A nerd’s guide to moving house

A slight departure from my usual library and education pondering as we’ve yet again moved country and therefor house. My teenage son asked me the other day how many times we’ve moved in our lives, and we tried to start counting and then were going off on tangents like, “just countries, or while in countries?” and “just since we left home or also while being a child?” (not that that was soooo much as both of us came from fairly non-moving families!) and “does in and out of temporary accommodation while waiting for a home / shipment count?”.

There is some freedom in reducing life to a few suitcases.

So here we go again, this time we’re now in Beijing, China and LOVING it. This was the move, that when we told people they’d say “really? why?” or just look at us as if we’d grown a unicorn horn. Or put on that sympathetic gaze. But ever since I started learning Chinese at HKU 9 years ago, I’ve wanted to live in China. And that even more so since in the 7 years of Singapore I managed to lose 99% of what I’d learnt and deeply regretted it. I joke that doing 2 back-to-back Masters in Education and Information studies pushed all the Chinese out of what was left of my brain. It’s not far from the truth. Changing one’s career radically  half way through your 40’s and then starting a new job in said-career doesn’t leave much room for practising a language that’s ironically not that widely used in a Chinese dominant country. It’s the environment. Both in HK and here, you saw Chinese everywhere – the characters that is. In Singapore, English has taken over.

Back to moving. As my husband and I strolled around the “hood” of our new environment last night, we remarked that actually this has been one of our easiest moves. Which may sound strange because it’s the first move we’re doing with me as the dominant career, and that being a teacher rather than a big-shot corporate banker with lots of settling in allowances and a huge administrative department etc. What has made the difference? The school has a designated person whose sole job is to take care of us newbies. Everything and anything we need and a need to know and need to have translated and need to find and need advice on. So after arrival he had our sim cards waiting for us. Anyone who has moved knows how huge this is an how difficult it can be (Singapore I’m looking at you where a “dependant” can’t enter a phone shop without his/her employment pass holder in tow). We went on trips to the bank and to see inside other people’s houses in the most popular living areas. Dinner every night with different people in different locations. Briefings by every department (finance, purchasing, human resources etc.) and so much more I can’t even remember it.


And now, 15 days after arriving, and only 5 days after my family arrived, we are in our home. We had secured it after a visit during the spring break, which meant the lease was signed and ready, so that made things a little swifter too.  And because of the onerous visa process, our shipment can’t leave Singapore until our final version has been finalised, we won’t have our “things” until somewhere in October.  So for now we’re camping in our house – which isn’t all that much different to camping in temporary accommodation, and it feels a lot better.

Oh I’m verbose – 566 words and now the point of this post – we have a lot of stuff. We did a huge sell and whittle down when we left Singapore and managed to fit everything into one container again. So the stuff this time is a lot less – particularly as I had to whittle our DVD and CD collection to nothing (they’re safely in our holiday home since I don’t do the cloud), and our book collection from about 2,500 books to the 200 we were allowed to bring with us to China (most were donated and given away, the more precious books were sent back to Europe – first editions, the children’s favourite childhood books, my Africana collection, our HK and China collection). So it’s mainly furniture we couldn’t sell, donate or give away because it was either – nearly brand new, or really old and sentimental as it had been passed down from deceased grandparents or bought sometime during our travels around the world.

So now we have that wonderful puzzle of working out how to fit everything that was in a fairly large apartment (over 300 m2) into a 4 storey townhouse with lower ceilings and smaller rooms of about 150 m2 which is more like 120 m2 when you take away the smelly basement that we’ll have to use to store the landlord’s fairly yucky but very welcome – while we’re in transition- furniture.  While I’m fairly good at judging space and configuration, one can be badly wrong if you make sure, and if there’s one rule when moving and dealing with strong muscly types that typically move stuff from containers into houses and up stairs it’s “DON’T PISS OFF THE MOVERS”. I can just imagine their tales of stupid rich (it’s a relative term in the countries we’ve lived in, so even on a teacher’s salary we’re rich in their eyes) people not knowing where to put their too much stuff.

And here’s the nerdy stuff. I have a spreadsheet, that I’ve had since we first moved from Brazil to the Netherlands of the dimensions of every piece of furniture we own, it’s cost price and the insurable value. And I keep it up to date as things get left behind or get added. This makes making those darn inventory lists so much easier. It also makes it easier to plan where everything goes in the new place / configuration, because then I either get a house architectural plan from the landlord / agent or I go in and measure up every room (much easier now you can point and shoot with your phone – but I usually still check with a measuring tape). I then enter it all into a floor planner (link to the one I use) and put the furniture into the plan. It’s 3 dimensional – so I can make sure of height as well.

An old planner from one of our favourite houses in Singapore

So today, while the painters come, and since it’s raining I’m going to be doing some measuring and reallocating furniture around.

And because this is a library blog – a few pictures of my new work environment:

2 thoughts on “A nerd’s guide to moving house

  1. Very interesting, informative and useful post, Nadine. So…how many times have you moved house since you left school? I would define a move to include the ones where you instructed movers (politely) to put your furniture.


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