Container is coming: Any Tips?

We have been living with hardly anything for 10 weeks. We have just received a phone call: the container is coming on Thursday. Mixed feelings and a very quick turn around!

We received our container a little while back now but I was reflecting on the day the container turned up and felt that it was a particularly important landmark in the ‘moving abroad’ experience. At the time, I did not think about writing about this, perhaps a bit too busy, trying to manage the storm of the container.

The container topic is full of mixed feelings. We enjoyed living with ‘nothing’. We got settled into some routines with our limited furniture. It felt like a ‘proper’ adventure, borrowing, purchasing needed items. Children loved going shopping and getting a few bits.

All the personal effects and furniture that got packed now had a different purpose in a different country, some were needed and some others not. We were very conscious that the house we are renting was much smaller than our previous house. We had sold, given away a huge amount in the UK, but we were aware that we may need to do the same after the arrival of the container.

We were looking forward to live more comfortably, feeling like at home again. The container coming felt like a landmark as it made the move permanent. It really hammered  down roots…the container is no longer in a different country or at sea…it is here waiting to be dispatched…it makes the experience of moving abroad ‘real’ as the camping and somehow the adventure of arriving in a country with nothing is over.

As well as dealing with all these emotions and mixed feelings, there is a lot to do and sort out…a bit overwhelming…

Thinking back about that day and the weeks that followed. I write here some top tips, giving a taster of what it feels like to receive a container and some ideas I found useful.

  1. What to bear in mind

The movers will be different people to those who packed the container. They will move boxes and put them in the house where they see fit with the help of the labelling on the boxes. This is where it is important that boxes have been well labelled in the previous country, indicating the rooms where they came from. An international move is slightly different to ‘a within country’ move, all boxes need to be numbered and labelled as well as given a brief description on a checklist for custom clearance purposes. That list can then give a sense of what is the boxes and help the movers (and you) in thinking about where these boxes should go. However, movers want to get the job done quickly so they may be particularly attentive to all these descriptions. They are attentive to what is broken though as this may have repercussions on the company for insurance claims, etc.

Initially, the day appeared to go slowly and the movers had asked me to cross reference numbers of all the boxes coming in the house. As time went on, it became clear that I could not do that all day. I was needed in other places. I had my youngest with me as well so he needed my attention too. My husband had gone to work for the morning. I was on my own sorting everything out. As the morning unfolded, I became a little overwhelmed, movers started to work much quickly and the boxes started to pile up everywhere.

As we only knew work colleagues and the container came on a Thursday, we did not feel we could ask for help. We had to be self-reliant. That’s the nature of moving abroad, you may not have family members and friends nearby to help you on such a big day. My husband took a couple of days off and it was a bank holiday weekend so we ha 5 days overall to put the house in a better state.

2. Guided tour of the house and labelling rooms

Remember that all boxes were labelled in the previous house with either names of rooms, names of children, and/or a brief description. I think that is an important feature of moving as when you arrive in the new house, boxes may not go in the same place. You may have made changes to what you want in each room, etc. For the movers picking up briefly labelled boxes this can be confusing so they need a little bit of help.

I gave a guided tour of the house. I described what type of house we had before so they knew what to expect on the labelling. Features of previous house were not existing in our rented house so I had to provide some explanations. For example, I explained that boxes from the basement were going in the garage.

I had labelled all the rooms so that they knew where to put boxes, trying to match it closely to our house in the UK. It got a bit confusing because our old dining room contained a playroom and there was not any room for a playroom in our new house. I suppose it is important that boxes are labelled properly right from the start. I should have checked what movers in the UK labelled the playroom as ‘playroom’ and not ‘dining room’. At the end of the day, it is not hugely crucial, but boxes ended up not being in the right place and a huge amount of boxes had to be shifted after the movers had gone…some work that could have been avoided.

3. Post-it on walls to indicate where furniture is going

Container is coming…’what should I do?’ This was my first reaction. I was not sure what to do. I started thinking about what was coming on the container trying to anticipate the day. It helped to put post-it on walls to indicate where furniture was going to go. It helped me think about how to set the house up and also the movers in being more independent in placing furniture in the right place. The children also helped in thinking where furniture would go and asked for different pieces of furniture in their bedrooms, items they did not have in their rooms before. It helped shape our thinking about setting up our new house.

4. Clear all current furniture and unpack the kitchen first

We had purchased a master bed and borrowed single beds. We needed these to sleep in the night before. Movers arrived at 8am, wanting to start moving things in. We were trying our best to dismantle the beds to give them room. It is difficult to know what movers will unpack first as the container is loaded in a such a way. For example, it has different doors and boxes are put in wooden crates. For us, what was packed last, came in first. Customs will also look at boxes they want to look at. We had a different car coming with the boxes cleared by customs because they could not fit all the boxes back in the container. These boxes got unpacked in a very random way so we did not have any control about what was coming first. We also had asked for a partly unpack service so movers helped building wardrobes back up, build beds, etc. and removing packaging from furniture. I suppose clearing all current furniture and making sure movers have the space to work is important as the day evolves boxes get piled everywhere and space can become a bit of a problem.

Throughout the day, the kitchen remained a hub for drinks, food, etc. for the movers as well as for us. Children came back home from school and wanted to have snacks. I suppose as long as there is food and drinks, people feel their needs are met. It is a long day and when the movers have gone, you want to be able to make sure you can dinner and feed the children. Unpacking the kitchen first and making sure there is a place to have dinner in the house is definitely a must!

5. Keep calm and watch the weather forecast: You cannot unpack everything in one day

As the day evolved, I became a little overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. There is no way that you can unpack at the pace of the movers. I saw my role more about ensuring they had the space to work, unpacking boxes to give them space, managing direction of boxes and making sure people were fed. We unpacked most of the kitchen on the first day, but we intensely unpacked for a few weeks after that.

It takes time to unpack all boxes, in fact, we still have a number of boxes in the garage. The weather has turned colder and it is not as tempting to unpack boxes outside. We also wanted to do a garage sale but we did not have the time to fully organise that before the Winter. In fact, that is an incredibly important point to bear in mind. When moving abroad, get information about the weather and season patterns, you definitely don’t want to be moving at -30 to Canada in the Winter!

I suppose it is important to remember that moving abroad is a process, not everything can be perfect in one day. Being calm and positive will help accepting this process and deal with the different hurdles to jump.


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