The True Value of Things

(Written November 2011) With a cautionary note in his voice, my husband told me last night that our personal shipment had arrived in country. When my eyes lit up, he quickly added, “We should be able to get them next week.” Bummer, I wanted them now. But after waiting five months, I can certainly wait another few days (if I absolutely have to).

I will admit that for all the thousands of pounds we shipped out of Cairo that I have not seen for the last five months, there isn’t a lot that I really yearn for. I would like our ipod speakers (we should have mailed those, dumb), I’d like more of our mugs and kitchen stuff, my sewing machine could help greatly in my sudden desire to make baby quilts and onesies and nappies, our DVDs would be great, and oddly enough, I really miss our decorations – the wall-hangings, photos, lamps. Things that make our home ours.

Part of my excitement is also in having something to fill my days with for a while; unpacking, organizing, nesting. All things my husband hates to do, or at least has managed to convince me he’s incapable of doing. I know that he would be just as happy living in a white-walled, no-décor, home, living out of boxes, suitcases, and piles. And I know this, because if I don’t keep up with the pile-reduction-methods I’ve honed over the last four years, they start to rally and draft a constitution. And when I muse about where we should put certain photos or hangings, he stares at me as if I’m debating whether to wear a blue barrette or a purple barrette. Blank, with mental capacity taken up by latest obstacle in level four “Call of Duty,” or some such video game. All of that is fine. He can live in “Call of Duty” while I nest around him.

For all my excitement about getting our stuff, it really is just stuff. And that’s something that became painfully clear to me this past year. When I was told to pack a suitcase in Cairo during the evacuation with everything I wanted to take with me, all I wanted was my husband and the kitties. I would have happily foregone taking even a sock, if I could have had them. And I even asked my husband to see if I could take cats instead of suitcases, but the answer was no.

I remember thinking that other than them, there’s very little that’s truly irreplaceable in our home. Yes, I’d love the hard drive that holds all our digital pictures and my writings, and the original painting we received from a friend for our wedding. But when it comes down to everything else, it’s just stuff. Bought and paid for. Used, maybe enjoyed, maybe even well-loved. But stuff none-the-less. And while I may remember with fondness the clock I inherited from Uncle Harold, or the hand-stitched appliqué wall-hanging I bargained heavily for in Cairo, the things I remember most are the memories surrounding them. I lovingly remember Uncle Harold winding his clock every morning in the front hall. And I remember slogging through the muck and dust in Bab Zuwela in Cairo and using all my shopping wiles to get the appliqué I’d thought was so beautiful.

It’s the experiences and memories that surround the stuff in our life that give them meaning. And even when that item is lost or broken or mistakenly sent to storage, the memories are still there; though admittedly it’s not as easy to make a cup of tea with a memory as it would be with Nana’s teapot.

So perhaps the true value of things – stuff, possessions, effects, belongings, property, goods, assets – is really in the memories they hold within. I’m not saying I won’t delight in using our toaster or camel spoon rest again, but I also know I can live without them. It’s corny, but home really is where your heart is, or where those who hold your heart are, regardless of whether the walls are painted or the pictures are hung. I might not share this sudden insight with my husband just yet. A little harmless nesting wouldn't hurt anyone; besides, I know the perfect place for the Sufi appliqué!