I’ve moved a total of 5 times in my entire life and didn’t make my first move until I was 18 years old. My husband has moved, well, a LOT more than that, but I think we can both agree that preparing to move to Africa has been a whole new ballgame. Packing up our entire life into 20 suitcases is like the SuperBowl of moving and I’m pretty sure we skipped training season. (For those who know me personally, I’m also confused as to why I’m making sports references…)
So, I could bore you with the details of our packing system, the numbered luggage tags, the spreadsheets, the things we stored, sold, trashed, or literally jammed and shrink-wrapped into every square inch of luggage, but instead I’d like to share a little glimpse into our life as a married couple with two kids preparing to move to a new continent (during a global pandemic) without killing each other. (And if you just want to hear about our tips for packing, feel free to skip to the bottom of this post!)
To begin, let me just preface this by saying, I love my husband. I genuinely enjoy spending time with him. I think he is intelligent, level-headed (and not to mention a total babe!) BUT I think we have learned throughout this process that we are two fundamentally different people in just about every way we plan, think, and feel.
Have you ever heard of the Enneagram Test? It’s a pretty spot-on personality test with lots of useful information about why you behave the way you do and how to work towards being the best version of yourself. If you’ve never taken it, you should! (enneagraminstitute.com) Fascinating stuff!
Justin and I took the test. He is type 6- The Loyalist. I am type 7- The Enthusiast. To sum it up for you, Justin is security-oriented, responsible, anxious, practical, and values predictability and procedures. I, on the other hand, value spontaneity, new experiences, excitement, and freedom. I think big-picture and seek happiness above all else.
You would think we’d be at each other’s throats, but for some reason, it works. I generate the big ideas and he swoops in with the practical steps to make it happen. I bring energy and a sense of adventure. He keeps me grounded.
A typical conversation sounds like:
Justin: Hey, this cassette tape player- Are we keeping it or getting rid of it?
Justin: You never use it.
Me: Yeah, but I’ve had that since I was a kid. It’s vintage. I used to love that thing.
(Que trip down memory lane and looking up Alanis Morisette albums and starting a dance party in the living room)
An hour later….
Justin: So are we storing it? Pitching it?
Me: (Makes a face like that grimacing emoji) I just can’t make that decision right now.
I’m not sure how he puts up with it, honestly! I am well aware of my flaws and the fact that if I were doing this alone, I would be procrastinating like crazy, enjoying my summer, and then stressfully packing the week before I leave. Thank goodness, I’m not alone! Justin was doing “trial” packing before we even started real packing. He has been making lists and donating items since the day we signed our contract to move overseas (and that was in December). He’s a planner. Sometimes I roll my eyes at how over the top he is with his prep work. “Can’t you just relax for a minute! You are being such a 6!” He tells the kids they get one bag each for toys, and it’s not the kids complaining about that rule. I’m the one sneaking extra kids’ books into suitcases and prodding him to let me bring other non-essential items. I can’t help it. I’m a 7.
Almost daily, he finds the motivation to sort through things we no longer need, pack bags, and get us organized. And even with that persistence and focus, it has taken months to get us to the place we are today. Our house is slowly feeling more and more empty. We have about 15 out of 20 bags packed. The house and car have been sold. We are sleeping on the floor and eating dinner at a card table. All of our possessions that haven’t been packed are in piles because we sold all of our dressers and bookshelves. It feels like living in limbo, but through it all we still manage to laugh and have fun.
For anyone who may be looking for real advice about packing for relocation, here you go:
- Roll clothes.
- Use vacuum seal bags, but be careful. They only stay shrunk for about 7 days and they will save space but not weight.
- Use a digital scale to measure bags.
- Research airline baggage rules and fees.
- Number your luggage tags and keep a document with what is in each suitcase so you can easily find your things and if a bag gets lost, you know what you are missing.
- Try to do a little bit each day instead of waiting until the last minute.
- Kiss your spouse for putting up with you.
- Whether it’s essential or not, I think we will value things that remind us of home when we are so far away. I’ve made special photo albums for both of the kids and ordered photo magnets for the fridge (a tip from my friend, Hannah). The refrigerator is a place we will look every day and seeing familiar faces will be a nice presence. Plus, these are much smaller and easier to pack than framed photos.
- For the carry-on bags, I’ve asked family members to write notes to the kids along with fun things to do on the airplane like coloring books and card games. Every hour or so through the long flights, the kids will get an encouraging note from their loved ones and something new to keep their spirits up. (Shhh! This one is a surprise!)
- Luggage is expensive. We have bought quite a few new suitcases, but recently when we figured out that we needed a few more, before ordering from Amazon, I decided to send out a request on Facebook. I said I was in search of luggage and if anyone had some they wanted to get rid of, I’d love to buy it from them. Almost immediately, I had suitcases at my door and offers of free bags people had been meaning to toss out. One person told us, they wanted to do something nice for us as a going away gift but didn’t know what to do until they saw that post. Sometimes, I don’t like asking for help, but this reminded me that people want to help. It never hurts to ask. About 30% of our luggage are hand-me-downs from family and friends which has saved us a lot of money.
- Packing is important, but don’t get too sucked into thinking about the future so much that you forget to enjoy the present. I’ve tried to be intentional, checking off my summer bucket list and spending quality time with the people I love before we go. At this point, memories are a lot more valuable than things.