Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sorting Stuff - 60 Days to Departure

It's 60 days to departure. The move is becoming more of a reality instead of a vague concept of the future. I received my Travel Authorization (TMFOUR) a little less than 90 days before departure. That document is the key to setting everything into motion since it says money is allocated for the move. Nothing much happens on this planet without money and moving is no exception.

Now I've booked my flight to the US for home leave, scheduled the pack out, and arranged an apartment through the PCS Lodging Program for a month of training in DC. That's about it. Move people, move stuff, and a place to stay while in training. That sounds pretty easy, right? There's nothing left to do but get on the plane... except of course it can't possibly be that easy!

The problem always appears to be with the stuff. Once again there's 4 categories of things to sort out. I'm moving from an unfurnished post to my first furnished post. The difference there is I can't send as much stuff which makes having stuff a problem. My new place will already be full of stuff when I arrive. The categories are the same as other moves but the breakdown will be different.

Foreign Service moves require every single item to be categorized like this:


This is 2 suitcases of stuff and a carry on of mostly electronics for me. As long as the airlines don't lose them then this is the essential stuff for living. Living out of a suitcase starts 2 weeks prior to departure and ends whenever the UAB and HHE show up. If it doesn't fit in the suitcase then it can go in...

Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB)

One person is allowed 250 lbs of stuff sent by air freight. Each additional person gets a little less. UAB is for the essentials that don't fit in a suitcase. You can take pillows, towels, some kitchen items, and any other stuff you might want to put in about 5 more suitcases if you could have them. The movers pack it all in a big box or two, but the weight is equivalent to 5 more suitcases so I'm thinking of it that way.

UAB travels faster by air and should get where I'm going in just a couple of weeks. I have one Foreign Service move under my belt and I've already experienced a glitch with this. My UAB went to Singapore before coming to Stockholm for reasons unknown. The funny shipping guy tracking it down suggested the UAB needed a vacation. This meant it took 4 weeks to get from the US to Sweden by air since it went the wrong way around the world.

This is my first "Post to Post" move so I'm trying the UAB "follow me" route instead of shipping it to my next post. First, I'll send it from Stockholm to my home leave location and hope it arrives while I'm there. Then, I could ship it from home leave to DC, but I'm driving to DC so I'll just take it with me. Finally, I'll ship it from DC to post after adding some new essentials to the pile specific for Caracas. I'll see how well that plan works out because UAB is important to have while waiting on...

Household Effects (HHE)

This is the rest of the stuff I want but it slowly floats across the ocean so I may have to do without it for a long time. It can sit around waiting to be moved at various ports or held up in customs for who knows how long. People sometimes go several months before they get their HHE.

The total HHE and storage weight allowance is 18,000 lbs regardless of family size. Stockholm is one of the few unfurnished posts so I could have shipped that entire amount of stuff if I had it. Caracas and most other posts are furnished so the HHE shipped to post is limited to 7,200 lbs. The delta between that and 18,000 lbs can be stored until I request some or all of it for another post or return to the US for an assignment and have to take it all back. It's a great benefit.

This category will be the tricky one to figure out. I don't want to bring too much stuff I won't use in the next 2 years. Why deal with unpacking stuff I never use? One thing I will bring is my bed. I've heard that beds or good mattresses are one of the most common pieces of furniture people bring to furnished posts. The whole idea of furnished housing is so we don't ship entire households all over the world with every move, but I hear having your own bed is a perceived necessity for a lot of people. The rest of the stuff I won't need goes to the next category...


This is leftover stuff I want to keep for the future but just don't need for the next 2 years. Furniture, winter clothes, 220V appliances, and who knows what else I find when I start looking. I'll hold onto it because it may be needed at another post or some other time and place in the distant future. You know that power adapter for that one thing I don't have anymore might come in handy some day. The coat I never wear in the far back of the closet is apparently a keeper. Hmm, perhaps there's a category missing from the moving guide.

Getting the right mix of these 4 categories will take some work. I may even wait until the weekend before pack out to finalize the sorting. It's not procrastination. Who can live with all of their stuff physically sorted out into these categories? I'll just tag the big items but who wants little sticky notes all over their stuff for several weeks? It's a good reason to wait until it's absolutely necessary, right? There should be one more category added which must be taken care of before the movers arrive...


This is the bonus category of stuff that I shouldn't even have anymore. Why is this thing here? Why do I keep shipping that coat to the next place and throw it in a closet? I really should finally donate it or throw it out... or do I just let it go to storage and deal with it later? Much later. Even the trash category isn't entirely clear but it must be done.

Every single item must be sorted or the packers will decide it for me. It's a good thing they don't come for another 6 weeks so I have some time to decide for myself. In one of my military moves they packed the kitchen trash can with trash still in it. It had such a lovely smell when it was finally unpacked a couple of months later. Yep, at the very least I want to sort out every bit of trash before the movers arrive!


  1. We feel you as we do a very similar sort here in Korea, on our way to Bahrain. :) Mary and Rick

  2. We use our 220V appliances from Europe here in Fiji....just need a plug adaptor now.....

    1. Caracas is 110V/60Hz like the US. The higher voltage appliances can just go in storage until I'm back at a post that uses it with plug adapters if needed.