The practicalities of moving city

20:00, Apr 29 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.

2: 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.

4: 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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