November 22, 2004

Moving To England – Getting Stuff There

I’ve gotten a number of emails asking to know more about moving, and instead of answering each question individually I thought it might be worth answering with a blog entry.

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.

Posted by: Frank @ 2:34 pm — Filed under:


  1. As to covering 3000 miles with only ‘Running On Empty’: even though it is a remarkable album, weren’t there (several) times during David Lindley’s falsetto in ‘Stay’ that you almost reached over, ejected the bastard, and heaved the thing out in the night air? Probably not. The song, the album, is as inspiring as it gets. Where is that kind of music today (says the old dude)?

    Comment by Haydn Reiss — November 29, 2004 @ 5:54 pm

  2. Looking at relocating the end of January 2005. The offer for a position is on the table, and I need to respond soon.
    Like you and Rachel, I to long for a simplier life..but even more to BE THERE. An unrelenting desire has persisted for over four years, and just as many trips over. I am a single (divorced) woman in her fifties living ten miles from the Big Dipper. Neither of my children want to leave right now, so homesickness for them would be the killer. One is an adult, the other is almost and would be quite happy to live with his dad, and travel over during summer.
    I fallen into your site, and really enjoyed reading all of the notes. Thanks so much

    Comment by Helen Meline — December 11, 2004 @ 4:48 pm

  3. Try this site for an idea of the cost of renting houses over here.

    Comment by Matt — December 13, 2004 @ 3:56 pm

  4. Wow I just found your site! Very cool. My boyfriend and I moved from florida in Sept. to Exeter (me) and Falmouth (him). Some of your comments really hit home. It has been a very hard 6 months for both of us with lots of adjustment. We are also moving our dog over this week which has been anything but easy.
    Good to know that other americans are out there going through some of the same things. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Nicole — January 3, 2005 @ 3:52 pm

  5. Hello Seasoned Adventurous/travelers/Movers
    My husband and I are moving So. of Bordeaux, France from Visalia California. Right now everything seems overwhelming. But thanks to your moving tips I think will be very careful of what i really need to take over there. what I would like to know is have you shipped an automobile. Is it very complicated- expensive? Any tips on this matter. thanks for all

    Comment by Irene — February 4, 2005 @ 1:09 am

  6. words of wisdom…I love the idea of a new life without my old stuff…thank you.
    more info:

    Comment by Allison — May 2, 2005 @ 12:08 am

  7. I want to finally fulfill my dream of living in England, hopefully this winter….trouble is I need to work at least part time when I am there and I cannot figure out how to get a job from the US so that I can get a work permit in order to establish residency. Any ideas???? I am in my late 50’s and a substitute teacher here. I would be happy working at the Asda.

    Comment by Christina — August 15, 2005 @ 10:26 pm

  8. If one wanted to stay for a week or so, to get a feel if they wanted to live there, where would you recommend to stay ???

    Comment by mary jane norton — February 9, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

  9. Hi Mary Jane,

    Where are you looking to live? London? Cornwall? And where do you live now?

    – Frank

    Comment by Frank Leahy — February 9, 2006 @ 6:01 pm

  10. Mary Jane,

    Cornwall is lovely, and the weather is not unlike Maine, so you won’t be disappointed in that regard. I personally loved it in Cornwall, and would go back in a minute. But it isn’t for everyone.

    Did you read this article that I wrote about living in Cornwall?

    Looking back on both Cornwall and that article, I would say that if you’re going with a plan in mind…e.g. you want to visit all of the gardens in Cornwall (and there are some amazing ones!)…or you want to learn to play Cornish music…or you’re going to live on a farm and learn to make cheese…then you’ll probably be fine. But if you’re looking to sit outside and drink cappuccinos and visit farmers markets laden with glorious food, and hang out with expats, then you’d be better off visiting/living in France or Italy or Greece. Or living in London.

    If I were going to visit for a week, I might rent a house for a week (you can rent ours if you like…see
    ) and rent a car and travel around to Plymouth and Penzance and Tintagel, etc.

    Or if you would prefer to travel around without having to return to the same place every night, as long as you’re not traveling during the 6 weeks of summer break, or the Easter holidays, then you will have no problem finding B&Bs or small hotels to stay in.

    Best of luck with your trip. Please let me know how it goes.

    With kindest regards,
    – Frank Leahy

    Comment by Frank Leahy — February 10, 2006 @ 10:30 pm

  11. Frank some great info here. By the way cool pic of your child with the moving boxes.

    Comment by Daylesford Accommodation — February 11, 2008 @ 4:26 am

  12. My wife and I moved “lock, stock and barrel” from the UK to France in 2003. Five years later we still have “stuff” in boxes from whe we moved that we have never opened… and we thought we’d left all the rubbish behind.

    Comment by Kevin Phoenix — October 24, 2008 @ 9:06 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>



In an effort to control spam, please fill in the result of the equation below