When we put our house on the market before we moved to England I got rid of SO much stuff. Boxes and boxes. Truckloads actually. I freecycled and craigslisted and donated my way through every closet and every nook and cranny of the house and garage. I got rid of so much stuff that I remember a friend who came through one of our open houses saying, “Where is all your stuff?!?!” I was proud in that moment. I thought of myself as quite the little organizer.
Then we got ready to move. Again I purged. Three more huge loads went to the Veterans. A huge load went to the dump. I sorted the stuff we were keeping into two piles--stuff to store and stuff to ship. We shipped what felt like not very much to England and the rest we brought via Uhaul to store up in Montana. I thought I was so meticulous. I figured I got rid of nearly everything except the bare essentials. Then we lived in a house for nearly 3 months with none of it (it took forever to arrive via freight) and by the time it showed up I again purged boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff and still sometimes come across things where I wonder, “Why did I bring this again?” I cringe to think of what landed in Montana. Except for a couple of pieces of furniture and a few boxes of memorabilia I cannot imagine I will ever need or want any of that stuff again!
International moving and living has been a great exercise in paring down. Paring down expectations. Paring down what I view as ‘essential.’ It even pares down relationship clutter to a large extent because only the really essential folks keep in touch. It’s de-cluttering on a practical, emotional, and spiritual level.
Take the house size for example. I was used to almost a 1/4 acre lot. A huge playroom. Guest room. Large office. Big pantry. Huge garage. Extra freezer. Multiple bathrooms. Plus--and this is the part that blows my mind--a CLOSET IN EVERY ROOM. My goodness I had it good!! Our current house is tiny compared to that. I have (no lie) one closet in this entire house. Plus this funny little nook that passes for a sort of cupboard. My fridge is barely bigger than the one I had in my college dorm room. A car could not fit in our garage because it’s not big enough (though I am so thankful for the storage it provides!). The three bedrooms we have are significantly smaller and we only have one bathroom. Funny side note: Caid regularly drew pictures for a while of ‘really big houses.‘ When asked to describe what made them ‘really big‘--lots of rooms? on a lot of land?--he replied that they had THREE bathrooms!
|to help illustrate the point:|
my very tiny English fridge & freezer
|Caid and our friends Marnie and Joel in our current backyard|
|Our backyard in Colorado|
What is it with stuff? Why do we need it? Want it? Keep buying so much of it? Keep keeping so much of it? It just makes for a lot of work! I asked the boys recently what in the world we were going to do to get them to keep their drawers a little neater. They kept coming down looking like they’d slept in what I knew were clean t-shirts and I was a little annoyed. Caid’s reply? “We should just get rid of most of our t-shirts mom. If we didn’t have so many they’d go in the drawer nicer.” Out of the mouths of babes. Pretty smart. Bridger had a similar answer to a recent “YOU HAVE TOYS EVERYWHERE!!!” blow-up (fellow moms--you know the one). “You know Mama,” he said. “We really only play with like two of our games, the animals, and our swords. Maybe we should just give the rest away.” Wise. Very wise.
As an expat Mama I struggle with that though, and maybe lots of other parents do too no matter where they’re living. For me, I feel like they’re missing out. I know there are many amazing tradeoffs, but in leaving America they had to give up their playroom and their big yard and their swingset and they didn’t get to bring so many of their toys and books and things. Maybe that’s just ridiculous. Maybe the paring down was just exactly what we needed. Maybe, just maybe, it was actually liberating.
I’m paring down again. I got a pretty good start this evening. In a little under an hour I filled an entire laundry basket in the boys’ room and stacked a ton of stuff from the bathroom on top. We were purging in order to move Asher in with the big boys. It shocked me really. What has always seemed like a tiny little room now quite comfortably holds all three boys and a decent amount of their stuff. Afterwards when we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for at dinner Caid said, “getting our room organized.” Bridger mentioned later how he thought if Asher could wake up in the night and see that he and Caid were both sleeping he might get a better idea of what he’s supposed to be doing and go back to sleep. (I sure hope that’s true)!
If we lived Stateside I’m quite sure the boys would be in their own rooms. We might have even upgraded to a bigger house in order to assure that. Someday I hope they can have their own rooms, but this life though has lent itself very naturally to a different set of values. To a more tribal feel. We’re a tribe. We look out for each other. We live in closer proximity with less stuff. So when neither Scott’s office nor the master bedroom seemed like a good place for Ash, the big boys seemed to agree that their room was probably the best place. They wanted to look after him and didn’t protest the loss of space at all.
No matter how they’ve come by it, I sure am glad they have that ‘looking out for each other’ mentality because more big change is on the horizon. Dear readers, I have a little announcement to make. Our lease is up at the end May. That’s only four months. After much discussing and waiting and thinking through it’s looking like the next big thing will be a move to East Asia. We’re stoked for the new adventure and are anxious for things to be a little more firmly set--watch this space. Should know more details very soon. We do now know though that regardless of the ‘where’ another big move is coming. Again. Whoa.
It’s bringing up all kinds of things for me. Purging and organizing are occupying a lot of my thoughts (though I’m trying very hard not to obsess). I keep looking at things and thinking, “do I really want to move this?” It’s also causing a lot of reflection. Thinking about our last move from Denver to England. Thinking through all the changes that move has brought about. How many things I’ve gotten rid of--both the physical and emotional ‘stuff.’ How it’s brought new stuff--new friendships and new recipes and new favorite places and also new actual now-I-have-to-decide-whether-it’s-worth-keeping ‘stuff’. It’s shaped what’s important to me. It’s lent perspective and brought order. It’s brought us together as a tribe.
Maybe the houses will be bigger where we’re going. Maybe they won’t. I bet we’ll need some different stuff there than we’ve needed here. Just like our American life needed different stuff than our English one. More paring down will take place. I’ll sort things into piles. Some relationships will deepen. Others will fall away. We’ll struggle as we adapt and learn to live in a new place with new types of houses and new types of people and new climates and new lots of things. We’ll be lonesome and we’ll make new friends. We’ll bond and pull together as a family. I’ll get to reconnect with the stuff that’s really, truly important to me.
Plus hopefully this time the pile of “holy cow why did I ship this?!?!” will be much, much smaller.