What Do I Do With All My Stuff?

So you have decided to move abroad.  You chose your destination, arranged your finances accordingly, and gave your boss 2 weeks notice….or in my case I told him 6 months in advance that I was moving to another country.  Academic pediatric hospitalists are not easy to replace.

The next big question is:  What are you going to do with all your stuff?  This is a difficult decision because it not only has financial consequences, but emotional ones as well.  What are you going to do with all your children’s art work that decorates your hallway and refrigerator?  What are you going to do with that huge, wooden salad bowl you got on your trip to Tanzania?  Where are you going to store all your legal documents?

What you do with all your stuff will depend on how long you plan to be gone and what you want to do after your expat adventure comes to an end.  If you are only planning on being gone for 6 months to a year, then should rent your house and put your stuff in storage.  If you plan to be gone indefinitely, get rid of everything.  Digitize your photo albums and have your parents keep some of those sentimental knick-knacks.  We fell somewhere in between: We are planning to be gone at least 2 years and we have no idea if we will return to the US afterwards.  We may move here permanently.  We may take some more time to do a nomadic year.  We have no clue.  So we did a hybrid of purging and storage.

Depending on your own situation, these are the options you have regarding what do do with all your stuff:

1)    Storage.  If you are planning a relatively short-term move abroad experience, such as less than 2 years, and you have definite plans to return, you can store a lot of your stuff.  Storage fees can add up quickly, so consider alternatives such as your parents’ garage or a friend’s attic for some of your stuff.  There are some things you will need to store in an actual storage warehouse, like furniture, appliances, and big boxes of stuff.  The process of getting ready for storage is exhausting.  Everything needs to be in a box and packed carefully. To save money, get boxes from the grocery store and use clothes/towels/sheets to wrap fragile items in the boxes.  There are some things you need to be more careful about storing, such as legal documents.  I do recommend you take a copy of each family member’s birth certificates.  Take a copy of your marriage license.  You never know when you may need these things.  Other things like wills, advance directives, expensive jewelry, or sensitive financial documents should go in a safety deposit box or leave them with a trusted family member such as a parent or sibling.

Depending on the duration of your move abroad, storage is a great option for your stuff.

Depending on the duration of your move abroad, storage is a great option for your stuff.

2)    Donation or Giving Away.  I bagged up a ton of clothes, toys, small appliances, blankets, and books to donate to the library, several children’s homes, and Goodwill.  I also gave a lot of stuff to my parents and sisters and friends. My parents filled a 17-foot U-haul truck with all the stuff they took from my house, including my fridge. This was great because that was less stuff with which I had to hassle.  They are retired, so they were able to hold several garage sales with the stuff they took.  Make sure it is clearly understood by all parties that the exchange is a gift, so you don’t expect anything in return and you will not be wanting the item back when (if!) you return to your country of origin.

3)    Selling on ebay or Craig’s List or estate/moving/garage sale.   You can also sell stuff on ebay or Craig’s List.  Ebay buyers are willing to pay more money, but you have to ship it to them.  Therefore ebay items need to be relatively small and easy to pack.  You can use Craig’s List to sell larger items locally.  Our bikes and children’s scooters went to Craig’s List, as did some of our furniture items.  Keep in mind that Craig’s List buyers are looking for a bargain.  This is not the place to sell your expensive wall art or any item that you are so attached to that you cannot bear to post it at a cheap price.  Though your Craig’s List buyers are local, you still need to be able to get the item to them.  We did not have a truck or SUV, so we listed the items cheaply and clearly marked them so the buyers would know that we did not deliver.  They had to pick them up at our house.  You can also host a garage/moving sale before your move abroad.  We did not do this because our neighborhood was a snooty suburban haven with a strict HOA that did not allow garage sales except the community wide sponsored events.  But if your neighborhood allows it, it is an easy way to get rid of stuff.  As with Craig’s List, price your stuff to sell!  You will not make a profit, but it will leave you with more money in your pocket than donating or giving it all away.

Selling your stuff on ebay, Craig's List, and garage sales is a way to get some money in your pocket.

Selling your stuff on ebay, Craig’s List, and garage sales is a way to get some money in your pocket.

4)    Recycling.  I ended up recycling a lot of my children’s artwork.  It hurt, but it had to be done.  I took pictures of some of the more sentimental drawings to keep them as a memento.

5)    Digitizing.  If you don’t want to leave anything behind for storage, you can digitize your photos, scrapbooks, children’s art, important (but not necessarily legal) documents, and anything else like this that you can think of.  Chris also digitized all of our DVDs before we left.  We kept the original hard copy of the DVD though. If you digitize media, you have to keep it in order not to break any copyright laws.

Digitizing your music, books, and movies can help you save money and space, but it is time-consuming.

Digitizing your music, books, and movies can help you save money and space, but it is time-consuming.

6)    Trashing. Sadly, you will throw a lot of stuff in the trash.  Do it, learn from the experience, and move on.  From this day forward, you will be a lot more careful about what stuff you buy.  For some big items, you may need to hire a junk removal service.  This one hurts.  You end up paying someone to remove junk from your house.  You will need to do it and the sooner the better.

A lot of your stuff will end up in the trash.

A lot of your stuff will end up in the trash.

Dust yourself and your stuff off and move on.

Dust yourself and your stuff off and move on.

7)    Take it with you. We took clothes, sentimental toys to help ease the kids’ transition, art supplies, personal electronics, beach towels, medicine cabinet items such as razors and bandaids, and Kara’s guitar.  There are some things I wish I had not brought and there are some things I left behind that I wish I had brought with me.  There is no perfect solution.  Just remember that the more stuff you take, the harder it is to maneuver at the airport, hotel, and new home.  Also, unlike the obsession with closets that Americans have, most houses in developing countries do not have a lot of closet or storage space.  If you take a lot of stuff with you make sure you have room for it.

At los Pinos cabins with our luggage, waiting for our taxi to take us to our new home.

At los Pinos cabins with our luggage, waiting for our taxi to take us to our new home.

With the exception of the green laundry basket, this was all stuff we brought with us to Costa Rica.

With the exception of the green laundry basket, this was all stuff we brought with us to Costa Rica.

What did you do with all your stuff when you moved abroad?  Or what are you planning to do with it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Pura Vida!

About Noemi Gamel

Noemi Gamel is a physician who prefers writing diverse children's fantasy stories instead of medical charts. She is a geeky nomad, too.
This entry was posted in A Question Worth Answering, Becoming an Expat, Simplifying and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What Do I Do With All My Stuff?

  1. We went back and forth for a while – should we bring a shipping container, so we can furnish a house? Or sell everything, and rent furnished houses?

    In the end, we sold it all, which was a marvelous exercise in minimalism. We came down to Costa Rica with two suitcases each, although we do still have a storage unit in the States for heirlooms and such.

    The biggest advantage we’ve found in this decision is that we don’t have to pack a whole household to move – no beds or cabinets to haul, and only a couple suitcases of stuff apiece! We are much more free to drift where the winds take us, now that we are not weighted down by all of our stuff.

    • Noemi Gamel says:

      Caelan,
      I totally agree! Since we are renting currently, we will be moving at some point. It is so nice knowing we can carry everything we own on our backs. And we have all learned that there was so much we thought we could not live without (DVD player, HD TV, a lemon zester, standup mixer) that we actually can. With no problems!

      Noemi

  2. Pingback: Simplifying in Costa Rica: Smaller House | Pura Vida Familia

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