Monday, August 16, 2010

Everything we own

You may recall that we sold almost everything we owned (aside from personal effects) back in May, in preparation for moving to the UAE. It was a terrifying experience, really, even though 1) our place in Dubai is fully stocked and furnished so it wasn't like I was giving up furniture forever, and 2) we didn't own any nice things anyway.

In fact, when it came down to going through every single item we owned - which we totally did, because there was no way I was shipping a bunch of mystery piles across the world - I realized how much stuff we had that I didn't really care about anyway. Why did I even have all this stuff? The reasons were myriad.

Because I associated the item with some sentimental event or period of my life.

Because I got it for an awesome price and I didn't want to relinquish my great deal.

Because it was a gift from someone else.

Because someday, somewhere, I might need it.

Because it was expected that I would own such an item.

The problem is, I don't think any of those is a legitimate reason, all on its own, for keeping something. I mean, it was nice to have a springform pan set on hand, just in case. But just in case what? In case I become someone who makes cheesecake, ever? Not going to happen. While going through all our stuff, I realized I had so many things like that. Things I didn't really want, didn't really need, and certainly didn't love.

So while it was terrifying to sell all our possessions besides (basically) books and shoes and clothes (but with the four of us, we still had plenty of those), it was also kind of thrilling. I no longer felt like I HAD to hold onto this stuff, for just in case or whatever. It was like a forced radical simplification of our lives.

Here's what the process of packing/selling/giving away looked like back in May:
Since customs requires a labeled packing list, I taped a piece of paper to each bin and wrote down what we put in it as we went. At times I got a little too specific. I hope customs doesn't mind if I simplified "toothbrushes/toothpaste," "razor refills," "floss," and "perfume" into just "TOILETRIES."

We stored the bins over the summer. When we came back to Ithaca, we got them out to reorganize a bit and seal them up (furniture pictured not ours).

Just when we thought we were done, I noticed the little Christmas tupperware was still sitting out. Blast.
Now, we made a lot of concessions when we were deciding what to get rid of, and we actually did get rid of all other holiday decorations and even a lot of Christmas stuff. But I was not about to go to a Muslim country without at least a nativity set, some ornaments that are precious to us, and the advent calendar my MIL made for us. So we made it fit.

I said we sold everything we owned, but that wasn't quite true. We made one concession to impracticality: our piano. I may talk big about getting rid of our possessions, but when it came to this beauty, I was weak.

So we dismantled it bit by bit and packed it up. It took a long time.

Then we sealed up the bins with the huge roll of saran wrap we found at Home Depot,

...and handed it all over to the shipping dudes.

Here's the final product, as in, everything we own on this earth (except for what we're taking with us to drive across the country, and I'll leave you to guess how much stuff that is considering we have a Toyota Corolla and two kids in carseats):
When I look at this picture, I confess I go back and forth between "wow, that is hardly anything!" and "wow, what on earth is IN there?" It's the same feeling you get when you help someone move and feel all relieved that you have way less stuff than they do. Then you have to move yourself and you realize that actually, you have tons of stuff. So I can't decide if this is a lot or not so many possessions.

In conclusion, after going through this whole packing/purging/selling/giving experience, I have learned two major lessons:

1. I feel absolutely liberated from consumerism. I am now able to go to the store, see something beautiful, or cute, or useful, or cheap, and pass it by with no desire to acquire it. You know why? Because the thought of packing it and cleaning it and storing it and dealing with it and re-selling it takes all the enjoyment out of buying it.

2. I love only owning things that we really, really, REALLY need. Because to pass the above packing/cleaning/storing/dealing/re-selling test, it has to be something very necessary. Maybe not even just necessary - that, and wanted. The possessions we have left are things that we love. It's brilliant.

So I'm happy, even though it was a dramatic change to sell/give away all those things. I hope it works out well on the other side, i.e., DUBAI.


Liz Johnson said...

Wow, you dismantled a piano!? Kudos!

I sometimes wish I could force this kind of de-cluttering upon myself (and family). Getting rid of stuff and living minimally is REALLY cathartic.

Susanne said...

Great post! It's amazing to see how much stuff we really don't NEED in order to survive. (I think of those in Pakistan who have lost everything in those floods and realize how spoiled I am to have all these things around my house. And I'm not really one to just buy because I have money in the bank.)

I'm also impressed that you dismantled a piano.

Safe travels!

The Ensign's said...

I'm at a loss for words. Seriously I think I'll I've got is.....WOW.

Trina said...

Wow! Seeing it all in such a little pile, in that big truck...You're amazing! I would love to have to do that....maybe!
It's crazy really though! We don't want you to leave but we love all the things that you didn't love enough!

Chris said...

That is really cool. We'll be packing up next week. I really want to throw out all our extra stuff, too. I probably won't though, because it would be too much work, so I will keep living with all of my trash I don't care about.

Spencer said...

I can identify completely.

We're looking forward to seeing you guys tomorrow. Send me a note if you need any phone numbers or directions or such.

Jennifer said...

What a process! When you previously mentioned "6 large bins" I had pictured them much larger--because you only had 6 of them. But they aren't as big as I expected. I really am impressed at how little you have considering the amount of space even just clothes can take up when you have growing children.

I've been meaning to ask for a while about your set up in Dubai. When you mentioned that you would only do Cairo again if you had a really sweet set up, I wondered if your set up in Dubai is good enough to be considered "sweet"? Please tell me that it has AC...?

Julie said...

Wow- that is amazing! As a girl with a pack-rat family heritage, I'm slowly moving toward the simple life as well. The more kids we have, the greater the chaos and the larger the pile of stuff has grown. In the past few months I have felt tons of relief when dropping off big loads to Goodwill.

After several moves in the past few years I now vow that I will NOT move a bunch of junk again!

Teresa Jane said...

IS one of those shipping dudes dad? It really looks like him!

Bridget said...

Yeah, that's Dad. He was helping. :)

Crys said...

Ok Jason's books wouldn't fit into those six bins! I think it is time for us to downsize a little :)

Kristen said...

I want a forced radical simplification of our lives. Your two lessons are enviable as well.


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