Stuff and Things

I’ve written at length about the amazing adventure my husband and I embarked upon a year and a half ago when he accepted a job in the UK. I don’t think either of us believed it would actually happen when he received the email invitation. But it did and, amazing as it was, I’d be lying if I said it was easy.

Shortly after we settled in the UK, I wrote about how difficult it was to pack away the things we’d accumulated throughout ten years of marriage. It was gut-wrenching to say farewell to our first house when we had barely gotten it the way we wanted following a disaster a month after we bought it. Life in Quebec was difficult for me, since I barely speak any French. Even so, I grew to love the town we lived in, even when winter pelted us with enough snow the piles reached over my head. There’s a pride that comes with loving where you live and filling your home with things you love.

I’ve always hated bare walls. As a teenager, I plastered my room with artwork gifted to me by friends and printouts of my favourite anime characters. Anything to hide the stark nature of the white walls. Never mind that I had to take it all down and put it all back up every time we moved (which was about once a year). I liked the colour and familiarity. I liked to be surrounded by characters and objects that inspired me.

As I’ve grown, my decorating style has matured, but still follows the same principal. I surround myself with objects that have personal meaning, objects that ignite the fire of creativity in my brain. In particular, I surround myself with books (I’d gladly live in a library). I can’t tell you how hard it was to pack it all away in boxes when I didn’t know how long it would be before I saw them again. I lined each and every one of my book boxes with plastic bags (just in case it got damp in our storage compartment), and we sealed everything thoroughly with packing tape. I shudder at the amount of newspaper I removed when I unpacked my dragons and other pretties, but the scraps did their job and kept everything safe (except for one snow globe which I, thankfully, packed in a ziplock bag just in case).

I tried not to think about it as my life disappeared into boxes. It’s just stuff, I told myself. Stuff does not define you. Stuff can be easily replaced. But it’s difficult when your life goal has become to buy a house and fill it with… well, stuff.

Due to the temporary nature of our relocation, we intended to rent a furnished apartment. It wasn’t our first choice, but we certainly weren’t going to spend thousands of dollars transporting our belongings only to ship them all back again. Nor did we want to buy a bunch of cheap furnishings to leave behind. It worked out rather well, as we found a lovely place with fantastic landlords. And you know something? It was surprisingly easy to get used to living without our things. It wasn’t so much about making-do either. The steady march of life continued and we used what we had to hand to greatest effect. It helped that we met fabulous people, saw a great deal of history, and were able to keep in touch with everyone back home via the internet.

The things I missed most weren’t the ones I expected. I’d have given anything to have our bed; the mattress in our apartment was about what you’d expect. It was really only bearable after the addition of a two inch memory foam topper. I yearned for a dryer – any dryer – so that laundry wouldn’t have to occur on such a strict schedule. Forgetting to wash the husband’s white undershirts in time for them to dry for Monday edged close to disaster (luckily, it didn’t happen very often). Going away for the weekend left me scrambling to catch up on the laundry, especially in the blistery winter months when it seemed to take twice as long for everything to dry. Sure, there were days I longed for my library but, with it out of sight, it was easy to forget and move on. Watching movies and TV on our tablets or computer screens wasn’t the best, but it got us by.

I think the most difficult thing about living far away from our things was the invisible chord that tied us to them. Every time we recalled that we did have something, only it was back in Canada, a sense of listlessness reared its ugly head. We didn’t actually belong in the UK. Our lives weren’t there. They were somewhere else, far out of reach. I often suffer from anxiety and I can’t tell you the number of times it got into my head that everything we packed away would be ruined. You can’t do anything about it, so don’t worry, became my mantra.

When it came down to deciding what we’d actually be upset that we lost, the number of objects was actually few. Sure, I wouldn’t have wanted to replace my extensive book collection, but it wouldn’t have broken me. Moving back into a house, and getting our stuff back, was more about dispelling that sense of displacement and resuming a track we felt we had to abandon for awhile.

Now that things are back to ‘normal,’ I try to remind myself of all the lessons I learned living away from my things. I try to remind myself that I lived with a lot less whenever I find myself pining after something that isn’t really essential. I try to remember that there’s plenty of time, and lots of things I’m bound to enjoy more than said luxury item even if I can think of the perfect place to put it. I’ve always thought it was a good idea to ask myself how attached I was to the idea of ownership before I made a purchase, and I find it easier to stick to those guidelines now. Every now and then it still strikes me as strange to be back among all our belongings, but it’s always followed by a pleasant warmth. I know I can be happy without, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things I have.

If nothing else, the experience has made it easier to pack light when we travel.

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