29 August 2012

Moving Abroad: 5 Steps to Purging Your Stuff

Part of any move is The Great Purge. Well, for me at least. I'm the opposite of a hoarder, more of an 'everything out' type of person. So when I moved in with Sandro a year and a half ago, I came with my clothes, childhood photo albums, and some animal art to give the place that feminine touch. He had all the major necessities (furniture, appliances, etc) so what was mine at my old apartment was sold or donated. Over time I've accumulated more books, more knick knacks, and enough kitchen gadgets to serve a restaurant. Now that we're moving to Buenos Aires, another more thorough purge is in order.

First, there's the traveling. We don't have the wherewithal to move anything extra, either on the plane (imagine me dragging one of those carts through the airport bar while waiting for the flight), or through the mail (Argentina is notorious for handling the shipping of cargo pretty poorly). And if we did spend the money and effort to send things like our library or our favorite bedspread to Argentina, the chance that it would get lost or cost an arm and a leg to pick up is just not worth it.

Secondly, there's the fact that most rental apartments in Buenos Aires come furnished (at least those that are available to shorter term foreigners like ourselves). So no need to bring our own pots and pans or linens or seating arrangements. And we won't have to spend money on that stuff once we get there. It's the perk that comes with paying higher rent than the locals. And for convenience sake, I'd say it's a fine deal.

So how do you just 'get rid of everything'? It's a lot of work and organization, but it's do-able and rewarding.

1. Swap - Hold a clothing/book/housewares swap with some friends. Invite everyone over to bring the things they don't want and to take things they could actually use from everyone else. My girls and I did a clothing swap last week. I brought two huge garbage bags of clothes that were cute and wearable, but that just didn't make the cut for Argentina. I left with one new dress and one new pair of shoes, both of which will sensibly fit into my suitcase and my Buenos Aires lifestyle. We ate snacks and drank wine and made an afternoon of it and it was really great to see my clothes go home with my friends who will actually wear and love them. Remember: There will probably be loads of leftovers, so everyone chip in to help clean up and re-bag everything. Someone volunteer to drive it all to the nearest thrift shop at the end of the day.

2. Thrift - Anything your friends don't want can go straight to your local thrift store. Most thrift stores donate to charity and will give you a receipt so that you can write off your donation on your taxes the following year. Thrift stores will take new or used clothes, housewares, electronics, books/movies/records, and pretty much anything else that isn't in terrible shape.

3. Sell - Selling new or lightly used items is fairly easy online or at a local resell store. We've used CraigsList.org to sell all of our furniture so far. We list the items at about 5% higher than we expect to get for it, and sure enough, someone comes and makes an offer at just the right price. It takes some time to list the item, research a fair asking price, and respond to emails from potential buyers. You'll also have to deal with strangers coming to your house to inspect, pay for, and take away your stuff. Be smart and be safe and you will be fine. And then you've got cash.
Buffalo Exchange is a boutique resell store (Read: glorified thrift) that offers cash or credit for new or barely used name brand clothes, shoes, and accessories. We have one in Philadelphia that, although it can be picky, has bought back a handful of my nicer clothes and shoes. I've taken in two bags of items and left with one full of the rejects and have made anywhere from $3-10 per piece. Once I took the cash (30% of what they will resell the item for) and bought myself lunch. Another time I took the store credit (50%) and left with a new coat. Check for vintage, consignment, and resell shops in your area to get a little extra cash for those 'better than thrift' pieces.

4. Give - Maybe your friends love your stuff and don't want to pick through it at a swap, or the resell store rejected it but it's still really cute and you can't bear to see it on the shelves at a thrift store. Maybe a buddy is recently single and is looking to furnish his empty apartment. Giving your things to people who you like and who need them is the best way to know your stuff will be appreciated and taken care of. All of my friends are getting pieces of me to hold on to, whether they want it or not!

5. Store - It's ok to keep stuff. If you are not planning on being gone too long or you're particularly attached to what you've got, pack it up. A family or friend's basement can be the safest, cheapest storage option. However, Uhaul and other national and local self-storage facilities offer safe, dry, temperature controlled spaces from $55-$120/month. You'll have to either pay upfront for a length of time or arrange a monthly payment by credit card from abroad. That's literally the price you pay for being a hoarder...oh! I mean uh...a sentimental stuff keeper.

So it's two suit cases apiece for Sandro and I, one checked and one carry on each. Clothes, Kindle, a couple photos and mementos, and that's it. But what about those childhood photo albums and that letter from your best friend from high school? Believe it or not, I do have a sentimental bone in my body (but just one), and I am lucky enough to be able to store a few things at Sandro's dad's house. BUT. I've narrowed it down to a couple of boxes. Two cardboard boxes will contain my life's physical memories and everything else is going to have to live in my mind (or on the internet).


  1. Hey there!
    Looks like you're prepping quite nicely for your move. Awesome. I don't know if you're the cooking type, but if so, save room for some of your special kitchen gadgets because they are not cheap here! We miss our simple hand blender. We're using the magic wand we brought with us when we make cookies, but it's not the same!

    1. Esteban,
      Thanks so much for the tip! It's too bad I can't fit my favorite kitchen gadget in my suitcase...my crockpot!