Some of the emails seem to be from people moving because they want to, while others appear to be thinking about it because of the election results, but either way, Gareth’s question was typical: “Does anyone has a suggestion on moving companies, we will be leaving San Francisco for the United Kingdom in the next three months. Also, if anyone has an idea of rental costs for house in Brighton, that would be great!”
While I can’t tell Gareth much about rental costs in Brighton, I can tell him about how we got our stuff from San Francisco to Cornwall.
But before I do that, I want Gareth, and anyone else reading this, to ask themselves this simple question: “Do we really need all the things we’re thinking of shipping with us?”
When I first moved to California, in 1978, I drove from Boston to San Francisco in a 1972 VW Bug. It contained me, my sister Jeannie, 6 boxes, and a bicycle on the roof. (And oh yes, exactly two tapes – Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty, and Seals and Crofts Greatest Hits – neither of which I can bring myself to listen to even now, twenty five years later.) At the end of my year at UC Berkeley I borrowed Jon Kosek’s pickup truck and moved those boxes, the bike, a bed, a desk, and a bunch of books to Palo Alto. And with each subsequent move I dragged more and more stuff around, until it got to the point that we needed a moving company to move us out of Sausalito and up to San Anselmo for the year before we moved to England.
The detritus of life…stuff collected as we live our lives. Stuff for the bedroom, stuff for the bathroom, stuff for the kids room. Stuff that for some reason is incredibly hard to leave behind.
As we moved from room to room we thought of all sorts of reasons why we needed to keep things – it reminded Rachel of her mother, it was the first rug I ever bought, I’ve had those for 25 years. I really wish we’d kept track of all the excuses because I think we could have turned it into a bestseller – “Three Hundred Reasons Why You Don’t Need To Keep That".
But we did eventually get past feeling like “oh my god we have to keep everything", and wound up categorizing things as “keep and lend", “keep and store", “keep and ship", “sell", or “toss". The big furniture and artwork went into “keep and lend". The stereo, paperwork, and linens went into “keep and store", things like my bicycle, camping equipment and winter clothes went into “keep and ship", and the rest went into “sell” or “toss".
But each item was a tug of war. You wouldn’t believe the amount of psychic energy we exerted making those thousands of decisions. And the decisions were all wound up in how long we were going to be gone – if we were gone for one year then maybe we should store it all, but if we were going to be gone for five years it would likely cost more to store it all than it would be to buy it new again. So we sorted and shuffled and packed and tossed, and when the yard sale was over we looked at each other and said “Wow, what was it we just sold?”
And there it was, we’d finally figured it out. The act of deciding, the act of letting go, is the hardest part of moving.
But back to the question of shipping your stuff…
After the yard sale we rented a 5′ x 5′ storage shed in San Rafael where we delivered the “keep and store", made a trip to the Peninsula to deliver the “keep and lend” furniture and artwork, and took about 10 boxes of “keep and ship” to a shipper in San Francisco for delivery to England.
There seemed to be three options for shipping things. If someone else is going to pay for it (e.g. your company), you can call many moving companies and they’ll handle the whole thing for you. But that can be very expensive, so we next looked at shipping containers. We were thinking about shipping our car (I’m glad we didn’t…), and all of our furniture (also glad we didn’t…), and found two companies on the web who would drop a container off at our house (where we’d load it up), and then take it away two or three days later. They were Shipping International and Atlantic Cargo. I had quotes in the $1500 - $2500 range, depending on the size of the container. I put a note up on Craig’s List to see if someone might want to share a container, and got a note back from a guy shipping stuff to Switzerland who had a quote for $7500 (and even though his was being shipped all the way to Switzerland, while mine was going to be offloaded in London, the $5000 difference seemed like he was being taken for a bit of a ride.)
After scaling back our expectations about what we really needed in England (beyond what we could take in out suitcases), we found a shipping company in San Francisco who charged by the cubic foot. So we put together about 20 boxes, including 2 bike boxes, and drove them over to Accord Export Lines, 640 Army St, SF 94124, 415-821-0800. They were great. They stacked the boxes on a palette, wrapped it with plastic, and loaded it on the next boat to England. About $400 for a 4′ x 4′ x 6′ (high) palette.
The boxes arrived in England about six weeks later, and we had the choice of picking it up ourselves at the London docks, or having it shipped down to Cornwall. As our car wasn’t big enough to get it all in one go, and as Cornwall is a five hour drive from London, we elected to have it shipped (which wound up costing almost as much as shipping it all the way overseas).
And when it arrived, Rachel and I looked at each other and said “just what was it that was so important that we sent it all the way over here?” We really couldn’t remember.
So, if you’re moving, make sure to ask yourself whether you really want to burden your new life with your old stuff. Because one of the best parts of moving is getting the chance to start all over again.
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