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Minimalism and Mobility: How to Downsize and Purge Before Moving Abroad

This is my second blog about being a global citizen. When it's time for the great purge before the move, be kind and very patient with yourself and others as it can be a very mentally and emotionally draining experience. In this blog, I'm sharing how we downsized to be able to travel with two suitcases each from a three bedroom house plus items in storage units.

Ernest and I are very different. When it was time to move, our differences came up. Ernest had things in storage and he was emotionally attached to everything in there. My tendency in life was to purge things in my home every six months. It doesn't mean I am void of emotions. I just don't like baggage of any type. If you know me, I even do my best to clear my headspace and emotional life of baggage. I was, however, surprised at what made my heart wrench when I had to make a decision to move things on. e.g. I had a tiny piece of coral from Tobago which I didn't want to part with. Of all of the things that stumped me, it was this!

We eventually found coping mechanisms. If we could not make a decision on something, we'd leave it out on display where we could see and touch it. It gave us time to examine the item and ask, if this item was to disappear, how would we feel? Would it really matter? Would a photograph of it help to keep the memory alive? When was the last time we even saw it or dealt with it? After some days, we became clear on whether it should be kept or not. We were able to release most things this way. We also kept one box each of items that were non-negotiable and would not question each other about what was in the box. These became our memory boxes.

We hired help to scan and shred papers. I sought help to go through old photographs and minimize what I would keep. I did my best to keep pictures from each decade of my life, but only the best or meaningful ones. I also took pictures of things I knew I had to give up, yet I wanted the memory of it, like letters and cards. Large items were either gifted, sold or donated. We used Facebook Marketplace, contacted family and friends and donated to our church. We were also very happy to help a couple of new immigrants to Canada with some of our items to help them get established. Books went everywhere: to people, the church and the free libraries in our community. This opened up a new experience for me to learn to read and listen to books on the Kindle and Audible apps. As much as possible, I no longer keep paper books.

It is helpful to really think about where you are going. Pack for the climate you are moving to. Remember it's usually easier to find the odd thing that you might need while you're there. We got rid of most of our clothes in transit. Our Canadian winter clothing was far too warm, bulky and heavy for winter in Portugal which felt like a balmy fall day in Canada. We never felt bitterly cold. We never used a hat, warm scarf or gloves. There were somethings in Canada I really missed, like petite sized clothing and wished I had some petite clothing items with me as I could not find an equivalent elsewhere. I also love only Saucony running shoes. The pair I traveled with was stolen at an AirBnB I stayed at. Saucony was not available anywhere it seemed. I didn't want to compromise because of the way this brand of shoe fits me. One year later, we happened to be walking around a different area of a town we'd visited before and I saw a store which sold running shoes. There was only one pair of women's Saucony shoes in my size. I gleefully took it and took it with me and thanked God.

When considering electronics, think about the differences of plugs and voltage and whether a few adaptors or convertors might be needed as well as an extension cord or two to get you started. My handblender from Canada literally fried the first time I used it in Europe with an adaptor. I heard "pop", then it caught fire. If you have to take your favourite hand tools, you might need transformers. I'd recommend checking stores or even Amazon for the country you're immigrating to, to see what's available and the cost. I had to purchase a laptop in Portugal. The keyboard layout is not the same as an English keyboard. English keyboards were unavailable everywhere I checked. While I've learned how to use the keyboard, there are some keys I have not been able to figure out. Sometimes I have a little fight with the Portuguese keyboard to make the open and closed quotation marks as it does not appear easily. We've learned it's also best to use well known brands in electronics like Samsung and Apple, for example, because if you need something fixed, the chances that the brand is available in any country is higher than a brand that's not as well known internationally.

I've heard when shipping vehicles from North America to Europe, apart from the hefty import taxes, there may be other taxes. The car parts needed to fix a North American manufactured car might not be readily available. The European car parts could be different even if the brand is the same. It's just something to be aware of and investigate.

The differences in the food was the biggest challenge for me. I was used to getting almost any fruit, vegetable and spice I needed from the grocery stores in Canada at any time of the year. This may not be the case in other countries. Some of the places we've traveled, seasonal eating is prevalent and the use of spices can be very limited. For two years I traveled with black pepper and hot pepper sauce in my purse to add some flavour to the food. In many places in Portugal and Brasil, black pepper was not used nor placed next to the salt shaker. I eventually ended up traveling with a bag of spices which I'd accumulate along the way because the spices I'd been used to were difficult to find. This is one thing I'd highly recommend. Take your favourite staples and spices and don't skimp out.

At one point when we were living in hotels for two years, we downsized from two large suitcases and a carry on each, to one medium sized suitcase, a carry on and a knapsack each. We found the rule of "threes" worked. Three shirts, three sets of long pants, three sets of short pants, three dresses for me, three pairs of shoes etc. I followed some of the Instagram videos on how to fold things in a compact manner. They worked!

It is possible to run out of time in sorting through everything. We did. One of our kind family members offered to keep our remaining boxes of items we just didn't have the time to make decisions on. After being away for more than two years, we returned to what we left behind. What we felt was meaningful to keep ended up being questionable or meaningless. We also forgot about almost all of the contents during the time we were away. The beauty of purging and moving on is it gave us a chance to recreate a far more meaningful life and it gave us clarity on what we really needed and wanted when it was time to purchase items to live. We ended up with a different perspective on our lives and how we'd like to live it, after the big purge. We were both pleasantly surprised at how little we desired and how much of a smaller space we feel comfortable living in. It's liberating!

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