To pack, or not to pack


Now that the house is rented and we’ve got somewhere to go when we arrive in Washington, we are turning our attention to inventories, purging and packing.

B tends toward purging, I tend toward going out and buying even more stuff…not exactly a good combination for eventually getting everything we own into boxes.

So here’s the deal. Typically there are three types of packing you have to do when you “Packout”: (1) your HHE (house hold effects); (2) your UAB (unaccompanied air baggage); and (3) your personal hand carried luggage.  There is also the shipment of your POV (car) when you are shipping out to an overseas post, but we don’t have to navigate that minefield quite yet.

In our case it is both a little more complicated and a little easier since we are driving to DC from Charlotte so we do not have UAB for this move, but we will take a bunch of things that would normally be UAB in our car (or, to be specific, the mini UHaul we will be towing).

Ultimately we have an allowance of 18,000 lbs of stuff.  The USG provides housing in most posts throughout the world, though there are a few where you have to find your own housing (Ottawa and Malta are two examples).  In the unfurnished (find your own) posts you are allowed to ship your entire 18,000 lbs.  In the furnished housing posts you are allowed to ship 7,200 lbs of HHE, the rest stays in storage.  In either case you get a (much) smaller allowance for UAB. B gets 250 lbs, I get 200 lbs and C gets 150 lbs – so 600 lbs total of UAB.  Our hand carried luggage has the typical airline restrictions of 50 lbs/bag with a 2 bag/person limit that the USG will pay for (don’t put it past me to pay a “premium” to take a couple of extra bags when the time comes…).

I doubt very much that everything we own comes close to weighing 18,000 lbs, so I’m not really worried about exceeding the weight limit, the issue is really about what to store, what to bring with us, and what to get rid of before we set off.  The complication part comes in terms of separating now what we might want for UAB later – while having no clue whatsoever where we will end up or when we will end up in said unknown place.  We assume B will have some language training – but Spanish is 24 weeks and Mandarin is 55 weeks, so we might spend 4 seasons in D.C., or two, or we might be gone by November – it all depends.

Right now we’ll put almost everything in storage, but we’ll take a few things with us: our good knives, the KitchenAid mixer, our cast iron frying pan, our clothes, and pretty much everything belonging to C except her furniture.  The struggle I’m really having relates to “sentimental” stuff, photographs, art, photo albums and things like that.  And there are two parts to this struggle. First, letting go of the irreplaceable life moments that inhabit things like photographs and baby hand prints to an unknown moving company, and second, the desire to make our D.C. apartment feel like home for however long, or short, a time we’ll be there.

I lived in corporate housing when I was a summer clerk at my law firm and, while perfectly serviceable, it’s not exactly “homey.”  I want C to feel at least somewhat at home while we are in D.C. so I want to be able to put out photographs, hang a few prints and use her own sheets/curtains.  I love our house, but I’m particularly sad to give up C’s room, with her built-in trundle bed and “secret” hiding place (see “Smurf-door” on bottom right hand side of picture).


She’s excited to move to Washington and be closer to her cousins, but I’m worried she’ll feel differently if we’re living in a ‘cold’ corporate apartment with nothing around to make her feel at home.  She understands we are not taking everything with us, but her grasp is limited to the world of a three-year old.

“Mommy,” she says. “When we move to our new house in Washington, can I take my Magnatiles?”

If you don’t know Magnatiles are these amazing magnetic tiles that you use to build – castles in C’s case.


They probably weigh 1/2 lb and fit in a very small box.  At least I can truthfully tell her that we will, indeed, be taking the Magnatiles.  But her bed, the Smurf door, those will stay behind and I’m not sure how to make her understand that, nor do I think, even if I am allowed to hang pictures, I can do much that would constitute “homeyness” in a corporate apartment.

I’m also wary of turning over the things that mean the most to me to movers, and to a storage facility I’m likely to never see or set foot in.  They can break every piece of furniture we own, but what if I send C’s little newborn footprint to storage and it gets ruined? I can never get that back. But do I want to drag it with us to Arlington where it’ll sit in a box taking up space (in a not so spacious place for three people and a 70 lb dog)?

Add to that the complication of trying to separate our stuff into “safe” rooms where the movers will not be allowed to go (lest everything get wrapped and spirited away to storage-land), and into “need now,” “need later,” “maybe need” piles and, to some extent, I’m paralyzed by the indecision of deciding.

If B had his way we’d probably throw it all out and live like nomads with nothing but the clothes on our backs, but unfortunately for him, C’s princess castle, and the Magnatiles, will all be going with us and fighting to find their own space in our little apartment.

And for now I’ll pack the footprints and the memories in boxes and decide whether they go with us, or in storage, another day.

One thought on “To pack, or not to pack

  1. D, I am having such fun and such anxiety reading your posts! We haven’t moved in 10 years, but prior to that we moved every 2-3 with the Navy. The excitement, the indecision, the worry, the sense of adventure…it’s all part of a really great package. I learned it’s not all the stuff that makes it home, it’s what you do in every new place; how quickly you get out there and meet new people and see new things; and most importantly keeping all your traditions that you can carry from place to place. Kids are ultra flexible and will follow the lead of those in charge…


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