Expat Packing: It’s Just Stuff

Expat Packing: It’s Just Stuff


Every few years we pack up our stuff and move. Usually I’m able to bring everything with me, this time I was given specific catagories.

Carry On. Air Shipment. Boat Shipment. Storage. Trash.

Everything we owned went into one of these categories. I know we are incredibly lucky to have relocation assistance. I divided it and people showed up, packed it and sent it on its way.

Even with the help the process is so logistically complicated. We have no idea what our house will look like when we arrive. We have no idea how long between the Air Shipment and the Boat Shipment. We have no idea what size clothing my kids will be in for the three months we are without our stuff.  We needed to have with us clothing for Disney, Atlanta, DC, NYC, London and the Netherlands.

After consulting with many many people I loaded our fast shipment with rain gear, kitchen essentials, extra clothes and the boys favorite toys. I figured that keeping them occupied with their favorite things would be the best thing I could do for myself to make the move easier.

I also included our “open first” box. This box has a pair of scissors, some pens, toilet paper, paper towels, a shower curtain, one set of regular towels, a spray bottle, paper plates, napkins, a few sets of plastic silverware, extra empty water bottles, a few laundry detergent pods, our inflatable mattress, some sheets and blankets and soap. We typically use decorative DuckTape to mark the box so it is easy to spot.


I was on the phone with a friend discussing all the above logistical issues. She is moving from New York to Florida while we are moving abroad. She asked me for a few tips on getting everything packed up for the move and I thought I would share my “5 tips for keeping your move organized.”

1. Clean it Out Before You Move It. Usually I tell people to put all the boxes in their garage and don’t move anything into the house until you have sorted it. In my experience, if you move it into your house, even if its junk, it will stay there until you move again. In this case though, you don’t want to move anything you don’t have to – so take the time to sort through it first.

2. Define Your Space. I give each member of the family a bin to store “memories.” (I chose these 30 quart containers with locking lid and the’ve worked out nicely.) This is a great way to force decisions on what we will keep and what goes. When you only have a defined space to work with its easy to make decisions on what means the most to you. Everyone can keep anything they want as long as it fits in their box.

I used these same parameters for a few other things as well. The kids were able to pack one bin of stuffed animals to go with us and one to stay in storage. The rest were donated to our MOPS group for their annual sale.

I gave myself one bin of decorations to take over. I decided to basically only take Christmas decorations, that was the season I love decorating  for the most.

I gave myself one bin for craft supplies (which was not much for me.) I knew I would not really have  craft space so this limitation is what made me decide to leave the sewing machine at home. Instead I opted to fill my bin with supplies I could use with the kids. I put them all in glass jars from ikea so they can be nicely displayed on shelves as a method of storing when we arrive.

3. Take Photos to Preserve Space. We had some memory collections of newspaper articles and kids art that were taking up allot of space. We took photos of all these things and had them printed up in a photo book. It can be costly to print the books, but it massively condenses the space needed to store the stuff. Even better you can put the book on your shelf and now its a memory more easily enjoyed.

4. Put cards on rings. I’m a card hoarder. I love to re-read messages on cards. To get these in order I bought these 3″ binder rings, punched holes in the cards and put them on the ring. I gave big life events (wedding, births) their own ring, but otherwise every family member got one ring for miscellaneous cards.

5. Practice with your Storage Items. We got a storage unit a few months before we moved, although you could just cordon off a room in your house. We moved things that we were planning to go into storage to the storage unit. This freed up space in the house for showings, but also gave us a dry run on items going to storage. There were a few things we went looking for and were glad we had done a dry run.

Nothing life changing, but a few things that made getting packed up much easier and will hopefully make the unpack less hectic on the other end.

What sort of items do you include in your Open First Box? What tips do you have for staying organized while your packing?

Disclosure: I’ve recommended a few products from affiliated vendors, so when you purchase something from them I receive a small commission. I would never recommend anything that we did not try out ourselves and love. 

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