As of last week, I live in the United Kingdom.
It’s taken us the better part of a month, but we’ve finally sold off the majority of our belongings, packed up what we had left, given some precious possessions to our immediate families (either to be gradually mailed over to us, or to be stored for our eventual return), and closed up shop in New Zealand. There’s been a good bit of stress, some heart-felt goodbyes, sudden realisations (generally of the “why do I even have one of these?” variety), and a good bit of making-do as we divest ourselves of the things you use to live your life.
Trello has been a godsend during this time. We’ve used the noteboarding service to upload photos of our goods, label them when people claim them, keep track of who’s got what, and dispatch goods when our guests arrive.1 Without it I’d have lost my mind trying to give away things.
As an interesting contrast, I started reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up about half-way through our move. Kondo’s take on the process of cleaning house is sometimes a little eccentric, but her core message rings true to me:
…the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.
My packing-up has been a constant game of trade-offs: I can keep this book, but only if I get rid of these little gadgets, I can take this thing with me, but I’ll have to airmail it, which costs me more money; I can safely leave this behind, but I’ll have to buy another one when I get there. And so on, and so on, for every object I own, for every thing I’ve stashed in a cupboard or at the back of a shelf or next to the books on my desk. Each choice (and each departure, for the things you throw away or give to charity) has been another little drain on the ego, until every evening I’ve sat back, tired out, wondering what I did to exhaust myself when all I’ve done all day is go through my stuff and decide what to keep. With thirty kilograms of check-in luggage, seven in my carry-on, and anything I can wear, I can’t afford to take stuff I feel half-hearted about. Several times I’ve picked something up and gone “Well, I guess I can live wthout it.” I’ve learned that this is a warning sign - if I’m entertaining thoughts about throwing it out, it’s probably a good sign that I can.2
Do you want to know how many times I’ve picked something up, looked at it, decided to bin it/sell it/give it to charity, and once its gone, suddenly realised how long I’ve waited to get rid of it, how good I feel now I no longer have stewardship over it? I’ll give you a clue: it’s more than once. For the most point, these are things I’ve put on shelves or in the back of cupboards, mainly interacting with them by reaching past them to get something else, or by shifting them to more and more remote storage. There’s that bit in Fight Club where Palahunik says, “…the things that you used to own, now they own you.” And it’s horribly cliched and overquoted, but even so there’s a grain of truth to it.
As a result of this cleanup, we’ve decided on one change in behaviour: every six months, we’re going to spring clean. We’ll take everything off the shelves, pull things out of cupboards, and examine it. We’ll handle every object, take a good look at it, and think if we need it in our lives. If not, no matter what the barrier, we have a duty to get rid of it.
It’s not like we’ll have our suitcase limit. But it’s not a bad guideline.
Incidentally, giving away all your things is a great way of making your house the (temporary) social hub of the neighbourhood. ↩
And yes, I could probably get away with throwing out even more than I am. If my life depended on it, I could reduce my choices to my carry-on and nothing else. But I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of minimalism, not yet. I like my labelmaker too much to throw it out yet. ↩