Meditations on Moving House and Reaching Your Destination

Our new back yard; the furniture we brought from the US to Israel (the cat came separately).

We have arrived at our destination. Just short of three years after we left Washington DC, we completed purchase of our permanent ‘second-hand’ home here in Zichron Yaakov.

Fun fact: while in the US it is common to buy an existing home in a desirable location, here in Israel many people buy real estate ‘on paper’ – that is to say, they work with a builder during the construction process and are actively involved in decisions about the design of the new house, with the idea of building your dream home.

Needless to say there are plusses and minuses to this approach, including frequent delays, cost escalations and other problems associated with new house construction. One friend of ours said that with any new house, you should wait to take occupancy until after the first rainy season!

It is also much more challenging for newcomers to Israel to navigate the process of new home construction, on top of everything else we had to learn about buying a house outside the US. In this case this led us to where we are now as the happy owners of a 12 year old house, built by the family that sold it to us.

While we have a lot of work ahead to make this house our home, we have by now unpacked (most of) the boxes and are enjoying both the house and the knowledge that we are not looking forward to another move anytime soon – as far as we are aware.

Given our cumulative moving experience – 6 moves in the last 3+ years, probably a few dozen more both within the US and overseas including back and forth from London, Tel Aviv, Manila, and Kabul (this last just my husband – he left the family at home for his tour of duty in Afghanistan), I am sharing a few key points about what had made the experience of moving more or less successful:

1. Focus on the Kitchen:

The kitchen is always my top priority when packing/unpacking – in my family it is the room that is the most important to get up and running as soon as possible.  

Setting up the new kitchen is always my highest priority.

I like to try to pack the kitchen ahead of time to the greatest extent possible. If you can start moving the kitchen – apart from big items – the night before, that will give you a head start on the day.

2. Empower your fellow travelers:

Each member of your household should be deputized to pack their own bag/trunk with whatever they will need for the first 1 – 2 days.  That way you won’t have to search for things that people need right away and each person can take responsibility for packing an overnight bag, toiletries, bedding, hand towel and bath towel, etc.  

Even when we had two children under four we generally had them carry their own small backpacks on international flights to give them the experience of having their own bag with their stuffed animals and a small book, etc. (You have not lived until you have traveled solo with two small people 24 hours in transit between Manila to Detroit, giving thanks for the Mary Poppins room at the Tokyo airport.)

3. Plan ahead to make beds:

My strategy is to pack a separate labeled trunk or duffel bag with bedding and towels. Of course there are other approaches; the point is to organize it ahead of time so that people can make their beds on arrival at your new home without the hassle of rifling through bags or boxes.

4. Try not to be outnumbered:

If possible, the number of movers should be the same or less than the number of people available to help support you on moving day, i.e., man-to-man vs. zone defense. This is important because it is impossible to overestimate the capacity of movers to scramble the contents of your home.

The exception that makes the rule is if you are being moved by careful, caring people. We were extremely fortunate to have wonderful movers here in Israel. As the saying goes, hope for the best and plan for the worst.

4.  Pack plants last:

Generally speaking, I like to go back a the end to move plants. If you can wait to do this overnight, that is the best thing so that you can go back the next day when you are less tired and can give the potted plants the attention they need to not get hurt on the way. This goes double for anything you may be pulling out of the ground to replant. Just make sure you water everything the day of the move.

For our move, we had the ‘benefit’ of it being the start of a non-planting year, known as the Shmita year here in Israel. (This is a complicated issue and I am not going to try to explain it here.) Still we had potted plants to bring along that we are now enjoying at our new home.

5. Think about dinner:

One other thing which I also try to do, is to order delivery of food to the new address for the day of the move – I try to draw down our food reserves in the old apartment/house also of course – and then if we have food coming to the new place I know that there will be fresh fruit/vegetables/prepared food for an immediate meal, etc., arriving on the day of the move.   

Those are the highest priority points. 

If you have the time / resources, its great if you can complete your own inventory, room by room, taking pictures with your phone and noting both where the items are in your old house and where you want them in the new house.

Movers are supposed to provide a written inventory, but that has not always been our experience, to say the least. On the international leg of our move from DC to Jerusalem we had an inventory from the US company that was derided – literally laugh-out-loud bad – by our Israeli movers. (I am shaking my head as I write these words because I never thought the day would come when we would find Israeli movers kinder and gentler than movers in the US.) So it is really best if you can make your own inventory, to the extent possible.

Moving day is inevitable at some point. If you are lucky, you won’t have to repeat the process as often as we have in recent years! At least we ended up spying a beautiful double rainbow from our back balcony.

We found that our back balcony is the perfect place to spot a double rainbow above the Mediterranean Sea.

If you have an upcoming move I hope that the foregoing may be helpful. And if you have recently survived a big move you have my sympathy.

Let me know in the comments what you found most helpful!

Another photo of our amazing yard-cat – aka the Warrior Princess.

Published by skfinston

Born February 21, 1961 in Detroit, Michigan; enjoying 2nd Middle Age in Zichron Yaakov, Israel. After a misspent youth in the US Foreign Service (postings in London, Tel Aviv and Manila), I moved to the Semi-private Sector, working for a leading trade association in Washington DC before launching my own company Finston Consulting in 2005. Over the last 15+ years I have worked with innovative companies ranging from Fortune-100 to start up, as well as NGOs, and governments, including service as a cleared advisor (Secret level) to the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative (IPR, Tariff/Trade Facilitation). As a graduate of the University of Michigan, my degrees include a Bachelors of Science (Philosophy, High Honors), Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Policy. After law school I clerked at the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit before joining the U.S. Foreign Service (TSI-CodeWord Clearance). I am a member of the Illinois and US Supreme Court Bar.

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