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downsizing before you move to france

How We Downsized, Sold And Got Rid Of Our Stuff Before We Moved To France For A Year

How to downsize your stuff before you move to france for a year

Unless you have no belongings whatsoever, you’re going to have to decide what to do with all your stuff. Do you sell it all and give the rest away? Do you get rid of  some stuff and keep the rest in storage? Do you keep it all and rent your home fully furnished?  Whatever you decide, you’re in for a painful experience because there is no “one size fits all” answer. You will have to decide based on your circumstances and situation. Sometimes it helps to know what someone else went through and learn from their successes and failures. Here is an inside look at how we downsized our belongings and life. I hope it helps and gives you a little perspective.

You have more stuff than you think

We were your typical silicon valley family of five living in a house with a lifetime worth of possessions that we had accumulated. Every inch of our 1,800 sq ft home AND our two car garage was filled with our things.

A funny thing happens when you move. Things that seemed necessary before now seem silly or unnecessary like those knick-knacks sitting on your bookshelf. That dress you never wore. Those toys you bought for your kids but they never played with.

You will ultimately come to the realization that you have a lot more things than you ever really needed.

Give yourself enough time

QUICK! You have 5 days left to pack when you realize the truck you rented won’t fit all your belongings. What do you do?

Packing started a month before our move date. When our things were spread out throughout the house it didn’t look like much.  Even boxed up it didn’t look like that much. Oh how wrong we were. We quickly began to panic because it became clear that we grossly underestimated how much we had.

  • we did not give ourselves enough time to pack.
  • We didn’t realize until the very end that the truck we rented was too small even though it was the largest one we could legally rent.

After 5 trips to the dump and several trips to Goodwill to get rid of broken bikes, a small dining room table, an old safe, bike racks, tons of toys, books, clothes and more.  Things we had in our house for years but never bothered to get rid of were now just weighing us down. Even after all that, we still had to rent a second 16 footer to put in the last minute stuff.

Let me tell you something: you have more stuff than you think and you don’t need it all.

Really! Do you need that dress that’s been hanging in your closet for 3 years untouched? Do you need those books you read 10 years ago and haven’t touched in years?  What about all those kitchen gadgets that you use once a year or the shoes you never wear anymore?  These things, although very important at one time, seem less important when you are trying to pack them into boxes on a truck and have 5 days left to do it.

The 3,000 mile drive to our storage unit

After we filled up our two trucks, my husband Blake drove one truck and his brother Keith, who thankfully flew down 3 days earlier to help with the packing, drove the other truck. Our eldest son Kieran went along for the ride. They drove 8 to 10 hours a day for five days only stopping to eat, sleep and use the restroom.  They arrived at the storage unit just outside of Boston and discovered the storage unit we had reserved was too small so we had to rent a second one.

UGH…  How did this happen? 

We greatly underestimated the quantity of things we owned and now we were paying with time and the cost of an extra storage unit and extra truck.

We swallowed our pride, and convinced ourselves that it was temporary. We needed all that stuff for our next house, wherever and whenever that would be.

At the time we did not know we were going to live in France for a couple of years. We planned on hanging out in Montreal with my family while we waited for Blake to find a job then rent a house near his work. Well the job never came.

We survived 11 months in Montreal at my aunts house with only our clothes and a few essentials. I was surprised that I did not miss our stuff. How could this be?

what do you get rid of when you downsize? tiara we bought in Scotland. do we keep it or get rid of it?

Some things are harder to let go of than other things

Rethinking what is essential and normal

When you are away from your possessions for any amount of time, they tend to become less and less important.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a minimalist in any way, but I really took a hard look at my life.  Blake and I re-examined our goals and we started coming up with alternative ideas to the 9 to 5 rat race we were once a part of.  We couldn’t live at my aunts house forever.  Our choices were to move somewhere and hope we get a job there?  Or stick it out by living with family until something happens.

That’s when we thought about taking a sabbatical for a few months, maybe even a year in France.  We were already living pretty lean, why not do it someplace that we want to be and enjoy ourselves instead of stressing out over not having full time jobs. It meant giving up some things and putting off our job search.  It meant thinking more mobile, cutting costs, and only keeping the essentials.   The choice was easy.  We decided to go for it.

Round 2 of Downsizing for France.

If we were going to live in France for a year we had to pare down our belongings even more and fit everything into one storage unit.

We drove about 5 hours  (from Montreal to Boston)  to our storage unit and stayed at a comfort in for 2 days. Re-packed some boxes that were inefficiently packed, took all our clothes out of storage and got rid of at least 200 hundred pounds of books.  We were left with  2 dressers and 3 beds. Some Persian rugs, kitchen stuff like dishes, pots and pans, and some coffee tables and furniture from Blake’s Mom that we kept for sentimental reasons.  We sold our couch, one of my industrial sewing machines and went through our shoes and clothes to get rid of anything we wouldn’t wear anymore.

We did it. We fit everything into one storage unit saving a couple hundred dollars per month.

The whole family got involved with the move

The whole family got involved with the move

Fear is in your head

I am not going to lie. I was scared at the thought of downsizing and yes it was very painful but the pain stops once you’re done.It’s actually been really nice to have the freedom to come and go as we please.

Once your downsized, you can move on to the fun stuff like planning your long trip to France or wherever it is you want to go.  Your belongings are no longer anchoring you down anymore.

we wore mittens too and sang the blues

we wore mittens and sang the blues

Catherine was excited

Catherine was excited

Update: 2014

I wrote this article 1 year after our move. Now after almost four years without our belongings I can still look back and honestly say I don’t miss MOST of our stuff but.

Yes there is a but there. One year without your belongings is not the same thing as four years without your belongings.

I am now starting to miss certain creature comforts. Silly things like my dishware and my teak furniture. We could buy those things while we are here in France but we don’t because we want to avoid that whole downsizing process when we return to North America. Instead we rent fully furnished homes which has worked out pretty well so far except like I said, I am starting to miss certain things.

I’ll get over it. Life isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn good!

We ate and drank while we filled our storage unit

We ate and drank while we filled our storage unit

one of two penske trucks we used to move to the east coast

Adventures In Moving: How To Decide Where To Relocate Your Family

Before we decided to take a family sabbatical to live in France, we thought we would settle somewhere on the east coast. We went through the whole moving process from start to finish from west coast to east coast. This is a very high level look of how to decide Where To Relocate Your Family. Things you should consider whether  you are relocating your family across the country or to the other side of the world.

First some background:

We rented 2 huge Penske trucks, left our home in the the San Francisco Bay area and planned on settling clear across the U.S. in the Boston area.

We never ended up settling in Boston. Instead, we left our stuff in storage, and lived semi- nomadically with friends and family up and down the east coast while we home-schooled the kids and waited for the French Embassy to approve our visas.

It worked out great because when the embassy finally approved our visas in September of 2011, we packed what few clothes we had and left in less than 2 weeks.

Want to move some place different? It’s easy! Just do this…..

  1. Figure out where you want to move to
  2. Pack up all your stuff
  3. Transport all your stuff
  4. Unpack all your stuff

Easy, yes? No, not at all. Annie already covered some related move topic in her recent post about downsizing your book collection, but I’ll be coming at it from a slightly different point of view. In this post I will address how we decided to move to the Boston area.

Where To Relocate Your FamilyDeciding where to live

Ask twenty people the best place to live and you’ll get forty different answers. There are any number of factors that go in to deciding where your next home could be.

Do you want to be near family? Are there jobs that align with your current or future career? What is the cost of living? Are you looking for something urban, suburban, or rural?

Coastal or inland (sometimes described as saltwater or freshwater)? Love the cold? Hate humidity? If you have kids and aren’t rich, how are the public schools? What about the junior colleges and state universities? Our research, thinking, analysis, and tea leaf reading lead us to the Boston area.


Annie has close relatives in Montreal, western Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick. I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and went to the University of Vermont.

My siblings live with their families in Maryland and Virginia, and I have good friends up and down the East coast. Boston was not super close to any one of these, but it was a lot easier getting to see everyone. And at least we’d all been in the same time zone (except for those outliers in New Brunswick!).


Jobs are another big factor in determining where to relocate your family.

Although Annie and I wanted to strike out on our own, we thought it prudent to be near a source of jobs in case things didn’t work out. We both worked in high tech. Outside Silicon Valley the main tech hubs in the United States are Seattle, Austin, North Carolina, and Boston.

These are all fine places to live, but after you’ve lived in the Bay Area for a while, you might be more inclined to Seattle or Boston rather than Austin or North Carolina. Boston was the home of early microcomputer software hits such as VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3, and although not the powerhouse that Silicon Valley had become, clearly still had much to offer.

Cost of living, housing, and schools

A key metric on how to decide where to relocate y our family is figuring out the cost of living.

There are several cost of living calculators and comparison tools out there. We used this cost one at Sperling’s web site, and found it generally useful.

An important cost difference between San Francisco and Boston was the cost of home ownership. As a percentage of one’s salary, home ownership was significantly less in Boston (significant means 30-50% less). Of course, you must also figure in what your new salary might be (about 15% less in Boston over San Francisco for my field), and what additional expenses your new home might require (Sorel snow boots, snow blower, snow tires, snow shovels, a lot of Advil, followed by contracting with a snow removal service). Depending on the city you decide to live in you may be prone to more home improvements from Summit Point Roofing and that is something to take into consideration as well.

While the advent of the internet has not yet meant the complete demise of real estate agents, there are some great sites you can you use to help better understand homes costs. Trulia, Zillow, Movoto, and Redfin are all useful real estate web site; you can spend hours surfing the web for homes to buy.

The rental market was a little harder to get a feel for (at least remotely), but you can start with everybody’s favorite, Craigslist. For schooling, most states would be an improvement over California. If you want to start with the big kahuna of school testing score, start with the NAEP . Since we already knew we were interested in Boston, I used a few commercial sources to help narrow down the neighborhoods.

In our case I started with an article from Boston magazine which no longer exists but it listed out schools by best and worst, then used Great Schools to winnow out more information. Most big cities have some sort of lifestyle magazine, and these will have annual school rankings, which can help you with your search.

Sports, public transportation, city life, etc.

Family, jobs, and cost of living were the main drivers in making Boston our choice, but there were a number of secondary criteria that were also important.

  • Our oldest son Kieran is an accomplished dinghy sailor (Optis, moving up to FJs and 420s), and we wanted to be in an area that fostered sailing. It would be hard to do much better than the Boston area. More broadly, we enjoy water sports and being near the ocean, so again, the Boston area was a logical choice. Skiing, although not as good as Lake Tahoe, was a few hours away.
  • Between the commuter rail and the T, Boston’s public transportation is excellent compared to that of San Francisco. No, it’s not perfect, but coming from the Bay Area it feel like we’re in a European city.
  • Museums, restaurants, bars, all that history, the French Cultural Center, were other draws. We like to enjoy ourselves and try new things, and Boston offered no shortage of these.

How To Decide Where To Relocate Your Family

Yes you can

Moving is hard, just ask any survivor.

I grew up in an Army family, and we moved a lot. It was worse for my older sister, who tells about moving fourteen times in her first fourteen years.

Fortunately, our father’s moved frequency dropped as his career advanced, and all of us kids were able to attend the same high school.

But the point here is you must also weigh the disruption to your children against the future benefit of your new home.

I have no calculator to offer you for that one, but if you find one, let me know and I will post it here. Still, under the right circumstances a move can be a great thing. Good luck! I hope you enjoyed this article.

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