Selling our life away

When we decided to change our lives and move to London for three years, we realized it would mean selling our house, cars and much of what we own. Knowing that would need to happen was one thing. Actually doing it is entirely something else.

This week, the company we hired to sell most of our possessions started the process in earnest. We identified as best we could the few things we want to put in storage (china, china cabinet, various keepsakes) and an even smaller amount of things to ship to London (clothes, a few kitchen items, etc.). Then the crew ascended on us to catalog, photograph, and prepare the rest for sale.

What that means is literally taking everything out of it’s proper place, grouping things, photographing things, getting our possessions ready for an online auction that will last 10 days. And it isn’t just getting rid of things…it is dealing with all the memories all those things have attached to them.

It isn’t easy. It is painful. It is devastating.

We also hadn’t anticipated the impact on our lives this would have. Our normally neat, well kept and tidy home became a chaotic mess. The inside looked like a hurricane came through. And about all we could do was sit and watch, and answer the occasional question of whether this or that should be sold.

These pictures don’t quite capture the level of pandemonium that we’ve lived with the last few days

I have to say the crew who did this were outstanding. Polite. Conscientious, and sensitive… even compassionate. And for all the moving of things, some of them quite fragile, I’m not aware of anything being broken.

At the end of three days of this, the crew head came and told us there were finished. The house is in a little less mess, although we still see many of our things sitting in different places, labeled to be sold.

Tomorrow the online auction will begin. Our kids are coming to take away some furniture and other items they are interested in. So the house is beginning to empty. In a little more than a week, buyers will descend on the house and the auction company will distribute our life’s possessions. Anything left unsold will be donated or trashed. About the same time the moving company will take storage items to store, and pack a few things for shipment. And then, all will be gone.

All in all, we know this is the right thing to do. We are anxious to begin a new life chapter in London. And some day, hopefully some time from now, our kids won’t have a huge estate to deal with.

Still, the week has left us stressed out, and feeling a little like we’ve been hit repeatedly by a large truck. I’m not sure we could have done anything differently. But for anyone considering this kind of a massive life change, be prepared. It isn’t easy.

Trials & Tribulations

All along, we have expected this transition from our home in the US to the UK to be a difficult process. So far, the difficulty has *exceeded* our expectations.

View of the London skyline from our hotel room

First the visa snafu (see previous posts). Once that got resolved, we could at least travel again. Last week, we headed to London on a mission to find and contract a flat (apartment, for our US readers). Fortunately, my company has a relocation service, so that at least helped give us a better starting point.

Day one of the search, and our relo service guy, Tom, had seven properties for us to look at. And actually, most were nice and could be workable. We decided the first one we looked at was best, and decided to place an offer – at the asking price. Soon afterward, the landlord said they accepted, we paid the deposit, and all was done.

Except it wasn’t.

We cancelled all the viewings on Day two, assuming we were done. We had made an appointment to see the apartment again, to refresh our memory and start thinking about how we’d make it ours. Just before the appointment, the relo person called. There might be a complication. Actually, a big one. The landlord had received another offer at a higher price, and decided to accept it (although we had already put down a deposit). So, our apartment was gone.

But…there were two other units available in the same building, and the agent kindly showed us. Both were nice and workable, albeit at a higher price. We ended the day considering whether to go with one of those or one of the others we previously looked at on Day One.

Next morning we made an offer – for the asking price again – on one of the two alternatives in the same building as the first. Landlord seemed receptive. So, progress?

Not exactly. After we sent the offer — full asking price — they later responded that since the flat had just gone on the market… maybe they should wait for other… better… offers. When we countered by offering a bit more money, they waffled on the “pets accepted” part, and proceeded to put in a very ridiculous “pet clause” requiring a pet deposit and pet “rent.” Our relo person told them that they were trying to push off a US version of a pet clause that is illegal to use in the UK. After hours of back and forth, and one sleepless night (in which we were envisioning being homeless with 3 kitties in the next month), we started considering how to make the other flats we saw work for us.

Then another call from the relo person. Seems that the first apartment that we originally placed an offer on was now suddenly available again (offer they accepted fell through). The landlord was again very interested in renting to us (of course, at a few hundred pounds over the original offer). So after some deliberation, we decided to regroup and settle on the original apartment we wanted.

That started the process of filling out “referencing forms.” Online forms. Confusing, convoluted online forms. Forms that had parts that didn’t fit our situation, and other functions that plain didn’t work. Finally, after a weekend of struggling, we got through all the online forms and were again making progress.

We returned to the US on Monday this week, totally exhausted but moderately hopeful we had secured an apartment. As of Wednesday night, we have almost gotten to the contract stage. Barring some unforeseen glitch (and there have been a lot of those so far), we should sign a contract tomorrow and have a flat ready for us in a few days.

Meanwhile back in the US, the company we’ve hired to sell most of our possessions started the task today of cataloguing and photographing everything in our house. No small task, given we have 44+ years of accumulated things to go through. To do this, they basically relocate everything in the house to take photos. Consequently, the home we’ve always kept neat and tidy now looks a bit like a hurricane has struck the interior. Probably another two or three days to go. Very nice people doing this. But still a stressful, emotional experience as virtually all the possessions have some kind of memories attached.

Some of our belongings…sorted, grouped, catalogued and priced for sale.

At least – maybe – we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. There are still several hectic and stressed-out weeks ahead as we close on the house, sell all our stuff and two cars, make arrangements for transporting 3 kitties and probably a thousand other details yet to be encountered.

I’m counting on a day – hopefully in the not too distant future – when we’ll look back on all this and say, “yes, it was worth it.” And if all goes really well, we’ll both have some shreds of sanity left when that day comes. We hope our kitties will also come through this ordeal unscathed and again happy in our new home.

Certainly starting to get real

It has been months since we first started talking about moving to London. Seems like things moved at a snail’s pace, and the whole kerfuffle about our visas slowed things even more.

Now things are moving and the whole experience is getting very real. We put our house on the market, and within two days had an offer to buy. Our kids have been identifying things they want to take, and our possessions are beginning to dwindle. We’ve now signed a contract for a company to come and sell most everything in our home. We’ll store a few special items, and move a very few things to London. Much of what we’ve accumulated over 40 years of marriage (and some from even before) will go away. And while much of the stuff is just stuff, the memories associated with it make the process stressful at best.

Next step is to find a flat in London that we’ll call home for the next 3 years. The relocation company has already warned us that having 3 cats to move in will complicate our choices. What that actually means remains to be seen. But getting a flat identified and contracted, with a set move-in date, is crucial. Assuming all goes well with our home sale, we will need to be out of the house in early June. Hopefully, we will have a place to move into about the same time. The uncertainty of all that ratchets the stress levels up a few notches. The timing is getting to be very tricky. Sometimes all the doubts crowd in and we find ourselves thinking, “Oh, what have we done?!” Usually a good night’s sleep helps with that, but more and more often we are waking up in the middle of the night to stew about all the things we need to do, and all the arrangements that have yet to be made. It is exciting… yes, but also very, very… terrifying.

All said, I think one day we’ll look back on all this and conclude it was the right thing to do. That day won’t come next week, or probably next month. For the sake of our sanity, we’re hoping it isn’t much longer.

At least now, things are moving ahead and we can start to look forward to our new adventure becoming a reality.

Recovering from the “Valley of Despair”

He said:

I once took a course that taught various management models. One was called “change curve.” The idea is you’re moving along in life, and a change happens. Immediately, you begin to go down hill… attitude, productivity, overall outlook on life begins to plummet. Eventually you reach a low point — the “valley of despair.” Then, if the change is successful, you begin to rise up again, and ultimately regain some stability at a point higher than you started.

Our change curve kicked into high gear when we submitted our visa applications. We were supposed to get our visas in 5-7 business days. Fifteen days later, I received a message from the UK Visa office. It said something like: “You dumb American, you checked one box on the application form ‘yes’ that you should have checked ‘no’. Visa application invalidated — go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. You have to start the process over — pfffft!” Well, the actual message was a bit more professionally worded. But the result was the same. My application was invalid. Go start over. (Oddly enough, not a word about my wife’s application, which was tied to mine.)

So, after some consultation with my company and their visa specialist, we determined the problem and how to fix it. I submitted a new application, and again went to the visa services office to submit my biometrics. This time, within a couple of days a message arrived – your application has been received. And, surprisingly enough, a couple of days later, both of us received a message – “your visa application has been processed.” Not specifically that it was approved, but processed and being returned to the visa application center. Finally, another message – your visa application is successful and your visa is being returned by courier. It took another four days, but our visas arrived – safely inserted in our passports.

Overall, the error in the original application cost us about a month delay, and the cancellation of a trip to Paris and another trip to London. But we’re now back on track. We’ve made it past the Valley of Despair and are moving back up the change curve. Of course, we still have to sell our house, most of our possessions, find a flat in London, figure out how to move ourselves and our 3 cats… the list goes on and on.

But at least now we have moved beyond the visa impasse, and we know we are legally accepted as UK residents for 3 years. There are many challenges ahead. We are again moving in the right direction, and we can begin to tackle the remaining tasks to get us to London.

She said:

“They held my passport hostage for a month!!!”

Slogging ahead…

A little over a week ago, we completed our visa applications for our move to London. The application process itself was an ordeal. Recalling 10 years of travel history was no easy matter. And there were problems with making revisions to a partially completed application. Finally, after some choice words and several attempts, the online visa applications were complete.

Next step – go to the visa application center, submit materials, get “biometrics” collected (fingerprints and pictures)… and pay lots of money for the process, and even more money to expedite the process to get our passports back within 5-9 business days, so we could travel on our next scheduled business trip. In fairness, the people at the visa center were friendly and helpful, and it wasn’t really a bad experience. And so, we were all set for getting our visas in our passports, and moving ahead.

Well, not quite. We promptly received an email from the UK visa centre that they had received our materials. Then, shortly after, another message. Your applications are not as “straightforward” as expected, so the process may be delayed. Delayed? After paying nearly $1000 each for expediting?? Delayed for how long?

Today, the 7th business day after application, I called the UK visa office. The guy was friendly enough (although they charged me 69 pence per minute for consultation). After several minutes on hold, I was informed that generally, it takes up to 15 business days after receipt of an email notification of “delay” to get the process complete. That would put our visa application approval at around April 4… well past the time of the next business trip to Paris, and threatening the next trip for my official start date in London. Of course, the kind man said it could come “sooner.” Argggghhh

So, we’re now in limbo. Probably we will get a visa at some undefined time in the future. We’ve started the process of listing our house and selling our worldly possessions. We’ve started the process of arranging to transport our 3 kitties and proceed with all the red tape to get them to London. We’ve scheduled a time to look at apartments in London and find a place to live. But none of that can really move ahead until we have some certainty about our visas.

Of course, we knew there would be considerable challenges to this kind of international move. And a few months from now, I’m sure we’ll look back and say, yes, this was all worth it.

As for today, we are just feeling like we’re slogging about, making little progress. Hopefully, things will get “unstuck” soon, and we can again get excited about the future.

And the (painful) process begins

He said…

After making the decision to accept a job in UK and relocate, we have begun making the many arrangements that will be needed. So far, the process has ranged from boring to painfully difficult.

Of course, we have accepted that we will need to sell our house and dispose of most of our belongings. Several trips to Goodwill so far have managed to rid us of some items that really had little meaning…stuff we should have probably purged years ago.

Other items have been more challenging. I recently sold the stereo system I originally bought with my paper route money in 1972. It’s now considered vintage. And although I hadn’t used it in years, it was difficult to see it walk out the door.

Similarly, I have sold the 35 mm camera my mom & dad bought me for a graduation gift. And the 35mm camera my wife and I bought soon after we got married. Again, those things haven’t been used for years, but have strong and happy memories attached. And now they are gone.

And it is just the start. We will be selling our cars, and particularly difficult will be parting from our 2013 Subaru Outback, which has a rare 6-speed manual transmission and extremely low mileage (it was stored during our time in Japan). Love that car.

We have talked with our realtor about selling the house. More difficult, we’ve talked to a lady whose company specializes in estate sales/downsizings/relocations. Her company will come in and basically sell everything in our home, save for the items our kids want or the few things we will either take with us or store. She tells us we’ll feel much lighter after this. Yes, but it isn’t easy seeing the possessions accumulated over a lifetime go away.

Our most recent frustration is the UK visa application process. We have literally spent hours filling out the online forms, and I’m still not confident it’s done right. Part of the challenge was documenting all the travel we’ve done the last 10 years…every country, every date. We’ve been fortunate to travel a lot, and this was no easy matter.

Next week, we go to get our “biometrics” taken (photos and fingerprints)…kind of feel like a criminal. The cost is literally thousands of dollars, which fortunately my company is paying. Assuming all goes well, we’ll have bright, shiny new visas in a couple weeks. That is the entry point from which we can start to find housing and seriously consider the logistics of our move to UK.

We expected the next couple of months to be challenging. So far, that has absolutely been the case. And I have a feeling the frustrations aren’t behind us yet. But we are committed to this now, and have to look ahead to the great experience we’ll have once our home is reestablished in London.

She said…

Ditto of all he has said… I have such ambivalent feelings right now. London was the first place we thought we would like to try living abroad. But… then we ended up in Japan for almost 5 years. We love London, but now our situation is different. Having to “retire” from the company my husband has been with for 28+ years, and do this as a “contract” job, has made it so much more complicated. Getting rid of 43 years worth of belongings and permanently downsizing our life is scary! Finding an apartment, arranging health care and insurance, and moving our three kitties to a foreign country is a daunting task.

I really look forward to being “lighter” and more mobile, but every little thing we have has memories attached. I find myself waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning and worrying about what to do with this thing, or that thing. The anxiety machine just starts grinding, and I can’t get back to sleep.

I know… one step at a time. I need to focus on step 3 instead of worrying about step 27. I am just wanting it to all get done at once.

I have to remember that every experience in our lives, has led us on to the next experience. In 2013, we started walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Basically, we walked all across northern Spain… with nothing but our backpacks. We walked out the door every morning not knowing where we would sleep that night. It was an exhilarating experience that led us on to the next big thing… moving to Japan. We moved to a country where we knew no one, and didn’t even speak the language. We left our home and pets and belongings in the capable hands of our daughter. This time, though, we get rid of almost everything to move to another foreign country.

I will just have to trust… that we are ready for this step. I will keep telling myself that this is our next great adventure.

The story resumes… in London

He said…

In July 2020, we returned to our home in the United States after 4-1/2 years living in Tokyo. It was a difficult transition back. Although we like many things about our house and about living in the US, it just didn’t feel the same. We knew a change was going to be needed. And now, it is going to happen.

My company has offered me a 3-year job assignment in London. And, after some serious consideration, we’ve decided to accept it. And although we’ve now had international living experience, this time it will be different in many ways.

Last time, we essentially left our house and all our possessions in the capable hands of our daughter. She took care of the house – and our cats – while we were away. So, when we moved back, we were really just returning to the home we left.

This time, we will be selling our house…our cars…and many of our possessions that we’ve accumulated over 43 years of marriage. We have known that the time to “downsize” would come eventually. This is going to mean doing it in the next couple of months. To say that is stressful and nearly overwhelming is an understatement. I don’t think we yet know all this will involve, and the emotions it will arouse.

And, to add another layer of complexity, this time we are taking our 3 cats with us. We’ve done some research into the intricacies of moving pets to the UK, and the process is complicated and expensive. We can probably give the cats a sedative for the trip over. We may need one ourselves to get through the process.

And so, we begin this new phase of our lives with anticipation… excitement… curiosity… and a large dose of outright terror. We’re going to restart our blog to begin sharing our new international experiences. Hope you will enjoy it.

A year back in the US…the end of our story

She said…

Today marks exactly one year since my husband and I returned to Georgia, USA from our remarkable 4 1/2 years living in Tokyo, Japan. I have been trying to gather my thoughts and feelings about our return, and it has been very difficult for me. It is hard to verbalize my feelings, and put them into any coherent order… but here goes.

Almost six years ago, we were presented with the opportunity to move abroad… to Tokyo… for a two year work assignment. Not me, actually, but my husband. I, of course, would get to go along. We were very excited. It seemed the opportunity of a lifetime… the chance to travel to, and live in another country, another culture. I happily gave up my jobs, packed our things and arranged to have our home and pets looked after while we were gone. So in January of 2016, we boarded the plane and headed off for our adventure.

And what an adventure it was! We settled into our tiny Tokyo high-rise apartment… walking distance from my husband’s office… and never looked back. We traveled… my husband had many opportunities to travel with his job… and we saw not only Tokyo and Japan, but we also saw the world. India, China, UAE, Europe, Africa… we got to see so many new places.

Two years turned to three, and then to four. We loved it all. We were scheduled to return in May of 2020… unable to extend our time any longer. We were sad to leave, but we had plans to do some final trips to our favorite places in Japan before we had to leave. And then the pandemic hit. With travel restrictions in place, we spent the last four months of our time in Japan… mostly in our small apartment. We could go out, but traveling was not advisable.

So finally, in July of 2020, a year ago today, we boarded that plane again, and returned to our life in the USA.

It has been an unbelievably difficult transition back. And I feel like I haven’t fully made that transition. And I think there have been several reasons it has been so difficult.

“Home” is not the same anymore. For 4 1/2 years we made “home” where we were together. Our house in Georgia, USA was not our “home,” it was just a house. The USA changed while we were away. We watched from afar as the political turmoil grew and made America look mean and ugly. It has been hard to return to that. After a year back, things may be some better, but I can’t look at America the same way ever again.

And then there is the pandemic. COVID-19 has changed the whole world. With travel restrictions still in place all over the world, we have not been able to go anywhere. My husband is mostly working from his home office… with “virtual” meetings with his colleagues all over the world. With time zone differences, he sometimes has meetings in the middle of the night. His work schedule is usually something like 5AM to 2PM… with occasional midnight meetings, and evening meetings three days a week. No more business trips… everything has been conducted virtually.

For me… having him at home has been nice, but I do miss the travel we used to do. I have not attempted to go back to work. I worked in health care prior to our move to Japan. I haven’t really had the desire to go back to that. We haven’t even started traveling domestically, though I know there are no restrictions there. We haven’t had our whole family together in a very long time. We keep in touch with our out-of-state children by video chat. We haven’t visited with our grandson in a year and a half.

We have hopes that eventually the pandemic will end, and we can get back to traveling again. We were supposed to have several extended trips back to Japan. I hope at some point we will be able to do that. So… that is where things stand right now.

We had an amazing experience living in Japan. But what we have learned is that every experience changes you. We went to Japan expecting to have an interesting two years, and then we could just step right back into our previous lives. But that time in Japan changed us. It changed everything… and we now know that we can’t go back to the life we had before and feel the same contentment in it.

We keep moving, growing, learning… and we will just have to see what new adventures come our way.

* * *

He said…

Time passes quickly, and life goes on. A year ago, we left the home we loved in Tokyo and returned to the United States.

Our previous blogs speak of the difficulties we’ve had. The sense of loss for what we loved about Japan…the political upheaval and strife in the US…the COVID-19 pandemic that made any kind of normal life impossible. We hoped that, as time moved on, we would again feel like the US is home.

We have, to a degree, settled back into our life in the US. We enjoy our house, working in the yard, tending to a garden. There is some relief to the pandemic – we’re now fully vaccinated and things are a bit more relaxed, although we are still very conservative with social interactions, as the COVID variants pose an ongoing threat. Politically, the US now has restored some sense of sanity and stability in our government after a difficult and acrimonious election. We’ve relearned our favorite hiking areas, daily walking routes, and some of our old routines.

But what we didn’t fully realize is the extent to which our time in Japan changed us, in ways that are both deep and hard to explain. Many of the fundamental beliefs and paradigms we used to accept without question no longer make sense. A year after returning, we still feel oddly out of place and wondering what we want to do for the next step in our lives. Although we still haven’t worked out the answer to that question, we have decided that it probably won’t be staying where we are now.

In concluding this blog, let me say that the expat experience for me was one of the most rewarding, amazing experiences of my life. My wife and I have grown, together and individually, in so many ways.

For anyone considering a move to a foreign country, I would offer this advice: Think carefully about what you want, and what you expect. If you want to live in a foreign country the same way you live in the US, the expat life isn’t for you. If you’re ready to open your mind and really immerse yourself in a new culture, you may find an experience that is well beyond your expectations.

So now, faithful readers, it’s time for me to say goodbye to Four Years in Japan and move on to the next great adventure. I wish you safe travels, wherever they may take you.

Epilogue 3 … a month back in the US

A month ago today, we left our home in Japan to return to the United States. It has been a period of adjustment that I think will continue for quite some time.

We’ve been trying to focus on the positives, starting with getting reacquainted with our house and turning it back into our home. Our daughter did a good job taking care of it while we were away. We’ve spent the last month arranging and rearranging, cleaning out old things we no longer have a use for, painting, updating, and just settling in. Nice to have a big, full kitchen. Quiet evenings outside on the deck… listening to the tree frogs. We are back together again with our three cats… nice to have pets again! It is really starting to feel more like home.

For me, my job continues much as it was in Japan. I still work (virtually) with my colleagues in Tokyo, and also with our offices in London, Paris and Moscow. The really different part is the mental adjustment from being in the Japan time zone hours ahead of everyone else, to being in US Eastern time, hours behind everyone else. Virtual meetings that were in the evenings in Tokyo are now in the very early morning. Beyond the inconvenience and sleep disruption, there is just the disconcerting feeling of thinking in reverse about what time of day others are in. A feeling kind of like trying to write left-handed… it just seems awkward.

For my wife, it is a little more like being in limbo. She gave up her job in healthcare to go to Japan. And right now, for obvious reasons, it is not a great time to be looking for a new job in the healthcare field. There is still plenty of work to do with the house, and… at least… we are secluded together.

More difficult are the uncertainties of the times. COVID-19, and all the restrictions, concerns and worries associated with it… not being able to go places and do the things we want to, and not being able to easily visit with friends and family who are again living in the same city. We have come home to a dysfunctional, corrupt US government. The country feels so different from what we remember when we left in 2016. The changes are disturbing, and there seem to be no real solutions in sight.

Perhaps the hardest thing for us, however, has been saying goodbye to a very special time. We wake up thinking of our home in Tokyo, or at random times we think about or remember something from our Tokyo life. We miss walking along the canals… we miss our favorite places, or miss riding the trains and subways around the city… even just walking along the streets of our neighborhood in Shibaura. Looking back, the four-and-a half years in Japan were some of the best times of our lives. We experienced so much… and learned so much. There were difficulties and frustrations, but it was a time and a place that we shared together, and fell in love with. The time went by so incredibly fast.

So, a month into the next chapter of our lives, we are still adapting. Some days are better than others. We are so fortunate to be healthy and comfortable.

They say that time is a great healer. If that is true, one day we’ll be able to look back on our time in Japan, and feel less of the sadness of what is over, and more of the joy of that very special time in our lives.

Mt. Fuji

Epilogue 2 … loss and uncertainty

We have now completed our two-week self-quarantine after returning to the US from Japan. Fortunately, we are healthy and COVID-19 free. But we still feel unsettled and uncomfortable with our “new” life.

This difficulty in transitioning back was never supposed to happen. The plan was to spend two years abroad, have some good experiences, and return to restart our old life. Simple, uncomplicated, no problem.

But life seems seldom to be simple. Along the way, we fell in love with our life in Japan. The two years became four and a half, and the love of that life deepened. Japan became our adopted home.

So now, although it must sound strange to most everyone else, we are grieving. It’s like a loved one has died. We’ve moved along the five stages of grief and passed denial, anger and bargaining, and now are firmly entrenched in depression.

As we work through our emotions, we are trying to reestablish normalcy. Working on the house, cleaning out old and unneeded clutter, finding our old grocery store, buying a new car. All these things help us to connect to the old life with a new perspective.

But it isn’t easy. It would have been hard in normal times. Today, we have COVID-19 and all its concerns and complications. It’s hard to see a solution or any hope for normalcy anytime soon, as the virus surges out of control and so many people – including our government “leaders” – are failing to do anything to stop it.

We also grieve about what has happened to our country while we were away. Hate, corruption, and a disdain for decency has festered in our national government. Now we have federally-sponsored goon squads attacking peaceful protesters in our cities. Like COVID-19, our political system has turned into a threat to the lives and liberty of our country, and it is hard to be hopeful for any improvement. This isn’t the America we hoped to return to.

So, if you see us hesitate when you ask, “aren’t you glad to be back,” we hope you will understand. Yes, we are glad in some ways. And yet, we haven’t yet come to grips with our loss. We will get better, as time goes on. We hope you will be patient with us.

Sunset in Tokyo