Declutter before moving abroad
Start decluttering before inviting the removal company’s assessor around otherwise it can get complicated, “Yes, we are taking that. No, we aren’t taking that, or those. I’m not sure about that yet…” Argh!
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Decluttering with children
Young children really don’t understand what’s going on, or why you are doing this awful thing to them, i.e. getting rid of their precious toys.A note about decluttering with kids around – it usually doesn’t work out well for anyone. Children, especially young ones, have a great attachment to their toys and will resist your attempts to downsize their collection. An old, broken plastic toy they haven’t played with since early toddlerhood will suddenly become the main toy they cannot ever live without. If possible, try to do the main bulk of toy decluttering without your kids around. Stealthily remove all the true rubbish as soon as possible.
Young children really don’t understand what’s going on, or why you are doing this awful thing to them, i.e. getting rid of their precious toys. However, I’ve found that children are naturally empathetic and are happy to know their pre-loved toys will go to other children who need them more than they do. So if this works for your kids, capitalise on it and donate as much as possible to charity shops and hospitals.
When you have kids around you may find it easier to work on a small space at a time. Put aside 15 minutes here and there to clear out a small area. You’ll see some progress and it will inspire you to continue and you can achieve more without them ‘helping’.
Before you start decluttering, make a plan
Don’t get too distracted trying to assess whether it’s worth shipping stuff that will be available to purchase in your new country.Decluttering is finding a balance between arriving at your new home and discovering the perfect spot for that piece of furniture you got rid of in haste, and saving a load of money with your removal company by not taking every single item from the back of your cupboards. Also, consider if you’ll be putting anything in storage and sort that out as soon as possible.
Don’t get too distracted trying to assess whether it’s worth shipping stuff that will be available to purchase in your new country. If you’re shipping a container load there is often little to be saved by deciding that it’s not worth shipping the laundry baskets or the old coffee cups. The saving will be minimal and you don’t want to charge around in your first weeks trying to replace items that you originally bought because you liked them.
As long as you have a rough idea how much you can actually take with you, you will be OK. But now is a great time to get rid of stuff you don’t want or need.
Start by tidying away everything that’s in the wrong place. For example, put all books on the bookshelves, and remove anything from bookshelves that isn’t a book. This will be good for a couple of reasons; firstly you won’t find the packers dropping books onto a delicate ornament (yes, that happened…) and secondly, your packing boxes will be labelled by room, eg ‘Room 2, Books’ and ‘Kitchen, Pans’. It just makes life easier for you at the other end.
Some people prefer to declutter one whole room at a time. Some like to declutter categories of items. Some declutter as part of their daily life. Others (me!) can just about manage one tiny space at a time until the last minute panic takes hold and then either throw everything away, or take it with us… Neither of the latter options is recommended!
Decide which method suits you
What is really working for me right now is asking myself, “Do I want to keep this?” instead of, “Do I want to throw it away?”Working through your home room-by-room is possibly the most efficient way to declutter and organise your items. But with everything else you’ve got going on right now, plus children and day-to-day family life, you may find it easier to declutter a small area at a time. Choose whichever method suits you best.
If you prefer to declutter by category then gather together all items that are the same; clothes, pens, shoes, paperwork etc. Books, for example, may be in several rooms. Kids’ toys are likely to be in all rooms. Putting similar items all together in one place makes it easier to see the sheer quantity of these things, and also highlights possible duplicates. You can then make quick decisions about what to keep and what to dispose of.
Whichever method works for you gives you a huge sense of accomplishment as you complete each task.
My personal preference is to declutter a space each day. On my good days, I try to work on disposing of a carrier bag a day of ‘stuff’ in the months leading up to packing day. It doesn’t even have to be a whole room, just a space such as a single book shelf. One step at a time is better than no steps. Or you may find it easier to go all out and get it done as quickly and as intensely as possible.
A lot of this depends on how much time you have before you move. We know roughly when our posting ends, so I start decluttering about a year in advance. Well, I plan to… it doesn’t quite work out that way, but I do keep it in the back of my mind all the time and try not to hoard. We are moving in about three months time and I am beginning to panic now.
There is no right or wrong way to do this necessary chore.
Getting started is often that hardest part. I find it easier to start slowly and tackle the difficult areas when moving day is racing closer and making me panic. The benefit of this ‘method’ is that I find panic clarifies my thoughts and determination to chuck out more stuff. I am more inclined to get rid of things at the last moment as I don’t have time to ponder too long about each one. Other people are far more successful and organised at this than I am.
What is really working for me right now is asking myself, “Do I want to keep this?” instead of, “Do I want to throw it away?” I’ve found this helps me cut through sentimentality and I’m getting rid of much more than in previous moves.
Create a Sorting System
If you have a lot of stuff to get rid of consider hiring a skip/dumpster. This is particularly useful when you have lived somewhere for many years, and especially when you need to tackle the garage, shed or attic.
You will need:
- Boxes and bin bags.
- Pen for making lists, plus a labelling pen.
- Paper to make labels and lists. And tape to stick labels on boxes.
- Other boxes to pack up the ‘donate’ and ‘storage’ items.
Have separate boxes or bags for ‘keep’, ‘donate’, ‘bin’ and ‘store’. The latter would be for items you don’t want to get rid of but you also don’t want to take them with you.
For example, when we moved from Germany to South Africa I put all my super-winter clothes and snow boots into storage in the UK. I should have kept a few items with me, however, as I discovered winter in the African mountains is COLD! But there was no need for us to transport bulky snow boots and thick coats suited to Northern European winter temperatures when living in Africa. And I will need them when I return to the UK.
Each time you start a decluttering session, have these boxes right by you to persuade you to make an instant decision on each item.
- Once the boxes are full deal with them straight away.
- Bin the rubbish.
- Put the ‘keep’ items back where they belong ready for packing day.
- And it’s up to you how you deal with the ‘donate’ and ‘storage’ items.
I tend to put the ‘donate’ and ‘storage’ bits and pieces into separate piles in the spare room to save too many trips to the appropriate places. I guess it depends on how big the boxes are! But try to deal with them as soon as possible as it’s all too easy for things to migrate back into your ‘keep’ area.
Repeat as necessary!
When you are finished with your ‘decluttering’ boxes, keep them because they will come in handy when it comes to preparing for packing day.
It makes sense to declutter before you move. You don’t want to move overseas with excess ‘stuff’. Look at it as a chance for a new start with a clean slate. Make a plan before you start and just keep going. Even a little progress is better than no progress. Throwing away two old magazines is progress!
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