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How to Declutter and Downsize Before Moving Abroad

Get rid of your stuff before moving abroad

So you’ve done it – the decision has been made to move abroad. You have handed in your notice. The flight is booked. Your friends and family have been told. Now you need to address one of the hardest things – to downsize and declutter your “stuff” before your big move abroad. You may ask “why the quotation marks?” well, that’s because “stuff” can be both physical and mental. And it’s not an easy task to offload all the stuff that is currently weighing you down.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


Once you have decided to hit refresh, you will feel a mixture of so many emotions – fear, excitement, anxiety, joy to name but a few. You may also feel lighter inside – as you look ahead to the next part of your life. But first, you need to physically remove a substantial amount from your life. Because when you look at what you have accumulated over the years, you will be absolutely horrified at the sheer weight of it all.

Maybe you are a property owner so you will need to put it on the market and hand over the keys. Maybe you rent instead, in which case you would have acquired furnishings and appliances along the way. Perhaps you live with your parents – in a bedroom crammed with your personal belongings. Regardless of your current living situation, chances are that you will have to seriously downsize before you make your way to the airport.

How I decluttered and downsized before moving abroad

I’m going to use myself as the example – someone who rented an apartment in London for 15 years and hit refresh at the age of 35 to work in SE Asia. I had always considered myself a below average consumer. I hated cooking so my kitchen was rather bare. Sure, I used a crazy amount of toiletries, but what woman doesn’t? I had a chest of drawers and a fitted cupboard in my bedroom. My lounge was home to a comfy sofa, a coffee table and a TV. So I figured it wouldn’t take me too long to downsize.

Yet, I was horrified at the sheer volume of it all. The ridiculous amount of knickers I had amassed. Why did I need seven pairs of brown boots? The unused clothes with the labels still attached. In every nook and cranny, there were cute figurines, expensive crystals, fluffy cushions, scarves, and enough glasses to effectively set up a bar. I lived on my own, so why did I have 18 mugs? Truly shocking and rather embarrassing too.

So here is my tried and tested system for you. First of all, take a deep breath – detach yourself from the emotional attachment you may have to certain items – and then put your mind into “ruthless” mode.


Make a decluttering plan

Put each item into one of 7 piles:

    1. Sell

    2. Donate

    3. Lend

    4. Scan and Shred

    5. Store

    6. Take

    7. Throw

1. Sell
In amongst your personal possessions are items that would be extremely easy to sell – on eBay, at car boot sales, Facebook marketplace and yard sales etc. If selling on a website, be sure to take decent photos of the items – good lighting – and detailed descriptions of the goods. I managed to sell most of my “Sell” pile via eBay and car boot sales on a Sunday morning in London, or head to Nextdoor to advertise individual items or a garage sale to your neighbors.

Be warned, the buyers are ruthless and will try to drastically reduce the price, so start high. Electrical items will be the easiest to sell and anything that looks nearly new and in its original packaging.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


If you are selling on eBay, be sure to add a decent postage charge, otherwise you may end up only making a few dollars from it once it’s been packed and weighed at the post office.

Perhaps you have amassed a phenomenal collection of DVDs and CDs over the years but Spotify is here and iTunes is available. So transfer as many songs as you can onto iTunes and sell the DVDs and CDs. They won’t fetch much – even the special editions and blue-coloured vinyl. I was shocked to be offered less than £100 for over 200 CDs. Examples of companies to use declutter and musicMagpie but a quick Google search will bring up a lot of choices.


2. Donate
Donating is a wonderful way of decluttering and rewarding at the same time. The items you donate must be of a high quality. They may reject things that look okay to you, so don’t be surprised if they hand some unwanted items back. You can also donate to people you know – perhaps put a post on Facebook with photos of what you have to give away.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


3. Lend
Perhaps you already know that your move abroad isn’t going to be permanent, so why not lend certain items like furniture and appliances to family and friends. This will save you the cumbersome task of selling them and having to buy expensive new ones on your return. And they will take good care of them while you are away. Win win situation.


4. Scan and shred
Important paperwork can be scanned or photographed and kept on file in the cloud or on apps such as Evernote – old bank statements, receipts for items no longer under warranty, and tax records can be shredded and thrown. I bought a cheap hand-operated shredder and took great delight in spending a few evenings in front of the TV whilst annihilating every tax invoice and utility bill I had ever paid – whilst photographing the receipts in case anyone wanted to know about a payment I’d sent to the tax man in 1997.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


Official documents such as your birth certificate, paper driving license etc. can be safely stored with relatives or a close friend – once you get down to what’s essential to physically keep, you will find it to be only 5-10 pieces of paper. Be sure to scan those papers and keep them stored on your phone.


5. Store
Birthday cards are wonderful sentimental reminders of people and happy times – scan them and then throw the physical card away. Same with old notebooks and diaries – but if you can’t bear to dispose of such personal and sentimental items, see if you have a relative or friend that can store them for you, or pay for a small storage locker at a renowned company.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


I have 3 boxes stored in my mother’s attic. One contains clothes then I can wear during a trip back to cooler UK, one of photo albums and one of model cars, still in their original packaging, that I am hoping will be worth something in the future. Thanks Mum!


6. Take
To decide what to take, it will depend if you will be based in one location or on the move. You must also determine the amount of kilograms allowed on your outbound flight – usually 20kgs (45 lbs) in a suitcase and 7kgs (15 lbs) for a carry-on. Not a lot to work with – especially when you consider the weight of chargers, hair straighteners and a decent pair of walking shoes etc.

Number one rule – pack clothes according to the climate of your destination. Sounds obvious but I didn’t need 25% of the clothing I put in the Keep pile. Totally useless for the climate I was in.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


Newsflash – when you are travelling or living abroad, people around you will not care if you wear the same outfit three times in a week. It takes some time to realise that, but seriously, no one cares. You will not be judged for it, you will be judged on your personality and your character and the brilliance of you; not the red t-shirt with the stain on the front that you wore on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. So when it comes to selecting the clothes for your Keep pile, have that thought in the back of your mind. You will not need seven pairs of shoes – I repeat; you will not need seven pairs of shoes.

You can find loads of fantastic packing lists online from travel experts, including this one from an inspiring nomad called Angie House – you can follow her on Instagram @wanderwoman_travel. Here is her move to Asia list.

There are shops in the places you are heading to – so if you threw something away that you needed, or left it in a box in your mum’s attic, you are almost certain to find it on the road. If you are going to be based in one place, it can always be posted to you.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad


Chargers and converters are important items to pack – be sure to pack them into your carry on – electrical items shouldn’t be left in your checked-in luggage as damage can happen, and sadly, theft too. I have heard too many stories about people discovering the theft once they had arrived at their hotel so airline compensation wasn’t possible. Unscrupulous baggage handlers have been caught on camera rummaging through cases and putting the zips and locks back together so you’d never notice it from afar. When you collect your suitcase from the luggage carousel, please check it carefully before you leave the airport.


7. Throw
Here comes the fun part – throw and recycle everything else – all of it. If it doesn’t fit into any of the above categories, then GET IT GONE!!!! You don’t need it and you will never need it again. Out of sight, out of mind. All that unnecessary stuff that you have accumulated and don’t need in your life anymore. Those appliances that are broken and covered in dust, the old make-up and creams that are past their expiration date by at least 5 years, the wires and cables for gadgets you don’t even own anymore. Get it gone.


A minimalist mindset

Now, let’s discuss the mental downsizing. When you move abroad, there is a realisation that home relationships will inevitably change. Friends and family will promise to keep in touch – with calls, texts, and voice messages – using FaceTime, Viber, Skype, Messenger and WhatsApp – and you will make the same promises too.

declutter and downsize before moving abroad

But after a few months, you may notice that these calls, texts and messages begin to dwindle on both sides. You won’t be physically there to pop in for a cup of tea, or nip down to the pub for the regular Friday night catch-up with your mates. And as the weeks turn into months, you will be finding wonderful new people to spend your free time with in your new location. Inevitably, the dynamics and priorities all of parties will change.

It’s difficult to prepare for this, so make a list of the people you need and want to keep in constant contact with – for your mental wellbeing and theirs. There will be an inevitable downsizing that occurs and rather than be saddened by this, take a moment to evaluate those that truly matter to you – as these are the friendships and relationship to cherish and maintain.

Keeping in contact with people with phone calls and emails and texting takes time and energy – so downsize with a mindset of “quality not quantity”, particularly as the anxiety and stress of messaging so many people can sometimes stop you moving forward on your own journey.

Take some time to watch films such as Minimalism; films like this are extremely informative and show you how little stuff you need in life. Downsizing can be stressful and make you anxious as you start the process, but you will notice that as time goes by, you will approach it with eagerness and zeal. I found myself looking forward to doing car boot sales and coming back from each one with a lighter car. And yes, I sold the car too!

 declutter and downsize before moving abroad


We have been led to believe that we need to buy things, have things, own things, acquire things – the latest version of a phone, the biggest TV screen we can find, the Summer 2018 clothes as we couldn’t possibly leave the house in anything from the Spring 2017 collection, the shiniest new car with that all-important new car smell – the list is endless. But it’s a myth and a lie that’s been drilled into us by very clever companies who spent a lot of money on advertising campaigns.

Materialism has been sold to you as the answer to happiness and contentment. It’s not – and as you shed more kilograms of “stuff”, you will feel lighter, in every sense. So enjoy the transition – it’s extremely liberating.

And when you are standing at the airport with that 20kg (45 lbs) suitcase and that 7kg (15 lbs) carry-on, you are going to wonder why you ever needed those nine pairs of black jeans in the first place.

 

Follow Nikki on Instagram @travelnik, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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5 thoughts on “How to Declutter and Downsize Before Moving Abroad”

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