International Moves: Difference Between Packing and Slacking

Packing for a move is a big job. It scrambles daily life, be it dressing, cooking or even walking from room to room.

Here I offer a simple strategy for how to pack for international moves.

If you’re moving across town – Easy, peezy. For every item you ask “Keep it or leave it?” …and most everything makes the cut.

Packing for an international move? Oh, now there’s a challenge.

Shipping costs are higher. Transit time can be in weeks, not days. Then there’s customs.

Yeah, packing suddenly sucks. (Well, it always sucks, but now it really sucks.)

The Problem: “My Mom Would Kill Me If I Got Rid of This!”

With international moves, you can’t just ask “Keep it or leave it.”

Two choices are not enough.

How about that 150 year old, 30″ tall hurricane lamp from my great-great…grandmother?

How about these 2 mammoth bookcases? (and what about all these books??)

For the oversized and sentimental stuff, “Keep it or Leave it” doesn’t work. Damn.

Yes, a move helps you get rid of prized possessions. But some possessions are just too valuable. That is, if you expect to keep family ties after your departure. (By the way, you did tell them you’re leaving, right?)

The Solution: A Simple Strategy

Easy 3-pronged approach: Ship, Store or Sell

SHIP: you’re shipping stuff to your future address

STORE: you decide to keep stuff, either with family, friends or in storage

SELL: you decide to part with it. It’s someone else’s stuff now.

Your Wicked-Fast Decision Guide

1. Do I use it daily or almost daily? If so, SHIP

2. Would I be heartbroken for weeks if I lost, broke or sold this? If so, STORE

3. Too heavy or used too rarely to lug with you? If so, SELL

Yeah, it’s really that simple. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much you sell. And I can almost guarantee when you wake up the next day, you will feel physically lighter yourself.

We all see scams like “How to lose 20 pounds in 1 week,” but here you get more joy after losing 500 pounds in one garage sale.

Note: If you’re a minimalist, you’re more apt to sell. Then again, if you’re a minimalist, you’re not apt to have a whole lot of stuff to begin with, right? 🙂

Exceptions & Other Tips:

Electrical kitchen appliances

      Your 4-slice toaster, the food processor and those hi-tech gadgets which are obsolete in weeks (if not already) –


    . Oh yes, sell them quick while someone’s willing to pay for them. Would you want to return today to the 22″ flat-panel LCD TV that you paid thousands of $$ in 2006? (disclaimer: I know so little about TV, that may be a stupid example)


      An exception. By the

Wicked-Fast Guide

      above, you would either ship or sell furniture.

However, even half-decent furniture can be a sizeable investment (not milk crate and timber bookshelves like you had in university). Replacing it after a couple years would be expensive, so you can’t sell it. Shipping it would be idiotic, even if your company paid for it. So you store it.

How? Wrap in plastic and store in a humidity controlled environment.

–Or ‘store’ in someone else’s house, while they make good use of it.

Note: If you store items with family or friends, make it clear that you’d like the item back when (if) you return. Could be 6 months, 6 years or never, but it’s your wish today. This just saves the awkward “Oh, I thought you gave it to us.” talk


      Another special exception. By the

Wicked-Fast Guide

      above, you would sell books. Ouch.

If you’ve got a sizeable library, I’d recommend bringing fewer than 5%, unless you really need several for your work.

If fewer than 100 books, limit yourself to 10%.

Do not bring books with the mindset “Oh, I’ll have extra time to read those ones I never got to.” No, you won’t. And when you do have extra time, you won’t pick up those books.


      If you have frames on the wall and they’re not holding band posters, you probably want to store them. Make sure they’re protected, both from humidity damage and breakage.

Here’s a short video I made of how we protected multiple pieces while in storage. And if the video seems a low-rate production, well, hey that’s because it is.

Some Personal Mistakes

If you’ve gotten this far, let me share some of our bigger “poor judgement calls” with this ship, store or sell strategy.

DO NOT STORE BOOKS IN CARDBOARD BOXES, else you find yourself laying the least-moldy ones out in the sun, hoping for the best. See?:

Some of our library, sunning itself

So, if you’re going to store books for years, store them in plastic totes like these (Amazon link).

Another: A huge box of photos that we’ve been meaning to put in albums (for years). We should have stored it, but no, we shipped it. Upon our return 4 years later, we find ourselves reshipping the very. same. huge. box of photos. We did made one album there, …which used maybe 5% of the photos.

And another: We also shipped 3 boxes of scrap-booking stuff we’d been meaning to use “some rainy day.”
Trust me, when living abroad, monsoons can come and scrap-booking will never seem the coolest thing you could do.

In case I have to spell out my preference – use the strategy in reverse order:

Think first: Can I sell it?
If not, can I store it?
Okay, damn…I have to ship it.

At Last, Someone We Can Recommend…

If (& more likely ‘When’) you do need a Shipping company, check out F & N Removal Company.  They got a sharp website where you can request their quote, no commitment, no hassle.


Published by


An American who likes to move around.
I now live on the eastern Canadian seaboard. My job? A stay-at-home dad for two cute but demanding bosses. My wife? Also cute; not so demanding.
My wife and I both love travel. We met in South Korea, travelled across Australia, India, Europe and beyond. We lived in Czech Republic for four years. Many stories to tell and experience to share. If you let me, I will help you travel as we do.

12 thoughts on “International Moves: Difference Between Packing and Slacking”

  1. Hi
    I stumbled on this website via a Google search and think it’s great!
    I’ve made the decision to become an expat and am currently researching companies that I would like to work for as I will need sponsorship given that I am over 30.

    But enough about me, I am sorting through my stuff in anticipation of a short notice period to relocate and have a few helpful ideas:
    I am currently scanning all my photos, so I will have a digital copy with me, and able to pass them onto family and friends as well.
    I am also ripping all my CDs to an external drive so I will have my tunes with me, and be able to put my music into storage.


    1. hey Alex,

      Awesome helpful tip!
      Digitizing your stuff – that’s so Brilliant, seriously brilliant. Talk about saving space, especially all the CDs.

      Thanks for contributing, Alex. If you think this site is great, I believe it’s the great comments and feedback like yours that make it so.


  2. Thanks for this great post! I’m just starting to really stress out about an international move in August. We’ve lived long enough to accumulate a lot of things (including the generations-old furniture, books, art) … and your post was affirming in our thoughts about storing and selling things.


    1. Thanks Leslie for taking the time to write. You must be busy!

      Want to share your story….? Like, where you’re going, how you decided to go there and how it feels to be going?

      Thanks much!

      1. Hi Jeff,

        We’re moving from the US to Lyon, France. My husband will be working there, and I’ll be able to continue in academia part-time — teaching an online course! We don’t know how long we’ll be there (at least two years), so deciding what to take has been a moving target (which moves about every day). The organization will either give us a lump sum of cash or move whatever we want to move … and we already know we’ll be storing some things.

        And, thanks to your post, I definitely will NOT be taking the photos for organizing!


  3. As I ponder what stays and what goes — I am thinking all appliances are left behind due to currency/electrical differences OR do adapters work long term?

    1. Hi there MK,

      Adapters can work long term, but I would bet you are better off getting new appliances at your new location.

      You don’t specify what appliances you’re thinking about, so let me cover the “appliance universe” here…

      First, please know there are TWO KINDS of adapters. (As in two intended uses.) One is for high-watt, low-tech appliances, like a coffee maker or hair dryer. The other is for low-watt, high-tech, like a portable radio or laptop.
      The reason to know this is because the output electricity for low-tech devices may not be as “clean” and regulated, compared to what’s needed for sensitive electronics. Electrical spikes and surges are nothing to a hair dryer, but could easily knock out your laptop.

      That’s common knowledge to me for years, but I’m still surprised how customer service people in “Radio Shack” or “The Source” stores won’t mention it.

      Another thought is, if you’re considering bring an appliance — first consider the weight, inconvenience and compatibility of that appliance. If a coffee maker, do you know if you can find those filters there? Or are you talking about a big appliance, like a refrigerator or washing machine?

      If going to most any developed country, you might find most appliances for cheaper and higher quality there.

      Again, I’m talking in general terms since I don’t know your start/end places, or what appliances you’re talking about it. Hope this helped a little.


  4. Hi Jeff, really enjoyed your post and it’s light-hearted nature! Definitely a great read for expats-to-be.

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