Tip #1 for an International Move: Packing Books

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First of all, let me explain that when I returned to the U.S. from France last March with the intention of emptying my storage locker in Maryland completely, by first getting rid of a lot of what was there that no longer made sense to either keep or move; then sending a small fraction of the contents (mostly books, papers, artwork, plus maybe my piano) to France; and then taking the rest away from the East Coast, and off to the Midwest, near my family, where storage rental units are much less expensive….

…when I returned to the U.S. in March, as I say, planning for all of the above to take place within four weeks, I completely thought it was doable.

Alas, it turned out not to be. At least it was not doable for me. There are many reasons for this, some bureaucratic, others due to my somewhat typical habit of making overly ambitious plans and ignoring the general feasibility of them; and I’m not going to bore you with any of those.

I’m just going to say that many of my things are still there in the storage locker on the East Coast, and the books, papers, and art work I had hoped to shipped to France are still there too. I would also like to say that although I did not by any means meet my primary goals,  I did make significant progress on some of them, most especially getting rid of a lot of what was in there and made no sense to keep any longer.

Yay for me, at least for that! 😦

I also learned a lot of things I needed to know about an international move, in particular a move to France, from the two international movers I had meet me at the storage locker, survey what I had, and advise me what my options were. But I didn’t learn enough that I feel I can write the post I imagined writing back in March, when I was optimistically winging my way back to the U.S.

I imagined that I would write a post titled something like “Ten Tips for a Successful International Move.”

But hah! I certainly couldn’t do that, given the so-far-unsuccessful outcome of my plan, now could I?

No. I could not. In fact I should probably be reading such posts, by people who know how to do it.

But there is one thing I discovered in this process that I have felt a bit guilty about not sharing with our public before now, and so I’m wasting no more time in sharing the one tip I came up with. And so…here it is!

If you are packing books for an international move, you might not want to pack them in liquor boxes–even though normally liquor boxes are excellent boxes for packing books in.

Why is this? Well, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure that it is truly necessary to NOT pack your books in liquor boxes for an international move. I’m just telling you why I decided that I wished I had not done so when I packed up all the contents of my house before running off to France.

And so here is why.

One of the things I learned from one of the international movers I consulted is that one unpredictable cost (at least in moving things into France, I don’t know about anywhere else) is a (potential) charge for x-raying your goods. This is a charge that happens only when the customs agent decides that they want to be sure that what you say is in your shipment is really what is in your shipment.

A bit earlier in the conversation, I had asked the agent what kinds of things customs agents charge duty on. I didn’t think I had anything that would cause me to have to pay duty, really, all I had was books, papers, and some artwork, not valuable artwork, just artwork made by friends. (Well it is valuable artwork, to me. But not the kind you would have to pay duty on. You know what I’m saying, right?) So I was just asking, trying to learn everything I could about how this all works.

“Luxury goods, wine, liquor, things like that,” he said.

And so, you can see where this leads, now, right?

Let’s suppose you have 50 cartons of books, and they are packed in liquor boxes. One could not really blame a customs agent for wondering if what you said–that you were moving books and papers into the country–was really true, especially if you were not there in person to show your very innocent, very writerly presence by way of proof, or strong implication, that in fact all those boxes of Yellowtail wine, or Dom Perignon, or whatever, actually held books and papers, not wine and liquor.

And so if the customs agent did wonder about those 50 cartons that had once held wine and liquor, and decided to x-ray your shipment, you would have to pay for the cost of the x-raying, which could be as much as several hundred euros.

And so. That is why I wish I had not packed all my books and papers in liquor boxes, even though for a domestic move liquor boxes are pretty much perfect. Because if you have the bad luck to have an exceptionally suspicious customs agent, or perhaps just a perfectly reasonable customs agent in the middle of a having a bad day, you could have a several-hundred-euro addition to an already pretty hefty bill for moving a bunch of books and papers across the ocean.

And most writers can’t afford this.

One thing I have not been able to determine yet is whether this several-hundred-euro potential x-ray of goods would take place while the goods are still in the shipping container (in which case the details of things like what kinds of boxes things are packed in would be irrelevant). Or whether it would take place after the goods are taken out of the shipping container to be put on a truck for the rest of the journey. (If you are getting the impression that an international move is much more complicated than a domestic one, you are right. Diplomats and others who have lots of help through this process are lucky people indeed. And if anyone out there has further insight into this matter, I hope you will share it in a comment below!)

One more thing I learned, to my surprise and dismay, is that shipping books via US Postal Service is no longer a viable option. (The only option they offer is shipping (via air) in flat-rate boxes that cost $86.95 for up to 20 pounds. NOT affordable. There is no shipping via boat through the USPS anymore. 😦 ) Paying the $100 charge for an extra bag on a plane is a better deal.

So. Maybe one day I will come up with nine more wonderful tips about an international move to France, but for now,  I feel better for having told you all about this at least. So that if you are planning a move to France, and you have not already started packing, you might not want to use liquor boxes for packing your books and papers.

And I hope this post helps someone. Even just one person. I really do! 🙂

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

 

 

 

Downsizing Chronicles: The Storage Locker, Part Two

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Most of the stuff you see in this picture has gone on its way…but there’s still a lot inside the storage locker! 😦

Oh, well. So my plan to empty my storage unit during the month of March was a bit overly ambitious, and even more overly optimistic.

The point is, as one of our readers pointed out in a comment posted on my last post (and I take some comfort in the fact that she is a professional organizer!) I made progress! And that is what I am choosing to focus on.

It turns out that two of the three complicating factors to my move turned out to be if not insurmountable obstacles, clear signs that my idea of totally emptying my storage unit, moving some of it to France, and some of it to Minnesota, all within less than a month, turned out to be not so doable. Or at least not the smartest thing to do at this time, for a variety of reasons.

So: a lot of my “stuff” is still in the same storage locker where I left it two years ago.

And so, instead of the inspiring picture of an empty locker that I had so optimistically imagined posting today, here instead is my interim report, unaccompanied by a photo of the storage unit because even though a lot of stuff went out of there, it doesn’t actually look so much like it did!!! 😦 (My coauthor has been able to post such a picture, of her emptied storage locker, in this post, and the fact she has been able to do so I hold before me as an inspiring vision of what is possible, even for those of us who are, at heart, “keepers, not throwers.” 🙂 )

AND YET! The truth is, that there IS a lot less stuff in the locker now than there was when I arrived there in early March.  Some of what was in there (very little!) went to my millennial, minimalist son, who is now furnishing his first apartment in New York. A lot more of it (books, lamps, dishes, towels, etc) went to various local thrift stores and charities.

Also, many more pounds of paper went into recycling bins in Maryland. (Some of this was paper I had no problem getting rid of, but had not had time to do in my far-too-rapid moving out of my home two years ago; some of what I dumped this time was excruciating for me to do, but I did it. There will be more on that process later..)

A few of the precious things I wanted to have with me (mostly family pictures, some sheet music, a very few select books, a quilt made for me by my mom and my two grandmothers, and some art work) were packed into the one almost-empty suitcase I had brought with me, and the rest filled a second suitcase that was in the storage unit. Here are a few of the things that made it into my suitcases for my return to France.

A few small items of jewelry and other antique objects that I realized I am probably never going to wear or have room to display, I left in my favorite local thrift store, which also takes some items on consignment. There I had an interesting lesson in What to Do With Old Jewelry and Other Things Like That from the kind and knowledgeable volunteers. (There will be more on why they became my favorites in another post too…)

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Me with my new friend Kay (at left), one of the volunteers at the St. John’s Norwood Op Shop in Bethesda, Maryland. Here she is reviewing and pricing some of the things I left with them on consignment. The volunteers at St. John’s Norwood are very nice people, they run a well-organized shop, and the proceeds from the store benefit local charities. I felt good about leaving my stuff there!

This journey really began, for me, with the downsizing of my parents’ home more than 15 years ago, the experience that led to writing the book that my coauthor and I wrote, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. And as we have pointed out in our book, for most people downsizing doesn’t happen just once. For most people it happens several times in their lives.

Having just emerged from a fresh bout with this very human, often very physically and emotionally challenging activity, has brought both practical information and tips, and material for contemplation and reflection back into the forefront of my mind. There will be more of all that to share in the weeks and months to come. I hope that some of what I remembered, discovered, rediscovered, or learned for the first time this time, will help others get through the experience less painfully, more joyfully. It can be done! 🙂

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Downsizing Chronicles, Stage 2: The Storage Locker (Part 1)

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Dealing With the Storage Locker, Day 1

Almost two years ago I moved out of the home I had been living in in Maryland for the past eight years, and went to France. At the time, I wasn’t really sure where I was going to be living next: I was only sure that I wanted to stop living in the house I had been renting in Maryland. So, after going through Downsizing Stage 1, during which I sold, donated, gave away, recycled, or trashed a large percentage of what was filling that house (you can read about that wild ride, which had to take place in a mere 27 days, here and here), I put whatever was left into storage.

Early this year, as I was going over my expenses I realized that I was spending an awful lot of money to store things that I really kind of wished I had with me in France. One of those things was my piano.

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Pianos are both cumbersome and delicate. They are expensive to maintain and move. They also bring great joy into our lives: this one has great sentimental value for me. More important, it is a very fine musical instrument that both my son, who is a musician, and I love to play.

Another thing was about 10 boxes of books and papers that I really kind of need to access for my work. It occurred to me that this situation didn’t make any sense, so I decided to return to the “scene of the crime,” roll up my sleeves, and do something about it.

My initial thought was that I should Step 1: Get rid of some of the things I hadn’t had time to deal with getting rid of in the first round; Step 2: Ship those few things I really need or strongly want to France; and Step 3: Take the rest of the stuff–mostly old family heirlooms, and more books and papers–to Minnesota, my home state, where I like to be when I’m not in France, and where storage rental rates are much less expensive.

At this writing I am in the middle of a  figuring out the actual plan for 1) how to get the things I really need back out of storage; and 2) lower the cost of storing the rest. This is a pretty complicated situation for basically three reasons: 1) the piano; 2) the international nature of the move; and 3) the fact that this move is self-funded, and I do not have unlimited funds. It is not clear yet whether that move of some of the stuff west to Minnesota is going to make sense. And there are many details concerning the moving of things to France that are not clear yet. Bureaucracy is involved. (Stay tuned!)

However, I knew that no matter what happened concerning Steps 2 and 3, Step 1 was crystal clear. Since I had had only 27 days for my Stage 1 downsizing (which flies in the face of the most fundamental piece of advice in our book: Take Your Time! 😦  ), I had not been able to do a really thorough job of sorting. (This is an understatement.) This meant that many things went into storage that would have been dispensed with if I had had more time for the move.  There were even quite a few boxes that were not at all full, and other ridiculous things like that that I just simply couldn’t help.

I attacked Step 1 couple of days after I arrived back in Maryland. The timing was fortuitous, since my older son has just rented his first apartment in New York, so he was able to take some of the things he had in storage out of the locker, and also take some of the household furnishings that I now know I won’t be needing.

I had asked him in advance to set aside the first weekend I was here to come down and help me with the first round of “getting rid of more stuff.” He was in a way the perfect person to help me with this task. Both by temperament and by generational inclination, he is, unlike me, definitely not a “keeper.” On the one hand he is a millennial, and as we have discussed (and has been widely discussed elsewhere), millennials are well known for not wanting to inherit their parents’ stuff. On the other hand he is a sensitive, kind, and patient person who knows when to stop pushing and give his “keeper” mom a break).

Step 1 went very well. On Day 1 we succeeded in getting enough stuff out of the locker that I was able to get into the locker, to deal with whatever else was in there. (This was not really possible until a certain amount of stuff had been taken out and driven to the nearest thrift store.)

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My 9 x 10 storage locker, chock full of stuff

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This is about half of the first round of “redistribution” of stuff: off to the thrift store and the library!

The next day I drove him back to New York. There were many things I encouraged him to take to his new apartment but, typical of a millennial, for the most part he refused them. I did convince him to take with him my mother’s cast-iron skillet; his other grandmother’s garlic press; a couple of pasta bowls; and a quilt made by my grandmother. He also  happily took the almost-new mattress I had left behind.

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My son, with quilt, skillet, garlic press.

His reaction to one antique wine glass that had belonged to my mother helped me decide to cart it away to the thrift shop. “This wine glass was my mother’s,” I said. “It’s really old.” “Ohhh,” he said in what I thought at first was his expression of being impressed. It was not. His facial expression made it clear that to him it was pretty ugly. And I realized I didn’t really think it was all that beautiful myself: it was just old, and my mother’s.

With his permission, and in fact his urging, I was able to get rid of a lot of other things too, including a handmade felt heart mini-pillow he had made for me in about third grade. (Though this was not that easy to do, my  only real regret about this is that I did not think to take a picture of the two of us standing side by side and holding the heart before I did so. 😦 ) Oh well. Next time!

This week I’ve been very busy meeting with international movers, and consulting with domestic movers of pianos and other goods. My coauthor will be posting again in two weeks, and I’ll be back in a month with the next installment of my Downsizing Chronicles, which I hope will be helpful and informative for other people who may be planning similar moves.

In the meantime, here’s wishing you happy spring cleaning, and happy downsizing. And remember our motto: Keep the memories, Get rid of the stuff!  (It’s not as hard to do as you think, especially if you do it in stages 🙂 )

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

Downsizing Chronicles Part 1: A 27-Day Marathon

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Downsizing Day 1: The Decision Is Made, Starting to Pull Books Off the Shelves. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Several weeks ago, I made a bold, fateful, and possibly slightly insane decision.

I decided to move out of my home; sell, donate, throw out, and otherwise get rid of much of my stuff; and put whatever was left into storage.

All in 27 days.

The home I had been living in for the past eight years was the place where I had raised my sons through their teen years, and was also the home in which several treasured pieces of furniture, many boxes of letters, photographs and other memorabilia, as well as many other things that came both from my family and my husband’s, which we had inherited in the 30 years we were together, not to mention our own accumulated letters, photos, files, mementos and various other things. Also, of course, all of our clothes and books, musical instruments and sports equipment, games, puzzles and, and, and…The kitchen stuff. The bathroom stuff. (You get it, you know, or you can imagine.) It was also the location of my home office, and as such there were files, office supplies and equipment, and books of the trade to deal with. So this was neither an easy, nor a small task.

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Downsizing Day 8: Moving Sale Photo by Janet Hulstrand

Much of it was important. Much of it was not. Much of it was in that in-between gray area. All of it required decision-making. To keep or not to keep? To store or not to store? How to prepare for storage? To recycle, or haul to the dump? And so on.

Given all the time I have devoted to thinking, writing and talking about the process of downsizing a family home for more than a decade now, I knew from the beginning that dealing with such large task on such a short timetable was an essentially impossible task.

So why did I try to do it?

Let’s just say that a rental situation which had never been a very good one became bad enough that I decided I had had enough, and the time to cut my losses and make a change was now.

How did it go? Well, it was an incredible experience, probably most accurately described as “a wild ride.” There were many sweet and poignant moments, more than I would have imagined there could be, in mostly small ways, on an almost daily basis. I made new friends, got to know my neighbors better, benefited from the help of friends and “the kindness of strangers” in numerous ways. I was able to savor the experience of passing on a lot of things that were just cluttering up my home, and now also my life’s forward path, to people who would really appreciate having them, some of whom I knew, others I would never meet. And of course there were many moments of appreciation, smiles, chuckles, a few tears, as I discovered sweet notes written in childish scrawls, and old school projects–my children’s and even some of mine (yes! because my mom was “a keeper” par excellence!)

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Downsizing Day 12: Souvenirs From My Childhood. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

It was also worse than I had allowed myself to envision, especially during the dreadful last few days when my need to board a transatlantic flight and report for a teaching assignment abroad exerted a pressure and anxiety on me that was almost unbearable. If it had not been for the intervention of kind friends and friendly strangers, it might have been an unmitigated disaster rather than just a highly chaotic and upsetting scramble at the end.

Once I had made the decision to do it, I decided I would try to be as conscious of this process as I possibly could be every step of the way, so that I could share any new insights/perspectives/stories/observations I might be able to capture, for the benefit of our blog readers.

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Downsizing Day 17: A Wider Circle helps Washington-DC area families by supplying them with donated furniture and household goods. Here they are loading up a couch, a mattress, an ironing board, some tables and chairs from our house. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

And so even in the mad scramble to beat the clock I kept notes and took pictures, as best I could. And I began sharing some of those moments on Twitter and Facebook, live, during the process. Some of you may have followed along with that day-to-day reporting of the experience. You can find the trail here, and here.

In the weeks and months to come I will be looking back on this experience and sharing with you what I learned in this latest round of downsizing, some of the thoughts I had in going through a major downsizing project—this time my own—without being able to follow our number-one piece of advice when it comes to projects such as these: namely,

Take Your Time!!

Did the advice in our book help me anyway? You bet it did!

Did I get ideas for new things to write about on this blog? I certainly did!

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Downsizing Day 22: Keep the things that bring you the most joy, even if it’s impractical to do so. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

So, stay tuned for more fresh-from-the-downsizing-front posts to come, going forward.

In the meantime, have a Happy Fourth of July, and a great summer ahead.

And don’t forget to use up those sparklers sitting, forgotten, on a high shelf in the pantry, now! You won’t want to have to deal with them at the last minute in your next move 🙂

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.