As my last post mentioned, my parents and I are picking up and moving to Massachusetts in exactly a week. We’re driving across the country in an SUV and a moving truck. My dad’s driving the truck, and my mom and I will be in the Tahoe with our 3 pets (one very big lab and 2 very ornery cats). We’re doing the drive across the country (from Clovis, CA to Springfield, MA) in 4 days. That means driving for approximately 12 hours a day. Across very flat land, by and large.
At least I get to knock off another 10 states on my “places I’ve been” list.
That isn’t what I wanted to talk about, though. I want to talk about stuff. More precisely, the amount of stuff a person has.
My summer, mostly, has been comprised of packing up my parents’ house. My mom, bless her, has been running herself ragged with real estate transactions and my dad has been in Massachusetts at his new job since the beginning of July.
Since 2008, my parents have had to move twice (I was not there for either moves). I’ve had to move 6 times personally, but all of my worldly-but-not-worldly-enough-to-have-in-DC possessions moved around with my parents. So really, if a person is defined by the objects they own, I’ve moved 7 times in the past 4 years. In a week, I will move again. And then two weeks after that, I’ll move once more.
Needless to say, stuff has been on my mind quite a bit. My parents have had years and years to accumulate the stuff they own. And since, for many years, I had few possessions of my own, their stuff was my stuff. It defined me and helped me form my idea of what a house should have in it, how things go together, what is necessary for ‘living’. Now that for the past few years I have lived without my parents and accumulated my own stuff, my thoughts on what stuff is to a person and how a person is reflected by the stuff the own has changed again.
I sold pretty much everything I owned when I left DC to come back here for the summer, and eventually head to Cairo. When I was selling my stuff (or donating it or throwing it out, depending on what it was), I kept thinking, “Whoa. I have a lot of stuff!” (So much kitchen stuff! Worth it.) Then I came home and have for the past month been packing up this house and realized, no, I did not have a lot of stuff.
And now I am moving abroad. The amount of stuff I have once again is going to be reduced. I can bring 90 lbs of my life with me, at most, to move to Cairo. That includes everything: clothes, shoes, toiletries, books, photos, electronics, pens, notebooks, jewelry, accessories, all the various little things that make up my life. I am not a materialistic person; I don’t buy things just to buy things. But I can’t detach myself completely from the sentimentality of stuff.
My parents will keep whatever I don’t bring to Cairo with me (about 75% of all I own, in other words). In those boxes of mine will be silly things, like my crazy hats, and what once were practical things, like the sundresses I love to wear in the summer. There will be notes from friends and heavy woolen winter coats. My art supplies and shoes that wouldn’t survive Cairo’s streets. A lot of this things were easy to say, “You cannot come with me.” Then you get down to what you really want to bring. Then you cut down again. And again. It gets harder and harder. I haven’t even had to pack yet for Cairo, not really, and I know I will have to make choices soon on things I love but just can’t fit into my suitcase – my house on little wheels.
I packed up everything I owned at the beginning of the summer. I unpacked it when I arrived in California, got rid of some things I didn’t need. A month later, I began packing it all up again, once again getting rid of things I don’t need. When we arrive in Massachusetts, I will take all my boxes, unpack them to pick out the things to take with me to Cairo, and then repack them. I’m not getting rid of them, they’ll have a home in my parents’ house, but it is about the same, isn’t it? I won’t see them for a long time. They’ll lose meaning. Out of sight, out of mind.
I, for a very foreseeable future, will not have a lot of stuff to my name. It is invigorating, knowing I can pack up my life in a few bags and just head out. It is also a little sad. Stuff doesn’t define me anymore, I must define myself, but they certainly add focus. Very soon, I will have to determine which bits of that focus must be moved to the side. Those that stay have to last me awhile.