For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a collector, the kind of person who accumulates “stuff.” Why would you throw away something that might be useful one day? Why wouldn’t you buy the item on sale that you know you’ll want to use eventually? And so it goes…
I learned one lesson about “stuff” when I first moved to China and sold the household of items I’d accumulated. I had moved back in with my parents after I lost my first full-time job, and after 18 months of paying $80/month to store my comfy second-hand couch set, the bed frame and mattress set, the discount-store desk, dresser, and bookshelf I’d put together, the books (oh, so many books!) for my classroom, and the other household items, I reaped about $250 from the sale. *pause for that to sink in* Yeah, I’ve never done the math on how much I spent on that storage and the moving truck that hauled it back from Maryland, simply because I don’t want to know. A few boxes of stuff were still stored at my parents’ home – blankets I’d made, the books I liked best, my grandmother’s china – but most of it was gone, and poor though the return was for it, I couldn’t really mourn it (aside from the couches perhaps – they really were perfectly broken in!) It was just stuff, certainly not heirloom-quality or anything.
Moving back from China has been an interesting experience in terms of my “stuff” proclivities. I’ve come to realize over the last few years that I would like to be less stuff-oriented, certainly. It’s just hard to make a change as you go through your day-to-day life. Having to really clear out my apartment – not just shove it all in boxes to move to the next one on the same continent – was a great start. Asking myself if an object was worth paying hundreds of dollars to ship an extra suitcase was also a good incentive. And as I started letting go of some things, it became easier to let go of others. I brought perhaps half a suitcase of “stuff to keep” back to the States a year ago because I knew this was to be my final year, and then this year I whittled the rest down to six bags under 23 kg each.
Once I found an apartment to move into, it was time to dig out the boxes packed a decade ago (half a year after college when I lost my job), or a year and a half later (when I moved to China). I was amazed as I went through them and saw what I’d kept. My old tie-dyed sheets and a comforter of forest green, clashing horribly. A wall hanging I’d bought at a yard sale and saved but now find sadly tacky. Scrapbooks from trips long ago – those I AM still keeping. Star Wars Episode 1 memorabilia that I sent straight to Craig’s List. Books I never read and now no longer wish to. Drinking glasses I didn’t even remember owning – two sets of them!
I can’t blame my 23-year-old self for thinking these things were worth keeping, nor for shoving them into boxes without thought upon reaching the point at which she just couldn’t deal with any more decisions. I lost some photos to a purge in China when I hit that point myself this summer – my only packing regret. But seeing how much my attitudes have changed over the intervening years, on top of all the purging, has led to some reflection:
- I’m glad I couldn’t bring more from China. Much as I might miss my spice rack and yarn stash, it’s good to de-clutter. How many of those spices will I actually buy again and use in the next months? How much of that yarn would I really ever have used, even if I’d stayed there another five years?
- I don’t have any definite plans for how long I’m staying here. Like China, it’s a year-by-year decision at this point. So why should I build up a household of things that are nice to have but won’t be coming with me when I move? I have bought a frying pan and a couple sauce pans – do I really need that cast iron skillet and that deep canning pot? The tie dye sheets may not match, but why buy fancy alternatives when I won’t be taking any of them with me the next time I fly away? I gave away or sold my favorite book series, but there are public libraries here and the age of the digital book is advancing – do I really need to collect them again? The urge to re-accumulate will probably never leave me, but I am trying to consciously keep it at this smaller size, kind of like eating small meals after a gastric bypass surgery and not stretching the organ back out again.
- I have bought most of my current furniture used. Why get new items – even in a box from the discount store – when I can recycle and save money at the same time? It seems to feel more like home this way, perhaps because, while the furniture in my family’s home may have been new 30+ years ago, it’s certainly been in “used” condition for most of my life. I’ve decided against several items too – no coffee table, no TV, and just a recliner and a rocking chair in place of any couches. My small home feels more spacious, and that feels less stressful somehow.
- I should be slow to judge others’ belongings, or feel superior about my current favorite items in relation to my younger self’s choices. After all, in ten years’ time, I may tire of this fluffy llama throw pillow or think that the discount-store clock with a picture of apples on it is horribly tacky too.
I believe there will always be special things that I hold onto – pottery handmade by a friend, Christmas ornaments with dates and places on them, a few special souvenirs from places I’ve lived or visited. But I hope this move will be something of a turning point, a few steps towards freedom from my belongings.
What about you? Are there special things you keep? Have you ever faced a purge and found it liberating? Are you a collector, or are you someone who has never held onto “stuff” very strongly?