My Worldly Possessions

expat blog challege, expat issues

This post is part of the October installment of the Expat Blog Challenge. My fellow challengers are invited to write on a prompt each month (some of them take me up on it, some don’t!). If you want to read some of the blogs written by other marvelous expat bloggers who took part in the challenge earlier this year, and continue to be part of our little community, I’ve added asterisks by their blogs on the Blogroll page.

Our prompt for October is: “My worldly possessions.”
Nearly all expats have a complicated relationship with their “stuff.” Tell us how moving abroad has made you think about your possessions.

It will come as no surprise that October’s prompt was inspired by our recent move. It was our fourth apartment in under 5 years, which followed our huge move across the world. As the packed boxes piled up in the dining room, I started looking at it with equal parts awe and disgust. It wasn’t that long ago that I sold nearly all of my possessions, stashed the better part of the remaining at my mom’s house, and moved to Australia with two suitcases. How could it be that we now own enough that we have to store dozens of boxes and various pieces of furniture in our garage because we don’t have enough room in our two bedroom apartment?

The first thing I feel when I think about all this acquisition is a little bit sick to my stomach. How much money have we spent on all this stuff and, moreover, what are we doing to the environment?

In my 20s, I moved around a lot, too, and I always declared that I wanted to be more “Buddhist” in my relationship to my possessions (yes, I realize that’s an oversimplification of an entire body of belief, but maybe you’ll get what I mean). Every time I had to pack up my car for another move, I dreamed of being able to toss it all into one box and hitting the road. Every move has involved a big purge. I’ll never be a hoarder. I have no sentimental attachment to things like ticket stubs or clothing items, and I never buy souvenirs on vacation. But still, the stack of boxes only grows.

Now in my mid-30s, I choose to be more honest with myself about the parts of my personality that I don’t think will change. If I were really the kind of person who could live out of one box, I would have been that girl, but I never was. So, I’m done beating myself up about who I am. Partner-in-Crime actually is the kind of person who could live out of one box. He has the detachment down. So, we talk about our stuff sometimes, and the best way I can verbalize my feeling is that I don’t want “stuff” for the sake of having stuff. I’m not into flashy or expensive things or name brands. What I do want is to have “the right” stuff, that is to say the stuff that makes me feel a little bit more at ease or comfortable. For instance, last Christmas, I was aching for the Bellini thermo cooker. I wasn’t bothered about having the $2000 Thermomix on which it is modeled, but I knew that this thing would bring me a lot of joy in the kitchen. And, has it ever. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t use it multiple times. This is a “stuff” that makes me happy.

The problem with moving so much is that the “right” stuff for one place may be of no use in the next. In our garage, for instance, is the long table we bought to serve as our dining room table in our small first apartment. When we had a bigger place, we replaced it with a real dining room table (stuff that makes me happy), but hey, you know, we used it that once to serve Thanksgiving dinner on, so we’d better not get rid of it! We have a portable air conditioning unit that we bought from expat friends who were moving home, and it was just the thing in our Neutral Bay place when I was 8 months pregnant and it was 108 degrees outside. Here, however, we have a built in A/C unit. But, what if we don’t in the next place, and it was such a good deal … And on and on to the tune of a quarter of a garage.

I also do have a special weakness for bargain hunting.  In the States, I was plowing through the racks at Ross once a week looking for something so wonderful and so cheap that it made my heart leap. On days off, I tread a path straight to the Goodwill. When I first got to Sydney and had a lot of free time while P-i-C was at work, I used to get on the train for up to an hour on the hunt for a new and better Vinnies or Salvos (“op shops,” as they are called here, just like our thrift stores at home). These days, I mostly hunt for Hushpuppy. The poor thing has hardly ever had a piece of clothing in her life that didn’t come to her secondhand. This Saturday, I spent half the day dragging her around from one garage sale to another, as it was the annual Garage Sale Trail.  I was so proud of my $40 haul that I took a picture and posted it to Instagram. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

photo (24)

This kind of deal hunting is an endeavor wrought with emotions for me. I’m thrilled by the hunt, giddy when I find a buried gem, and elated about spending just a small amount. I am, incidentally, similarly racked with guilt anytime I spend a lot of money, which is to say anything that ‘s full price (“racked” with guilt, not “wracked” with guilt, by the way, is the correct way of saying that. I looked it up). I suppose it’s no surprise then that many of the “stuff” items to which I’m most attached  are prizes from the bargain hunt. In thinking about this post, I wondered to myself which, if any, items I left behind in Florida I miss. Two things came to mind: The first was an absolutely gorgeous and huge Christmas wreath that I bought 75% off after the holidays and never got to hang. The second were my turquoise diner chairs that I picked up at the Goodwill, and I considered the piece de resistance of my colorful Coney Island themed kitchen.

Not the actual chairs, but they looked exactly like this. Source.

Not the actual chairs, but they looked exactly like this. Source.

It’s a complex relationship I have with my possessions. I wish I could channel one of those beautiful placards that people post on Facebook reminding us that “happiness is found in our heart” or “a simple life is the path to happiness,” but I’m just not going to wake up tomorrow as one of those one-box people. I find solace in a few comforts and attachments. Of course, if I lost it all tomorrow, and all I had left was P-i-C and Hushpuppy, I truly would count myself grateful for the only things that truly matter, but today, I am so fortunate to have those pieces of “stuff” in my life that bring me some sense of joy, stability, and ease.

3 thoughts on “My Worldly Possessions

  1. Christie Wilkin

    You did a great job here of explaining the complexity of our relationship to the “stuff” in our lives—I can relate to so much of what you wrote. Two other things: I did the exact same thing with my (firstborn) daughter—her clothes, toys and other possessions came from garage sales and second hand shops. So much fun! Secondly, I’m assuming you recommend a thermal cooker? Apparently I can purchase one from Canada that will work in my kitchen, but I am debating whether it’s worth it to add one more “thing” to our house.

    1. Cristin Post author

      So glad I’m not alone in loving to buy the secondhand kids stuff. I know she’ll object when she gets older, but right now I get to indulge my desire to give her adorable clothes and toys without feeling guilty about the budget.
      Yes, I do love the thermo cooker.To be honest, I didn’t have a food processor, so that’s a lot of what I use it for, but I also make whole meals in it, froth my milk for coffee, whipped cream, Playdough, and so on. I’m always thinking, “I’ll bet I can do that in the Bellini,” and sure enough, someone has come up with a recipe for it. Have a look at some Thermomix sites or Facebook groups to get an idea if it’s something you would get use of. You can adapt their recipes to all of the thermo cookers, I believe.

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