Moving Overseas Part 1: Divesting, Deciding and Decision-making

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Determining whether moving overseas is a good fit for you (and your loved ones) is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make.

Part of the risk is that one never knows the true impact of immersing themselves in another culture. Many people who have spent a lifetime overseas originally moved with the intent of a summer spent abroad and never returned home. Others returned home, but were never quite the same.  Vacationing or taking an extended trip often requires minimal preparation, however, a longer term move (anything which compels you to abandon your domicile and material possessions) requires more preparation.

A few questions that you should consider:

  1. Is this a temporary, permanent or uncertain relocation?
  2. Is this a there-and-back-again trip, or will there be a multiple legs on this trip?
  3. To what degree do you plan on making your target country your home?
  4. What lifestyle do you anticipate while living overseas? If you’re a nomad, you'll prepare differently than if you're going to accept long-term position with stability.

This post assumes that you don't have a financier with deep pockets paying you to relocate. It assumes that everything is being done on your own dollar, with the sweat of your own brow and at your own speed. It also makes the assumption that you have time to plan, prepare and move toward living overseas. If that's you, read on!

What to ditch and how to ditch

American households have, on average, 300,000 items (source). How, pray tell, do you plan on getting all those items to a new country? Answer: You don't. You're probably not even sure how you got that many items in your house in the first place. However, consider this, if you house caught fire (god forbid) and you were able to quickly grab say your most important 1,000 items (I know, I know, your first thought would be "Man, this is an incredibly slow fire", but work with me here), would you feel like you'd lost "everything?" Probably not. You'd be upset, but not irreversible traumatized.  I make this point to show that we have a lot of stuff, but that doesn't mean we need, want or even like most of the stuff that we've somehow acquired. Often that stuff is a barrier that prevents us from even considering moving overseas. But where and how would you even begin getting rid of your stuff? I'm so glad you asked! I'd start with my library (or kindle, or whatever resource you feel most inclined toward).

Keep only  what you love

Consider starting with Marie Kondo's book "The Magic of Tidying Up" - while I can't say I'm a follower of all of Marie's teachings (I'm not going to thank my clothes, nor do they "need" a place to sleep. They are just socks.) there is something surprising effective in her recommendations. She gives you a plan. And tweak it, modify it, adjust it to your eccentricities, but it provides a plan of attack. By the end of the process (my wife and I took 2.5 days over the weekend to tear apart and reassemble our 3-bedroom house), you are left only with items you really like, really need, or really just have no clue what to do with them (eventually you say screw it, and throw that odd stuff out too). Kondo says keep what brings you "joy" and lose the rest. I went with keep what you "really like," but I ended up in the same place. My small house felt spacious after using Kondo's plan to clear it out. Having only what you want / love / need is a surprisingly small subset of what you own / have / bought. You can find Kond's blog here.

Divesting & Liquidating

There are a variety of options once you've decided to keep only what you love. Consider donating to a local Salvation Army or Volunteers of America. You can call them to schedule a pickup or deliver it to their store. One thing that this does is fight against the "But I am losing so much money" excuse by using the "I'm helping out others and gaining freedom" argument.

Prevent acquisition (or re-acquisition) at the front end

Kondo's mindset is great for clearing out what you already have, but Minimalism is a practice that is also can help prevent acquiring clutter (and debt) in the first place. Minimalism has gone to some weird places in the last decade (see the "Everything I own fits in a shoe box" crowd and the "I only own 12 items each of which costs $3,000 or more" crowd) however the core principle remains sound - spend less on things you don't need so you can invest more time, energy, passion and money in the things that are actually important to you. This assumes that you have a clear idea of what you really desire in life, and aren't just lunging for the latest "need" you saw in a commercial. Acquiring stuff is a habit, and Americans, it seems (remember that 300,000 items number?) seem especially adroit at it. Learning to fight against trend will yield a variety of benefits, not least of which is having more money to use for the things you really want to use it for. You can learn more about minimalism all over the web, but you might start here

Regardless of your strategy, the goal is the same: lighten the load. Keep only what you love. The freedom to roam is worth more than the 299,000 things weighing you down that you're not sure you even want.