Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Art Of Moving - Theory vs. Reality

Recently I was asked to write a guest post for The Millennial Housewife on organizing our move to Germany. Here is the article I wrote about 2 weeks ago:

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Our Lives in Boxes – Moving a family overseas

When I was asked to write this guest blog about how we are organizing our move to Germany, a lot of scenes from these past months came up in my brain. Most of them were painful, but there were also some good ones. Decluttering always makes me feel lighter, and it has been much too long since we have done a thorough sweep through all of our things. If I remember right, we’ve never done it that thoroughly in our 4 years of marriage, which included two moves.

Why is this move different? We’re organizing it ourselves. And it is not a move a few streets further, or even to another state; no, it is to another continent. We made this decision while on vacation in Germany a little over a year ago; the ultimate timeframe was set sometime last December, after finding out we were expecting another baby and taking a few months to evaluate all of our options. Since the GI Bill has let us down once again, we decided to move shortly after our daughter’s birth in spring, giving us a few weeks to get all necessary travel documents and enough time for me to recover.

We really started getting into the moving-groove a few weeks before Violet was born, when I urged Richard to finally decimate his library. Over the years, my husband has accumulated several hundreds of books, sometimes dropping a whole paycheck at Barnes & Noble (pre-me of course). Our plan was to reduce all of our belongings to about 10 – 15 boxes, that we would send to a friend who is currently stationed in Germany (APO-addresses be praised!). This, along with selling our car this last week, was probably the most painful task for him in this move. I went through several shoe boxes of letters, postcards, and other nick-nacks, and reduced them to one box of things I really couldn’t do without. Over the weeks we started sending boxes out, so far only with things that we wouldn’t really miss. The books that didn’t make the cut were sold and donated to the library (which should soon be hard pressed to at least name a wing after Richard).

What followed this fairly informal first step was “The List”, with all the tasks we had to complete before the move, and time limits where necessary. Many of these tasks were new to us, since last time we took our own cars when we moved from Kansas up to Washington State, and the Army managed the move of all of our belongings, packing and all. So far I’ve managed to:
- Call the power and cable/phone/internet companies and inform them about the move and cut-off date
- Hand in the termination of lease notice to the apartment manager
- Go to the bank and consolidate all accounts into one checking account
- Close the credit card
- Book tickets
- Book a hotel for the night before the flight
- Book a rental car big enough to take all of our stuff to Vancouver, Canada
- Check that all travel documents are in order
- Hand in the change-of-address form at the post office

The next step was Craig’s List, the place of choice to sell all of our more valuable odds and ends, such as our cars. Luckily, most of our furniture will find new homes with our friends, which somehow makes it easier for us to part with, since we know that their new owners will appreciate them.

Right now, I am sitting in a seemingly cluttered apartment, with two packed boxes on the coffee table. When I look around it does not look as if we were moving in less than a week (apart from the boxes of course). I know that it will be different come Friday and all the furniture is gone and the last few boxes sent on their way to Germany. The most important task at this point is to make sure that all the things we will need for the journey and the first months in Germany, such as
- Passports
- Birth Certificates for the girls (important to be able to apply for “Kindergeld” und Elterngeld” in Germany)
- Marriage Certificate for Richard’s Visa
- All educational certificates and records for the job search
- Richard’s military records
Despite all the chaos, there is not much more left to do but deep-clean the apartment once it’s empty, pack our suitcases, and maybe make another trip to Goodwill to get rid of some odds and ends that have escaped us so far. Seeing all this makes me mostly sad, because all the belongings we have accumulated during our 4 years of marriage are gone (or will be gone soon). But all that is just things that can easily be replaced. And, as Richard is saying on occasion: at least, all the clutter is gone and we’ll be able to start on a clean slate. The girl in me is already looking forward to spending weekends browsing through IKEA and crafts shops to find the perfect things to decorate the girls’ rooms, and to negate all the decluttering of the past months.

(this article was posted on June 8th)
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Fast forward to today. We've arrived in Germany on June 9th in a haze, that has only partially lifted by now. The last few days of organizing were an ordeal as well. One may not believe how much clutter can hide in the most unlikely places. When all of our furniture was gone on June 4th, the apartment floor was hidden under loads and loads of things. The post office rejected to send some of our boxes for excess weight, and 3-4 boxes turned into 7. The plan was to have the final walk-through at 12pm on June 6th; we ended up not leaving until 5pm.

What went wrong? Here's the list:

1. Ask a friend! Even though we had a well thought-through plan on how to organize everything, and managed to stick to our list mostly, the last days just were too stressful. With two little kids around, the packing and cleaning took much longer than I've planned. Having an extra hand or two would have been the solution. However, in our strive to not be a burden to anyone, we just took on way too much. At this point, asking for help, and if it's only for babysitting would have been the way to go.

2. Don't procrastinate! Yes, I admit, we're guilty of the crime of procrastination. Some cleaning tasks such as cleaning the windows or clearing out one or two closets could have been done several days in advance. This would have prevented me from entering into a cleaning marathon that lasted until 4am and started again at 6. Especially time-consuming tasks such as cleaning behind the stove or fridge could have been accomplished as much as a couple of weeks in advance and saved me much time and even more nerves in the end.

3. Talk to your apartment manager! Just talking to Kelly could have saved me hours in cleaning time. Why did diligently wipe down all the blinds if they will end up being deep-cleaned by professionals anyways? Make sure you know if the management intends to replace any fixtures, cabinets, or carpets after you move out so you don't spend hours cleaning for naught.

4. No matter what: get at least 6 hours of sleep! This will help you keep your sanity and stay calm in stressful situations and prevents you from standing in the bathroom crying along with your baby.

Well, hindsight is always clearer, I guess. I only deeply regret the hours we missed spending with our friends for a last supper on US ground. I'd rather sat around with Cat, Charlie and Tom, eating lasagna and faux black forest cake than running around like a mad chicken in our littered apartment.

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