One of my favorite George Carlin bits captures perfectly my current task: managing our stuff.
Packing and preparing to move is always a challenge. We’ve moved a dozen times, including a couple of cross-country transitions, but all of that was ten years ago or longer. Even though our house is small, we seem to have accumulated a lot of stuff during our decade of stability. Initially, we started storing stuff on the side yard in hastily erected weather proof plastic sheds. When those filled up, we broke down and rented a unit at one of those self-storage warehouses that seem to pop up on the edge of every American city and suburb. It is incredibly liberating to pare things down for our upcoming life abroad. Getting from lots of stuff to our hypothetical liberated selves, however, has turned into quite the logistical challenge.
Many of my classmates are packing everything immediately, vacating their apartment or house, and moving to temporary digs in DC until deployment overseas. Known as packing-out, the State Department has this down to a science and outsources to local movers who will pack, load, transport, store, and eventually deliver everything for you. Our situation is a little complicated, however, and requires a few refinements on the typical pack-out. First things first: make the categories. 1. Stuff to throw away (OK, I love my kids, but we don’t need half-finished spelling workbooks from the 3rd grade — M graduates from college in the Spring), 2. Stuff to give away (weekly trips to Goodwill — time to get brutal), 3. Stuff to send immediately to long-term storage (lots of family heirlooms that we won’t want to stress about if we have to evacuate), 4. Stuff I’ll want/need during my 4-12 months of training in Washington which includes 4a. Stuff to send air freight (up to 250 lbs.), and 4b. Stuff to pack in the car for the cross-country (mostly clothes, camera gear, and some select gadgets and books), and 5. Stuff to stay in California until E can join me at post in, ugh, two years or so (just about everything).
The tricky part is that, while all our big furniture and complex packing (e.g., kitchen) is staying, I need a uniform way of tracking what we have and where it is: California, my rented condo in Arlington, government storage, or somewhere else. The government, in all its wisdom, has concluded that we can travel with/store 18,000 pounds of stuff. I had no idea how that translates, but it turns out that it’s much more than we want or need. While the government provided storage is fantastic, allowing us to live abroad with a small subset of our overall stuff, if we ever want to retrieve something from storage without pulling everything out and searching, we need a very flexible way to identify what stuff is in what box.
I have never been one to go simple (e.g., writing on boxes) when technology can make the task infinitely more complex and way more cool. I set up a Bento database that contains all the pertinent data for each piece of stuff: what it is, where it was initially located, where it’s going, a unique Box identifier, when acquired, purchase price, warranty info, etc. It also includes a quick way to include a photograph and a PDF copy of the receipt or other documents related to the particular thing. Best part is that Bento has an iPhone app so the entire inventory, including photos of everything, reside on my phone. Slightly obsessive and very geeky, I know, but it’s how I deal with logistical stress.
The movers came to today, took some notes on what I have in the storage unit and at the house, and we are now officially set for an October 15th pack-out. The database is up to 135 entries, and growing fast, but should be up to date before the packers take off with our stuff.