This is an instructional post about how to inventory your stuff while you pack for a move. I’ve done this a bunch of times and it’s what works for me. I based it on the concepts from the Paper Tiger, a justifiably famous book about a system for filing papers.
The basic principle is this:
Put a number on a box. Write down the contents under that number.
Move on to the next box and repeat.
Don’t worry about - and this is the hard part - don’t worry about any more complicated system. The only things you have to worry about are making sure you don’t duplicate numbers and that anyone else who packs with you is on board with the system.
There is only one Box #1. There is only one Box #19.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if a box has logical categories of contents. The idea here is that if you’re looking for something specific, you can figure out what box it’s in. If the boxes are clearly labeled, then you have a good chance of finding that box and getting your precious thing back out.
If the boxes have been packed in roughly the order that they were numbered, then you probably even have a rough idea of where each box is!
Also, if you’ve packed in one direction, from one end of your dwelling to another, then the boxes probably got loaded into the truck in the opposite direction. What was first shall be last, and what was last shall be first.
When the boxes are unloaded into the new place, the direction reverses.
Your numbered order is, then, roughly the same all the way through.
This is pure mysticism. Don’t try to understand it, just accept it and meditate on it. Or visualize someone pulling into a parking space and then backing out again.
Moving is often the catalyst for chronic disorganization. A household is moving and they fall victim to the Planning Fallacy. This is the basic cognitive inability of the human brain to accurately estimate how long it takes to do complicated things. Everything is behind schedule and over budget because even highly trained experts and professionals are subject to the Planning Fallacy. No escape.
The household that has not planned the move with expert precision suddenly finds itself in panic mode. Every spare person who can be enlisted to help shows up and starts throwing things into boxes. I can tell you from experience that professional movers will put full wastebaskets into boxes and tape them closed. Same with wet laundry, according to lore. Random friends, relatives, and neighbors can be expected to have even less experience. They just want to get it over with and go home.
The result is a bunch of randomness multiplied by randomness. Fifty cardboard boxes of different size, dumped in whatever room had the most space, all labeled MISC (the dreaded misc).
Trying to settle into the new house feels like a disaster. Every box has items that properly belong in different rooms. Every box has loose hardware, coins, crayons, bits of small toys, and office supplies. Every room is likewise full of similar boxes of MISC (the dreaded misc). Where to start??
Most of these boxes will still be sitting in their miscellaneous form until the next move, which will be even more disastrous than the last.
Living in this kind of cardboard chaos is demoralizing in the extreme. It’s like being surrounded by Dementors. I know it because I can feel them flying out when I show up to help, and it isn’t even my stuff.
The Box Tiger method works because you can read through an inventory as you plan to unpack. You can pull a specific box because you know you need those items and you know where you are going to put them.
Box Tiger also works if you are able to maintain the placid mindset and take the extra few minutes to write down what’s in each box. Everything is under control, you breathe, and tomorrow will come. Soon this chaos will be whipped into shape by the strength of the orderly, problem-solving human mind.
I can imagine this into shape, and since I can imagine it, I can make it happen.
I can look at other people’s pinboards for inspiration.
A lot of people fantasize about having a sewing room one day, or a canning room, or a mud room, or something cool like a guitar-making workshop. What is so appealing about all these visions is that they reflect order, an ability to find the right tool for the right purpose on demand.
A whole house can be this nice.
Know where everything is. Do it one item at a time.
Box Tiger is easier for me for a few reasons. One, it’s my own system, I like it, and I’ve put it into practice. I trust it. I trust it because I’ve used it to find important items during a move, and that feeling is a huge sigh of relief and a two-inch dropping of tense shoulders.
Two, Box Tiger is easy for me because I’m a minimalist and I purposely don’t have much stuff. Why would I? Stuff I don’t use and don’t need? It doesn’t look cute and it just gets in my way.
Three, Box Tiger works well because my home works well. Keep things near where they are used, that’s the basic rule, and when we do this it makes it easier both to pack and unpack. Towels in the bathroom, towels in one box, towels in the new bathroom. Put in the extra 10% effort to carry small items to the room where they make the most sense, and that pays off in a more streamlined move.
Leave random items skewed and scattered everywhere, and that effect is multiplied with each move. Total disorganization reigns supreme and everything is hard to find.
Rationally, if something is important and useful to me, I should be able to find it and use it. If I love it and I love looking at it, then it should be easy to see as often as possible. I can’t make a case for not being able to find or see my stuff.
Box Tiger is the reason I’m able to finish unpacking 95% of my stuff in three days. I can make a move as streamlined as possible and go back to our regularly scheduled programming.
It’s also worth mentioning that minimalism enables us to fit in smaller homes, pay less rent, and live in more desirable neighborhoods where standard-size homes are unaffordable for most people. Every time we move, we downsize a little bit more, because it has always paid off.
We moved over the weekend.
Sure, most people do it that way, at least people who work a standard office job with a standard schedule. What I mean is that we moved over the weekend, and now we’re back to business.
It is hard to believe. My husband woke up Friday morning and went to work. The only disruption to his routine was shifting his schedule an hour later so he could drop off our dog at doggy day care. When he came home with the dog, it was to our new address.
When we went to bed Friday night, it was amidst a cardboard city of box towers. We could sleep in our bed, use the shower, and microwave food, but otherwise it was pretty obvious that we had just moved in.
By Monday morning, the bathroom was DONE
and the kitchen was DONE
and the desks were DONE
and the laundry was DONE
and all the furniture was set up in its correct location
and there were only two boxes left to unpack in the bedroom
and thirty-five of the fifty boxes were unpacked
and the flattened, empty boxes were carried down to the parking garage to be given away
and the old apartment was mostly clean
and there was much rejoicing.
On Friday, I sent occasional text updates. I knew my honey was super stressed and worried about the move, and I knew he would be able to focus better if he felt like everything was under control. We were ahead of schedule and everything was going according to plan. I could feel the smog cloud of stress lifting off him with each bulletin.
THIS JUST IN: everything is fine
Instead of stress, the feeling that started to come across was curious anticipation. What’s going on over there? What’s it going to look like?
I raced the clock all day, knowing I was going to be tired no matter what, determined to get as much as possible done before dinner. I also had a vision of my partner’s expression when he walked in.
He was stunned and impressed. He was also extremely pleased that he hadn’t had to haul anything himself!
The great thing about all this is that we’re closing in on our tenth wedding anniversary. As we both think about this milestone and the early days of our romance, he will be thinking of me in this context.
As the moving day updates were coming in, my hubby’s colleagues were checking in as well. “Aren’t you moving today? Why are you here?”
“You don’t understand. My wife is the logistics manager. She’s ON IT.”
“I was bragging on you today,” he tells me, and the last time it was about my homemade banana bread.
This is all part of a conscious strategy on my part. I believe that two heads are better than one head, and that a solid partnership of any kind is incredibly helpful for spiritual growth, not to mention career performance. This can be true of colleagues, friends, and siblings, of course, and even neighbors. When it’s a marriage, it can work on even more levels.
One of these mastermind benefits of marriage is that we can facilitate each other’s career growth. This is fun and it also leads directly to money.
Divorce, on the other hand, can be one of the most expensive things of all. It’s a good thinking exercise to ask oneself, What is the opposite of this?, and see if it makes sense. What is the opposite of divorce? What would be the opposite response in this scenario to what my partner’s ex would do? (Or mine).
My hubby and his ex had quite a bad fight over a relocation, their marriage was never the same, they eventually split up, and now I have him. I also have an easy visual of What Not to Do with this particular man.
What’s the opposite of a marriage-killing feud over a difficult move? Hmm, she ponders.
A quick, easy, streamlined one!
For most people, a move is an extravagant disruption. The turmoil can stretch on for months, and indeed a lot of people never completely unpack every single box. The same box of MISC (the dreaded misc) will be hauled from house to house.
I determined to do it differently. I’d make our move a mere blip. We’d leave our cruddy little studio with the inconsiderate chaos muppets upstairs, and we’d get ourselves a lifestyle upgrade as quick as we could go.
This is good in such a number of ways.
I dominated over this move. It’s true that we still have boxes to unpack in the dining room and living room. It’s true, too, that we went from Fifty Boxes to Slightly Messy Apartment in only three days. Our pets both clearly love it here and it’s so, so quiet. We don’t have to say “we’re moving” any more. My honey can work in his office and give total focus and attention to his projects.
I haven’t mentioned in all this that our home is my office. The main reason I took on this move alone, besides earning a million brownie points, is that I knew it would give me latitude to do it my way. I could choose where I wanted my desk and create my ideal rooms in so many ways. Usually women feel more stressed about cluttered living environments than men do, for whatever reason, and I know that’s true for me. If I planned the move myself, I could do it on my schedule and my terms. I could close the loop.
Now that loop is closed, the move is effectively over, and everyone concerned is back to business.
The movers showed up early and got straight to work. I had “a couple of last things” and they were done before I was, our entire studio apartment unloaded in two hours.
Everything in our studio apartment fit in fifty boxes.
I’m surprised and embarrassed about this, but what can I say. At least six of those boxes were just our bedding and pillows!
We managed to pull up to the special “only available between 11:30 am and 3:00 pm on Fridays” loading zone at 11:32, and the movers were done at 2:30.
It took longer to unload the truck than it did to load it, because they had to wheel everything down a ramp, through the basement garage, to the elevator, and up to the fifth floor.
Due to that long lag time, I was able to unpack quite a lot of stuff between loads. It wasn’t like I could leave, or take a nap, when I needed to answer questions about where things went and what direction the furniture should face. I felt like I was racing against time, that the more boxes I unpacked, the more cardboard the movers would cart away for me.
Get food into fridge and freezer
Set up the bed
Set up the shower
Set up the pet bowls
Unpack enough in the kitchen to be able to microwave something or cook breakfast
By 5:00 pm I had done all of these things - and a few more - and I am feeling pretty impressed with myself.
I have this special moving inventory system, and this time it really saved the day. I realized when the movers were bringing up our massive California King mattress that I should probably get the little floor protector coasters under the wheels of the bed frame first. I whipped out my phone, skimmed through the inventory note to find the right box, located that box (behind and under as many boxes as possible, of course), moved the other boxes out of the way, opened the correct one, dug out the appropriate container, found the coasters, flipped up the box springs, and was putting the coasters under the wheels when the movers came in.
A non-trivial task, to find four 2”-square flat objects in the midst of fifty boxes in five minutes.
That bit of effort will save the nice dark wooden floors from any further scarring - it’s quite obvious the previous tenants didn’t think of this kind of nicety - and potentially save us from having to pay for repair work when we move. Probably more to the point, it will save my husband and me from either feeling like we’ve procrastinated on a honeydo task, or having to move the mattress and box springs in the midst of unpacking.
Done and dusted!
This is how we organized the one-day move.
As of dinnertime, we can sit on the couch, feed the dog, charge our devices, shower and brush our teeth, sleep in our bed, and even find our clothes.
I’ve unpacked fifteen boxes, most of them the large size. I’ve unpacked about a quarter of my clothes and set up my desk. One kitchen cabinet is set up. All our plates, bowls, and glasses are in the new dishwasher. There is a path through the living room.
Probably the most important thing that we’ve done was to plan a housewarming party. We always used to love having an open house every week, and now there are interns in our life instead of college students. Having a social date on the calendar gives us a deadline and a sense of excitement.
It was really sweet to hear how excited these kids are about the open house theory!
Now, I can’t claim that we moved “in one day.” The old apartment still needs to be cleaned, and all our cleaning apparatus is still over there, every single thing from the dish gloves to the steam mop. We still have almost three dozen boxes to unpack and we don’t even have internet.
It is fair to say, though, that all our furniture went from OVER THERE to OVER HERE in one day, and that we can sleep here and start living a fairly normal life from tonight on. As normal as it gets for us, anyway.
Ironically, our place is more functional in the midst of a move than what most of my clients experience on an ordinary day. We have more freedom of movement from room to room, even with the boxes. We can find more stuff. We can cook and bathe. If someone needed to make a repair tonight or tomorrow, we wouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to let them in. This is partly because we are very organized, partly because we don’t have that much stuff, and mostly because we hold ourselves to a certain level of expectations.
Alas, now I’ve set the bar and all our further moves are going to have to meet those expectations! A one-day move on Friday and back to business on Monday?
We’re moving again, for the seventh time in our ten-year marriage, and I’m in charge. I’m in charge because I’m better at it. This move has been more complicated than some of our past moves, for bureaucratic reasons, and it’s better for all concerned when we acknowledge our comparative strengths.
My husband’s reaction to moving is the same as most people’s would be: a wave of depressed overwhelm.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him. I got this.
Now, as an engineer, my mate has excellent Pack Fu. Bring him a bunch of luggage, bags, and boxes, and he will expertly fit them into a given space. He can also tie down a load like a professional. Honestly I don’t think I could have married a man with no Pack Fu or tool skills.
Where he tends to get bogged down is in the planning and the logistical nightmare of all the thousand tiny widgets. There’s also a slew of phone calls and errands, personal relationships to be built, and that takes a certain kind of patience.
Having made my bones in social services, I understand bureaucratic red tape like nobody else.
Example: Where to Put the Moving Van, Chapter Five.
Apartment manager says we will need a parking permit from the city. City says there is a jurisdictional dispute with state transportation agency. State says they do not issue parking permits. City office closed for following three days; revert to alternate plan. Landlord says there is a loading zone. Street is marked No Parking between 3 pm - 7 pm, and so is loading zone, the exact window when we would be parking the van. After a full week of calls, email, and strategy sessions, I finally negotiate to have the movers come at 8 am instead of 2 pm. I have spoken to six separate individuals about: a parking spot. That will be in use for two, maybe three hours total.
Note that these movers could easily have said, sorry crazy lady, find another moving company. Look at our schedule board, posted openly right there on the wall. Anyone can easily see that we can’t make this happen for you with only four days’ notice. I wouldn’t have blamed them at all, and I would have shifted to calling other movers and asking for recommendations for other hard-working people who like money.
It helped, though, that I am so patient and easy-going. It helped that I know how to work a phone when I need to. I’ve beat the IRS twice and I can certainly figure my way through competing parking regulations.
There’s also the not-inconsiderable body of skills I have picked up while working with hoarders and the chronically disorganized. Not to mention the strong minimalist streak I have developed from same.
I married a man with a vast garage, a garden, and the components of several workshops, from robotics to woodworking to replica coins. A man who owns his own personal tree stump for artisanal purposes. He’s bought in to minimalism as a lifestyle, but he still has the instincts of a homeowner, a homeowner who aspires to a couple acres of orchard.
He looks at all our stuff, thinks about moving it, and quivers inside. I look at all our stuff, overlaid with multiple images of hoarded homes, and I shrug.
I’m picturing our new place. In my mind, we’re already gone.
We’ve done this so many times, seven times but technically nine moves. We both moved when we got married, and we also stayed temporarily in a furnished apartment when we first moved to SoCal. I can still remember what size of carton is required for certain objects and which items fit well together. I estimated forty boxes when we started planning this move, and we’ll see how close I got on moving day, but it’s looking pretty accurate right now.
Divide number of days until Moving Day by estimated number of boxes. Simple. There’s your quota. Now get to work.
In past moves, unless we’ve had the luxury of professional movers, we’ve always done multiple trips. We were able to carry over a carload at a time, unpack it, and bring the empty boxes home to reuse. This makes it a bit more challenging to count the total number.
The first time, we had one hundred.
Then we got it down to eighty.
Now it’s looking like forty.
Some of the boxes are smaller, too! A lot of the boxes that got cut were small boxes full of books, getting the numbers down and also eliminating a lot of the total mass.
Yeah, yeah, I thought I loved books as much as you think you do. I thought that until around the fifteenth move. Now I’m on somewhere around twenty-eight and you know what? Dead trees, man. They heavy. Digital all the way.
The funniest thing about planning this move is that I’ve done more home cooking during this process than I have for the past month. I even made banana bread the other night. I see it as using up containers that we won’t have to pack. Since I’m getting the baking pans down anyway...
I’m handling this process with great good cheer. I’m totally excited about the new apartment, counting off the days, and the growing box towers are visible proof that we’re almost there. I want to impress the movers with how hard I’ve worked. I want them to feel my gratitude and how much I’ve done to get ready for their 8:00 am knock.
I visualize how close I will be to fully unpacked, how great our new place will look when my hubby comes home from work. He’ll leave our old place and come home to our new place. All the machinations and wheeling and dealing and planning and scheming will have been done, not to mention the packing and hauling. How relieved he will feel.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” I tell him.
Out of the chaos came a brief window of opportunity for something different, something polished and orderly. How it happened I’m still not sure. We found ourselves at an awards banquet, where I received a trophy for the first time in my life.
Actually not one but three!
This is how it looks on the outside:
A woman walks on stage and accepts an award. She is wearing a new dress and is in full hair and makeup.
This is how it looked 90 minutes earlier:
The scene, a studio apartment full of half-packed boxes, rolls of tape, and Sharpie markers.
A man has blood all over his face because he has somehow cut open his eyelid. This is terrifying and also very inconvenient timing! The man and his wife are in the process of getting ready to leave for a formal event and ‘blood everywhere’ is not part of the dress code.
Injury treated, the couple dress in haste and run to the street to catch their rideshare. Picture a woman sitting next to an open window, hair blowing vertically because all the windows are open, as she tries to apply makeup using her phone camera.
Couple stops on the way to pick up keys to their new apartment, where they will be moving in five days, hence the precarious towers of cardboard scattered around their home.
Couple climbs out of rideshare. Wife still has vertical hair, complemented by mascara on only one eye. Wife scurries into restroom hoping nobody will try to take her picture as it is not Halloween.
While the doors have not yet opened, wife feels that she is 20 minutes late. She was supposed to help set up the table for the door prizes.
When you see a normal, average person, it can be hard to tell that that person is having a tough time. Not unless he still has blood on his face or she is still walking around with her hair pointing toward the ceiling.
This has been a tough year. I signed on to fill an office, and almost immediately my personal life exploded. I had a devastating death in the family, my husband traveled for work 21 out of 50 weeks, our dog was diagnosed with a liver tumor and given two months to live, and I started having migraines and night terrors again. Then there were all the oral surgeries and now we’re moving. The hardest part has been our inconsiderate upstairs neighbors, who are only reliably quiet between midnight and 4:30 am. I’m so tired all the time I feel like I have amnesia, or maybe dementia.
I have felt scattered, disorganized, guilty, desperate, and often incompetent every day for the past twelve months.
Yet how do I explain the trophies?
Oh, sure, I did the work. I did it all and I did it well. A lot of the stuff I did was not even mentioned.
I wasn’t just an area director, I had a Distinguished area.
I may have been a Spark Plug for one person, but I also coached a club from two members to twenty-one and trained officers from two districts and five divisions.
I did all the stuff they mentioned for the Above and Beyond trophy, and I also did three other similarly-scaled projects that weren’t on the list.
Not only that, but I also co-chaired a conference in another district, completed four award levels, completed all the work for my Distinguished Toastmaster except for faxing in the final paperwork, ran a campaign, and won a contested election.
It feels weird and inappropriate to actually list off all the stuff I did over the past twelve months. It doesn’t seem real, or fair, or something I can’t quite name.
I’m having a lot of trouble reconciling my self-image with my outer image, my emotions with what is apparently objective fact.
Why do I FEEL like an incompetent slacker loser? Why do I constantly feel like I am procrastinating when objectively, I get so much done?
They say it’s Impostor Syndrome. That when we’re growing and learning, it means we’re working outside our comfort zone. That the only way to never feel like an impostor is to only do things we know we can handle 100%, like making toast or putting our shoes on the correct feet.
Can’t I just feel for one day like I’m on top of everything? Can’t I just for one day feel like I know what I’m doing?
Every day in Toastmasters has been a battle for me, every day since the first day, when I stood shaking like a leaf and barely able to say my name. My fight against shyness, social phobia, and pathological stage fright has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It looks like nothing and it feels like someone should call me an ambulance. I have felt that I would collapse if I took another step. I have felt like sprinting for the exit. I have felt like crying and I have felt like I would black out and hit the floor.
I never did. I forced myself and I kept going.
Oh, it’s hard. It’s hard sometimes.
People say I’m a great speaker now. Most of the time, I’m not scared anymore. People notice that I show up and I’m willing to help out anywhere I am asked. Sometimes they tease me about being District Director one day. Let’s not be getting ahead of ourselves, I say.
The analogy I gave earlier is that I feel like I’m constantly falling up a flight of stairs. I trip and stumble and bounce from one step to another, and somehow I always seem to stick the landing, breathless and rumpled. How far can someone tumble upstairs, though?
The truth is that we can’t tell how other people feel by looking at them, we can only tell if we ask. I have no way of knowing whether all my friends and peers feel just as uncertain and overwhelmed as I do. Maybe they also shun the spotlight and work out of a sense of duty and curiosity, maybe they also find themselves up there trying to be gracious when they’d rather peek out from under a tablecloth.
What I’ve found in my case is that my emotions are rarely appropriate to the occasion, and they always try to steer me wrong. I’ve found that my stress level is always about the same, even when I’m doing 10x more than I previously did at that exact same mix of neurochemistry. I’ve found that I am not good at feelings like pride or satisfaction or fun or relaxation. I am a tightly wound person, and I probably always will be, and I may as well use some of that energy to benefit society.
This is why I occasionally go above and beyond, because acceptable and enough isn’t really in my comfort zone.
The Procrastination Equation is a curious artifact, the product of a former extreme procrastinator who became an academic researcher and actually completed and published a book on procrastination. Piers Steel, PhD in your face! Something like 90% of doctoral candidates never complete their thesis, so this is a pretty big deal. If a procrastinator can get a PhD, then maybe anyone can do anything?
I keep reading and reviewing procrastination research books because guess why.
About 95% of people admit to procrastination and about a quarter consider it one of their defining personality traits. I’m in that quarter, although I have worked so hard at it for so long that when I try to cop to it, people will laugh. You?? Yup, me. I want to be in that magical 5% elite group that never puts anything off, never feels guilty or distracted, gets to wear a diamond tiara that spells out IN THE NOW.
While this book includes targeted behavioral suggestions, it revolves around research, including quizzes which are always a great way to be entertained while procrastinating. It’s pretty funny, for instance when Steel includes a footnote as a supposed reference to an astrology factoid.
One of the most interesting ideas I picked up was the link between impulsivity and procrastination. There is probably a strong link here with hoarding and chronic disorganization as well, because my people tend to be big-time guilty procrastinators as well. The impulsive streak tends to make them fun to be around, ready to try out mental exercises and games as we clear. It’s the same trait that makes them want to bring home random bargains and anything shiny, patterned, or brightly colored. It’s also what makes it hard for them to stay on task.
Procrastination Polka is one section of The Procrastination Equation that is particularly telling. Maybe flip to that section first and see if it catches your attention. I felt smug about several items but there were three out of thirteen that applied to me. Ouch.
Procrastination is as old as agriculture, extending at least to the dawn of written history. There’s a term for it in every culture and language. This makes me feel better. Then I learn that procrastinators get lower grades, have less money, are less healthy, and also less happy, and it gets harder to pretend that my cute little personality trait derives from perfectionism. When Steel calculates it as a trillion-dollar problem and points out how little Congress gets done, procrastination starts to look like a bigger deal than just whether I personally keep up on my email.
I enjoyed The Procrastination Equation, and it actually changed my perspective. Viewing my petty to-do list in a broader historical, anthropological, and economic context gave me a new perspective. I’d rather see myself as different type of animal, like a crow maybe, than a typical procrastinating ordinary human. I read this book and then I did the first next thing on my list, which was to review it.
Now, how about you? What are you going to do next?
By your own standards, if you thought delay was a good idea in the first place, you wouldn’t be procrastinating.
“...the only thing I really ever finish is dessert.”
Those bizarre outfits that languish in your closet were likely purchased toward the end of a shopping trip.
Well, that escalated quickly. I wrote a post about manifesting a relocation on a Friday. We found a place we really liked on Sunday morning, called about it after lunch, went to see it at 2 PM, and decided to apply for it when we got home. The landlord pulled the ad and we had finished filling out the paperwork Monday night.
That was the easy part.
On Tuesday I thought I would get ahead of the curve. I went to the local moving company, conveniently located five minutes from our apartment, and scheduled a pair of movers. I brought home some boxes to get an early start. Then I called around to see if any of our friends could watch our pets for the day.
There are a bunch of parts to this move that I never saw coming, and factors that make it very lucky that I took action as early in the process as I did.
First, scheduling the move. It turns out that our new building is about half owner-occupied and it has a homeowner’s association. There is also a really strict procedure about moving into the building, and a formal Welcoming Committee. We don’t just pick up the keys. We have to tell people when we’re coming so they can put up the pads in the elevator.
It’s a good thing I asked, because it also turns out that I need to apply for a parking permit from the City for the moving van.
Can you imagine, showing up in a moving van with everything you own, only to get a ticket? Or find that there is nowhere within a half mile that you’re allowed to park?
Picture this. The parking lot for the building is underground, and there’s no clearance for a moving van to get down there. Even a pickup truck loaded up for a move might struggle. The only parking is in front of the building on a busy street on a major bus route. It’s not like a suburban move with a driveway or a large apartment complex parking lot.
Next, we’re moving in summer while school is out and the weather is predictable. That makes it a busy time. The ONLY reason the moving company fit me in is because we live in a studio apartment and we don’t have much furniture. They were going to try to give me a Thursday when I’m teaching a workshop in the middle of the day. We’re taking a Friday. Saturday and Sunday, so not happening.
Honestly I could see their schedule board from the front desk, and it looked like the entire month is already booked up.
Going down the list, what are our pets going to do on moving day? It’s not safe for them to be out and around while two dudes are hauling heavy stuff and loading a dolly. They just don’t need that kind of stress, and neither do the movers.
Ah, but, everyone I called will be out of town that week. No can do.
I have a boarding option for my parrot. The dog is more complicated. There is a doggy day care close to the new place, but it has a really elaborate application process. He has to have proof of three different vaccinations, which is great because he actually got kennel cough a few years ago from one place that didn’t require shots. I had to schedule an appointment so my husband can take him in there and prove that he can get along with other dogs. Also, they only accept dogs under 30 pounds, and we’re lucky because he happens to be under 25. I don’t know what we would do if we had a large breed; we might have had a lot of trouble even finding a rental house, much less an apartment in this region, with a big dog.
This is the new reality of a city move for us.
Oh, and, by the way, moving day is nine days from now. Countdown begins.
Why are we moving in such a hurry anyway? Partly because our current living situation has been destroying our quality of life. We’ve tried multiple times, and failed, to get any kind of corrective action. We came back from vacation and realized that we truly couldn’t take it any more.
Next, because we have a trip planned for our ten-year wedding anniversary, and we have a chance to get all this done before we even leave for our trip.
Ultimately, because we could hardly believe that our dream apartment was available and we know how hard it is to find a place. Any place! Much less a place where we can see ourselves being happy.
The new building has a long list of strict rules. A lot of them are subjective decisions about quality of life and noise level. When we walked in from the street and the lobby door shut behind us, it was like entering a walled garden. Middle of the afternoon on a summer weekend, and it was hushed. Most of the tenants (and owners) are middle-aged professionals like us. We’ll be on the top floor, no neighbors stomping overhead unless Santa comes early.
This rushed and complicated move is a sign of privilege, and it’s also a sign that I’ve done this a lot and I know how to make it happen. We save half our income (or at least we did over the last couple of years), so we can afford to overlap rent by a couple of weeks and pay for a half-day with professional movers. (It’s just under $500 if you want to know). We passed the credit check, also the result of ten years of frugal marriage.
Mostly, we can pull off a quick and complicated move because we hardly own any stuff! The less space you take up, with every hundred square feet below 1200, the easier it is to find a place. If you can get below 800 square feet, you can live in most places in the world, many of them with a better view than you have today.
*** Extra complication ***
Jurisdictional dispute between the city and state transportation department, still figuring out exactly who can issue the parking permit for the moving van
*** a learning extravaganza! ***
We’re moving again. When? I dunno. I just know that this is not the place where we are going to retire. Our lease is up this fall and I want to go sooner rather than later. This is the method that I use when I want to shake things up a bit.
Most people don’t plan their moves. In my experience, this is one of THE most commonly procrastinated human activities. I know it because when I do home visits, there are universally always boxes still sealed from the last move, often many years in the past. Nothing personal. People just suck at moving.
One thing I know is true. If something stays sealed in a box, then nobody needs it.
If they did, they would have found it and opened the box and gotten it out.
I’ve moved, I think, 27 times as an adult. Add to that all the people who I have helped pack or move or unpack, and all the clients I have helped do space clearing years after the fact. It’s a lot.
Working with hoarders has been a great refresher for me. Every single time I come home from a home visit, I get rid of another bag of stuff. I even start thinking about my own belongings while I’m still on site. Why do I have so many books I haven’t read? Why do I insist on keeping certain garments even when they’re threadbare and it drives my husband nuts to see me wearing them?
I don’t have much as a general rule, because I formally downsize on a regular basis. Even so, I’ve found that moving requires a culling both before and after a move. First there’s all the stuff you shouldn’t pack in the first place, like empty paper sacks, and then there’s all the stuff that won’t work in the new place, like furniture that won’t fit.
The difference between me and most people is that I actually DO the work that should be done here. I actually DO go through my stuff and get rid of a bunch of things before we move. Then I DO go through it the second time while I’m unpacking.
This has been made easier by our tenuous existence inside of a 612-square-foot studio apartment over a year and a half.
When we first moved into this unit, we had three boxes left over that had nowhere to go. It was mostly pantry food (and, as it turns out, the sewing machine). I had them stacked up next to our dining chairs, and they were unbelievably annoying.
Too stubborn to throw them away, though!
(Many types of food can’t be donated to the food bank, such as flour in a canister, homemade soup stock, or anything in a container that has been opened).
I finally managed to unpack those last three boxes one day while my husband was at work. Let me tell you, he noticed the moment he walked in the door.
It’s easy to be a minimalist in a normal-sized suburban home. That’s because they tend to have tons of closets and cabinets, and you can hide all your stuff.
In a studio where almost all the available storage is on open shelving, suddenly you don’t look like such a minimalist any more! Anyone who comes over and uses our bathroom is going to get a view of our closet, with almost all our worldly goods, not to mention our laundry hampers.
I’m determined to get ready to move, and I want the unpacking process to be even easier than it was last time.
The last time we moved, I unpacked a lot of stuff as we went. We had a friend - a truly amazing person to whom we owe a major debt - come over and help us hand-carry our stuff from one building in our apartment complex to another. Every time I would bring over a load, I would put it where it belonged, starting with the shower and the fridge. By the time we finished late that night, the bathroom was completely unpacked, the bed was made, all our clothes were set up, and the kitchen was half done. We were able to get up the next morning, shower, dress, and make breakfast like nothing had happened.
The main area where I’m focusing as I manifest our next relocation is the kitchen. I’m planning around eating up everything in our fridge and freezer, including condiments. This means the only grocery shopping we’ll really be doing is to buy fresh vegetables. I always wonder how we wind up with so many different flavors of mustard and salad dressing, and that continues to be a question that will probably never be solved.
Doing the closet is a fairly quick job. It takes my husband ten minutes because he’s all about the capsule wardrobe. It will probably take me more like an hour. Then maybe a half hour for the bathroom cabinets.
The other big challenges are our paper file box and the books.
At some point in our relationship, I seem to have passed the baton of book collecting to my hubby. Almost all my reading is digital these days, while he has been doing an unprecedented amount of business travel, which generates a lot of paperback books. Books add bulk and weight to the moving boxes more quickly than anything except clothes, so it’s worth putting in extra focus here.
As for papers, we try to be paper-free as much as possible, yet still they tend to accumulate. I keep hoping that one day we can scan and shred what’s left and be done with it entirely. Papers tend to take the most concentration, and the more they pile up, the harder the job is. That’s why I insist that we purge the file box every year. I refuse to spend more than an hour at a time on this odious task.
I’ll do an inventory of household cleansers and all the random boxes, bags, and bottles that our pets generate.
This time, we’re hiring professional movers again, at my husband’s insistence. I know the job will be easier for them if everything is orderly and streamlined when they arrive. I also know they’re going to unpack in the most random way possible, so the less we have, the better.
Watch this space as I demonstrate how quickly I can manifest a nicer apartment, or maybe even a house!
Trip planning is nuts. Every single detail is important. Anything you forget to pack has the potential to mess up your trip, and I know, because someone in my traveling party has forgotten everything including: passport, wallet, car keys, glasses, prescription meds, and hiking boots. There’s even been more than one ticket booked to an airport in the wrong city. Rigor in travel planning is rarely wasted.
The first law of trip planning is: NO CHECKED BAGS.
[The only exception to this is a wilderness trip, because our expedition packs are too big to fit in the cabin, they weigh too much, and we sometimes want to pack liquids].
Personally, I expect the entire sum total of my luggage to fit under the seat in front of me, and usually that’s where I put it.
Why hand luggage? Because you always know where it is, and because you can make connections after a flight delay when others can’t. It also gives you far more options for layover adventures when you don’t have a big wheelie bag - they aren’t even allowed in all places, and you don’t want to find that out the hard way.
NO CHECKED BAGS - NOT JUST A PHILOSOPHY, BUT A RELIGION.
The second law of trip planning: THREE DAYS PER CITY.
We break this rule all the time in small ways, but it is the true foundation of a trip. Three days is enough time to thoroughly explore most cities - too long in my home city, unless you love napping on the beach! Any city that requires more than three days to explore, like London or New York, probably deserves multiple trips. It might also be a good candidate for a hub city.
As an example, we love O’Hare Airport so we route international trips through there whenever we can.
The third law of trip planning: ONE HIGHLIGHT EACH.
A “highlight” is the “swear I’ll never ask for anything else as long as I live” part of someone’s trip. Everyone gets one. The rest of the group better be either ride or die, or they’re going off alone for their own highlight at the same time.
Examples: I rode the London Eye with my husband because it was his highlight, even though I freaking hate Ferris wheels. I owe him for all the times he’s bushwhacked with me in search of, say, the tricolored blackbird, and don’t even ask him about Mandarin ducks.
[Note: I don’t think Mandarin ducks are real. I think they are the Sasquatch of the birding world, added to birdwatching guides as a prank].
Ideally, everyone gets a highlight each day of the trip. Usually they are something small like “buy a bag of Starburst” or “walk across this famous bridge.” In museums, it’s good for each person to pick a room, because the biggest and best museums can’t be covered adequately in a single day anyway.
These are the three laws. They may be amended only after discussion and official approval.
My husband and I also have a policy that we take turns choosing the destination of our trip. We’ve agreed that we would both like to visit every country on Earth, so it’s somewhat arbitrary in which order we see them.
This is when the true trip planning starts.
The very first thing that we do is to check the weather history during the time of our trip. This tends to rule out a lot of ideas. Our wedding anniversary is in late August, which just happens to be a terrible time to travel in large sections of the world. It’s our personal choice to avoid the rainy season, partly because inclement weather means more clothes and bulkier bags.
Next we look at the country’s “national day” and any other major festivals. Usually we are trying to avoid these. They make everything cost 3x as much and almost universally result in large drunken mobs. It can be really fun to see a country decorated for celebration, though.
My next pass - and this falls to me, because I’m the one with the dietary constraints - is to look up as many suitable restaurants as possible. I search for “vegan restaurant” [city] and cross-reference with Happy Cow. Then I mark them all as a favorite on Apple Maps. This is huge because we often wind up in parts of town that we had never anticipated, and we can often find a place to eat nearby without standing on the sidewalk searching for half an hour. Many parts of the world have better options and labeling for gluten-free, vegan, or other preferences or sensitivities than we do in the US. Others do not. It can ruin a trip to discover that the only places with real options for a meal are already closed for the day.
Another vital part of trip planning is to look up “[city] in 24 hours” and “must-see [city]” and “don’t miss [city].” Most of those attractions usually don’t interest either of us at all. A few of them will turn out to be the major highlights of the trip. Sometimes we hadn’t even realized that that attraction existed, and it changes our goals for the trip entirely. I mark all of these in Apple Maps as well.
Once our key attractions and a bunch of restaurants are marked, we zoom in on the map together and browse around. This helps us to get acquainted with the layout of the city in advance. It tends to be pretty obvious that certain places are grouped near each other, and we can spend a day in each area. Other attractions are so far afield that we cross them off our list, not wanting to spend half a day or more on a tour bus unless it’s truly epic.
London wound up happening in pie wedges, with Waterloo as the center of the pie. Iceland happened in loops, starting and ending in Reykjavik.
Spending a few weeks planning a trip adds to the anticipation and extends the fun. It also helps to avoid pitfalls such as showing up on the day that a destination is closed, or arriving so late that we can’t buy a ticket.
Policy is part of trip planning for us. We have a weekly status meeting, where we’ve worked out policies for all aspects of our marriage, and our travel policies have become a friendly, efficient way of having fun together without annoying each other. (Much). The better we get at planning, the more fun we have, and the more we can anticipate our next trip.
I never thought I could “afford” to travel. Then I thought I was “too old.” In my mind, only people in their early twenties got to go anywhere. This is completely weird, because I started flying alone at the age of seven and in some ways I grew up at the airport. Scarcity mindset is powerful.
CAN’T AFFORD end of story!
The biggest problem with scarcity mindset is that we are so locked down, we don’t even bother to find out exactly how much something costs.
I went through this earlier this year. I had been wanting a new desktop computer, and I sat on my wallet forever and ever, a couple years past the point when my old laptop was even usable anymore. Finally I felt like I had “enough” saved up. I went down in trepidation, very nervous about spending “that kind of money.” (Same kind of flat green American dollars I spend on anything else?)
It turned out to cost less than half of what I had estimated, even after accessories and tax.
Travel can very much be that way. If you save $25 a week for a year, you can basically buy a round-trip airline ticket to anywhere in the world.
(Not, like, Antarctica or Area 51 or inside Fort Knox, but you know what I mean).
Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to travel right at this very minute, for various reasons. For instance, if a friend is coming to town and we haven’t seen him in several years, we’d probably rather stay home and visit with him than go somewhere else. Maybe someone is finishing school, or it’s monsoon season, or we’re waiting for the cherry blossoms. There are all sorts of reasons why it might be better to wait a bit before going on that dream trip.
In the meantime, you can start planning and preparing, for real, right this minute, as soon as you finish reading this.
There are two things that it is very smart to do if you want to travel, and they don’t cost anything.
The first is learning to ride various kinds of public transit. You don’t actually have to pay to get on the bus or the tram or the water taxi or the funicular or whatever to do this, if you’re geographically isolated or you believe you are too broke for bus fare. You can look at maps and timetables and watch instructional videos. There are zero good reasons to skip this part, if you’re serious about your trip. It’s part of fine-tuning your vision and clarifying what you want.
The second thing that is very smart to do is to walk a lot, especially uphill and especially up long flights of stairs.
Not everyone can walk, true. If there are mobility issues then it’s even more valuable to practice ahead of time. Just how are you going to get around?
One of the saddest things I ever saw was a woman struggling to keep up with her friends at a historic site in Spain. We were coming down the (uneven, primitive) stone steps after looking at some incredible cave paintings. The woman was recovering from knee surgery. Her party wanted to know how many more steps there were and what the terrain was like. The sad but true answer was that there was no way she would enjoy the tour, and maybe a 5% chance she could actually do it, given the nature of the site. She was going to wind up sitting outside in the rain and cold for an hour, all because nobody thought to do the research. A quarter mile of slippery stone steps up a steep hill! What were they thinking, putting her in that position?
Maybe they could have waited a year, and done a different trip during her recovery?
It’s not about limitations, it’s about making life as interesting as possible within the constraints that we have at this moment.
There is a third thing that we can do to prepare for a dream trip, and that is to study the local language. It is SO helpful, especially when reading signs. On that same trip to see the cave paintings, we would have missed out except that we were willing to go along with a Spanish-language tour. We probably got 50-80% of the information, enough to feel like we understood what we were looking at.
The thing about travel is that it is extremely specific, moment to moment. That’s what makes it interesting. You’re standing on one specific square foot of the world at one specific moment in time. At that moment, either the restaurant or attraction that you wanted to visit is open for business, or it is not. Either you have the correct currency or form of payment, or you do not. Either you have read the map correctly, or you have not. Does this make sense?
You’re not “in England,” you’re in the Underground station in a hot and stuffy hallway, trying to figure out which of two tunnels to enter. You’re not “in Iceland,” you’re standing in front of a gravel parking lot, realizing that the museum you wanted to visit is not only closed but completely demolished. Travel means RESEARCH and lots of it, every day, every time you transition between one activity or location and another.
Part of what makes travel cool is that it magically transmogrifies you into “a traveler.” What does that is the process of figuring out how things work. That develops a mindset that is distinctly flexible and robust. You learn how to deal with confusion and disappointment and unexpected problems, such as getting stopped in security because one of your plane tickets matches your maiden name and the other matches your new married name. You learn perspective about what kinds of problems are worth getting upset about and which are just part of the game.
Eventually you learn to anticipate most situations ahead of time and just avoid those types of problems entirely. Like the overpacking problem and the “late to the airport” problem and the “quarrel over which restaurants to go to” problem.
Travel is just you in a different place for a while. That means you can solve for many of your travel problems in advance, while you are still the at-home you. Then when it’s time to leave, your trip will be a dream come true.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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