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How to Declutter Before Moving (aka PCS)

If it hasn't come up before, one of my favorite leisure activities is combining mindfulness and productivity to improve a process. While I've had all sorts of classes on what makes a good leader, manager, etc, that's all in the work environment. Theoretically, I only spend around 8 hours a day at work...the rest of the time is at home. A home that, due to my job in the Foreign Service, relocates frequently.

While moving every two years might be seen by some (or many) as an unwelcome chore, I see it as another opportunity to pare down the stuff that I no longer need that would continue to inhabit some back corner of a drawer somewhere if I wasn't required to clean it out. Don't get me wrong, moving can be stressful, difficult, and not entirely pleasant...especially when you're trying to find all 40 pieces to your kid's toy set that is useless without all 40 parts. Seriously folks, it's kind of mean to get gifts for kids that run on batteries or have a gazillion loose pieces (unless they are Lego, in which case all is forgiven), but I digress.

If you want to effectively prepare for a move, you have to take an objective view of your stuff. George Carlin's classic routine on stuff sums it up nicely, but yeah, you are going to have too much stuff to move. I'm not saying that you need to become a minimalist, because that doesn't really work for everyone. But do you really need two bathroom scales?

The Foreign Service adds another wrinkle to moving, since It's your Move reminds you that you're only allowed to move 7,200 pounds of stuff, even though they will store the remainder of up to a total 18,000 pounds of stuff. That's because most post housing is furnished, but still...that's almost 11,000 pounds going into storage. That's an insane amount of stuff to keep track of. Similarly, the military sets a weight limit for shipping (and only occasionally allows storage), so this scenario plays out for any PCS  but the amounts might be different. So how do you decide what stuff to take, store, or get rid of? I suggest using a modified Eisenhower Decision Matrix...

What's an Eisenhower Decision Matrix (aka Eisenhower box)? It's a management tool that identifies a task as one of four combinations of Urgent and Important (or not urgent or not important). Based on that, my modification is to apply it to identify stuff based on Usefulness and Value. I should caveat this by saying that the usefulness is to you, the decider, based on your expected near-term situation. A baby stroller is obviously useful if you have kids, but not so much if you don't have kids or they have outgrown said stroller. As such, you will need to decide if it makes more sense to store something or sell it. Consider this: when you pull something out of storage, will it have degraded or otherwise become obsolete while it sits in storage? What would you do with it then, throw it out? Why not sell it now and get something for it while it still has value? Alternatively, you can "store" something at a family member's house so that they can use it instead of letting it sit in storage.

So, you'll notice that I color coded these options. The colors are deliberate, aligning with this common set of 4-color stickers (which you can also cut in half so they go twice as far). If you put these stickers on the back, underside, or even inside a drawer/door of furniture, you can communicate so much more than you might think. First, it signals to you what's going where. Second, it tells the movers who are packing your stuff whether they've got the right pile. Third, it allows you to review your previous decisions (like if you'd identified something for storage that you keep on finding yourself using). And lastly, it forces you to decide whether an item is useful and has value.
  • Green: Useful and Has Value, Keep it. 
    • This is stuff that you know you're going to need where you're going. Like winter jackets for a move to Canada. Probably the easiest category to figure out.
  • Blue: Not Useful but Has Value, Store or Sell it. 
    • This is stuff like a snow shovel when you're headed to Saudi Arabia. It might come in handy later, but you're not gonna need it right now. If you're thinking critically, you've probably just said "how do I tell if my blue sticker means store or sell?" 
    • Sell: I like to put a dollar sign on the blue sticker (I assume there will be fewer things to sell than store). 
    • Store: Likewise, if you're going to store it at someone's place, put their initials on the sticker. 
    • Sentimental Value?: Lastly, value is subjective, so it includes stuff that has sentimental value but isn't really useful, like that framed bib from your first marathon. But if you waivered on whether it really deserved a blue sticker or if you should take it with you, it might have a motivational use. So that would be green. See how that worked?
  • Yellow: Useful but has No Value, Donate it. 
    • If you're not gonna use it, someone else might be able to. Clothes you like but don't fit any more aren't really going to sell very well fall into this category. Same with just about everything else you might find at Goodwill...which is usually a good way to determine what to donate. 
    • Also, Habitat for Humanity will usually take functional furniture and appliances.
  • Red: Not Useful and has No Value, Trash it (Or re-purpose it). 
    • Besides the obvious junk and broken things, if you find yourself coming up with a really complicated justification to keep something, you probably know deep down that you haven't used it, probably aren't going to use it, and no one really wants it but you.
    • Paperwork: While there are some things that you definitely need to keep paper copies of, most other paperwork can be scanned or downloaded (but be mindful that some websites only allow downloads within the last 12 months or so).  
    • Re-purposing: The exception to trash here is if you're a creative type and can find a use for it by re-purposing it. My heavy, itchy, Icelandic wool sweater is an example...I really like it, but I know I'm never gonna wear it. So I am re-purposing it (technically, my mother-in-law is) into a Christmas stocking. The critical step here was to get it in the mail, out of the house. Otherwise it's still clutter.
So, that's about it. I'd also recommend taking a picture of the item at the same time you put a sticker on it so that you have a record of its current condition before the movers get there. As you probably figured out, you can save a whole lot of red stickers by just throwing things out right then and there...unless you're planning to use it until the day you pack-out.

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