The Complexities of a Foreign Service Move (*with flow chart*)

Around ManilaForeign Service Life
May 10, 2011

I used to think of moving as a simple (but annoying) process where you threw everything you had into boxes, stuffed them into a Uhaul, drove across town and then unloaded those same boxes into your new place.  Oh how I LONG for a move like that…. alas, never again.  What I didn’t realize when we signed on for this Foreign Service Life was that we were agreeing to partake in the most complicated move process imaginable.  And seriously, I ENJOY planning and organizing things but THIS stretches my limits.

An Outline of the Challenges

1.  Our stuff is being sent to 4 different locations (MN, DC, Lima and MD) – and that’s not including any stuff we give away here.

2.  Our things travel by suitcase (hand carry), boat and air and must be separated accordingly. Warning: If you mess up and send something by boat that you needed in DC, you’ll be buying a new one in DC.  So go slowly…

3.  Anything we need to access in the next YEAR must fit within a 550 pound limit, which is made up of two 50-pound suitcases we hand-carry and 450 pounds that we get to ship by air to DC. To put it a different way, anything I send by boat I will not see until August of 2012 in Lima, but I must carefully pick and choose what we *need* for the next year since we are not allowed to go over the air freight weight restrictions (without a major fee).  Just for fun, try imagining that you were moving to furnished housing but that you could only take 550 pounds of your personal items with you.  What would you pick?

4.  Some other fun restrictions include:

  • No small electronics or jewelry or liquids in air freight.
  • There must be a minimum of 200 pounds of stuff to go into Permanent Storage in MD (and by permanent storage I mean we will not have access to these items for at least 3 years) if you want to use that option.  Note: We do want the option, since Nick’s sub-par box labeling from our first move meant that we ended up with some lovely, completely unnecessary things in Manila like momentos from my dead Grandma, my childhood artwork and our snow clothes!  :)  The current challenge is that these absurd things do not total 200 pounds, so unless we come up with some additional items, they’ll be going to Lima too!
  • No perishables/boxed food in any of the shipments (it attracts bugs) – Fun story: We found maggots all over an exploded 12 pack of Progresso Soup we had shipped to Manila from DC on our very first move.  It was not pretty.

To prevent my head from imploding over the next 2 weeks as we complete the packout, I created a handy-dandy little Flow Chart to ensure that everything ends up in the right place!  I’m pretty proud of it, so feel free to customize if for your FS move, if it would help!

So there you have it folks!  Try not to be jealous of the fun we have planned for the next two weeks…

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  1. Nomads By Nature says:

    LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT! You are truly talented with organization issues!

  2. Donna says:

    Love the flow chart! I could’ve used that for our move last summer.

  3. Sarah Novak says:

    Why thank you, I take great pride in my neurosis! :)

  4. Sarah Novak says:

    Well put it on file for the future – it’s amazing that we survive these, isn’t it?!?

  5. Caroline says:

    You’re lucky that kid is being born in the US instead of right before you leave Manila. If you think packing for you two is complicated, wait until you have to figure out what you’ll need in each of those time periods for the little gal.

    Also, what happens with your long term storage? Like, what happens if, in Lima, you accrue new things to store? Perhaps you’ll just have to send the baby things you are no longer using to your families to have them access a smaller storage location?

    This is all too complicated for me.

  6. Robin says:

    WOW. That is one hell of a flow chart, lady!
    I’m impressed. :)
    And I can sympathize, as I’m trying to sort my life (and stuff) into manageable boxes and categories too. I think I may need to modify this into some sort of international teacher flowchart!

  7. If you’re taking Delta on the way back, and you upgrade to business, you’re allowed 3 x 70lbs each. Of course, that won’t cover your flight from MN to DC, BUT you can either get rid of stuff there (if you already know you won’t need it for DC), send it by mail from MN to DC, or leave it behind and make the first visitor in charge of bringing some of the stuff.

  8. elise says:

    Hilarious. I love your flow chart it is fabulous!

  9. BH Neely says:

    Our storage is predominantly antique furniture, since we don’t need any, along with small 110 V appliances (and right now I wonder why – they’ll be half a decade old or more by the time we see them again). Easily over 200 pounds.

    We decided a couple packouts ago to go through our pictures and childhood artwork – getting rid of all duplicate photos, including such things as making sure that of the 12 slightly different photos of one scene, only one was kept.

    After 5 packouts so far, plus one supplemental consumables shipment, and a lot of mistakes, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. We’re aggressive with donations and garbage (even getting rid of our box-spring) before the packout to trim down and reduce the feeling of “Why the hell did we keep that?!” when we see it again on the other side. And even though it’s still a tiring process, it’s not so overwhelming. Just a pain in the ass.

    This flow chart would have been good to have the first two or three times, though.

  10. Chris says:

    Dear Sarah – where were you – and that amazing flowchart – for the 20 years we were in the FS – what a difference it would have made to the mania I suffered before each packout!

    Don’t worry too much about it though – it all seems to come together at the last minute!!!! XOXO

  11. Daniela says:

    Love the chart! I will have to borrow it for our next pack out.

  12. Joyce says:

    Couple more assignments and couple more babies and you will look back at this one and laugh. And I thought I was organized. Wow, I never knew anyone in my 30 years of traveling who had one. Now you tell me!!

  13. sara says:

    YES! Sarah, I am in the same boat as you only with two kids to pack for too AND deciding what of all of our baby items to pack and bring home with us for the two months after the new baby’s birth as well as the wait in Africa for our HHE to arrive. I really don’t want to re-buy any baby stuff for the third kid just because I didn’t pack it in our UAB back to VA to then be packed UAB to Africa. I really hate packing things back to VA that I won’t really need there but I know I WILL need for the first two months in Africa. I don’t have a flow chart but I have page after page of detailed lists!!! It’s tough to find time to pack and organize too. Pack-outs only get tougher with kids involved too. Enjoy the craziness of this one without your little girl. Good luck and thanks for sharing your flow chart. Very nice idea.

  14. Sarah Novak says:

    At times it’s too complicated for me too! Our long term storage can stay there however long we want and there is some limit on it, but it’s LARGE, so I’m not worried that we’ll hit it. And yes, I’m sure we’ll be adding more to it after Lima as we sort things out… eventually I’d like to get our household effects narrowed down to the things we actually use and have LT storage just be for furniture.

  15. Sarah Novak says:

    Well look at you, already thinking of how to beat the system! You’re a natural-born FS spouse Carla!

  16. Sarah Novak says:

    Thank you, I’m quite proud of it!

  17. Sarah Novak says:

    It’s comforting to know that it gets easier over time. I hope adding children to the mix won’t add too much difficulty!

  18. Sarah Novak says:

    That is true Chris – if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the chaos that is Foreign Service living, it’s that things always seem to work out!

  19. Sarah Novak says:

    Please do!

  20. Sarah Novak says:

    Hee Hee! I just want to make you proud! I still don’t have a moving checklist like you did. May start working on that for Lima… :)

  21. Sarah Novak says:

    I’m going to work on a list for the next one to Lima. Maybe I can get a template from your list! I’m all about minimizing rework… :)

  22. Katrina Buetow says:

    Hi Dear-you think packing is complicated now…just WAIT until that baby comes. You cannnot believe the amount of “stuff” they create. I keep pushing Dan and I to decide if we want to try for a 3rd because if not, 1/2 of my basement “storage” will be done in this summer’s garage sale =;)

  23. Sarah Novak says:

    I know, I can’t even imagine. Am thankful that I don’t have to deal with that til the next round!

  24. I LOVE the flowchart, but it doesn’t answer my question-of-the-day: to which location would you prefer we send our baby gifts?
    (Assuming they are not essential baby gear, but rather things that will make you say ‘ooh, that’s darling!’)

  25. Sarah Novak says:

    You crack me up. They can go to my parents house. Address is to:

    Sarah Miller
    310 Jesse James Lane
    Mahtomedi, MN 55115

    Thanks in advance! Can’t wait to see it… :)

  26. bfiles says:

    yes, I love this too, but I also had to laugh because it’s about to get so much more complicated (as so many have said). I too am glad for you that baby is coming while you’re in DC (sad we’ll miss you by only a month, I think) bec at least you avoid that moving headache! I look fwd to your new and improved moving with kids chart!! good luck.

  27. naomi says:

    You are so smart! (and yes, I’ll also echo the others that INDEED that little bean will add another 200 lbs of crap just in the first week of arrival!!)

    I found it disconcerting to look at our “stuff” when we moved (not FS, but also air/boat categories) and relegate it to “how much does it weigh”

    I’m interested to see just WHAT we put in the long-term storage that we haven’t seen for nearly 3 years. Bet it isn’t that important!

  28. Georgia says:

    Oh my lord! I have NO IDEA how you can do that!
    I overpack for a one week vacation…almost taking the kitchen sink! I can’t imagine planning for what you are planning…w/ the 3 of you!!! OH MY! Good luck my friend! yikes!

  29. Sarah Novak says:

    I find that hard to believe considering you are planner extraordinaire… move went well, now we just need to survive the flight!

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