Packing up your house to move abroad – 4 helpful steps

This is something that hit me like a train when I realised that the average Spanish property doesn’t have a loft. It was at a time when we had a four bedroom house with the biggest loft I’ve ever had, which was full.

I was partly worried about keeping the cost of shipping down but I was more worried about taking a load of junk that we didn’t use or need to another country. What’s the point?

I’m not sure about other countries and cultures but if you’re in the UK and you’ve got a loft (or attic) there’s a good chance it’s full of boxes that you move from loft to loft and never use. Its OK, we’re all in it together.

So, if you are shipping some of your stuff abroad how do you make sure you only take the stuff that is really necessary without chucking away the family jewels and valuables? And that means inside and outside of the loft. I recommend four steps to get yourself organised and ready to go, which are:

Step one – Sort the ‘definitely throwing away’ pile

This will essentially help you de-clutter the more questionable stuff. A lot of the time we have a load of junk around the house because we don’t have time to really get into it (and no motivator, like a move abroad). Your relocation is a great excuse to do the job you’ve probably wanted to do for a while.

I’ve no doubt that you’ll find tons of stuff that easily sits in the ‘throw away’ pile. Its the easiest thing to start with as you’ll absolutely know with these things that you don’t need them anymore.

Once these things are out the way its much easier to move onto step two.

Step two – Sort the ‘definitely taking with us’ pile

This might be a bit more difficult than step one but there will be some things you know for sure that you’re taking. It doesn’t apply as much to the bigger things as they’re more obvious (sofas, beds etc). You’ll likely already know whether you’re selling or keeping those.

Its the medium and small sized things that are the problem. Things like bedside drawers, gardening equipment, kids toys, boxes with random stuff in them and the dreaded ‘man drawer‘. The man drawer is a challenge, with contents ranging from batteries and gas meter keys to hair bands and 20 year old bottles of tipex…

The stuff in the ‘definitely taking with us’ pile should either be something that has a ‘new home use‘ assigned to it (you know exactly what you’ll be using it for) or it has significant value (sentimental or monetary) so it can’t be left somewhere, such as storage.

Good examples in both areas could be:

  • We’ll take the garden strimmer as there’s a garden.
  • We’ll take the ornament our parents gave us for our wedding as it means a lot to us.

Bad examples in both areas could be:

  • We don’t have a garden but let’s take the garden strimmer just in case we get a garden in the future.
  • This ornament has been in a box for four years but let’s take it so we don’t offend anyone and because we think we should.

This step is about the rational stuff so make sure anything in it has a purpose or a value. Don’t take the garden strimmer if you don’t have a garden. Other countries have garden shops too.

Step 3 – Sort everything in the middle

Boxes for moving abroadThis should be your ‘unsure’ pile. Things you can’t quite place at your new home or things you could easily buy when you get there at little expense.

This is where you need to get ruthless with yourself (and each other if there’s two of you). If you’ve got things that you haven’t used for four years then don’t take them to another country to not be used for another four years. Now is your chance to de-clutter your life and start fresh.

You’ve got to either have a benefit or a value for something. Generally, if you can’t pin a benefit or a value to it (sentimentally or monetary) then it’s likely not going to get used and will end up gathering dust once again. If you really don’t want to chuck an item then ask family/friends if they have somewhere you can put it, perhaps a garage or loft. We had a whole corner of my in-laws loft.

Depending on your circumstances it might also be worth ditching some things and buying them when you move abroad. There are just a few things to consider as part of this though:

  • you need to find the shops where you can buy these things. Some will be easier than others.
  • don’t do it with too many things as small things build up and it could end up costing a small fortune.
  • you’ll have a stack of things to worry about/sort out when you move into your new place so don’t assign too much time to hunting down household essentials. You don’t really want to have to worry about buying cutlery on day one.

I know from experience that this is really difficult but it will make a difference to you if you can lose some excess clutter from your life.

Quick tip: If don’t have one already, get a Kindle from amazon that you can use for all your reading to cut down the need for physical books.

Step four – don’t lose too much stuff when it comes to children

This is particularly important when you move abroad with young children but still applies as they get older.

The reason I say this is that your children are going to go through a huge change and will need as much familiarity as possible in their new environment. This will help them cope a bit better with the transition from old to new.

As I mentioned in my post ‘Moving abroad with my children – where do I start?‘ we took almost all of our daughter’s stuff with us and didn’t really leave anything behind. I think the shipping guys thought they were moving toys r us to a new warehouse.

This meant that we could make her new room completely homely. As I was in the house before my wife and daughter and our shipping also arrived before them I was able to focus on my daughter’s bedroom first. When she arrived she had a perfectly set up room with all the same stuff she had in her old bedroom. She could play with her toys and sleep in the same bed. It made a huge difference to her as it was a small bit of continuity in a huge amount of change.

Whatever you can do to ease the pressure on children moving abroad is worth the effort.


Not many steps here I know but it’s really down to you to be ruthless with the stuff you won’t use/don’t need, sensible with the stuff you take and resourceful with where you can put the stuff in between. It’s about finding a balance between having the things that will make your new home abroad homely and at the same time not shifting all the clutter that drove you crazy in your previous home.

Drop me an email if you want any specific information or chuck a comment in below and I’ll respond publicly with as much details as I have.


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