Tag Archives: travel

using it

Now that we are more or less completely moved from the U.S. to Australia and consider that anything left behind is disposable, it’s easier to take an account of what we have. Remarkably, we shifted continents using only suitcases and small boxes over the past two years. We are settled and not encumbered with stuff. The war still wages within me to not use precious valuables that have become even more special due to the vast oceans they’ve crossed. I still have to fight daily to toss out recyclable crafts brought home from S.’s kindergarten. I have to consciously attack the clutter around me to keep my desk cleared. But progress has been made.

My Turkish rug made the journey to Australia along with its missing piece still detached. But for the first time since I purchased it in 2003, the rug is now on the floorImage being used daily by both people and cats. I look at the gnawed-off edge and say,  So What! Rather than protecting the very happy memory associated with its purchase, I get to make new ones while playing with S. and her legos on the floor.

another way to do it…

ImageWe returned back to our home in Australia on Friday morning with all 9 checked bags, 2 carry-ons, 3 backpacks, and 1 pillow pet more or less in tact. Although that sounds like a lot, the only things I left in the U.S. are a winter coat, gloves and pair of boots and some things that should be sold on craigslist. Oh wait … well, no there are some other things that did get left such as my grandmother’s china which was not shipped to my brother. Frankly, I forgot to send it and did not realize it until just now. I spent my last full day in our home with the vomiting-diarrhea-fall-asleep-on-the-bathroom-floor kind of illness. Fortunately the suitcases were almost packed before the illness struck.

The checked bags were not excessive: 2 bicycles, 1 box of artwork, 1 carseat, 1 bag of hockey equipment, 1 bag of odd junk like tools, my flute, and S’s new tennis racket, and 1 personal suitcase for each of us. One of the personal suitcases was filled with breakables. I did my best to protect them but sadly many things that once seemed important to us have now come to rest in our Australian rubbish bin. I packed my childhood tea set in that bag. I still have the original box (!), but 2 pieces did not survive the crossing. We broke some corning wear, handmade canisters, and jars. My favorite antique Christmas ornament that belonged to my great-grandmother suffered some splintering. And some things we really don’t care about at all came out just fine. 

The rest of our things were shipped in boxes via USPS at $60 per large flat rate box. I had to go through photo albums and notebooks and decide if I really needed prom photos or if I could just resnap them quickly with my iPhone and let the distorted image be good enough. I have handwritten journals I’ve kept from age 5 to 35, which I always thought would be an awesome gift to my child (wow, what was I thinking?) or useful as notes for a mémoire. I almost tossed them, but couldn’t bear to let go of all of it. Somehow it makes me feel sane when I go back and read snippets of what I went through to get where I am today. Instead I broke down bindings and tore out pages to condense them. I’m curious to see if the pages can be scanned through a top-feeding machine. 

This is the minutiae, the overwrought details of the stuff, but ultimately, that’s all the stuff there is now. We got home and our house was delightfully clean and empty. No clutter in sight anywhere. It felt good to look around and see no mess. Just a stack of mail to sort through.

The unpacking went swiftly, the shards of glass were swept up, and our life is officially here now. It’s good to be home.

when it’s ok to purge

While unpacking and repacking yesterday, I realized that when I travel I really do enjoy leaving behind little objects. When we were in Australia last year, I left an expensive blouse in the hotel room on accident. I knew I couldn’t go back to get it, but part of me was thinking, “Oh well. I’ve left a piece of me behind.” It felt kind of good.

Last night I was going through my tubes of shampoo and deodorant and whatnot trying to guess which things would not be coming back with me in a few days. I’m trying to finish up the little pouches and pastes to make my bags lighter, and it makes me happy to think about leaving it here on the road. Is it purging, or am I just marking my territory… expanding my clutter to the far reaches of the world while it lives on in my memory?

you can’t take it with you

A friend of mine commented on my recent post “Separation,” that I might be fooling myself in thinking that my parents’ hoard doesn’t bother me and that I might be able to escape it by moving so far away. Obviously she’s right. The problem affects me whether I’m near or far from the actual hoard – so much so that I have a blog about it. Add to that, I’m turning my research focus towards hoarding in exile autobiography. I know full well that this has not only deeply impacted me in the present; it will continue to haunt me in the future no matter my physical distance.

My organizational strategy over the past few months as we have prepared for the move that is perpetually delayed has been to ask myself if each object is worth the cost of shipping. Will I wear this particular garment enough to grant it a spot in my suitcase? Is this book so important to me that I should ship it? Yesterday I thought I’d send a nice crystal vodka set that I bought in Turkey to a friend in Switzerland – and the shipping ranged from $85 to $270, depending on insurance. I brought the set back home with me and decided to send her flowers. If you can’t take it with you, is it worth having in the present?

With that in mind, I think about the mess of a home my parents live in. They are radical right-wing Christians who believe in storing up treasures in Heaven. They are well aware that they cannot take any of the their earthly possessions with them; yet, they continue to hold on to the odd objects. Hundreds of cool-whip containers, travel mugs, empty cardboard boxes, used coffee cans … combined with collectibles like Fiesta-ware, miniature animals, and so on… the house is full, and they can’t take it with them.

But I will take it with me. The hoard has left an indelible mark on my mind and on my own relationship to stuff. No matter where I go, I will have this mountain of things in my memory that I need to sift through so that I can live in uncluttered freedom with my own family.

up in the air

up in the air

For our movie date night this weekend, D. and I watched Up in the Air on demand. The story line has George Clooney living out of a suitcase, with a home in Omaha that is more empty and less attractive than the hotel rooms he frequents on business travel. His character says he travels some 320 days of the year and he gives seminars using a “backpack of life” metaphor.

The movie gave me pause. The man lives a stripped-down life, empty of people but not human contact, empty of things, but still he hoards intangibles. He has a life goal of reaching 10 million air miles, he belongs to hundreds of fidelity programs (Hilton Honors points or Marriott Rewards, for example), he even has a collection of hotel keys in his wallet and frequently mistakes the one he needs. He has a certain amount of clutter, small as it may be, and comes into contact with hundreds of people daily because of his job as a professional communicator.

In his speaking engagements, the man asks the audience to imagine all of their things from little to big (knick-knacks to couches) being put into a backpack and to feel the straps dig into their shoulders. The unbearable weight of things is then compared to the unbearable weight of people as we are asked to put in our acquaintances and fill up the backpack until we get to our most significant other, and again he asks us to feel the weight.

I’m highly suggestible and participated in the imagining. While the “things” felt somewhat heavy, the people backpack was incredibly light. I do not feel burdened by the people in my life and said as much to D. He quickly reminded me: that was not the case when he met me. I suddenly remembered the dread I felt dealing with my family and friends and the incredible weight on my life they incurred, especially as I was going through my divorce. I had all of these relationships that seemed to be important but were not giving me support in return when I needed it. In fact, they were more crushing to me than the weight of actually ending of my marriage.

It took me a year or more to clean up the relationships, to learn to let go, to break up with friends. Today when I think about the people in my life and the amount of space they take, I cannot see this as a burden. I feel incredibly light and joyful when I think about putting my grandma in that backpack, or my daughter who I would carry a million miles over, joyfully, or my husband who has carried me in countless times of weakness.

I’m sometimes bothered that I have trouble building deep friendships with people and D. and I frequently discuss – why is it that no one seems to like us? Or for me – what’s my problem that I keep choosing friends who will not be available or able to help me when I need it? But the stripped-down life that we live now, knowing who the real friends are, is far less heavy than the one I lived under false pretenses six years ago.

The point of the film, for me at least, is that absence can be just as heavy as fullness. The George Clooney character was tied up in his inability to commit or settle and he had real moments of burdened pain because of these absences and superficialities. In the end, empty is just as burdensome as filled-past-the-brim.