The practicalities of moving city

Last updated 08:00 30/04/2012

Moving house has absolutely no potential to be fun. It's slightly less excruciating than going to the dentist, but it takes a lot longer.


My house, as the following photos indicate, is a bit of a mess. 

Early on Wednesday, New Zealand time, I am moving to the West Coast of the United States. In the past five years I have moved away from New Zealand and travelled for a year. I've moved back home, and then I've moved to Boston, and now I'm moving to San Francisco, via a month in northern California. I don't envisage another big move in my future, if only because I don't think I have the mental capacity to cope with another.

When you're only moving across town, there's a whole formal and informal moving economy that you can dip into. You might call in favours from the people who you have helped move in the past. Or, you could call on new favours from others, leaning on the fact that everyone needs good moving karma. Inevitably, you focus your attention on people who might have a vehicle that you can use, or at least a car with a towbar. Failing that, you rent through the official channels what you can't borrow. You then grease the wheels of this favour machine with alcohol and free food to avoid revolt.

But when you're moving across the world, or in our case a seven-hour flight away, there's another realm of logistical considerations.

1: Visualise the flow of stuff

When facing a large gulf in geography, it is likely that you will not have lined up living arrangements in your new city. So you need to ask yourself, where is all of this stuff going to go?

Our current move is taking place in stages. We'll go directly to LP's parents house in northern California, where we will leave most of our possessions. We'll then move to San Francisco at the very end of May, and live for the foreseeable months with LP's aunt, a move that could be either practical, or an elaborate setup for weeks of hilarious Full House references. We will only bring essentials with us to the city at first, as we look for a place of our own, and finally complete the transfer of goods across three different houses.

MOVINGb2: Where it's going to be stored

Until I left New Zealand in 2010, and my parents told me that they would keep only one trunk of my belongings, I never considered a time when they wouldn't be willing hosts to all of my archival whims.

But if you're not making a direct house-to-house shift, or shifting so far that the cost of moving it all is way too prohibitive, you need to think about where all of your possessions are going to be kept and who will be doing the keeping. Inevitably this will be your parents or someone within your family. You could pay for storage, but moving a long way is expensive enough already.

In this case, we are lucky. LP's family home has a large barn, complete with a loft for us to leave our things in.

3: How much you want to keep

LP's mantra is, "I look at all of this and I think, how much of it will I be excited about taking out of a box in a few months' time?"

I have to admit, I get defensive when she brings this up. I've already reduced my belongings to the previously blogged-about single red trunk. There's something terrifying about being able to look at all of your possessions in two suitcases. I don't want to go back there.

My main acquisitions in Boston are a packed bookshelf and a thoughtfully archived stack of nearly two years of New Yorker issues, kept in the incredibly misguided belief that maybe one day I'll go back and read the ones I never got to take a look at. And so as protective as I feel of these things, LP rightly points out that I'm both hoarding and being protective of things that are easily replaceable. So the New Yorkers will go, and I've pruned my book collection by half.

The disposable nature of IKEA and its affordable prices actually serve as a disincentive to move the furniture. So, the big things we're not moving. Which makes it much easier.

MOVINGc4: How much you can sell

Between airfares, moving costs, baggage fees, cleaning costs and so on, moving is taxing on the wallet. Once you've decided what you're going to throw away, you've probably uncovered a whole stash of things that you can sell off. As I type this, I'm looking at a pallet of books that will be taken to a secondhand bookshop on Monday. We've also sold our shelves, desk, table, bed, sofa bed, coffee table, dresser and desk chair. Tonight, I'm going to put an old laptop, our coffee maker, a lamp and a fan on Craigslist and see what happens. It prompts the occasional conflict between LP and me: I'm willing to go cheap to get the stuff out of our apartment, whereas she's a lot more of a businesswoman.

The proceeds from these sales so far stand at $290, and hopefully rising.

5: Modes of transport

I have two sets of married friends who used the opportunity of moving to the West Coast to take a cross-country drive. LP and I don't have a car, so this made little financial sense, though it would have been a practical way to shift our stuff. We still sit on the transient side of settled, so hiring movers for our possessions would not really have been worth the investment. And so, on Tuesday morning, we'll take a cab to the airport with about half a million bags, using Southwest's generous baggage policies: two free pieces of checked baggage per customer and $50 for each additional piece. We're shooting for 10 bags and an overall moving price tag of $300.

I'm dreading arriving at the airport with all of that stuff though. I can just imagine the passive aggressive daggers that the people behind us in the check-in line will be shooting us.  

In due time, though, it will be over.

What are your tips for moving long distance? How do you cope with the logistical tussles and, more important, the stress of it all? 

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PB   #1   10:34 am Apr 30 2012

When I was 11 my family moved from the UK to NZ, we literally had one container for all our stuff including my dad's motorbike. I don't think they did a huge cull as I don't remember any noticable abscenes from the landscape.

I am moving in two week to my boyfriend's house, so we're combing two households, I don't have a hell of a lot of stuff, as I've only been flatting for 3 years but I've noticed that I will have to get rid of a lot of stuff.

Bruce   #2   03:49 pm Apr 30 2012

Hiya James. Read yer blog often and welcome to SF! I work as a bike courier here so please let me know if there's anything I can help with.

Ted   #3   06:48 pm Apr 30 2012

my parnter and i moved to Melbourne from Christchurch 6 months ago. It was a nightmare we left everything to the last minute. Ended up taking an entire suitcase to the post office filled to the brim with sold trade me items the day before we flew out. I still cant believe we made it, it was just an utter disaster! As soon as we arrived in Melbourne we checked in and went straight to sleep. We sold everything cheaply just to get rid of it. The only things we kept beside 1 suitcase each is 4 boxes of books which we left at my partners parents house (thank god for free storage) Good luck James!

Evrygreen   #4   06:49 pm Apr 30 2012

I spent 3 years in and furnished an entire 1 bedroom apartment before deciding to relocate to NZ. I spent 3 weeks shifting through the 3 years of collected stuff in said apartment and somehow got to NZ with 2 suitcases and 3 shipped boxes and the rest went into a cheap storage locker in Wisconsin. Almost 3 years later I am still living (and loving) NZ and living in furnished flats (although I did recently purchase a bed) and yet still paying rent on my storage locker in WI. It has gotten to the point that 1 or 2 more storage payments and I could easily have replaced the furniture inside, but the thought of getting rid of my first "adult furniture purchase" seems so sad. Not to mention the time/price to fly back and redistribute this storage locker. Oh what to do about the "stuff" and sentimental value of said stuff...I definitely can relate to your qualms about a cross country relocation- and so soon after an international one!!!

Boo   #5   10:55 pm Apr 30 2012

When we moved to the UK, neither of our parents had the space to accommodate our crap, I stubbornly refused to relinquish most of it for entirely misguided sentimental reasons, and shipping cost substantially less than three years' storage (three years being the minimum amount of time we'd be gone). The entire international packing/shipping/moving process remains the most awful experience of my life, and I wish we'd done it your way.

Kit   #6   02:36 am May 01 2012

I go through cycles of wanting stuff, so accumulate furniture etc, then suddenly look around and wonder why I have so much stuff. I don't want stuff! It ties you down to a place. So then I get rid of all the stuff. I don't do anything sensible like sell it. I give it away to whoever wants or needs it. Then for a while I bask in my stuff-free life.

Then one day I look around and wonder why I have no stuff, so accumulate....

Yes, this is a reasonably expensive process. I know it's crazy. It's just the way it is. No commitment issues here obviously ;)

Unhappy In US   #7   03:45 am May 01 2012

I hope you like SF. I have some fond memories of time there a while ago, in spite of its being expensive and my not having much of an income. I never had a bad meal there I didn't cook myself. Transit transfers had a two-hour window, so occasional Saturdays I'd ride the bus east, walk around a bit, ride the cable car north, walk around a bit, then the bus west, and walk back home, part of the way being through Golden Gate Park. The initial bus fare was 25 cents and all the transfers were free, so it was inexpensive fun.

Consider sending as much of your stuff as possible across country with United Parcel Service (UPS) rather than as luggage on your flight. It's easier, you can send it ahead of time, UPS may pick it up at your door, and of course will deliver it to your Northern California destination.

Before you sell your laptop, be sure you get help if necessary to wipe your laptop of all your personal information so that it can't be recovered. That obviously includes passwords, browsing history, bookmarks, contacts, and everything else you can think of that you wouldn't want others to know about you and your associates. Simply deleting them isn't enough. (Note also that Android mobile phones can't be wiped. You have to physically destroy them to keep hackers from recovering the information on them.)

peter   #8   11:33 am May 01 2012

We moved from AKL to CHC and back in the same year (family rrasons) packed up all our stuff into 1 x 20' gp (shipping container) for the trip down and the trip back. perfect no damage and very secure.

kit   #9   10:11 am May 03 2012

When I left Wellington for LA 3 and a half years ago I moved with 2 suitcases. In Wellington I had a one bedroom flat full of great stuff that was only a year old. I left it with my ridiculously accomodating big sister ... what I've now realised is that posession is 9/10th's of the law and now I really don't own a 42 inch LCD TV, a fabulous black leather fold out couch, nor my $3000 design mobel bed. The TV and couch were warmly welcomed into her house from day one, and the bed made it from the garage to being in the guest bedroom within 6 months. If I decide to go home anytime soon I really can't ask for them back. Though that guest room will have my name on it until I'm settled in :D

James Robinson   #10   09:24 am May 09 2012

@Kit: Books could be written on the intricacies of the loan/gift divide!

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