Picking Through the Rubble

(Written November 2011) Unpacking is never fun. Though it’s a lot more fun than packing. And after not seeing our stuff for six months, I was rather delighted to make its acquaintance once again. It was like seeing old friends; if your friends are mugs, pictures, and an electric guitar.

As I dug through boxes and mountains and tried to shuffle like things into similar piles, I found myself oohhing and aahhing at some old faves. It was great fun seeing all those carefully chosen possessions that make our home personal. And then by day four it was less fun. I have yet to get used to the moment when you have to decide where each and every item is going to live for the next two or three years. Yes, I know it doesn’t have to be permanent, but if you can get it right the first time, all’s the better. Who wants to keep moving the silverware drawer? So staring at the mountains of kitchen crap we own and having to decide the dish cupboard and the glasses cupboard and the tea and coffee cupboard, let alone the pots, pans, lids, Tupperware, spices, bakeware, and catfood cupboards, is an exhausting exercise. Now do it again for the dining room, the living room, the family room, the laundry room, two bedrooms, etc. The novelty wears thin quickly.

But I tackled it methodically and within a week we were about 90% unpacked, and probably 80% in a permanent place. It’s been three weeks as of today, and I’ve been able to get all of our pictures hung, t-shirts folded and stacked, Tupperware sorted, and china displayed. When we were in Cairo I never took advantage of having an official picture-hanger come out to hang things; I just hammered in a nail and went to town. But after attempting to hammer in one nail in our cement walls in Kuwait, I had my husband put in the request. How is it that we can hear the children next door screaming daily and yet I can’t bang in one sturdy nail?

With any move, there are issues. We were extremely lucky and only had two things break, and considering all the glass and ceramic items I shipped out of Cairo, it’s frankly astonishing. The one lingering issue, that we’ll probably be fighting with our entire time here, is all the missing things. These are not missing, in the sense of lost. These are missing in the sense of being sent to storage – at least that’s what we’re optimistically thinking.

This all started back in May, when we shipped out of Cairo. At the time, we knew we were going to be over the allotted shipment weight. When the assessor came to estimate our weight, he said we had at least 1,000 pounds in books alone (which is one-seventh of our entire weight allowance). And that’s with us purging at least a third of them, including all of my husband’s computer books (which I had been griping about since pre-wedding days).

We had made some definite mistakes with our first move overseas. When they say “furnished” it truly means furnished – you don’t need to bring anything other than clothes, TV, computers and “stuff”. We didn’t really understand this and had approached our first move as if we needed to bring every item that we would have in our home back in the U.S. And we brought it all. Plus, “we” definitely took advantage of all that there was to purchase in Cairo, which then added to our already hefty load. So come moving day, we knew we had to make some changes.

In addition to purging a metric ton of books, we also got rid of two of the seven bookcases we’d brought, we got rid of piles of shoes and clothes, and various miscellaneous kitchen items and such. Our housekeeper had been shuffling stuff out of our apartment for months. She inherited so much from another neighbor that she had to borrow someone’s truck, so we added some marble table top pieces, a small table and other items to her stash for that day.

When not purging and furnishing the local Filipino community with our cast-offs, I was carefully designating items for storage. This included our bed and boxspring (we opted to bring the mattress), the remaining six bookcases, the couch, the big chair and ottoman, two marble side tables, a marble desk top, an oud (or two, who can keep track?), plus piles of “little” stuff.

We did a commendable job, given the circumstances. However, once all was said, done and packed up, we were still a thousand pounds overweight. So we paid for the extra weight and then sat down to assess our possessions. The issue was that even with the designated-for-storage items removed from the inventory, we were still within a thousand pounds of our allotted total. And we knew that our goal was to acquire a baby in the next two years, and apparently they come with piles of their own stuff. So, as we sat down with our personal inventory list we started blindly designating even more things to be sent off to storage, all the while keeping our fingers crossed that the boxes labeled books did not include additional items, like TV remotes. Apparently the moving gods were looking elsewhere that day, and did not heed our prayers.

Over the last three weeks, we’ve been slowly noticing the items that did not make it to Kuwait. About a third of our frames didn’t make it, and none of the wooden rods to hang our appliqués made it. No family photos arrived, nor half of our clocks. None of my well-stocked Bath & Body Works shower gels arrived, and none of our reams of printer paper or the refill cartridges for our label maker made it (which matters if you’re type-A, believe me!). Our humidifier apparently went to storage, as did half of our board games. (We have since replaced our humidifier and re-purchased “Settlers of Catan” because there are some things worth owning two of.) Under “truly annoying” displaced items we have a TV remote (and ironically it apparently went off with our universal remote as well), and the stands for the TV speakers, of which we have the speakers and the bases only.

Now, none of these things affect us drastically. It does come down to being just “stuff” and frankly we can live without any of it (though we might be a tad whiny). But had I paid more attention during the packout in Cairo, and labeled boxes better, then we could have subsequently made more informed decisions. This would potentially have prevented some sleepless nights when I find myself lying in bed wondering where our custom-designed thank you notes are and hoping they’re keeping the air mattress, my bathroom trash can and our mop and broom company until we meet again. Someday I vow to get better at this.