My top tips for preparing to move home to Ireland

With 20 years of Scouting behind us, we planned our family’s return from Australia with precision

James Parnell with his wife Anne-Marie and their three children, outside their home in Sydney before they left for Ireland: ‘We identified challenges in advance and planned them to oblivion.’

James Parnell with his wife Anne-Marie and their three children, outside their home in Sydney before they left for Ireland: ‘We identified challenges in advance and planned them to oblivion.’

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This article is part of an ongoing series for Irish Times Abroad about James Parnell’s experience of returning to Ireland after 16 years in Australia.

In August 2015 my family decided to return to Ireland after 16 years. Then followed - for us - the enjoyable part: planning the whole adventure.

My wife Anne-Marie and I have 20 years of Scouts membership behind us and I’ve worked in projects for almost the same. If we can’t plan who can? Bringing a family of five to live on the other side of the planet is like any other trip, except bigger. After making the journey back, and having had a few months to reflect on the challenges we were faced with, here is the advice I would give to others.

Own the decision: We decided to own our decision to move home completely. You can pick ten reasons to hate a decision or ten reasons to love it. We embraced the reasons to love ours every single time. But we didn’t bury our heads in the sand. We identified challenges in advance and planned them to oblivion. 

Prepare mentally: The most important preparation for a significant shift is mental. Individually and together, myself and my wife needed to be emotionally ready for the move.

My personal preparation began a while earlier, I just didn’t know it. Years ago, I started to meditate, which changed me fundamentally. It clarified what is important to me. Happiness became less defined by external factors. I became more grateful and more resilient to challenges.

Agree principles: As a couple, we had to lead this expedition. We agreed some working principles:

* Nobody would suggest returning to Australia during the first two years.

* We would never blame one other.

* We pre-meditated our responses to challenges.

* We agreed things we would not compromise on. We had done our own thing for 16 years in Australia, and accepted we would lose some independence.

* We would stick together, communicate and always share anything worrying us.

* We would look forward, not back.

Prioritise: We agreed our top priorities:

* Settle the kids and ensure they are happy.

* Remove big obstacles. Have a can-do attitude and make it as easy as possible for ourselves.

* Be kind to ourselves. What we were doing was an enormous upheaval. Not everything would be smooth. We would give ourselves credit and celebrate the wins.

Enjoy the excitement: We made it an adventure and had fun. “Days-to-Go” on the kitchen wall from 120 days allowed the kids to rip a sticky note off each morning, building the excitement.

Sort out logistics: Here are the top eight things we had to consider logistically, and our solutions for each challenge:

1. Timing is everything. We were not constrained by work or a place to live. Our priority was the kids so we returned for my daughter Ava’s communion with her new class. She struggled most with the decision to leave Australia so we accommodated this. Lock the time in as soon as appropriate but don’t rush it. This forces you to plan and avoids uncertainty.

2. Finances: We did a detailed budget for the first time in our lives. It was worth the effort. We learned a lot: what we could afford, lost finances, and importantly how we spent money and what this would mean in Ireland. What you can afford dictates what you do. Do this early. Manage it continuously for life!

3. Finding a home: Don’t underestimate how hard it is to get a mortgage in Ireland if you’re moving from abroad. It’s almost impossible. We were lucky to be able to arrange a place to call our own before moving back. Living under someone’s roof would be challenging (but not impossible) while trying to also adjust to a new life. Buy what you can afford, even if small. Rent only if you have to.

4. Downsizing: Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo and then downsize your belongings. We found great joy in cleaning our house and our mind at the same time. We purposefully moved from the three-bed house we owned to renting a two-bed apartment before we left, which forced us to discard the non-essentials.

5. Shipping: It costs about €10,000 to ship a family’s stuff home from Australia to Ireland. An extra couple of grand meant our car came with us.

6. Income: In about three months before I left Australia, I went from about 450 LinkedIn connections mostly in Australia to about 900 with most new ones in Ireland. I got creative. Because I could not attend meetings in person, I made a 30-second pitch video. I joined Irish groups in Australia. I learned how to network for the first time. I spent €250 to set up a company, to give me the option to work for myself. It was a small long-term bet. My first piece of consultancy work in Ireland came from that video being viewed as innovative.

7. Schools: In a nice twist of fate, one of the nearest schools to our new home is my wife’s old school. We learned it is important to apply early and stay in touch with them.

8. Insurances: Think about life, salary and health insurance - this is not the time to be taking chances with any of that. Make it easy for yourself when you can afford to.

I use the term MAP for life navigation: Meaning, Attention and Principles. Consider what’s important to you, where to invest your energy, and finally live in alignment with your principles. When you know these, you are more focused and prepared for challenges.

James Parnell is the founder of Ernest Consulting which provides business design, agile coaching and corporate performance training to businesses, and personal life design coaching to individuals. He blogs at james-parnell.com.

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