Yesterday, our freight arrived. I have two little children running round and round tall looming towers of boxes, stacked so high they are starting to sway in the wind. There are 381 of them. It’s all very well that the removal company offer a “surface unpacking service” (i.e. they will put things on surfaces, but not in cupboards), but there are no surfaces. Every inch is covered with piles of random stuff. Despite my finely honed organisational skills, there’s a toothbrush and a pile of toiletries by the kitchen sink, a bike in my lounge and a dolls’ house in my bedroom.
We arrived at our destination and opened the air freight. There was no bedding. On the bright side, I did have what looked like a box of flotsam and jetsam, scrapped off my daughter’s bedroom floor: a pencil, a small bear, a broken piece of plastic, a dice, a single glove from the dressing up box, a book and a ball of fluff. This was obviously junk that had been swept from under the bed. A joke or incompetence? You decide.
The sea freight arrived eight weeks later. The vital “first night” bedding was found, divided between boxes four, 23 and 321. I can’t even begin to think how this actually happened and can only put it down to bored packers with Machiavellian tendencies.
Six months after our kit arrived in Dubai, sitting in the garden, we found a roughly-wrapped package sellotaped under our garden table. We unwrapped it gingerly, and that’s how I found my mascara and lipstick, long-since thought lost forever. Again, I cannot understand how….
Unpacking and packing up are difficult experiences. It’s not just the physical, monotonous nature of putting items into boxes. It’s the brain power that it involves, even if you have a removal company to help you.
Usually, a move follows a familiar pattern:
- Acceptance of the imminent move;
- Writing a list of all the things you want to do and see before you leave;
- Writing a list of all the things you want to sell/ get rid of;
- Writing a list of all the things you’ll need at your destination to help you manage before your freight arrives;
- Writing a list of all the things you need to do, people you need to inform in both the country you’re leaving and heading to;
- Writing a list of all the things you need to pack in a suitcase to take with you;
- Moving items around the house so they are in the right rooms;
- Rewriting all lists;
- Feeling overwhelmed;
- Resorting to a large glass of gin, or if the glasses have been packed, a bottle with a straw.
It gets so complicated I even had to keep a spreadsheet and Gantt chart, so I knew what was happening and when. It’s difficult to understate the administration required. You go to bed with your mind swirling and wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat because you’ve just remembered you need to sort out school places/ forgotten to send out the leaving party invites/ need to find transport for Dave the dog.
Of course, removal and relocation companies help a great deal, but there has to be a project manager. If the move is with your partner’s job, or you’re moving on your own, that will be you.
In rare circumstances, you may have to pack up very suddenly. When we lived in Dubai, we were concerned about the US elections, and the impact of living in a country with a US military base and a fairly hostile neighbour. Call us over prepared, but we had a “go bag”, which contained some cash, passports, toothbrushes, underwear and emergency teddy bear. We had an escape route and we knew what we were going to do should the waste product hit the proverbial fan.
All this packing stress, trepidation and pain is laced with anticipation and excitement too. What will the next adventure be like? They say: “no pain, no gain”, but there are so many of us moving around all the time, does it have to be so stressful? Surely someone must have got this situation licked?
Offering advice and insights to those who are new to the expat family, and reuniting family members spread across the globe, this book will make you laugh and cry.
Real-life stories from expats and repats share knowledge we all wish we had had at the time. Available from Amazon.