A recurring theme you will hear people talk about in the Foreign Service is their household effects, most often referred to as their HHE. As you move around the world from one post to another, your world of belongings follow you by boat and truck and other slow means of transport, and eventually arrive several months later.
Some posts don’t allow you to bring everything and so after a few moves you can easily find yourselves with things in numerous storage locations around the world. Even the most organised person will end up having the wrong things in the wrong place. Whether it’s a 110V appliance in a 220V zone, a wardrobe of winter clothes in a hot climate or your favourite picture, it’s easy for things to get packed into the wrong box headed to the wrong place at the wrong time.
Trying to then store things that come that you don’t need, having to buy something you already own that didn’t get shipped, or selling something you can’t move, managing HHE can be frustrating at times. That, combined with the long waiting game, the preparation that goes into the packout before any departure and the unpacking process upon arrival, it’s understandable why this is a popular talking point amongst expats.
When you arrive at post there are a whole number of things that you end up waiting for, so it’s easy to find yourselves counting the days until certain things happen. Waiting to get into your assigned housing, waiting for your car shipment to arrive from some far flung place, waiting for your HHE, waiting for certain jobs to be posted – all things that go a long way to helping you feel like you can really enjoy the relatively short time you have in each two or three year post.
We have tried hard not to wish away the time until our stuff arrived and to instead maximise our time through other things, but this was sometimes hard. I’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve said, ‘it’s coming’. Glasses, measuring cups, large baking bowls, wood saw, herbs and spices, more than four forks, ironing board and our tools are just some of the things we have found ourselves looking for. Added to that is the lack of pictures and decorations that would truly make the house feel like ours. Though these are simple things that sometimes we don’t feel, there are other days where you feel like it’s hard to make any progress on anything.
In the grand scheme of things we have lived here quite well without any of these things, and so to some extent we wonder whether lugging these things all over the world is truly worth it. We are extremely lucky with our housing assignment, the somewhat limited but useful Welcome Kit and furniture they provide, so really there isn’t any reason to complain. But then we sit on our government provided sofa from the 80s, all scratched up from the previous tenants’ cats, with a back so low your head doesn’t relax, and we find ourselves dreaming of our lovely sofa and cushions that we bought with our wedding money ten years ago.
As I find myself using bread pans as mixing bowls, mugs for orange juice or a bucket as a toolbox, I do find myself thinking some of these little things will be easier when our stuff comes. I’ve stayed busy working on projects that I could do without our things and so we’ve built a compost bin and headboard, prepared coat and tool racks, landscaped the garden and refinished the government provided outdoor furniture. But now several of my projects are half finished as I wait for the saw, the masonry bits and drill, vegetable seeds and sewing machine so I’m reaching a point where I’m running out of things to do.
The timing is perfect however. Two and a half months since we moved from DC, and nine months since we last saw our things in London, we are finally just mere days away from having our HHE delivered.
So how does this all work? It’s a pretty simple process…
Step 1 – pack up your life to move
Step 2 – chase HHE
Step 3 – chase HHE some more
Step 4 – prepare for arrival of HHE at short notice
Step 5 – chaos
Step 6 – more chaos
Step 7 – even more chaos just when you thought it should be done
Step 8 – almost a home
Step 9 – home sweet home
Most people who know me know how much I love making a home and getting settled, fast, so hopefully we can find ways to skip steps 6 and 7 and go straight to 9. We will have one slight complication to this whole process that may delay things a bit but it’s only a tiny thing that is just going to add to all of the makings of a lovely home – more on that later.
In the meantime hopefully this whole process will be smooth and fast and soon we will have all of the comforts and things special to us to truly make this house a home.