Pack out is a dreaded and difficult time for anyone in our line of work. Most people just don't move as often as we do. We're VERY lucky to be able to have movers come and move us for every move, so for that, I'm grateful. There are times when, for a few crazy moments, I wish I could pack myself out, but then those movers come after MONTHS of me trying to organize and de-junk, and within a day or 2, everything is happily wrapped or in boxes and ready to go. Then I smile and think, "It's done!" And I can relax again.
When it comes to our packouts, we have a few options available to us. I think pack out is sort of a personal thing. People will always ask whether they should pack out early, or wait until the last minute... There's always the question asked, "Will it get there earlier if I pack it out earlier?" or the everpresent, "If we pack out early, what will I do with my kids and their stircraziness?" or, "Wouldn't it be better to wait, so that you can hang onto your stuff for longer instead of dealing with the 'unwelcome' kit?"
Everyone will give you advice...I'm going to give you some, too, in just a minute! But when it comes right down to it, you have to do what is best for YOU and your sanity. Sometimes, it takes 3-4 moves to figure out what works best for you, and then you just stick with it...or realize that life is full of adaptations, and every move is different, and YOU are different by the time the next move rolls around, so you really just need to be flexible and think about where you're at and what your needs at the moment are.
That said, I'm going to throw in my two-cents' worth...because it's probably only worth that much.
Here is my tale of pack out fun:
Our first pack out was from Virginia (Fairfax) to Yaounde Cameroon. We were serious newbies and had NO idea what we were doing. I look back on that packout and think of ALL the ways I could have done that better...but I digress. It was a GREAT learning experience (as all pack outs are). We decided it would be best to pack out a month before leaving. This way, we thought, our things would arrive faster, right? Well, a packout from Virginia is very different than a pack out from post. After pack out, we had NOTHING. No lovely drexell furniture, no dishes, no welcome kit to fill in the gaps...we ate off paper plates for a MONTH. We had 3 very small children who now had no beds. But it was worth it, right? We'd get everything faster on the other end!!! Um, no. It took almost 4 months AFTER arriving at post for our HHE, UAB, AND comsumables to arrive! Wow. And with me thinking that it would all come fast, I didn't pack my bags accordingly, either! Our bags were full of winter clothing...because we packed out late November in the states! Then we arrived in an equatorial country...oh my. We were HOT! So in that instance, I was upset that packing out early didn't help at all!
Now comes our next pack out. Since packing out early didn't help, I decided to wait until the last minute. I spent six months organizing and planning and dejunking. We planned the packout for just under a week before departure. It was horrible. I was in a constant state of cleaning and organizing and FULL of stress up until the very last minute of our time there. I had no time to do those 'finishing touches' after packout, nor to just sit back and enjoy the country right at the end because I was frantically trying to get ready to move. I figured it didn't matter WHEN I packed out, since our stuff would probably take 3-4 months to arrive anyway. But I didn't feel like I 'enjoyed' having my things for a few extra weeks. It just added to my stress.
Interestingly enough, when we got to our next post (Helsinki, Finland), our stuff arrived before we did, and it was ALL delivered (HHE AND UAB!!!!) 2 DAYS after we arrived! I have NO IDEA how that happened, and I never expect it to happen again, but it just went to show me that it honestly matters not one little bit WHEN you pack out. Your stuff is going to arrive when it arrives. That's just the roulette of it all.
On another side note--we've always done HHE and UAB at the same time. And we always send our UAB to our homeleave address between posts so we can unload some things there, and add to it from the states. Every time we've sent it, it has arrived before we did, except once where we were afraid that it wouldn't get there until after we left! It made it with just days to spare, but that was after our last minute Yaounde pack out, and we hadn't followed up with the post shipping guys very well, either. Again, lesson learned. I should also mention that the UAB DOES leave the country before you do. We're still at post, and our UAB has already made it to the states and is on its way to my homeleave address as I sit here in Amman. They don't hold your shipment in country until after you leave. That's important to know.
So at the end of Helsinki, I decided to do the happy medium between the other two pack outs--2 weeks before. It was ok. At this point, I had two young elementary kids in school and two toddlers at home. I worked hard, again, cleaning and organizing... After the pack out, I spent DAYS cleaning that crazy big house all by myself (while my toddlers followed after me, wiping boogers on the windows). When the final cleaning inspection time came, the guy who inspected the house made snarky comments to me the whole time, and at the end of it, he said, "Have you EVER cleaned your house?" I couldn't believe someone would actually say something like that to someone else. I honestly wanted to use his face to wipe the baby boogers off the windows and clean the oven to HIS specifications. (However, on the other hand, there was Yaounde where we put in the order for the final inspection, they called my husband and asked if there were any big problems that were new in the house, he said no, and they called that the final inspection! So again, it varies so much from post to post.) I was really grateful that I still had a few days left before leaving and after pack out to finish cleaning all the white glove left overs that they made me do. Seriously, though, that was nightmarish, since we had a VERY large house, and no household help. My kids were fine during the time we lived there sans stuff. It was actually better, since now my toddlers could run circles through the house without running into anything. :)
At our next post (Amman, Jordan), our stuff arrived the way it was supposed to: UAB came a few weeks in, and HHE came almost 3 months in. The hard thing here, though, is that we are in a small (for us) apartment. When we got here, with all the USG furniture already in place, it already felt like it was full to bursting! When our shipment came, I had NO idea what I was going to do with all of this stuff!!!! We gave a lot of it away, because there was just no place to put it. We had a VERY small storage room which is FULL of moisture and mold. We had some boxes down there, and within a month, I went down to find something and all the boxes were literally melting into the floor! They were black and covered in mold. We've had to keep our Christmas tree up year round because there is no where else to put it (so we had a Halloween tree, Thanksgiving tree, St Patrick's Day tree, Valentine's Day tree, Easter tree...)! I've felt like I wanted to pull my hair out every single day of living here. No sunshine comes into our windows (we're in the basement--supposedly the 'ground floor'). Our house is PACKED. My kids are bigger. AND, to top it all off, we now homeschool, so we're here ALL the time. Why do I mention this in relation with the pack out? Well, I'll tell you: So we've done pack out a month before, 3 days before, 2 weeks before...and this time, I decided that it would be good to do pack out before Ramadan, which would mean packing out 6 WEEKS before! Yes, everyone can look at me like I'm crazy. I worked at high speed for 2 months getting rid of as much as I thought I could (and after pack out, I always wish I had gotten rid of more...but unless I get rid of EVERYTHING, I'm always going to feel that way), then the packers came and cleared out EVERYTHING. It has been GLORIOUS!!!!!!!! I LOVE not having all my stuff clogging up my house! I actually sort of like our apartment now--without all that extra junk, we fit! My kids kept a few favorite card games, iPads, and the external hard drive with all their movies, and they are happy as clams! Plus, since school is out, they can play with any of their friends who haven't left for R&R yet. We spend many days a week at the pool. We play games. We watch cartoons. There is no stir craziness here! Plus, with nothing in your house, it is SOOOOOOOOO much easier to keep clean! yes, I suppose that it's easier without toddlers, too, but even with toddlers, it's easier to do deep cleaning if you're not constantly cleaning up the OTHER stuff first (toys, excess clothes, toys, dishes, toys...). We've now spent 3 weeks with our unwelcome kit and I don't miss my stuff yet. I secretly hope it falls into the ocean. Maybe it's partly because we've done this whole thing a few times, maybe I've just grown used to being on the move and without 'creature comforts', maybe I'm just crazy, but I honestly LOVE packing out very early. I don't have any illusions that packing out early means I'll have our HHE early at our onward post. I don't expect it. But it's gone from THIS post--and it's so freeing! I am now calm and can enjoy our last few weeks here instead of being focused on organizing and making my kids clean and organize. They're happier, too, because I'm not being a crazy clean freak and I can spend quality time with them. We got to do our final clean check 2 weeks before departure...and it was a lot like Yaounde--they walked in the door, asked if anything had changed since a few months ago, looked down the hallway, and checked us off! Wow! Can't beat that.
So, every post is different. Every move is different. Every person is different. Every situation is, you guessed it, different. We have to do what works best for us. For us, I think early pack out brings sanity and peace. I'm done with my packout, done with the 'final cleaning' (doesn't mean I'm going to trash the place), and now I have two weeks to enjoy the glorious weather of Amman with my kids, swim, play, think, plan for next year's school, write on my blog, and make sure all our stuff fits in our suitcases when it's time to leave. I'm sure next time will be different, because I've learned new things at this post, too.
Hooray for different.