Travel / UK

How I Managed to Pack Up My Life in South Africa for an 18 Month Adventure

Life has been rushing forward non-stop and it is incredible to think we have been in the UK for nearly 2 months. This past weekend was the first weekend we just spent at home, and it is finally starting to feel like home.

I love our cute little flat (emphasis on the little part) and slowly we are making it our own with a few bits and bobs. I love our neighbourhood, quiet, but not too quiet with green spaces and beautiful Victorian buildings. I love our views, the sunsets from the kitchen window and definitely having the bathroom with the best view. I’m incredibly happy here, but getting here, packing up everything and moving to the UK, that was the part that made me very unhappy.

I wanted to share the experience of packing up and moving with you on the blog since the start, but honestly, I think I needed to first feel at home here before I could go back to the month and weeks leading up to this move…

There were times leading up to this move that I asked myself what the hell I was doing. I’d left the UK angry and bitter three years ago. I wanted nothing more than to go home, not suffer and be in pain anymore. Now, I was packing up everything to come back. I knew it was different this time, but that didn’t make it easier.

The Process

Over the last 2 years living in Johannesburg we’d started to make it a home. We had furniture, we had everything you could think of for our kitchen, we had little ornaments I was sentimental about (mostly bunnies of course) and I had my books. I knew moving to a different country ment not being able to take any of these.

I’d put off the packing until the last possible minute, but you also have to be realistic and not start too late. Thinking back every time I’ve gone through a big move, the best possible way to deal with it has been to just get it done. Like ripping off a plaster, close your eyes and pull. It’ll sting so much, but the sooner it’s done, the sooner the healing can start.

 

Getting Rid of Things

If there’s one thing a big move like this is incredibly good for, it’s to let you declutter.

You’d think living in a small space would mean less clutter, but the longer you stay in a place, the more you accumulate. We had a house and a storage unit and the moment we started going through things we realised how unnecessary some of the things were we were keeping.

The biggest shocker for me was the things we kept because we “might use it one day” and two years later we still hadn’t. And on top of that, you then realise that you bought the exact same thing just the other day because you couldn’t find the one you kept (and obviously put away in a very obvious place). It’s frustrating when you realise how much we consume and waste. We ended up with a huge black bag filled to the brim with just plastic containers, most of which didn’t even have lids! Not even to start on stationary.

All of those needed to go.

Clothes, clothes and more clothes… Out!

As a girl, I’ve always loved clothes and I will admit I was very spoiled in my teenage years with a beautiful, huge, walk-incloset. The bigger your space, the more you have to fill. Over the last few years I had to scale down quite a lot, but I would cheat as well. Depending on the season I would leave some clothes at my parents’ house and only get it when the new season reared its head.

I was only fooling myself.

Moving to the UK I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. I had to take clothes for every season because we were going to be here for every season and I couldn’t quickly go home to pick up something else to wear.

I was brutal, and it was painful, but it was also very empowering. I made a conscious decision to create a semi-uniform for myself, only taking clothes that I could wear both to work and in a casual setting. When you get down to it, it’s actually not that hard, you just have to get rid of all the frills, all the over exaggerated clothes with limited wear opportunities. Your workwear then becomes less pretentious and your casual wear becomes a bit more classic.

I also knew I had to throw out those pants and shirts I loved but that were now too small. My body had changed, and I wasn’t going to try to change it just to fit into those clothes again. Why live such a limiting life just for clothes.

So I had a good old Boot Sale at work. Yes, I literally threw all the clothes I needed to throw out into my boot, sent out an email at work and waited for the girls to come.

In the end, it made my heart so full to se

e the excitement on the girls and ladies I worked with faces as they found items they liked. It was another experience that gave me so much strength and faith in this move seeing how pieces that had brought me so much joy, would now be bringing joy to others.

I also made a good couple of bucks for my mini-mommy-and-me holiday before the big move.

 

Packing Up the House

Packing up our house was especially traumatic for me. They say moving is one of the biggest changes a person can go through, and this was one of the biggest moves one can undertake.

I dreaded it, and I hated every second. I thought back to when I’d packed up my room before going to Oxford and the uncertainty I’d felt. This time around I tried to not think of the future and rather just focus on the task at hand. It helped.

Some of our bigger items we decided to sell, which also ment a bit of extra cash, but because we were moving with my husband’s company we were lucky enough to get a storage unit for the things we wanted to keep. This was very comforting, knowing that after the 18 months, no matter what we decide, we will still have most of our things.

The really scary part of this however was the team of people who came into our house on a Thursday morning and wrapped every black box we’d packed, ever cushion, every appliance, in brown cardboard, sealed it up, gave it a random number and carried it out of our house. Writing this now I feel the same sense of vertigo I felt on the day, a sense of helplessness as your whole world is packed up before your eyes and carried away to a place you’ve never been. Of course, they are contractually bound to keep our things safe, but the 101 items carried out of our home were gone within a few hours.

We were left with a very empty, hollow home and only realised later that in their haste to get the job done they’d taken things we’d set aside to go to my parents or James’s parents. It was very frustrating. It was scary and when everything was gone I felt very empty and slowly the realisation was creeping in that we were really leaving.

Packing the Final Bags

We ended up coming to the UK with a total of 5 big roller bags, 3 cabin sized roller bags, 2 laptop bags, and 2 backpacks.

Our lives had to fit in those, everything for the next 18 months. Do you know how little you can pack in a bag when you think of things and not just clothes (and shoes as well of course).

Maybe we left the final bag packing till too late, but we were living out of bags for 2 weeks before leaving at my parents’ house and while being on holiday and I think it was a type of coping mechanism. So, we only started the day before we left.

It was the most tiring Sunday I’d had in my life so far.

I knew the day would be tough, so I started off taking some anxiety medication (herbal ones) and then I had some more after my third cry of the day. I also had about 5 cups of camomile tea throughout the day. At some point I started balling my eyes out when it finally hit me (yes I know, how many months to prepare and it hits the day before we leave) that we were leaving EVERYTHING, all our people, our culture, our home, to move to a place we didn’t know for 18 months! It wasn’t just for a holiday and it wasn’t just for a little bit, it was for a year and a half, we hadn’t even been married for that long!

I’m lucky to have an incredible mom who’s not only a wizard at packing bags (no literally she’s like the fairy godmother of packing bags) but is also extremely patient, understanding and gives amazing hugs. When I would go into my “this will never get done” or “this will never fit, I’ll just leave everything” moods, she’d jump in and take over until I could see that it was possible and that I could do this.

I don’t know how I would have made that last day without my mom and it’ll always be a very special memory I hold dear between the two of us.

I ended up bringing half a bag of things. These were things that were special to me. Things that I needed to feel safe in a new space, that would help me make our new country a home. I’m so grateful I did bring these things, despite them being literally a handful of the things I had before. My bunny pen holder cup, my little set of Shakespeare books and a couple of books. Small things that have made the world’s difference.

 

Starting Over

The most difficult thing was that we had already started to settle down in Johannesburg and then we decided to uproot ourselves so extremely. It’s been very difficult, but it’s also been an incredible journey.

Starting over with no things, and only your person, it’s a different experience, and you realise how unimportant all the things are that we tend to think define us (they don’t). All that really matters is the person or persons you share the journey with, the things just add a little sparkle.

This move has brought us even closer, has made us so strong, and has made us see that life is about so much more than the comfort zones we force ourselves into. We were ment to go out there and be the ships on the ocean, brave the storm, and see the beautiful sunrise that no one else has seen before.

Life is about more than jobs, or having a house, or being a “Top 30 Under 30”. It’s about the adventures, it’s about loving the journey, loving what you do and doing it well, and it’s about the small victories, the small impacts, and the small memories. This move, despite all the challenges and pain leading up to it, is the best adventure we could have ever gone on together.

Hi, I'm Andri. A 20-something creative, content creator, writer, reader, traveler, healthy living enthusiast and eco warrior! My day job is in digital publishing, but just like The Loud Library, I am full of contradictions. I love my bunny rabbit Olive, cows and sharing my journey to rediscover my spark.

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