Furnishing Your New Home after an Overseas Move

I met up with some South African friends recently and we got to talking about how everyone moved here to the United States and what they brought with them. Within the group, answers ranged between “just what we could fit in our luggage” to “half a container” to “everything I owned”. As with every other decision in life, it is highly personal and only you can decide what you absolutely need to bring with when starting your new life abroad.

Shipping Container

In our case, we sold or gave away most of our household items and paid for half a shipping container full of possessions we “couldn’t part with”. We still ended up with items we couldn’t use going forward and items that just didn’t fit in our new home(s). I have two posts – 7 Items to Leave Behind When Moving Overseas and 4 Items I Don’t Regret Moving to the States that cover my lists.

I’ve seen a lot of questions lately on how you start over. The number one question though is how to furnish a new apartment or house after such a huge move. And this is where you can have a whole lot of fun without spending a fortune if you are so inclined.

Moving from SA


We moved into an unfurnished rental house three weeks after arriving in Atlanta and we were very lucky to have family here who had some extra items for us.  It included beds for all of us and a dining room table with four chairs.

We still needed some other essentials though.  On moving day, we went shopping for additional bedroom furniture at local furniture stores but finally settled on a “pre-loved” set from a very nice consignment store. It included two nightstands and a cabinet.

Included in our container were three couches, my great grandmother’s vanity table, some toy chests and our large dining room table with 12 chairs. So I knew from the start that I didn’t want to get duplicate furniture that we won’t need when our container arrives. We desperately needed some furniture for the living room. We found a patio set at BigLots and decided to use it in our living room while we waited for our container to arrive. The kids didn’t really care that we didn’t have comfy seating – they were usually on the floor on pillows and under blankets.

Empty Living Room

After 2 months and no word on when our container will arrive, we went out and spent $80 at our local Goodwill store on a large three seat recliner. The patio set moved out to the deck and we were finally a bit more comfortable while watching television. It quickly became a favorite nap space for the kids and the newly adopted chihuahua.

Napping on the Couch

Unpacking the Container

Our container arrived four months after we did. I know this sounds extreme, but there was a delay in filling the other half so our belongings spent a lot of extra time in a warehouse in South Africa.  I was so excited when it finally arrived though.  It gave me the opportunity to finally make the rental house feel like our home.

The first order of business was for the movers to put our huge dining room table into the unfinished basement for storage. There just wasn’t enough room for it in the house itself. Two of the three couches joined our Goodwill find in the living room and the third got a spot in the dining room. In the dining room, we were also able to swap out the four “crappy” chairs with four of our own. My great grandmother’s vanity table found a home in my daughter’s room and she was really happy to have it. The rest of the items were in boxes and we moved those into the appropriate rooms to unpack later.

I was really happy to see all our things from South Africa. Our boxes included artwork, our braai (barbeque) tools, toys and games, clothing, blankets, photo albums and even some kitchen items. I wasted no time in hanging my artwork and it transformed the rental house. The kids loved seeing their toys again, but it also gave me a huge fright to see what they packed in their boxes! We ended up with a lot of broken, dirty toys that shouldn’t have made the “cut” at all. A little piece of advice – don’t let your little ones pack their own boxes! I totally agree with allowing them to decide what they want to bring with on the move, but definitely supervise the packing part 🙂

New Uses for Furniture

Some of our South African furniture got used in brand new ways.  A good example was the toy chest my dad made for my son. There was no space for it in his bedroom and since we didn’t have a coffee table for the living room, we just used it there. I have to say, it worked well as a coffee table and we got some additional storage as an added bonus.  After doing coffee table duty, it became a toy chest again and now, after a mini makeover, it is a bench in my foyer.

Re-purpose Furniture

Home Appliances

If you are moving into a rental apartment or house, or if you are buying a house, your Real Estate listing will provide very valuable information. Not only will it tell you how many bedrooms your new home will have, but it will also tell you what appliances are included. Generally, kitchens will have the stove and dishwasher, and sometimes even the microwave and fridge. Normally, washers and dryers are not included. But keep in mind, this can differ from state to state, and listing to listing. You will have all the information right at the beginning of the rent/buy process. And don’t forget about the option to negotiate and ask the sellers to include some of the other appliances or furniture you are missing.


Smart Shopping

As time went by we needed additional furniture pieces. I’ve shopped for a lot of my furniture at discount, thrift and consignment stores.  Early on Simon needed a desk for his room and I found a great pre-loved one while out grocery shopping one day.  I recommend stopping by the thrift and consignment stores often and hold out for the item that will work best in your space.  For me, certain furniture needed to be bought brand new (like mattress sets), but I balanced it out by buying other items second hand. I didn’t always find what I needed right away so if it meant living without it for a while, that is what we did.  Some of my other pre-loved finds included my own desk and a lovely accent chair for the guest room.

Thrift Store Furniture

If I had to do it all over again, I would still furnish my house the same way. Little by little, pulling it together over time. We even built some new furniture along the way! How did you furnish your home after such a big move?

The house was finally feeling like my new home but I still struggled with adjusting to my new life.  Read more about My Top 5 Tips for Adjusting to Life in the States.

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