A Story of 3 Suitcases

Tomorrow, I leave for France.

Today, I pack.

I may have packed and moved out of my apartment by the end of August, but after living out of suitcases for the last 6 weeks, my belongings are – at best – scattered. I did my best to pack my things in such a way that I could access what I needed throughout these weeks without too much trouble, but inevitably there were things I needed that had to be dug out. Not to mention that when I was packing, it was 90° and humid. Not exactly in the proper mindset for thinking through what I would need when it dropped from 80° to 50° in just 24 hours. (#NewEnglandProblems)

The last few weeks have been an exercise in ingenuity, trying to figure out how to wear the same 2 reachable long-sleeve things on repeat without people at work noticing. Also, as a girl with an admitted shoe habit, wearing the same pairs over and over has been borderline cruel and unusual punishment.

Anyway, after 6 weeks of rummaging through my things (as carefully as possible) you can imagine that even the most meticulously packed suitcases became a bit disheveled. So today I re-pack.

Since I personally do not own multiple sets of luggage, thus far I’ve been occupying my parents’ large suitcase in addition to my own suitcases and other miscellaneous carrying vessels. Frenchman and his dad arrive tonight, bringing with them 2 empty suitcases for me to fill with all my crap. This also means that since there will be 3 of us, I can take 3* checked bags! Music to my fashionista-meets-hoarder ears.

When I tell people I’m taking 3 big suitcases, I get one of two very opposite reactions. One faction laughs and shakes their heads at me, clearly thinking I’m insane for having/bringing that much stuff. These people think I should have 1 bag and a carry-on and call it a day. After all, how much stuff could you really need? The other faction stares at me, jaw on floor, marveling at HOW in the WORLD could you move across an ocean with just suitcases of clothes?? I like these people better. They allow me a smug sense of betterness for “roughing it” with just 3 bags full of every possible type of article of clothing for any potential occasion, weather, or mood.

Personally, I’m torn in the middle somewhere. As someone who never checks a bag for any trip, the thought of bringing this much stuff overwhelms me and makes me feel guilty. Why guilty? Great question, I’m basically the only person judging me for it. On the other hand, as I packed the stuff that made the short list after the Great Purge of 2015, I realized I actively wear every single one of those pieces so I struggle to find what I would even do without. Ultimately, I’m moving, not going on vacation so I need to strike a balance between backpacking and Kardashian.

So now we come to Packing: The Sequel (Return of the Suitcases).

After packing it all the first time around, I learned some things.

  1. Don’t pack seasonally. I made this mistake. I started packing early and in the heat of summer, so the first case I packed started with jackets and heavy sweaters at the bottom. While logical at the time for trying to keep at least 1 suitcase sealed up and ready to go, it made the bag way too heavy. Winter stuff is heavier, kids. Must distribute weight.
  2. Add bags, not stuff. Beware the overweight fees. It’s actually cheaper to pay for an extra checked bag than to be fined for your one bag being over the weight limit. You’re better off packing slightly less in more suitcases than fitting all your stuff in as few bags as possible.
  3. Think about the weather. Be aware of the weather both at your destination and for whatever interim days you have between packing and leaving. You may be in flip flops now but when you arrive in Alaska you’ll want something a tad warmer somewhere on the top layer of your bag.
  4. Think about the weather – Part 2. Bringing 20 sweaters in various weights, colors, and shapes is probably not necessary for a country where winter is mild. As a New England girl, sweaters are my favorite things. I was packing all my most favorite ones when Frenchman reminded me that it just doesn’t get that cold in Paris. Out went a whole pile of my most beloved things because I just plain didn’t need them. Heartbreaking? Yes. But necessary.
  5. Don’t have a meltdown. I super hate packing, and this kind of packing adds a whole other dimension of pressure. Remain calm. Nothing’s going to get folded, rolled, and stuffed if you’re on the floor staring blankly at your mountains of belongings. Have a plan, and just keep going.

Hopefully I can take some of my own advice. Maybe I’ll even manage to make a few more practical decisions and leave unneeded things behind.

Stay tuned, and wish me luck!

Paris: Here I come!

woman too much luggage

Photo by nydailynews.com

Dramatization: Do not attempt

*Full disclosure: I technically am taking 3 suitcases plus carry-ons. I had a total of 3 people so it only made sense…

** Fun Fact: I didn’t spell “suitcases” correctly the first try the entire time I wrote this. Not once. What gives, fingers?

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Things to pack when packing your life (to move abroad)

I hate packing.

I could be going on the most glamorous vacation and when it comes down to the packing part, I’m miserable. I get stressed out simply thinking about what I need, and what if I forget something, and oh, now I’ve packed too much, and wait what if we do something fancy? What if it rains? What if it’s hotter/colder/wetter/dryer/weirder than I expected and I don’t have the right things?

I get all caught up in the possible eventualities. Ultimately it never really matters, but in the thick of it, it feels like it’s all so important.

And so, when you’re packing to move to France suddenly, and not just packing for vacation or a move down the street, inevitably it gets exponentially more complicated. And stressful. Did I mention I hate packing?

Here’s what to pack when you’re packing your life (to move abroad!)

Some of this is sensible. Some of this is silly. All of it was important in making me feel whole and human and helping me survive my arrival in France.

→ Pack your favorite things! Put your best foot (or sleeve) forward with things from your closet that make you feel confident and happy. On your worst day, you’ll feel just a smidge closer to home with things that are familiar and you know you love. When you’re feeling homesick or just experiencing an “I have nothing to wear!” day, pull those staples from your closet for instant comfort and feel at home in your favorite clothes.

My Frenchman has been insanely comforting on this front. Even though he was already back in France, he sat on video with me as I went sweater by sweater, dress by dress, trying to decide what was worthy of that precious suitcase space. And every time I got too overwhelmed, he said “Bring it! It makes you happy, bring it. We can use more suitcases.” While I’m tearing my hair out trying to take the fewest possible shirts, all he wants is for me to be happy when I get to France.

→ But don’t pack them all. Seriously, make some tough choices and leave a few things behind even though you love them. My all-time favorite things are my sweaters. My warmest, coziest sweaters. And they are all stuffed in a bin in storage, not coming with me to France. Because Paris does not get as cold as Boston does and it just doesn’t make sense to bring them. Second example of hard choices? I abandoned a shirt I had literally worn just 3 days before sending it to the “donate” pile. Ouch.

Don’t get me wrong – if you have a wardrobe piece that’s chic, functional, and makes you happy, by all means take it. But leave room for adding a little foreign flair to your closet once you get there. You’re sure to find that there are needs you didn’t realize you had before, or situational items that never came up at home. Bonus: shopping is a great way to explore your new home and test out your basic language skills! And, worst case? Have some things shipped from home later if you decide you really can’t live without them after all.

→ Popcorn. If you’re me, that is. If you’re not me and you’re not obsessed with popcorn to the extent that you eat it in ungodly volumes then consider this a metaphor for whatever it is that makes you happy. For that thing you love and need to be you. It’s a simple, silly little thing, really. Popcorn. Just corn kernels. But I’d feel a little less at home if I couldn’t throw a pan on the stove to make a bowl of popcorn to watch some tv, or toss a packet in the microwave for a quick snack in the evening. Also in this category for me is tea (packed flat and ready to go for my favorite, comforting brew!). What’s your popcorn? Pack whatever it is, if you can, to make your new house a little more like home.

→ Loads of extra tampons/pads. Trying to figure out how/where/which to purchase is the last thing you want to have to do when you’re still settling into a foreign country and struggling with daily life, let alone struggling with pms. Do yourself a favor and buy extra before you leave. Don’t bother with the boxes – just toss them throughout your stuff wherever there’s space, or try to pack them flat in big ziplocks. You’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to find a French pharmacy on a Sunday when everything’s closed. Cross that bridge once you’ve got things down a bit and are feeling more confident.

Obviously, this may not apply to all of you… so consider this one a metaphor as well. Medications, specific hair products, vitamins – think about the little things that will be stressful to figure out immediately, and stock up before you go to save yourself the trouble.

→ Small practical tools. On this side of the pond, we use cups and teaspoons rather than grams and liters. All of my recipes also use cups and teaspoons. Therefore, I packed my measuring cups and spoons. Weird? Maybe. But I love to cook and I don’t know what I’ll find in my furnished apartment, so I’m bringing the things that will allow me to make my familiar dishes. I’m also bringing my favorite mug (for the above-mentioned tea!). It’s a small thing that will make me feel at home (and it’s got Boston landmarks on it, so it even looks like home!). Bring small things that will make your life easier – they’re worth the extra corners of your luggage.

And that’s it. That’s all you get.

Just kidding.

When it comes to packing, whether you’re moving across the street or across an ocean, bring what you need and leave what you don’t. Obviously it makes things a whole lot simpler if you’re able to strip yourself of unnecessary weight (and saves on luggage fees and shipping costs…) but at the end of the day, if you’ll be happier with 12 skirts instead of 4, you do you. 

I packed a thing I need, and other stressful thoughts

Today, I woke up at 3am and realized that last weekend, amidst the frenzy of packing, I packed the Title for my car.

The title is the thing that proves I own it. It also allows me to sell it. That’s a thing I intend to do since, you know, I’m leaving the country and have no need for a Massachusetts-bound vehicle or the insurance bill that goes with it.

The movers come tomorrow.

For a full grasp of the severity of the situation, here is a (slightly) dramatic reenactment of the state of my apartment:

The real kicker here is that the file was in a folder that I had set aside. Why was it set aside? Because I had the forethought to find a couple of important documents that I needed to make sure didn’t get packed. You know, like the title for my car.

Then, while packing final things with my mom, like the swiss-cheese-brained distraction machine I am, I grab that very folder and toss it merrily into a box. I can picture doing it. I can see myself, like a slo-mo video in my mind, handing the folder to my mom and watching as she placed it neatly in a box.

BUT WAIT.

I KNOW WHICH BOX IT WAS.

Thank god for my weirdly visual brain, and my obsessive ability to remember where and how things were packed. I had a sneaking suspicion it was in one specific box, but it was definitely in one of two final boxes we packed on Sunday, which were sitting neatly in the corner.

Also, I texted my mom.

Her brain agreed that it was in that one box. I think I get it from her.

Crisis: averted. But good lord this could have been a disaster. Once the movers get their hands on these boxes, good luck figuring out which one it was and where that box wound up. From my apartment, down into the truck, and then into storage… that is a haystack you don’t want to have to dig through.

Things that are hard

  1. Deciding which pieces of furniture are worth storing
  2. Figuring out what size storage unit is appropriate
  3. Finding time to make 3,000 phone calls to movers and storage places while you have a full-time job in an open-plan office surrounded by people who aren’t supposed to know (yet) that you’re going anywhere
  4. My jaw muscles from clenching them 24/7 for weeks on end
  5. Keeping this secret that I’M FREAKING MOVING TO PARIS
  6. Finding energy to pack more things after a full, busy day at work
  7. Getting rid of those shoes you’ve always really liked but never really wore but like, what if you want to wear them someday, but are they really worth adding to storage just in case?
  8. Thanking my mom enough times for helping me pack every weekend
  9. Thanking my dad enough times for driving my rejected crap to Goodwill every week
  10. Making time to see all the people you want to see and should see and need to see before you leave

Oh and packing. Did I mention packing? Packing is hard. Packing just to move down the street or across town or between states is hard enough. Packing to leave so half your stuff comes with you and half stays without you (and figuring out what goes in each half) is even harder.

I have too much stuff.

A series of concerns: My stuff

I first started writing this post months ago, when I was first mulling over the how’s and why’s and whether-or-nots of the moving to Paris decision-making process. It was my first foray into how I might deal with my things. A framework for it, at least.

“Do I get a storage unit? Do I sell it? Do I stick it in my parents’ basement and hope they don’t mind?”

These were the questions of the day.

The answer, inevitably, was a storage unit. And also sell it. And also stick stuff in my parents’ basement.

Much to my chagrin (and the pleasure of my parents) getting my own storage space for my things was the only logical solution. There was no way the basement of my parents’ downsized condo would be a reasonable place to put my whole life’s worth of stuff. While a good size, it certainly doesn’t have space enough for my furniture and armchair and bins clothing and boxes upon boxes of kitchen stuff (that’s all your fault, Mom).

But I also had to decide what was worth storing. I don’t know about your part of the world, but storage units can be pricey. And when you’re storing everything you own, indefinitely, it gets pricier. I had to make some tough choices about what I felt was worth it to me to take up space in that precious _X_ unit — and what could go.

When I moved into this apartment 2 years ago, I had the unfortunate, now-ironic, thought process “Hey, I’m going to be here for a while, and I’m an adult. I’m going to treat myself to real, quality stuff!” And so, in the name of adulting, I bought nice TVs and moderately expensive furniture, and generally higher quality items than I would have, had I known it was all being abandoned in 2 short years.

So what makes the cut and what gets cut? That decision could only be made after carefully juggling square footage, cost, and volume of stuff. If I get this  size, then I can afford to eat every month, but I can’t keep my mattress. If I get this one, then I don’t have to get rid of my chair, and I can mostly eat…

It’s a delicate balance. The TVs did not make the final casting call for this fall’s production of My Stuff: A Storage Saga. Neither did a few other pieces of furniture. My chair stays. I love that chair.

And now, to keep packing.