This post is mostly about the logistics of moving, but click here to read my thoughts about making social connections in new cities – especially as an introvert!
In September, Kyla and I bought our first home, and on Halloween, we moved in. This was far from my
craziest farthest move, but it was definitely the most significant! It got me reflecting on my past relocations, and I figured that I’ve moved over a dozen times in the last decade or so. Across Canadian cities, over the Pacific and back THREE times, between states in Australia, to a new neighbourhood in Seoul, a couple of temporary, “extended visits” to my parents’ house in Ottawa, across Canada to Victoria, WHEW!
I actually love moving. I love that it’s dynamic and makes me feel like I’m evolving; I love getting to know new cities and neighbourhoods; I kinda weirdly love getting rid of stuff and re-organizing. But. It’s. Effing. Stressful. And expensive! All at once it can be a logistical nightmare and nostalgic and sentimental and heartbreaking. While I’m confident that this most recent move will be my last for a while, I wanted to share some tips that have been helpful for me in the past. If you have a move coming up, I hope that you can combine some of these ideas with your own strategies (P.S. what are they?!?!) to preserve the fun bits while fending off the stress!
Money & Minimalism
What are your priorities? When I was living overseas, I didn’t care much about what was in my apartment. I had some things that reminded me of home and a few colourful and cozy touches, but otherwise my money went to TRAVEL! My second year in Korea, my apartment was only partially furnished, and didn’t come with a bed – just some mats on the floor. With ondol floor-heating, this wasn’t a huge deal (it’s actually the traditional way to sleep in Korea). We got another layer of mats, and there we were!
While it started with furniture, this mindset extended out beyond my home. I only bought essentials, and whenever possible I made an effort to buy second hand. There’s a HUGE community of expats in Korea who are also in the country temporarily, and who have lots of interest in buying and selling used items – teaching stuff, clothes, exercise equipment, kitchen stuff, bikes, furniture, etc. I don’t think I threw ANYTHING out when I left the country; I can guarantee that your friends/coworkers/other foreigners on online marketplaces will gladly take things off your hands, from leftover kitchen spices to toiletries. Posting boxes home was a great option for the few things I couldn’t part with, and between contracts, when I knew I’d be coming back, I put some stuff into storage.
Sadly, living in places temporarily makes it hard to be sustainable, but being a minimalist means you won’t be purchasing much and consequently won’t have much to part with when you move on.
Accumulate as little as you can; bring only what you need. This mindset has come with me on pretty much every move until I settled here in Victoria. Find places that are furnished! At my first apartment in Ottawa, almost all of my furniture was either borrowed or a hand-me-down from family or friends, which I re-gifted or thrifted when I moved. Why not donate your stuff to a charity? Don’t forget about libraries. Try clothing swaps! Now that I’m settled, I’ve been kind of bad about following these tips, but they worked really well while I was on the move. When you don’t have the space (or sense of permanence) to get attached to things, it makes it super easy not to accumulate more than you need.
Making Do with Merde
When you’re looking for the most convenient option for accommodation – like the tiny furnished apartments that many teaching jobs in Korea provide – you sometimes have to deal with shitty situations. My first apartment in Korea had a cockroach problem. As in I had tons and tons of 6-legged roommates and we did NOT get along.
My shared house in undergrad had literal mushrooms growing out of the wall. If I were renting now, I obviously wouldn’t put up with fungus on my wall, but I was young and naive and new to housing and laughed it off.
We DID have the mold removed, but I doubt it was done properly. I got rid of the cockroaches, at least for months at a time here and there, but I definitely shouldn’t have had to deal with that myself.
Don’t put up with the merde. Those were things I did when I was young and inexperienced with housing, or when I moved to a new country and didn’t feel comfortable confronting my employer about the housing they provided. I wasn’t sure of my rights, or the risks/consequences and ways to go about asking for help. Learn your rights as a tenant, wherever you are, and don’t be afraid to ask for an adequate standard of living! Even when your landlord is your boss and it feels weird. (Is that just me?)
The second year I worked in Korea I was at a new job where they didn’t provide accommodation, and my friend and I had to find our own apartment. This process was *~~pretty tough~~* with the language barrier. My roommate spoke and understood Korean fairly well, and we had Korean friends who helped a bit with some translation, but the main (should have been super obvious) lesson we learned was: don’t try to find an apartment when you don’t know the language well enough to do it independently. (Obviously this only applies when you are privileged enough to have left your home country by choice, with the option to go back whenever you want.) We found a beautiful, spacious, and cheap place in north Seoul, through Craigslist (the previous tenants were also foreigners and had posted the ad). They spoke Korean, and helped translate through the lease signing and key money* process.
*[Key money is a gigantic deposit you put down when renting in Korea; rent is low, deposit is large. Unless you have a ton of savings when you arrive in the country, this wouldn’t necessarily be possible upon arrival. It’s a scary thing, handing over a huge wad of cash to someone you don’t know or necessarily trust, with whom there is a communication barrier, when this is not a custom you’re used to. Mayyybe don’t do it unless your Korean is pro level and you’ll be there for a while.]
Warning – mini whine/rant: we had frequent, frustrating issues with our curmudgeony landlord. He was an unreasonable person who invaded our privacy, and demanded/withheld money for broken items which he knew (i.e. he told us) we did not break (e.g. giant rooftop kimchi pots which he was definitely never planning to use)! He overcharged us for unnecessary plumbing jobs, and barged into our apartment whenever he pleased, demanding that we bring him water and yelling at us (usually trying to get money for some new fee that had conveniently come up). Just to clarify, this was absolutely not a Korean issue, or a Korean landlord issue, but the combination of one horrible old man, and our inability to speak the language at the level we needed. There was a lot I wished I could say to him!
Learn the language when you travel, people! Even if you have friends helping you, try to avoid moves to housing where you would not be able to communicate questions, problems, and your rights if a friend were unavailable to help. Learn your rights as a tenant in the country where you live. (Here’s some helpful info for Korea.)
This home is the second place Kyla and I have lived in together. When we first moved into our old apartment, I brought very little in the way of stuff, and Kyla brought a normal amount of stuff for a person to have acquired in adulthood. You know, furniture, small appliances, decorations, books, games, normal stuff! My stuff had been left or sold or thrifted in various places along the way, and I was used to starting out without much in apartments that filled in the blanks. We had to do some manoeuvring and careful organizing to make sure that the place reflected both of us. It’s turning out to be easier in this house, where we need to purchase lots of new things together. We don’t want to lose sight of our individual tastes, but we do want our home decor and atmosphere to reflect the fact that we live here together.
Make sure you plan with both of your needs for space in mind. Not in an aggressive, claiming your territory way but, for example, start by dividing closets right down the middle, and find creative solutions for storage elsewhere when there’s overflow. You both might have to store some of your cherished art, rather than featuring it, to make room for pieces that you’ve chosen together. Leave room in shared spaces for your mutual
junk “stuff” collection to grow!
Mortgage (It’s Miiiine!)
For this move, there were sooo many stressors. Think tight timelines where we had to get a whole bunch of things checked off a list, but didn’t always have control over when they got done. Building inspections, oil tank scans, bank appointments, lawyer appointments, getting insured, more bank and lawyer appointments, a million realtor calls, $, $$, $$$, $$$$, $$$$$$$$$$$$$!@#@$!
SO. We tried to take as many of the usual stressors as possible off the table. Things that usually make a move cheaper, but involve lots more time and energy. We hired movers. We rented a car-share van. We hired a cleaner. We pre-made a lot of meals for that week, but we also gave ourselves the go-ahead to get take-out more than usual. We pre-packed as much as possible in the weeks leading up to the move.
Still, our movers were 4 hours late, so we were really lucky to have friends who helped us move almost everything except for big furniture. We moved on October 31st to a neighbourhood that is basically Halloween Town. We showed up at our new place in panda onesies, trying to fit in, and tried to avoid the hundreds of Trick-or-Treaters on the street! Nooo regrets hiring movers to drive the truck around the masses of children!
Take shortcuts: you’re already spending tons of money, why not spend a little more?! :”'( Also, leave a bowl of candy faaaar from the entrance of your house so you don’t have to deal with kiddos running up to your door while you’re trying to balance 3 pieces of furniture in 2 hands!
Celebrate your move! Even if you’re sitting on the floor, surrounded by boxes, you did it! Unpacking can come later. Cheers!