Long Distance Moving – Round 2

Last year when we moved from Austin, Texas to Columbus, Ohio I wrote a blog on just how broken long distance moving is in the United States currently. See: Broken Economics of Long Distance Moving

Well, as it turns out, we only ended up staying a year and are now back in Austin. On the return trip, we learned a few things. That is, we had a chance to take action on some of the lessons learned from the first move and make some headway on the problem.

Minimalist Furniture

When we arrived in Ohio we knew already that my new job was somewhat unstable. That is, it seemed to have some potential to grow into a really interesting job, but the initial assignment was risky and was only a contract position. As such, we made the sensible decision to avoid investing in any heavy traditional furniture – with the thought that we would invest more once the job stabilized.

We had a second floor apartment with no elevator and my rule was: “only things that I can carry up the stairs safely by myself” This restriction was a combination of weight and size/awkwardness. For example, when I went to Best Buy to get a television, I went down the row of boxes, pulled them out, and picked them up until I was comfortable that I would be able to carry the box up the stairs. We ended up with a 32″ Samsung LCD TV – not something to get the buddies around to watch the Super Bowl, but adequate for our purposes.

Sofas and beds were more difficult. For a sofa, we found a futon sofa-bed at Walmart for about $135. The staff helped us load the big box into the back of Tomoko’s Honda Fit. When we got back to the apartment, I carefully cut the box open while it was still in the car, and carried the two halves up the stairs one-at-a-time.

We started with a queen size inflatable bed from Walmart. It was sort of OK – a bit hard while sleeping, but spongy when you needed to sit on it to put on your socks. It gave out about 6 months in. We replaced it with two of the same Walmart futon sofa-bed units. Snapped down into the flat position and placed next to each other, these were just the size of a king size mattress and we used a set of king size sheets on them. They were a bit hard, but we managed to sleep on them without incident for another six months.

picture shows a beat-up, but sturdy blue chair of the type used by school districts
Blue Chair from New Uses

Tables were all folding card tables of various shapes from Walmart. One problem was that the Walmart folding chairs had a very poor design for the hinge. Shift slightly in your seat and the chair would collapse…

…which took us to Tomoko’s favorite place: New Uses in Dublin, Ohio. Here we found a pair of incredibly ugly blue steel chairs that had apparently survived thirty years or so in some school district’s multipurpose auditorium. After scraping the dried chewing gum off of the bottoms, these served us well.

Getting Rid of the Furniture

Once it was clear that we were relocating back to Austin, Tomoko went into high-gear working the Columbus-area Japanese community on Facebook to find homes for all of the furniture we had acquired. She managed to get rid of absolutely everything except the two ugly blue chairs. On the last day, as we moved out, we placed these in the area of the apartment garbage compacter. They were gone within an hour.

Cars Continue to be a Problem

Our intent was to ship the cars and fly back to Austin. However, again it was problematic. We tried uShip but the results were not satisfactory. The uShip concept sounds really appealing – wonderful, high-tech, Austin internet company coordinates the shipping universe making it all painless. Unfortunately, the idea is better than the reality. The problem is that while uShip provides a glitzy internet front end, the underlying shippers are at the low end of our society’s skills/status ladder. Their communication skills are awful. Eventually we simply gave up and decided to drive our two cars back to Austin – not very fun, and not very cheap either, but a more predictable/reliable alternative than shipping them.

Books by Media Mail

OK, so we were driving the cars, but we have rather small cars. We still needed to reduce the bulk as much as possible. Here is where we started scoring some bulls eyes. Books? We packed six 12″ square cardboard boxes full of books and took them to the Post Office. As long as you put nothing at all except books in the boxes, the rate is really cheap. Not only that, these days the Post Office even provides tracking numbers for media mail. Total cost for shipping our books: $67.50

If you want to try this yourself:

  1. Use small boxes. Books are really heavy. You really don’t want boxes larger than around 12″x12″x12″ That size box will weigh 18-20 pounds when you fill it with books.
  2. Pay for strong boxes. We used the cheap normal shipping boxes from Walmart. None of them made it without tearing. We didn’t lose any books, but we could have. If I do this again, I will look for sturdier, more expensive boxes.

Fedex Ground

picture shows Tomoko and 8 boxes
Sending 8 Boxes from the Dublin, Ohio Fedex Store

Everything else – one television, one computer monitor, and six boxes of other stuff – we sent by Fedex Ground. Fedex has the option of shipping directly to a Fedex store rather than your home. Fedex will hold the items at the store for 5 business days. We chose this option. You do have to look carefully, however, to make sure that the “Fedex Location” you are choosing is actually a full-blown Fedex Office location and not just a drop box or a kiosk in a grocery store.

picture shows Fedex employee handing us a box
Picking up the 8th Box in Austin, Texas

Fedex Ground was a great deal. Total cost for 8 boxes was $327. One thing in our experience did catch us by surprise: we expected Fedex Ground to be slow, but it wasn’t slow at all. Our stuff was in Austin with 36 hours. That was a little bit of a surprise because we had planned our own drive for four days. The approach still ended up working fine. We picked up our boxes in Austin the evening of the 4th business day.

Summary

There are still two intractable problems:

  1. Shipping cars is a mess.
  2. Shipping heavy furniture is a mess.

Other than these two problems, however, the Post Office and Fedex are pound-for-pound very competitive with any long distance moving service and they both offer superior service, tracking, reliability, and accountability. As it was, we spent less than $400 on the combination of the two. In retrospect, we probably could have shipped every bit of the rest of everything we took with us in the cars for another $500-$600.

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One thought on “Long Distance Moving – Round 2

  1. For a bit more about the history of how we wrecked long-haul trucking (apparently not just for furniture shipping) read this excellent article from the June 26, 2017 edition of Business Week. The article focuses on a company that is trying to convert truck driving to a semi-autonomous telemetry application that would allow drivers to work from air-conditioned offices near their homes. However, the article also includes useful information about the the history of trucking deregulation and how the industry prefers to keep the job a miserable one for people with no other options. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-06-22/these-truckers-work-alongside-the-coders-trying-to-eliminate-their-jobs

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