That Time We Got Bed Bugs

That Time We Got Bed Bugs

When did you know it was the right time to pare down all your earthly belongings to what you could fit in suitcases?

For us it was precisely 3 and a half months before we moved overseas the first time. We had just received the green light to move a few weeks before and we were about to go on our first fundraising trip to. We lived in an apartment rental then.

The night before our trip my husband came to me and said, “I think I just killed a bed bug that was crawling on my shirt!” He put it in a ziploc bag, and early the next day took it to the administration office of the property to report it. They confirmed it was indeed a bed bug.

We called our in-laws as we were planning to stay with them on that initial trip and asked them what they felt comfortable with in terms of us coming to visit or not. My mother-in-law said, “I think this might be spiritual warfare. Run all your clothes in the dryer and wipe everything else with alcohol but don’t let this keep you from coming on this important trip.”

So, we did all that and left. The administration office was authorized to enter our apartment with an extermination company so they could inspect and figure out what was needed next. While gone that weekend, we got a call saying the extermination guys had found two more bed bugs in our living room couch (thankfully no nests anywhere) and that they had left us instructions on how to prepare the apartment for fumigation once we got back.

We returned to our city but couldn’t stay in our apartment. My husband dropped the kids and me at a hotel and then went home to get those instructions to see what we needed to do. We found a 15-page document, clearly laying out all we needed to do prep our house. We were overwhelmed. We had less than 24 hours to do things like:

  • Empty out all closets, cabinets and bookshelves and wipe everything with alcohol.
  • Bag all clothes and linens and run them in the dryer.
  • Vacuum all baseboards and electric sockets.
  • Move all the furniture to the center of the room

I never realized how insidious bed bugs could be. The apartment company was not playing games. Even though our apartment wasn’t infested with lots of bed bugs everywhere, they wanted to make sure there were absolutely no bed bugs anywhere (I’m sure there is a sermon illustration here).

The following morning, my husband and I dropped our kids off at a friend’s house and started tackling that huge to-do list. Thankfully a friend showed up at some point with pizza and offered to take all our bags of clothes to a laundromat and run them in several dryers at the same time.

My husband decided we needed to get rid of the couch where we found the bed bugs. It was really old anyway and he didn’t feel like we could give it to anyone with good conscience. With the help of a friend, they took it downstairs to the dumpster but the couch didn’t quite fit. I will never forget looking out the window and seeing my husband sawing the couch in two while standing at the edge of the dumpster. I laugh now at the memory, but at the time I was terrified to see him balancing himself with a saw in hand all while four feet off the ground.

We worked hard that day. Wiping book by book, putting all the kitchen utensils and appliances in boxes, wiping down cabinets. We even had to unscrew all the light switches and vacuum that space on the wall. 

I remember at one point it being 7:00 pm and looking around our apartment and wondering how on earth we would finish it all before midnight. Eventually I left to pick up the kids, go to a friend’s house to settle them for the night and then come back to help my husband finish. Thankfully, we got it all done.

The next day we got to rest because we couldn’t be in the house while the exterminators fumigated and the fumes were still in the air.

The day after fumigation we went back home, ready to make our house livable again. We had to clean everything again from the fumigation and put everything in its place.

The silver lining was that since we knew we were leaving in about 3 months we decided to take that time to go through all our things and decide what we were keeping long term, what we were giving away and what we might not keep long term but definitely needed short-term. We took about 30 boxes of stuff to Goodwill.

Even though at the time it felt like the worst to have to take a week off from doing really important fundraising work to deal with bed bugs, we were also really grateful. It was wonderful to declutter and simplify our house at that stage of our moving process. The best that could happen to us, really.

So, our best advice to help you pare down your life to the minimal when you are about to move overseas is: get bed bugs 3 months before your move. Not a whole nest, mind you…just one or two is all you need to get you started.

What are your funny stories that actually you are now grateful for?


  1. Elizabeth Trotter February 13, 2021

    This brought back so many memories. We got bed bugs once — on the field.

    Also on the decluttering note — we had a basement flood the year before we moved overseas. Nearly ruined our old family photo albums, but I dried them out and rescued them. And I lost my favorite college textbooks (calculus and organic chemistry!) to that flood. But overall it really helped, because most of that stuff we didn’t need and would have had to go through the next year, when it might have been more difficult to just decide to pitch something that wasn’t ruined by floodwaters!

  2. Donna February 15, 2021

    I know that feeling…another productive day given to bed bug extermination!

    As for decluttering, it helps to have friends who frequently ask me to give them clothes or random household items. Of course, it’s usually the items I DO like or need that they ask for, but also I end up giving away clothes I haven’t been wearing or that little mirror collecting dust on my windowsill.

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