I’ve been thinking about writing this post since I moved halfway across the country to graduate school 3 1/2 years ago.

I recently made a trip to visit my sister for Christmas and decided to pick up a few things I’ve been missing that I stored with a friend.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but when one cannot take all of one’s possessions and is moving far away, I think I can shed some light on what should and shouldn’t be included, based on my experience.

1) Always take everything with sentimental value.

For example, I decided that I was getting my Master’s degree and that it was time I stopped sleeping with stuffed animals, so I left my childhood teddy bear behind. Wrong! Other things can be replaced, but items with sentimental value are hard to come by. They make all the difference in the world when you’re in a foreign place doing challenging things.

2) Take your novels.

I have a lot of books. Even now getting several boxes out of storage, I will only have 3/4 of the books I originally owned with me in Texas. I’m going to need to buy a third bookshelf – that’s how many books I own.

I decided to take my cookbooks and that was smart. But I also chose non-fiction books which seemed like they might be useful to my research at the time. They weren’t really. Most of the reading which was useful to me in writing my thesis was what we read in class or books by scholars I’d never heard of previously. Now, if you have more of an idea of the academic writing you want to do than I did, by all means take those books you KNOW will be handy.

But really, take the books you know you will want to read and reference time and time again, and especially novels. If it’s a book on your shelf you haven’t read yet, don’t assume you ever will. You probably won’t (unless you purchased it recently). But if you read it once and loved it – take it with you! And if you must leave books behind don’t store them in cardboard boxes which can be infested by bugs, as now I have to buy some novels over again anyway.

3) Take high price items you are unlikely to be able to afford again.

I don’t necessarily go by my father’s advice about not taking hangers or anything else cheap you might be able to purchase when you get there as a hard and fast rule. But, if you have limited space, sometimes it is better to take things which are more valuable as those are harder to come by again. For example, I left behind my sewing machine since fabric stores are few and far between in WV anymore. I didn’t know they are on every corner it seems in Texas. Also, take those expensive knee-high boots because even if you can’t wear them in summer, there will be some kind of winter weather or parties after dark at which they will be useful.

4) Don’t only take practical things.

This ties in with the novels, but also expands beyond them. Instead of boxes of paper, notebooks, and post-it notes, I wish I would have brought more books. And my dress coat. And my fancy formal dresses. With limited space it might feel like taking useful things is best, but if your plates and cups have no sentimental value, you really can buy more at the dollar store and save room for other things you might miss more.

If I had it to do all over again, I would pack up everything in advance and live out of boxes for a while before I left – just to see what stuff I actually USE. Because you’re as likely to use and want it in one place as in another.

Decide what is most valuable to you – regardless of its actual material worth – and take that with you.

Or if you can’t figure that out, improvise. Pack everything into boxes, wait several weeks, and try to remember what’s in them. The things you can write on a list – keep. If you forgot it was there, you don’t need it.

Don’t assume moving means you’ll be more grown-up or practical. You won’t be – and especially not right away. Don’t decide you can get by without good fiction and colorful dresses. I mean, you can. I have. But it’s much less fun. And moving’s no fun already. So if you must fit everything you own into one car, make it the good stuff.

Otherwise you’ll be shipping things back to yourself later, and kicking yourself for years that you never packed it in the first place.

Think more about what you’ll miss than what you might use. Because much of what’s useful and practical can be more easily re-purchased than gifts from loved ones or boxes full of memories.

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