Tip 1 – Start really, really early
Ideally, you’ll want to start the whole moving process months before you plan to actually leave. It’s not that you’ll have months worth of things to do because you won’t be working that entire time. In fact, be prepared to work a handful of days, and only in 10-minute increments. Here’s how it will probably go: You’ll open a closet and start taking things out and realize you finally found the box of photobooks from your own childhood, and so you’ll sit down and leaf through to compare yourself to your four-year-old, and then to your baby. You’ll do this for about three minutes and then tell yourself to get back on track, so you continue to unload. By this time, the hallway is completely blocked off with dusty boxes and Halloween costumes, and that’s when the baby will decide he is no longer content with sucking on a wooden spoon. He’ll go from being a little cranky to breaking down into the most exhausted baby in the world. You’ll have to acknowledge the breakdown, wash your hands, cuddle the baby, maybe nurse him a bit, because even if he’s too old to be coddled and nursed to sleep, he’s your second so the rules no longer apply. He’ll fall asleep, because he’s that tired, and you’ll put him down for a nap in his room, which is right off the cluttered hallway. You close the door gently and sit back among the dusty boxes. You’ve got your keep, donate, throw away piles and you’re making good time, when your big four-year-old runs down the hallway and trips over the Halloween decorations, and “Wow! Cat ears,” he shouts, next to the sleeping baby’s room. You shush your big boy, who has muddled all your piles because of his endless curiosity for junk, and you decide this isn’t worth waking a baby over, so you push all of your hard work back into the boxes and shove it all back into the closet, except for the cat ears. You’ll do this around thirteen more times, and in between, there’ll be naps and really hungry kids that need a third snack even though they weren’t hungry for lunch, and more missing things that reappear in the darndest places, before this one closet will be emptied. This tip one is the most important really. For your sanity’s sake, give yourself ample time.
Tip 2 – A keep box, a giveaway box, a trash box and a fake keep box
This is almost as important as starting early, because if you don’t do this, even if you start six months in advance, not having a fake keep box will derail even the most solid planner.
Let me break it down—a keep box will hold important documents, family heirlooms, treasured photos, love notes and newborn onesies worn twice and still intact. Those are the kinds of things you might want to keep.
A giveaway box might start off as a sell box but end up in the donation truck, and it will contain clothing the kids have outgrown, toys they haven’t played with in six months, sleds from the second time you drove up to the mountains and had to rebuy three sleds at the gas station for top dollar, because you forgot your sleds in the garage with the lunch you had woken up early to pack. That’s six brand-new sleds that have been under your bed for two years. Those are the types of items that go into the giveaway box.
A Trash box is, well, anything that you’d be embarrassed to give away to your friends. Clothes with holes and stains, notebooks with story ideas, dishes you’re planning on making, baby names you scribbled as you were dreaming of your future baby growing in your belly, and then their initials next to yours– your family’s names in every color, around bubbles and hearts and other things you doodle during long conference calls. In it, you can put the tennis shoes you had saved in the car for the earthquake that never came. They’re your favorite tie-dye Nikes and their color makes you happy when you run, but they’re worn and haven’t fit the same since your second pregnancy. Those are the types of things that go in the trash box.
And then there’s the fake keep box, which will contain a little of everything you can imagine – cat ears from Halloween, blow up beach balls and stickers. They’ll have socks turned puppets your big boy sings with, and silicone kitchen brushes with missing bristles. It will be filled with wonderful things you couldn’t possibly be giving away, like that yellow dinosaur that’s too scary to play with or that toilet paper roll, which, if taped together with another roll, could make really cool binoculars. This box will be for all those times your helpful big boy will be sorting with you and find something very cool. He’ll look at you with those beautiful eyes and say, “mommy, can we keep this?” and he’ll hold up an eraser he once used to paint, and in that moment when you don’t want to disappoint him again, you can say: “sure, put it in the special keep box,” and it will save you some time and some tears.
Tip 3 – Don’t sell with big kids around, they give stuff away and ruin your swag
This one goes hand in hand with the fake keep box. What tip 2 failed to explain is that you won’t aways have a fake keep box cop-out. A lot of time will be allotted to talking your kids through this whole purging process, especially if they’re really big boys who are super wise, as they usually are when they hit four. You’ll have sat them down and talked to them about the importance of not holding on to material possessions. About finding happiness from within and finding contentment in minimalism. You’ll tell them about that cool study that researched the effects of having lots of toys versus only having a few, and how kids with around four toys were, across the board, happier and more creative. And they’ll look at you with wide eyes and say, “wow, I think that’s really great mom. I can’t wait to find my four favorite toys. Small ones so they fit on the plane.” And you’ll have a proud mama moment. And moments like these will fuel your determination in turning this process into a learning experience, so when the yard sale comes around and your husband offers to take the kids, you assure him that it’s okay to have them there. You feel good about that. Then you see them eyeing the woman whose been bargaining with you over your favorite loaf pan. The one you wish would leave because she’s cheapening the value of the things you love. “Mommy, those are my blocks,” a little voice will say. Your heart will flutter for a second because you know he actually loves building dumpling shops with the blocks. And he’ll be heartbroken to see them go. In that moment you want to find his little hand and squeeze it. You want to save him from that the experience and take the blocks back. Give them to your little boy and tell him to put them in the keep box. The real one. But somehow, he’s beat you to it. He’s standing next to the lady and takes hold of the zip lock. “You can have them” you hear him say. You panic. “That’s so sweet!” the mom says too loudly. Her snotty kid shrieks with joy. And though you’ll be proud tonight and praise him as you put him down for bed, in that moment you shoot your husband a look of desperation and ask him to take the kids for ice cream.
Tip 4 – Have new stranger danger rules, because everyone will be confused
I used to have these fun drills to teach our big boy not to speak to strangers. And by strangers I mean adults he doesn’t know, especially ones who will want to show him a puppy or offer him candy at the playground. I’ve seen enough lifetime movies to be freaked out by that sort of scenario. Before this moving ordeal, he sort of got it. “I’ll scream: no, thank you and run away,” he would often answer. I’d tell him he didn’t have to say thank you in that instance, but I was relived. That was before tons of strangers waltzed in and out of our living rooms, bedrooms and closets plucking from our home items that would adorn theirs. And all of a sudden, your kid wants to talk to the craigslist man who’s picking up the bed while your husband is at work. He’ll offer to help unscrew the legs of the dining room table or sit closely next to the woman from Facebook Marketplace who’s browsing his puzzles. This newfound ease around strangers will be nice, but will it be safe? You blame yourself for ruining the sanctity of his safe place by inviting these people into your home. “Respect personal space,” you try and explain as he reaches into his secret stash of Easter candy. “Don’t bother that nice lady,” you say loudly, hoping it jolts awake his sense of fear. “I’m not bothering her,” he’ll bat his long eyelashes at you. “I’m just sharing my candy because it’s so sweet, sugary and deliciously good.” Time for a new stranger danger drill, folks. We now live in the upside down.
Tip 5 – Lean on your kids, they’re wiser than the tomato sauce moustache lets on
This journey will wear even the most regimented mom. Checklists will go on and on and spirits will tire. And then you’ll walk in on your kiddo making piles with the books you had neatly stacked in your keep box, ready to be packed. They’ll all be there – the ones that made him laugh when he was two, and he now fake reads to his baby brother; the one about being loved forever, complete with a sharpie dedication from his grandma; the one that makes him rhyme for days. He looks up at you with those eyes that shouldn’t belong to a boy so young, and he’ll tell you in his most serious four-year-old voice: “I thought about it, and I made a final decision. I want to give my books to my school.” You hold your breath. Books have been the hardest for you to give away. They mean too many moments you don’t want to give up. “Honey, I thought we decided we’d take those with us,” you manage to say. “I want all my friends to read them when I’m gone,” your big boy tells you. You want to cry, and you probably will, because you’ve done a lot of that lately, but he then he hugs you and whispers in your ear: “Don’t worry mom, they have Amazon where we’re going.” And just like that, you know you’ll all survive.