of what they auction off. Also, There is stuff in there that is actually valuable and that I miss greatly.

  9. Excellent post; I’m bookmarking it for future use, as I’m a horrible hoarder of STUFF. I’m getting better, and I don’t have an emotional attachment to my blender, but I can see there being some major tears when we’re talking about the books & CDs (y’know, the seriously freaking heavy stuff).

    But let me get this straight right now – the shoes are coming with me.

  10. Great advice! We did sell our dream home and everything in it but a tiny, tiny amount that family is keeping for us. It was actually a VERY freeing experience to clear out stuff! We have been traveling the world for 2 years and do not miss it at all!! We do cherish our photos and home movies that we have on dvds. That is the easiest way to take it with you.😉

  11. I agree with you on this also. I am on the road over 300 days out of the year and you’d be surprised on how little you can get buy on. I buy clothing seasonally when I need it and usually give away past seasons or keep the things I absolutely cannot part with, but there are very few of them. Last time I was in Canada, I bought a winter coat because I didn’t have one with me and have yet to wear it a second time. Books, magazines and DVD’s that I happen to buy on the road are always left at the next place I land or given away.

    You’d be surprised how much you can do without. The other thing I suggest, which I have done in the past rather than paying a fee for storage every month is…..if you have a family member (parent, sibling, etc.) who have a home with a decent amount of property, buy your own shed from Home Depot or the like, erect it on their property and keep your stuff there. It may be a couple of hundred dollars up front, but it’ll save you a bundle in the long run!

    Last thought – I feel so much freer and often happier knowing I don’t have “things” and a bumper sticker I saw last Christmas (while shopping for “things” for others) really summed it up:

    The Best Things In Life Aren’t Things

  12. Thanks for writing this; after 28 years in a roomy loft I moved to a small 1 bedroom apt in Austin, tx. Now I am considering a year in France. – I think I can leave the few piece of furniture/lamps/things with family here: and pack extra suitcases of the other items I really want to keep. I am slowly downsizing – and appreciate your article. I have acculmulated a library of photos – and that is a good project to consider… put all on dvds.

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