Five Lessons from a Serial Mover

IMG_0025Moving frequently has taught me a lot over the years. From efficient packing methods and letting go of possessions to settling accounts associated with the soon-to-be old address, I have learned something from each move I have made in my life. Some lessons have been more profound than others, and some have come at a higher cost than others, but each has been valuable and has prepared me for the next inevitable move. And while moving has become easier for me, I don’t believe there is anything easy about packing up your life in one place and moving it to another.

With one week remaining until our departure for Riga, we are fully in the throes of preparing for our pack-out on Monday and our flight next Thursday. It seems so very recent that we packed out from Matamoros and arrived in Virginia, never imagining that our eight months here would fly by as quickly as they did. Now that our move to Riga is upon us, our seemingly endless list of details to consider and loose ends to tie up is finally getting shorter. On Tuesday we bid adieu to our car, which we will (hopefully) see again in about two months. The rest of our belongings will be packed up and shipped on Monday. Our apartment is a mess of (mostly) organized clutter, divided into piles to be sent to Riga by boat, by plane, and taken with us in our luggage… a reflection of one of the lessons that moving in the foreign service has taught me. If we aren’t organized for our pack-out, we may end up trying to figure out how to carry our dishes with us on the plane while our passports and garbage get packed in boxes for the container ship.

I am finding this time around that there are some things I’ve gotten pretty good at over many years of moving. Here are my top five tips for preparing for a successful move.

5. Purge (also known as “let go of anything you don’t like, don’t wear, don’t use, or don’t think the IRS will want ever from you”). It’s a common practice to have a garage sale, list belongings on Craigslist, donate, or otherwise get rid of items before a move. With each of my recent moves, I am increasingly astonished at how quickly I am now able to purge things, whether that means going through my closet and being serious about the things I really wear versus what I might wear some day and never do; or going through piles of paper, sheet by sheet, and recycling or shredding the ones I don’t need, purging has become (I finally let go of some medical receipts and from 2007). Paper is heavy, after all, and I am learning that there are very few things that we actually need to keep. Even some of those documents can be scanned and saved electronically to cut down on clutter. (Now that I have a smartphone, I am all about the Turbo Scan app, to which my friend L. opened my eyes!)


We do own a small file box, but this binder holds everything we really need. It stays with us when we travel.

4. Avoid clutter to begin with (also known as “do you really need that ceramic frog?). I used to be collector. Stamps, coins, tchotchkes…. No more. (Okay, so I do still have my stamp collection… but in my defense, it fits into a couple of albums and a few envelopes which I have been meaning to sort through since 1991. I’m sure I’ll get to it in Riga.) I declared myself knick-knack free many years ago when I realized how much time I was spending dusting paperweights and random wooden figurines. I still have a few things in this category, either because they were given to me as gifts and have sentimental value or because I genuinely like them. But, M. and I made a rule while we were posted in Mexico that anything we bought in the way of arts and crafts had to have a practical use (dishes, a tablecloth) or be hung on the wall. And while I would never, ever refer to books as clutter (blasphemy!), we have both surrendered to the world of e-reading, because, frankly, it’s a (heavy) pain in the ass to move books around the world and back.


Two items that I just can’t seem to use and/or part with. On the left, a hand salve that my friend gave me in 2007. It has been to Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Matamoros, Virginia, and is now heading to Riga. On the right, some soap sheets that my cousin gave me, oh, in 1997.

3. Pack in stages (also known as “don’t procrastinate, and yes, you really can live without the Apple TV for a few weeks”). I am finding as I get older that I am becoming less of a leave-it-to-the-last-minute kind of person. I have been known in the past to start packing for a trip just a couple of hours before heading to the airport, but those days are long gone, especially when it comes to moving. Even though we now have the benefit of the State Department sending movers who come and do the bulk of our packing and then haul everything away on a truck, there are many things I prefer to pack- or at least organize- myself: clothes, books (yes, we do still have quite a few), and linens, to name a few. It has helped me tremendously to start this process several weeks before our actual moving date by tackling one room at a time. Often, I combine my packing with my purging and separate out those items that are to be donated, given to friends, sold, etc. The downside of this process is that the house feels messy for a few weeks, but the stress saved from not putting off the task to the last hours is worth a little mess. Besides, moving is messy by nature.

2. Use up consumables (also known as “what can I make with panko crumbs, frozen corn, chickpeas, and tomato sauce?”). I almost had it this time. Almost. If all goes as planned in the next six days, we will run out of trash bags, paper towels, eggs, laundry detergent, and soap the day before our flight. I didn’t quite make it in other areas (I just had to buy some dish detergent this morning (grrr!), and we’ll be flying to Riga with about six pounds of dog food in our luggage), but each time, I get a little better at stretching out or using up our consumable items just so, so that they last us until our moving date with no leftovers. It’s a fun little game I like to play called “One Less Thing to Move”, the object of which is to use up the last of the lotion. Weeks ago, we planned our meals around what we had in the pantry and wanted to use before we leave. Whatever is left over will go to friends and family.


I don’t think we’ll be eating the necessary quantity of cornbread to use up this bag. Any takers? 

1. Laugh (also known as “really, laugh, because what other choice do you have?”). This, the most important lesson I have learned in a lifetime of moving, is what can make the difference between a successful move and a terrible experience. Just as there is no such thing as an easy move, there is also no such thing as a perfect move. And without a sense of humor, a moving hiccup can seem like a disaster. So, for example, when you’ve got all of your belongings sorted into piles with colorfu labels that say things like “kitchen” or “bathroom” in an effort to ensure that they will be packed in some sort of organized fashion, and your dog inexplicably has explosive diarrhea and- before you have a chance to get her down 21 flights of stairs in time- sprays it all over the ivory carpet in the dining room of the government-rented apartment that you are cleaning and preparing for inspection lest you be fined for damages, a sense of humor can really come in handy. Also, wine helps. Cheers.


Thank goodness for this. It really is a miracle and can get doggy diarrhea (including the smell) out of light-colored carpet.

Thank you for reading!

**Sweet little Frieda seems to be in good spirits. I’m pretty sure she ate something that upset her stomach. If she’s not better tomorrow, I’ll take her to the vet.

2 thoughts on “Five Lessons from a Serial Mover

  1. Very timely! Thanks for the tips. Even though Stormy and are only moving back to our home in Colorado after our year-long TDY in North Carolina, your insights are inspiring. Good reminders of all the things we’ll recall while unpacking at the destination and say, “Oh, we should’ve… ”

    Wishing you every good thing on your move and the new assignment, most especially that it be a great new experience!


    • Thanks, Bruce! Sorry for the delay… I just saw your comment today when I was writing my new post. I hope your move goes well! Thank you for the positive thoughts, and please know that you and Stormy are welcome to visit us any time!


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