Chapter 4: Getting Out is Never Easy – Except This Time.

Along with the 12 Month Obstacle and the hairy monsters called visa, tickets, travel insurance and international driving licences, you’d reckon moving out of our house would be a huge headache – but it just wasn’t.

We learned on the Camino in 2017 that it was possible to live with very few possessions, when you are carrying them for 800 kilometres through two heat waves and over four mountain ranges.  While not exactly planning to live in France in two merino tops, two sets of underwear and a jacket apiece for 12 months, we knew we had to pack more, for all seasons.  Summer clothes and myriad “useful” object were packed in two sturdy shipping cartons while we researched a way to send them overseas.

Sea freight seemed the obvious choice as it is much cheaper and would arrive in six weeks, long before we needed all those bathers and flip flops.  However, a shipping company requires you to conduct your own port clearance at the other end, AND is reluctant to send less than a pallet.  With some trepidation we researched air freight and it was simples.  There’s that word again.  Uggh.

We found a local company who would air freight it for us, for not much more than sea freight, and deliver it to our door in Dordogne.  Now here’s the rub.  They have to itemise the inventory and must pack every item with their own grubby hands.  There was no way I was allowing some stranger to pore through my summer flimsies, and I knew that I and only I, the Packing Queen who allows no air to exist in boxes, could fit our selected quantities back into those boxes.

No problem!  They had a three metre by three metre packing table onto which each item was obsessively lined up by Keith and me, itemised by them, then carefully squeezed into our airless cartons.  We even found an extra three centimetres of space in the top of each carton after the re-pack.  Boxes sealed, shipping documents done, delivery date planned, we had gotten rid of 55 kilos of clothes and stuff already!  Of course, that was in January when a heat wave descended upon Melbourne and we were left with only our Winter clothes.  Luckily we planned to live Camino-style, in just two old outfits for those final few days, said cottons then being dumped into the bin as we departed wearing winter black thermals, carrying parkas and scarves.

Months earlier, the Big Pack, of course, was always the house.  Having accumulated stuff for 20 years together, it was time to divest, downsize and dispose of it, to empty the house for our yet-to-be-identified wannabe tenants.  Our Agent advised us to rent it unfurnished as executives would want to bring their own furniture.  Well, they haven’t yet.  We are still waiting for those Swedes.

Object by object, every single vase, candle holder, teacup, miniature rose oil burner, toilet brush, souvenir of Phillip Island from 1972, suspender belt (remember those?), empty picture frame that someone once gifted us that thoughtlessly didn’t match our décor, makeup pouch purloined from countless airlines, body lotion purloined from countless hotels in tiny plastic bottles that for us filled three drawers as Keith always purloined the shampoos and conditioners too, four hair driers, 19 suitcases and bags, best china, good china, medium china, poor china, disgraceful china, totally embarrassing china, four cutlery canteens, Keith’s collections of stubbie holders, match boxes and sea shells, ski poles, tents, drills and drill bits, was handled, decided upon and went these ways:

  1. Send/take to France
  2. Keep/pack for our return
  3. Give to the family
  4. Item of value to be sold
  5. Item of non-saleable value to be given to the Op Shop
  6. Item of no value whatsoever to be given to the tip.

The family was consulted and no one wanted very much, so that avenue became closed after disposing of some bookcases, the clothes drier and outdoor furniture.

We held a Garage Sale in November.  With organising, advertising and merchandising, we sold over 100 items.  These were typically small and useless.  One wonders why we ever valued them.  One wonders even more why other people bought them.

Next came e-Bay.  Here we got rid of antique telephones, audio equipment, hobby cars, the spare bed and mid-sized useless items.  It’s amazing what people will buy from other people and at what prices.  E-Bay is highly recommended, but one has to be relentless and dedicated in managing those auctions, negotiating prices and organising deliveries.

The genuine antique furniture we owned was purviewed by an antiques dealer.  The bad news was that the bottom has dropped out of the market in genuine Victorian mahogany furniture, lovingly crafted and beautifully carved over 200 years ago and designed to last into perpetuity.  People seem to want the flat-packed stuff these days, or Insta-Indonesian junk.  There was no way I was giving away our beautiful items so we resolved to keep and store those.

However, our expert also referred us to a furniture auction house for the Insta-Indonesian furniture we also happened to own.  A truck pulled up on 6 December, and emptied our home of everything except the bed we slept in and the fridge.  From this point on, we sat on our outdoor suite, now doubling as indoor furniture until my sister removed it in January for her use, while using packed boxes as coffee tables, foot rests and ottomans.  Everything else was distributed in a deliberately egalitarian way between Vinnies, the Salvos and the Brotherhood, to prevent their bins from overflowing.

Inside the garage door, a huge box collected old paint cans, redundant electrical items, dead batteries, and more embarrassing phones, to take to the Tip.  That part was really fun.  I felt much lighter when all the poisonous items were dumped.

And now, those boxes that had to be packed for storage came to haunt my nightmares!

We are blessed to know Andrew and Maria Sorrell through the Jag Car Club, and acknowledge them as dear and beloved friends.  Andrew owns OSS, one of the biggest relocation companies in the Southern Hemisphere.  As our Consultant-par-Excellence, he offered his company’s professional services for our move, and his and Maria’s sound advice and support through every stage of this monumental upheaval.

One of his Customers Consultants did our Inventory and assessed the quantity of boxes and items we would need packed and stored, and a moving date was chosen.  I, being me, immediately set out to beat their Inventory, knowing I would pack tighter (and dispose of stuff if I couldn’t) than the pros.  I have moved 17 times in my life, and reckon I know a bit about packing.  From October onwards, when the first 20 book and standard cartons arrived via Andrew, I was onto it.  Room by room I packed.  Item by item, everything we owned was handled just once, decision made, and if it were a Number 2 on the list above, I packed it.  I wrapped it, taped it, labelled it and packed it.  Or I just packed it. 

China – best china – got two sheets of wrapping paper, medium china got only one, disgraceful china went to the Op Shops or the bin.  Ditto best glasses, also contained inside another vessel after bound in two sheets of wrapping paper; boxes were marked “fragile”.  I designed and made non-standard boxes using box cutters and tape, for non-standard items.  OSS delivered me flat-packs, tall boys and picture cartons.  Art was wrapped with non-acidic paper, then international wrap and marked “glass”.  Boxes were stacked, marked top and sides, and taped.  To strip a room down to empty became my passion and my obsession.

Pictures were taken down, holes filled, walls painted by Keith.  I just packed.  A single-minded, obsessive, gritty joy and sadness overcame me as I worked.  This was cleansing of a monumental kind.  I came to love the throwing away as much as I enjoyed the careful placement inside a box of a precious item.  Nothing is really precious after all.  They were only things.  Having said that, some “things” I threw away broke my heart.  It is unnecessary to pack, and potentially store for a long time, for example, a trophy earned from swimming when I was 14.  In passing, it’s interesting to note that in those days they were “made in Japan” not China, but they were still plastic and tin and gilt junk.  So I threw away this junk but broke my heart, because I was throwing away memories and throwing away my youth and throwing away my past after all.

As the house downsized into room after room of packed boxes, I guess I became a bit depressed too.  The beautiful thing that was our home would never be this way again.  Sure we will re-furnish it, and maybe will live here again one day, and it can all be restored and replaced, but it will never look like THIS again, so I sorrowed for the good times we have had there, and the memories, and mainly for the destruction of that beautiful ambience.

Oddly, I also carolled with joy at the pleasure we had getting rid of stuff, being tidy, removing junk, making a good sale, and felt lighter and more satisfied than I have in years with all the great packing we were achieving.

In the end, the tally was 145 boxes and over 100 other items placed into storage.  I beat the OSS Inventory by 25 boxes, but that’s because we disposed of so much volume too.  On the Big Day, 10 January, the removalists were totally impressed by the packing AND the system I devised of marking all boxes with green or red tape.  Red means we don’t need this item or box if we live in a smaller place when we come back.  Red can go to the front of our container (the back when you pack from the rear – for the uninitiated).  If we come back and find the fabulous beachside location has been taken for two years by a Swedish tenant, red will remain in storage.  Sadly, most of our paintings are marked red. 

Green tape means we need this box to conduct life as we know it.  Green-taped boxes were packed in last, before our container was driven away.  We only just overflowed one container.  That was a triumph to win such a small footprint.   OSS was magnificent.  We even got an SMS reminder before the day and a follow up call from Customer Relations during the process. A huge shout out is deserved.  Their packing materials are superior, boxes sturdier, paper better quality, tape endless and box cutters sharper.  And their people are just great.

Triple green, just five of those, are what we lived out of for the final week, and will need again for the first week we return.  Andrew will stow those for us in our overflow unit. Triple green includes some clothes, the kettle, our bedding, two disgraceful china mugs, house keys, one set of sheets and towels, a few undies, two plates and unmatched bowls, some Bandaids, a saucepan or two, some cutlery, a dog bowl, the electric beaters, a mixing bowl, a large knife, loo paper rolls, tissues, books, wine, Jiff, some photo frames with family faces inside, scissors, a sewing kit and a duster. 

When it comes down to it, we needed very few items at the end.  Only those necessities listed above made it into five triple green-taped boxes.  If this was a lesson about how little we actually need to live, then the 55 kilos of airfreight, the 72 kilos of clothes and shoes in toted suitcases, and the 245 stored items at OSS are just nice-to-haves.  But, by heck, they’ve been well-packed.

Our families, these necessities and the great friends who offered us their home when ours was stripped bare, who consoled my breaking heart, and who took us to the airport, are the essentials of a happy life. 

Chapter 5:  Languishing in Lille …


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