The First Few Moves
We moved to our first post (Venezuela) in 2005 with 2 suitcases each. The Haggard had sold all of our stuff in various ways, including an estate sale (I don’t think Craigslist was around at the time, or we didn’t know about it). We were young and didn’t care that much about stuff or household items. No biggie–we were Living the Dream!
Our next two moves were similar. I remember when my mom commented on our bare walls when she came to visit us in Thailand (after we had lived there 2 years!) — home decor just didn’t matter that much back then. While in China, we stepped it up, but still had no problem selling off and leaving with our 2 allotted bags per person. When it came to moving to Saudi, though, we now had two kids and were going to be paid more of a shipping allowance. We decided to do a small shipment, and after extensive research, got the smallest container and paid around $2000, which I now know is a steal!
Since we had never shipped anything, though, we didn’t really know what to put in it. The Haggard wanted to take a grill, so we bought one and loaded it up. My mom gave me several boxes of kids’ books (very heavy) to put in, and I took a huge shopping trip to Walmart in Texas and bought some Pyrex and non-toxic pans, which I thought would be heavy. We also researched the heck out of car seats, and ended up buying two of these bad boys, which would last us 6 years. Oh, and we bought a tv….one of the smallest flat screens that we thought would do just fine.
Months later, after going through customs and paying more money, our shipment arrived. Yes, it was fun going through that stuff….but, we had a few wee problems:
- The TV was American and would not work in Saudi. Plus, it was tiny and we had a huge wall to fill.
- The barbeque needed a special adapter to work with the propane.
- The microwave was 110 instead of 220.
- And–not a problem, but our school provided an amazing “welcome kit” that pretty much had all the basics we needed.
So we learned that shipping is not all that needed. Some friends had furniture and really nice things, and they were very happy to have shipped, but of course they paid much more ($10,000 and up).
The Latest Move
6 years later, we were moving again, and had accumulated a lot (too much) stuff. Again–to ship or not to ship?
The Haggard: We can re-buy all of this stuff for 1/3 the cost to ship.
The Lyon: Yes, but we have all the kids’ stuff! What about that?
The Haggard: They can each take some of their toys. What do they really need?
The Lyon: What about all our art? What will have to decorate our house? Pictures? Photos? The kids’ portfolios?
The Haggard: We can re-buy everything, I promise.
In the end, I saw his reasoning, believed him, and that was that. To be fair, we didn’t really have all that much that was worth shipping. I also was reading up on minimalism, and thought it would be quite zen to travel light (Living the Dream?). We sold all our possessions (making an impressive $3000 in the process) save 8 suitcases worth of clothes, some photos, a few toys, and a few knick knacks. Doing the math, we saved a significant amount of money not shipping, made some off our old possessions, and would receive a settling-in allowance in our new post. Financially–this seemed wise.
Arriving with Nothing
When we arrived in our new country–Indonesia–our house had some furniture, 4 cheap towels, and a few basic kitchen items. No pillows, pictures, art, mats, rugs….you get the idea. We were jet-lagged, shell-shocked from moving across the world with our two kids, and had no energy for all the shopping that was required to get our house in livable–much less cozy and pretty–shape.
Turns out the thought of shopping is a lot more appealing than the reality when faced with a new country, new job, new commute, new shops….everything. The actual shopping that needed to take place would be on a bus with other families for the first few weeks, after a full day of orientation/work, with the kids. To be fair, even if we had shipped, we would be in the same boat, as shipments take months to arrive.
So–to Ship or Not to Ship?
Going back to the Minimalists, you are not supposed to get rid of everything, if it brings you joy. I think this is really hard to decide when you are an expat. There are so many things that seem to give me joy, but once they are gone, I normally forget what they were. But then, when faced with an empty house, I remember something and think–ugh! I wish I had it!
I’ll end with a success story. I struggled over whether or not to use 8 precious pounds on bringing my Nutribullet (220 v) to Indo. Eventually I decided to sell it, thinking that surely I could find it at a mall or something. Well, upon arrival, no such luck. But…from my buddy I found out about Tokopedia, an Indonesia Amazon/Craigslist type thing, and whala! There it was! Not only that, I have a lovely Indonesian aid (what kind of high school teacher has an aid?) who set it all up for me, and it was delivered in one day. That was a good day.
It’s not always about the money. We saved money by not shipping, no doubt. But it has cost us in many other ways, namely TIME. In addition, we don’t have many of those “special” things that the kids will connect to “home” over the years. I love going “home” to my Mom and Dad’s house and seeing the same decorations I remember from childhood…it’s possible our kids will not have that.
We are certainly in the minority, as most people consider shipping just part of the deal. I think I’d still choose our way (to not ship), but try to prepare more mentally for the task of creating a real home (again) from scratch, which is necessary when living the dream.