(Written August 2012) Living any nomadic life, whether you’re an expat, military family, wayward soul, or just have itchy roots, presents you with the constant question of, “Do I take it with me?” And if you’re lucky enough to be moved by someone else, then you have the added question of, “Is this worth its weight - literally?”
Having just completed our fourth overseas move (four homes in two countries), I find I am still flummoxed by what constitutes “home” out of our pile of possessions; just how much stuff is nest-worthy? If we lived a stable lifestyle, with a constant zip code and the metaphorical picket fence, then I’d be happily rearranging our lamps and pictures to accommodate our latest acquisitions from travels abroad. However, instead I find myself wondering whether us carting around the Pharaonic plates from Cairo or the Turkish bowls or Italian ceramics are necessary for us to truly feel safe and secure.
With every move, I find myself sending another 10-15% of unnecessary items off to storage, and yet we’re still overflowing with beloved personal possessions. With our first move, over four years ago, we admittedly had no idea what we “should” and “should not” bring, in terms of practical items as well as nesting items. So we brought it all. Not literally, but close. Our two big lessons learned from that move were leave the furniture at home (many of the houses are furnished), and leave the 1,000 pounds of books at home (we’re avid readers and also considered books a design attribute, until we had to personally pay to ship them home).
To add to the quandary, we now have a baby, and regardless of her mere 12 pounds, she comes with piles of stuff and from what I hear, her piles will only get larger. Which means ours will conversely need to get smaller. It all seems fairly simple on the surface. Pare down to the bare basics. Do I need sixteen spatulas in varying colors and sizes? No. Do I need twenty-seven pairs of shoes, including four-inch heels I’ve never worn? No. Do I need all our framed artwork and photos and wall-hangings and decorative lamps? No. There, done. Oh wait, there’s one more towering obstacle: my beloved husband and his squirrel-like tendencies.
My husband is a self-admitted, level 12, blackbelt, highly ranked, packrat, and more than happy to stay that way. Admittedly I knew what I was getting in to when I married him; during our dating years, before my first visit to his apartment in Baltimore, he apparently (I found out later) looked around at all the bundles of cables, stacks of books, unopened mail, mounds of clothes and decided that the “deal breaker” for me would be the brand new large red funnel for changing car oil (still with the label on it). So in preparation for the love of his life coming to call, he wedged the funnel in the top of the closet. To this day, this remains his method of “cleaning” - it’s all about the wad and stuff. Any cubby or hole is fair game and any and all horizontal surfaces will be assimilated for “storage”, and that has included the wayward snoozing feline.
Despite all the forewarning and glaring red flags trying to wiggle out from under the piles, which he has lovingly named Mylandias, I can’t deny a secret hope that upon being exposed to the gleaming other side, he too would find great inner peace in a tidy home. He hasn’t. So over the years I periodically don my chain mail and rubber gloves, and with piles of trash bags in hand I stage a full frontal attack on any Mylandias I feel are getting too unwieldy and may start organizing and rising up against the regime (me).
My initial caveat, which has mostly been granted, is that he keep his Mylandias within designated boundaries with a door that must close. Then whatever happens within the boundary, stays in the boundary; until I periodically stage a coup.
Following our second move, I initiated another caveat entitled, “Do you really need that?” Unfortunately a packrat’s answer to that question is always a panicky “YES!” Which makes purging and sorting practically impossible. Which has resulted in over four years of carting around the world bins filled with telephone line and extension cords, knotted masses of wires, 1,000 feet of “4-pair communications cable” (a must for every happy household), 650 various-sized cable ties (though I will admit these are handy for “locking” suitcases), and hundreds of blank DVDs. This is only the top layer of stuff; the bottom layers can only be even more obscure. I’m not doubting the usefulness of any of these items, but when your organizational method is left up to the “wad and stuff” ways, the likelihood of you finding even one foot of the “4-pair communications cable” is not good. And in more than one case, my husband’s reaction when he can’t find something is just to to buy more. Hence further impeding the underlying issue.
As I see it, our basic problem is that we need to recognize that the “I may need that someday” method of decision making when it comes to moving, needs to be radically altered. While the answer to that question will always be a resounding yes, it doesn’t mean you have to strap it on your back as you move through life.
As I said, I have my own spatula-like 1,000 feet of communications cable that I’ve been lugging around the world. But Mylandias aside, because they will require either a psychiatrist or a backhoe to address, I have truly come to realize that home is not what you fill it with, or decorate it with, it’s not even how much you nest in order to make it feel “homey,” it’s really just the people (and cats) who live within its walls.
So going forth, for the next overseas move, I vow to leave the stilletos at home, pick my favorite three spatulas, bring just a few “nesting” items and maybe allow 100 feet of “4-pair communications cable”. You have to have something to feed to the Mylandias; let them eat cable, I say.