Chapter 3: The Elephant. Bon Apetit.

June 19, 2018

Moving To Mexico:  USAdios

Chapter 3:  The Elephant.  Bon Apetit.

The old saying is that you can eat an elephant if you do it one bite at a time.  For me, that means a list is needed.  I need an action plan.  The amount of what we need to do seems huge and even though we have a year to accomplish all of it, it seems daunting.

This list will certainly change and grow, but for now we need to:

  1. Prepare our house in California for sale.
  2. Get our son off to college on the other side of the nation.
  3. Organize and store all of our belongings.
  4. Deal with the multiple car situation.

Right now, there are two elephants staring me down.  One we will eat slowly.  The other one we are trying to ignore but he’s taking up a lot of room.  The elephant in the room is the fact that my lovely wife is not helping me with this move.

“At this time, it’s all planning.  Planning is just not my strong point.  It’s yours.”  She said to me as if 24 years together had not already proven that point.  “But I’ll help you with anything.  I’m here to get this done.”

She was right.  Planning has always been my wheelhouse.  My wife is an incredible woman.  She managed raising our son, still worked full time as a very successful account executive and made a very good living doing so; a living I rarely matched.  For all of my supposed “skills” her personality and drive out earned me almost every year.  But she is and always has been an organizational mess.  I guess one of the reasons our marriage works is that we balance each other and forgive each other’s shortcomings.  I’m the planner in this relationship so I’d better get planning.

First, we needed to make some major decisions so I could get us moving in a forward direction.  After a long discussion this morning, we decided to shelf the Texas house idea for the short term.  Maintaining two households in two nations would be very expensive.  The real reason for the delay would be the fact that we have never even lived in our new Mexico house.  Building a new home in a new country was a reason for celebration, not complication.  I needed to explain this to my wife.  I remembered a seasonal issue from my childhood that I could use as an example.  I come from a family rife with divorce.  My wife does not.  I used this fact metaphorically.

“When I was a kid, sometimes we had to do half of Christmas at my dad’s house and half with my mom’s family.”  I said.  “The holiday was split in two.”

“Why do you bring that up now?”  Betty asked, sipping her coffee this morning.

“It’s a stretch, but see if my metaphor makes any sense.  Having two Christmas’ was always weird to me.  Christmas was the best day of the year when I was a kid.  You would think that two Christmas’s would be twice as good.”

“Wasn’t it?”  She asked.

“No.  For some reason, having two didn’t double the holiday.  It felt like a great day cut in half.  It diminished it.  It was too much travel and preparation and too little enjoyment and relaxation.”  I said.  “Not to mention, when you ‘visit’ your own family on a holiday you feel like a guest star, not a member.  It was weird.”

“I see.” She said, trying to understand.  Her family was the definition of normal.  Mine was more of a cautionary tale.

“I get the same feeling about the house in Texas.” I said.

“Why?”  She looked up at me confused.  “You have wanted a place in Texas for thirty years.”`

“And I’ve wanted a place in the Caribbean for longer than that.  Doing both at the same time might diminish each while increasing the pressure and details exponentially.”  I explained.  “Maybe it would be better do each separately, take a little time with each and enjoy the ride.”

“We’re not in a hurry.”  She said.  “Let’s take our time.”  I nodded.  For once in our lives, we were not in a hurry.  Thank God for that.

Our house is in good shape, but preparing it for sale is going to take a lot of work.  Our home was built in the 1960’s.  It’s a fairly typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch home located at the end of a cul de sac in a nice neighborhood in Walnut Creek, California.  In the seventeen years we have owned this home, we have replaced or upgraded everything but the front door and that is on the list.  I’m actually very proud of what we have accomplished with this house and we’ve been blessed by the double-edged sword that is the soaring Bay Area housing market.

Not only do I feel sorry for anyone trying to break into this housing market, I question their sanity.  Homes in our neighborhood are selling for about $700.00 a square foot.  We paid just over $575K for our home when our son was born in 2001 and since then the value has almost tripled.  That’s a good thing for us, but it’s just one more reason for us to leave.  Things here have gone crazy and it has attracted crazy people from all over the world.

I work best with lists and spreadsheets.  Yes, I’m Type A and a control freak.  But when I attempt to compartmentalize and group the list of things I want to upgrade and repair, I get dizzy.  The only way I can even attempt to begin the preparation of our house for sale is front to back.  This may not be the most logical method but it makes my blood pressure go down a few points.

First, I want to scrape and paint the metal gate that borders our front yard.  Curb appeal is a first impression and I want our home to make a good one.  It will look so much nicer with a fresh coat of black paint.  From there I plan to plant some more greenery in some areas and perhaps patch and paint the large triangle of wood over the garage door that I have nailed Christmas decorations and lights to for so many years.  Once the front yard looks good, I’ll probably work on both sides of the house and then the rear.  That should take us into Winter when I will focus more on the interior.  Now, that sounds like a workable plan.

Later this month, we are going to visit a college that our son is pretty sure he wishes to attend.  We have narrowed down his choices to about a half dozen, but I’m fairly sure he will end up in Florida.  We will be travelling there this month for five days to tour the campus and look at housing options.  The thought of him leaving us for college is bittersweet.  Of course, we’re proud of him and his accomplishments but he’s our only child and when he moves out I’m sure we will go through that famous empty-nest depression for a while.  It’s inevitable but I’m not looking forward to it.

Now that our days are numbered here, I think it would be a good idea to take our son to some of our favorite places in San Francisco.  Our families go back four generations in that city.  The state of the city now saddens me but I think this summer we should show him the places we loved.  When we left San Francisco and moved to Walnut Creek back in 1995, we missed the city terribly.  It took about two years for us to assimilate and get used to the warmer weather but once we did we never looked back.  These days, we visit the city very rarely and when we have business there we dread it.  We have become the bridge and tunnel people we used to laugh at and I’m totally fine with it.

My wife and son have never walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Perhaps we should start there.


We are pretty sure at this time that we will store our “can’t-do-without” items instead of shipping them.  One of the reasons we came to this conclusion is the cost.  Beyond the unforeseen hassles of customs paperwork, shipping snafus and the inevitable damage that occurs when moving big things from one place to another, the costs have proven to be substantial.

I found an online expat article from January of 2017 that looked into this very issue and found the costs to be more than we want to spend.  The article also pointed out that the process is a detailed one.

In order to ship your belongings to Mexico, you can’t just show up with your U-Haul and say, “Hola!”  Your immigration status must be handled ahead of time.  You must have Residente Permanente (Permanent Resident) or Residente Temporal (Temporary Resident) status if you plan to live in Mexico indefinitely.  *Temporary Resident status requires you to take your belongings with you when you leave Mexico and the government discourages selling or giving items away.

You must inventory and list each item with model, brand name and serial number in Spanish on a form called a “Menaje de Casa”.  Gee, that sounds like fun!  Only used items are allowed to be shipped into Mexico without a duty being applied.  Be prepared to show receipts for all of the things you bring, too.  Being the consummate consumers we are, we have a drawer full of receipts but they are not organized.  More fun!

There are many restrictions on what you may bring with you to Mexico.  For example, firearms and ammunition of any kind are not allowed.  That makes sense.  You may not bring food, plants, spices, or seeds which also makes sense.  It’s recommended that you take personal medication, supplements and perfumes with your personal luggage instead of shipping them.  All of this is very practical information but there is a lot of corresponding paperwork needed that I won’t bore you with here.  Suffice to say it’s a detailed, international process handled by government employees.  That alone is enough of a deterrent.

Here’s the scene:  it’s 92 degrees with 85% humidity.  You are jet-lagged and a bit hungover from the going away party your friends threw for you when you left California for Mexico.  You’re worried because your small dog is looking a bit pekid from the travel and weather change.  A Mexican customs official is asking you questions about the belongings in the shipping container you sent.  He speaks no English and your Spanish skills might get you a C- on a first-grade quiz.  The fun begins.

Then there is the cost.  The article I read sampled three of the most popular relocation companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and used a typical 2,000 square foot home including appliances for pricing.  The highest fee charged was $20,700.00, the middle fee was $17,858.00 and the lowest fee was $16,700.00.  Wow, didn’t see that one coming.

Suddenly, we are not that attached to our furniture.  Just like the garage sale, the value of our things just went way down.  When I furnished the first lower unit in Mexico, I shopped locally and only spent a total of $7,145.00 on everything to include furniture, electronics, a bed, dishes, and cookware.  There are spoons in the drawer, towels in the closet, extra sheets, cleaning supplies and even some household tools for repairs.  Granted, I purchased a lot of the smaller things at Wal Mart and similar stores.  But the modern furniture was from a high-end Italian importer and the bed was made by Sealy Posturepedic.  That unit looks very nice and is 100% ready for guests.  *Let me know if you would like to visit!

The unit I furnished was a 750 square foot, 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom unit as compared to our second floor unit (where we will live) which is a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom unit with 1,500 square feet.  In order to calculate the cost to furnish the second floor, I won’t just double or triple what I spent on the lower unit.  All I would really need is another bedroom furnished.  The rest of the household would be very similar with perhaps a larger couch, dining table and perhaps another side table.  Even if it cost $9,000.00 to furnish and fit out the second floor, buying locally would not only save money, it would afford us new things and insure the décor was consistent.

Another thing to consider is that our furniture here in California is almost all made of softer wood that may be damaged by termites in the Mayan Riviera.  Hardwoods and composite materials are more popular in the area for that reason.  Lastly, we don’t even have enough furniture here in California to properly equip our Mexican house.  Our home in California is just over 2,000 square feet and we don’t have four beds, three dining sets, three couches, etc.  Now, flat screen TV’s…we would have that covered!  We would wind up having to purchase more furniture anyway so we may as well make it uniform in style throughout the home.

Our situation is certainly not typical.  Some people are very attached to their belongings and may find comfort having familiar furniture in a new place.  Others may have very expensive or unique items that would be difficult to replicate or too costly to replace.  And most people don’t build a triplex like we did.  Our plan is to rent the lower units on Airbnb.  Let’s hope that plan works out.


I think I have a plan for the car storage situation.  To recap, I have six cars to deal with.  Three of the cars will go to my sister-in-laws house.  I plan to sell one, our son will take one and I need to store one.

I just made an appointment with a local storage facility less than ten miles away that will let me store a car in a ten-foot by twenty-foot indoor locker for $300.00 per month.  They also have storage for household items with sizes at large as twenty by forty feet.  This just may be the place I have been searching for.  I’m hoping we can get away with a fifteen by thirty-five foot unit which will cost $697.00 per month, but we are going to work hard to reduce the amount of furniture we keep and hopefully reduce the amount of storage we’ll need.  Grandpa was right.  How many times do we want to pay for our old furniture anyway?

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