Sell, sort, ship, give away, or leave by the curb? What do we do with our stuff when it is time to move? I have spent over twenty years going in and out of Asia—changing schools, apartments, teammates, and even countries. At one time I held the questionable distinction of having storage boxes in three countries.

There are various schools of thought on this issue—each with faithful supporters. Opinions may change over time but at the moment, loyalty can be fierce.


You want money for that? Come on, give it away!


I’ve been given so much—I want to give to others.


The next person might need it.


I paid a lot for that. What’s the matter with getting some money back?


I’ll try to sell some but in the end—we’ve gotta go. Can’t take it with us.


I’m coming back in six months. Where do I store stuff? If I share it will I get it back?


Why force new teammates to shop for and buy what you could leave them?


Who’s to say they’ll want your oven/Ikea chair/table with the short leg?


I would imagine heads are nodding in agreement with each statement.


Last summer as I worked my way back to the United States, this subject came up with several ex-pat friends: “What do we do with our stuff?” We represented different ages, jobs, and time overseas, but the dilemma was the same. We all had stuff, we all lived rather transient lives, and we all had different ways of dealing with it. I found our chats insightful and only wished we could have all been together instead of in four different cities. These ladies left me with many thoughts to consider, and I pass them on to you.

Times change. When I first came to China the school provided our apartment, and its furnishings belonged to them. There was not a lot available to purchase by way of home decorations; even if there was, we did not do much shopping. Now malls abound, everyone ships, ex-pats arrange their own housing, many cities have the equivalent of online garage sales, and wonder of wonders—there is Taobao.

Living situations vary. What works for a program with returning staff with extra shelves may not work for a family who has to suddenly leave. What is “precious” in one place might not be worth saving in another.

Storage space is a huge consideration. Sometimes there is an available closet or porch. Sometimes even the idea is laughable. Security issues are unclear. I once returned to a school to find my clothes piled on a table in an office because someone wanted the tubs in which I had stored them.

Loans can be possible. If you are planning to return, there may be large items that could be offered to your replacement to use or store while you are gone. Yes, there is risk of breakage and misunderstanding of ownership upon your return—but not always.

Play Santa. What? One year my colleague had been given many stuffed animals as gifts. One night we went around our town looking for bicycles that had a child’s seat. We hoped someone smiled the next morning to find a bear or bunny waiting for them.

Consider it support. Instead of helping someone out monetarily—let them have the printer. Enjoy giving.

It is not an all-or-nothing matter. Give some away and put a price tag on other things. If possible, before they arrive, let the newbies know what is available or for sale. Whatever the outcome, have plan B in your heart for what is left over.


Questions to consider: What would you add? This list is hardly conclusive so please, share your experiences. How are you a good steward of what you have been given and yet, as Corrie ten Boom said, remain able to “hold things lightly”?


©2017 Thrive.