Packing a Container

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Packing a Container

This year, for the first time, we are shipping a container of belongings back to Djibouti. Primarily, this is because we bought a car here and it won’t fit in Tom’s suitcase (mine will be full of clothes and books).

The problem with shipping a container for the husband is that he has to pack it. The problem with shipping a container for the wife is that she gets to fill it.

In the middle of studying and preparing for his written prelim, Tom will (probably) drive to Chicago, load the vehicle and household items into a container and fly back. This is Tom’s problem and sounds like a lot of work, but I am reminded of friends who drove from Kenya, through Ethiopia, into northern Somalia. And of other friends who drove from South Africa to Burundi. Seven hours on American freeways and loading things into a container doesn’t sound so bad.

The problem I am facing is that now I have the opportunity, probably the only one of my Djibouti-life, to bring large, heavy items back. That means free weights and beach chairs and jugs of peanut butter, 8 at one time (thanks to a thoughtful friend).

This is a good sort of problem except that I am starting to get the shopping-mall-headache. The kind of headache that comes on when I realize how much money all of this costs, even though I won’t shop for another year or two and we really don’t have a fridge or a stove or bookshelves in Africa anymore. The kind of headache that comes on when I try to figure out how long to plan for and start crying in Kohls. The kind of headache that comes on from spending too much time in artificial indoor light on beautiful, sunny summer days.

Our container will arrive on a ship like this if the pirates can keep their hands off it.

At this point in our Minnesota stays, I tend to start returning things. Anything, just to stop the bleed of money and to stop feeling like a pig. To do this, I have to return to the dreaded stores, so it is a kind of punishment for my over-indulgence. Unfortunately, it also means my mom might have to return to the store six months later, purchase the same item, and mail it to us in an exorbitantly-priced package which will (hopefully) arrive.

I wish I had this packing thing all figured out and you’d think that after ten years, I would. But it changes as fast as the kids grow and as fast as we eat food and as fast as Djibouti water destroys waist bands and appliances.

Any packing tips? For container or suitcases?

By |July 18th, 2012|Categories: Uncategorized|11 Comments


  1. Donna July 18, 2012 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Alas, no packing tips whatsoever. But we are planning a trip back home soon, and so I am currently obsessing about what should/must/oughta be bought while we’re there. I have a list in the draft folder of my email, and I keep compulsively running to the computer to add “flouride” or “eye liner” or “those awesome little Asian snack bags with the seaweed wrapped crackers.” So I feel your pain.

    • Djibouti Jones July 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm - Reply

      I keep my list in a draft file on my email too! That’s funny. The terrible thing about it is that my computer was stolen last fall and I’d backed up everything except the email and so I lost my list!! Argh! Now I’m trying to remember everything. Oh well, we always have what we need.

  2. The Reeds July 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    Sorry I have no help! You’re three years past my overseas experience so you’re my senior by far! This is maybe gross and strange but canned tuna and canned chicken were treasured for us. As well as canned tomatoes and TVP (all types- “chicken” flavored, “taco” flavored) also powdered eggs and depending on your store situation powdered milk in huge containers), and big containers of vitamins. And baby clothes for gifts when people deliver but really- that’s opening up a whole new can of worms. Let us know how it goes! We only have one container experience that involved a recliner, a desk and a soap stone dish that almost caused the biggest fight of our marriage! Here’s to no fighting and easy arrival of cargo!

  3. Dan July 18, 2012 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    I love your blog, its always so interesting and gives such an amazing insight into the life of the Jones family.

  4. inpatagoniaargentina July 19, 2012 at 1:49 am - Reply

    Hi, been following for a few months now, don’t think I’ve posted.

    Tips: Buy it now and take it. You’ll regret it later if you don’t! Trust me! My hubs studied YouTube videos in order to learn how to properly load and tie down a car – you MUST tie it down right or it will get all battered on the open ocean! He should take a friend or two if he has one that is really good with visual space and packing (like truckers or movers or engineers).

    I feel your pain. We shopped and packed for 6 months for our move to Patagonia. It was extremely stressful – but so glad we brough it all! And, like you said – we haven’t gone shopping in a year and love it! Wish I had brought the case of peanut butter!!!

    Here’s our container post if you’re interested:

    I’ll pray for your sanity!

    • Djibouti Jones July 19, 2012 at 1:57 am - Reply

      Great to hear from you Patagonia and thanks for the packing tips, we’ve never done the car thing before and would hate to open the container on the other side to find a battered vehicle!

  5. L July 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm - Reply


    If you have the whole container to yourself, why bother packing???

    Seriously though, more things available, foodwise, so dont bring too much. But definitely the peanut butter, I have been bugging them about it. But, I think they dont even know what I am talking about. I even had a conversation about ordering it last week with the manager, where he spoke in French and I spoke in English. We either understood each other perfectly or not all….dont know which!

    Good luck…and look forward to seeing you soon. L

  6. Sarah July 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    One of my must-haves would be a sewing machine and fabrics! And I too, think better to buy it while in the States. Stuff there is cheap! and easy to buy! and available in all sizes/flavors/varieties! If you end up with too much, you will likely find a way to make it work, or to be a blessing to someone else.

    Oh, this is Lyla’s friend Sarah. I wish we could all get together in real life.

    • Djibouti Jones July 20, 2012 at 2:32 am - Reply

      I agree, someday we will have to get together in real life. I don’t sew, but my daughter does, so I think a machine might make its way into our container.

  7. homeschoolmama July 20, 2012 at 3:52 am - Reply

    I keep thinking of all the things I would miss if I lived somewhere like Djibouti, and what comes to mind most often are things like your peanut-butter… kitchen staples that might be hard to find, but that are shelf-stable for nigh unto forever.

    Oh, and someone once posted something about butt-sweats. I’d pack extra 100% cotton underthings. Possibly even in increasing sizes for growing kiddos.

  8. Expatriate Archive Centre July 23, 2012 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Good luck with your packing! No packing tips I’m afraid, but if you ever decide to move on from Djibouti, we’d love to have any expat-related ephemera you’ve collected over the years. We preserve the life stories of expats and collect things like paperwork, tickets, invites, photos, written accounts etc. We’ll even arrange a free pickup, so you can happily offload all that paper – knowing that they’ll be preserved properly – and get a scanned digital copy in return! Much easier to transport 😉

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