Monday, September 5, 2011

My Truck-free Move across the Country

"If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it." —George Carlin

I recently moved from Indianapolis, Indiana to the San Francisco Bay area for a new job with Meebo, and I decided to skip the moving truck, sell the car, and travel by airplane. That's the what, when, and where. Now for the why and how...

I was getting a relocation bonus, but I had a two-story house in Indiana and a lot of stuff in it, much of which wasn't going to fit in a small apartment in California, so I had some concerns about the logistics. Moving all of it would mean all the packing, driving or paying someone to drive a loaded truck through desert and mountains, and then probably storing most of it in an expensive storage unit in the Bay Area. And honestly, I didn't know what half of this stuff was anymore. So, my wife and I talked about it and decided to sell absolutely everything we could, give away everything we couldn't sell and didn't need, and dump everything we couldn't give away.

Phase 1: Sell, Give Away, Dump
I cannot possibly imagine how we would have done this without craigslist. We managed to sell a bed, dresser, two sets of tables and chairs, lots of shelves and cabinets, lots of baby gear, and a bunch of tools. And the best part is, these people hauled the stuff off themselves! We had a moving sale we also posted on craigslist, with limited success: people bought small furniture, unopened toiletries, dishes (some dirty ones from the dishwasher!), and a few other odds and ends. In the end, we got about $1000 out of it.

At this point we still didn't know if we would be driving and if we would need a trailer for the stuff we ended up taking.

Next, my wife's church group helped us get everything out of the attic, closets, and her office and haul it all downstairs. The next morning, we filled up half of our driveway with as much of the stuff as we could get out there, put up a "FREE" sign, and put up a posting on craigslist called "Everything is FREE!"

What followed was absolutely amazing. It was like watching the nature channel. People appeared from all over Indianapolis to take our stuff. Half of the driveway was covered and piled high with all kinds of crap, and within 2 hours it was completely gone! People were pulling up in vans and indiscriminately loading everything they could grab into them. I thought about trying to refer some of these people to some sort of hoarder support group.

During and after this process, we had been going through all of our stuff and throwing most of it in trash bags with reckless abandon. I can't even remember what all we threw away, but there was a lot of stuff from the back yard deck, opened containers of food from our refrigerator and pantry, and all manner of odds and ends throughout the house. A lot of stuff that would otherwise have been worth keeping to me suddenly became trash when I figured in the cost of transporting it to California.

Eventually, we were down to just the bare essentials. Inflatable mattress, clothes, laptop, important documents, disposable kitchenware, and a TV to occupy the kiddo while we packed. We also had some electronics and a lot of Mary Kay product in boxes that we knew we were going to be transporting somehow.

Phase 2: Preparations
Somewhere in the middle of pruning down our stuff, we scheduled a flight out to our destination to do some apartment hunting. My parents took care of the youngin while we took a 2 day trip. We lined up several candidates beforehand, and while we were there we visited 10-ish apartments over the course of said two days.

Our main criteria, besides price, were that we wanted to have a washer/dryer (or at least hookups) in the apartment, and we were hoping to find someplace with a reasonable commute to Meebo (possibly near public transportation options). We learned of padmapper partway through, which is awesome, awesome, awesome, and again I don't know how we would have made this work without our internet resources. We ended up liking the very last one we looked at, and we put a deposit down on it before we left. Incidentally, the move-in date was a few days sooner than we were anticipating, and that accelerated our move timeline a touch.

Back in Indy, we looked into our shipping options for our boxes of stuff and found that UPS and USPS were going to be more expensive than we were hoping for. But we discovered that Greyhound has very affordable shipping, with a few restrictions on box weight and the value of goods being shipped. We specially shipped my wife's $300+ blender with UPS, and with the insurance that cost us about $50 alone.

At this point we learned that the air conditioning in my car, which had been out for a while, was not easily fixable. There was no way we were going to be able to make the 34-hour drive potentially through desert terrain with a toddler and no air conditioning, and there was no telling whether the A/C was going to start working well after we paid to have the compressor replaced, so we did some more planning and settled on selling the car and flying out.

We got our one-way tickets flying Southwest and secured a rental car for the first week in California. Southwest currently allows two free checked bags per passenger, and since we had 3 passengers, we were able to take 6 big, heavy bags with us in addition to our 3 fully-loaded carry-on bags and personal items. We bought a scale and packed the bags carefully to be under the 50-lb weight limit, loading books into the smaller ones to maximize the weight vs. space. We initially planned to shoot for 4 checked bags so we wouldn't be bogged down getting to and from the airport, but that changed pretty quickly.

We contacted our real estate agent about selling our house, but at the current market price we'd be taking a significant loss on it, and there was no telling how long we'd have to wait for that to change. We found a property management service that takes care of finding renters, collecting rent, and other legal and business concerns for a small percentage of the rent, so we're going to try being landlords. We won't be able to write off the mortgage on our taxes anymore, and we'll have to pay for some repairs, but we'll see how all that goes.

Phase 3: Goodbyes
Meanwhile, there was going to be a lot in Indiana I would miss. I lived there for 4 years, made a lot of memories there, and it's where my parents and siblings live.

I worked at a very small company where I was going to be missed. In general, I try my darnedest to document my work so people can pick it up later, but there was still some wrapping up to do in the time I had left.

I was particularly disappointed about having to say goodbye to my fluffy kitty, Harvey. Every apartment we found in Cali required a $500 pet deposit and somewhere around $50/mo pet rent to keep a pet, and as tight as finances were going to be, there just didn't seem to be any way to make that work. Fortunately, my coworker was able to adopt him, so I feel better about his future well-being, but I'm still going to really miss him.

I also had a lot of farewell lunches and dinners with my company, my friends, and my family. They all helped us immensely in getting moved, and we really appreciated it!

Phase 4: The Move
When the day finally came to set out for California, we were really excited and nervous. We got up early in the morning, loaded all of our luggage into two cars (there was no way it was going to fit in just one!), and my parents drove us to the airport.

We got to the airport, got all of our luggage out and up to the check-in desk, and…oops! Either the luggage scale wasn't that accurate, or a few last-minute items got packed that were heavier than we expected, because one bag was 58 lbs, and another was 53. The guy behind the counter waited patiently and helped us check our progress on the scale while we swapped out the contents of our luggage. All of our bags ended up being 50.5 lbs or so, but he let us check them anyway. (We gave him a nice tip!)

We bought a portable DVD player for the kiddo anticipating a difficult flight. She had a meltdown at the end of the first flight and was rolling around on the airport floor screaming during most of the layover, but she did pretty well on the rest of the trip.

We finally arrived around noon (yay, 3-hour time change!), and my wife picked up the rental car while I caught a taxi van to the apartment with the kiddo and all our luggage. She had been up since 4am or so, and while we were riding to the apartment, I heard her stop singing to herself for 2 seconds, looked over, and she was out cold. I tried to wake her up, but within those few seconds she was hibernating like a ground squirrel. After we got to the apartment, I let her sleep in her stroller in the shade while I carried the luggage up to the doorstep.

Phase 5: Moving In

There was plenty to do settling into our new life in California. We got to work unpacking our clothes, and the stuff from our boxes once those arrived. We made several trips to IKEA and bought a delivery-truck-load of furniture there, and almost a week later, we're still working on getting it all put together.

The car situation was difficult because we didn't have any established credit in the area. We had hoped to get a very cheap car somewhere and have a good percentage of the cost as a down payment, but the interest rates were still going to be just insane. We've gotten a rental car for an extra two weeks, and we've got plans to put the relocation bonus straight into the car instead of paying down the moving debt immediately. We'll see how that works out.

I had a few motivations for doing this kind of move. I've always thought it sounded like an interesting idea, and I wanted to finally try it firsthand. A lot of people I've talked to in the meantime have told me they wished they had sold everything instead of putting it on a moving truck. The smaller living space was also a factor. I was hoping to condense some stuff down, say replace two so-so couches with one good one, and get some more space-efficient stuff (our new couch and bed have storage built-in).

It certainly hasn't been a pain-free experience, but I keep reminding myself that moving is always painful, and I'm pretty sure we made the right choice in how we executed this move. Hopefully that won't change in a few months, when we have the car situation and the Indiana house rental situation sorted out better.