I’m not a hoarder by nature. But being an expat for the last 10 years and having coordinated 4 major moves, my views on “stuff” have shifted.
I save things.
If you ask my husband, sometimes I do so inexplicably. I save Christmas cards, packing supplies, small trinkets, magazines, anything that comes home from school, including an unending stream of what my children insist are artistic masterpieces. I can’t always see the creative genius, but they’d be heartbroken if we didn’t save every one, so I do.
I save containers in various shapes and sizes for, well, container emergencies like, “I need to make a diorama tomorrow,” or “There’s an egg drop competition.” or “Don’t you have a bag the perfect size for my collection of…?” And so on.
I’m also not the most organized person and holding onto things for longer than typical is my way of making sure nothing goes missing. From these revelations it might seem like I really am a hoarder or at least have tendencies in that direction, but I am saved from admitting this to myself by the fact that, every few years, we move and we are allotted a strictly enforced weight limit for our goods.
So we must purge, purge, purge before we leave.
Our next move is just months away. Our three years in Beijing are the longest we’ve ever lived anywhere since we picked up our lives and joined the expat throng and, consequently, our pile of possessions is a lot larger than usual. Mentally, I started the purging process long ago. I’ve thought my way systematically through each room and closet, taking stock of everything we’ve crammed in over the last 36 months and making lists of what can go, what can stay, and what should be sent to storage.
This was an unexpectedly emotional process, but I tried to be rationale, pragmatic, and keep the sentimentality to a manageable level. I thought I was making progress, gearing up for the inevitable sorting and donation runs, and so I shared my brilliant assessments with my husband.
I rattled off the no-brainers first, the items we could not possibly ever need or want again, then moved on to the more subjective areas – outgrown children’s books and games, nostalgia clothing we’ve held onto, but haven’t worn in years, gifts we’ve never used, but can’t seem to part with because they were gifts, and even things I’d prefer to keep if I had the luxury of limitless weight and space.
I glanced at my husband as I neared the end of this list, eager for his approval. But, his eyes were narrowed, his brow furrowed, he was just not in agreement with my carefully crafted plans. He was clearly not pleased. When I took a breath, he swooped in and item by item offered reasons why every single thing I mentioned had to be kept.
I was dumbfounded.
Didn’t he understand how much mental time and energy I had put into this? Didn’t he understand I too loved our things, I the keeper of tins and toilet paper rolls and a devotee of the phrase “just in case?” Did he not appreciate the effort involved in actually getting rid of this stuff in favor of just letting the movers pack up and paying an enormous bill when we went way over our weight limit? I was doing us a favor taking on this mammoth task and saving us money!
He, however, was steadfast in his objections, but I was formidable. I pointed out many of our beloved effects were taking up space and would serve someone else better. I reminded him there are myriad mechanisms available in Beijing for painlessly divesting ourselves of those things we hold dear, but are just excessive.
I convinced him we had more stuff than any family of five needs, and we could be content with less. A LOT LESS! And then I showed him the 6 large garbage bags full of stuff pulled from just my side of the closet in a single afternoon and finally the lights came on. He saw the fruits of my mental calisthenics and miraculously began to purge too.
We’re at the beginning of this process, but we’ve begun. We’ve done our homework and have plans to visit various charities with weekly drop-offs. I’ve got my advertisements ready to post on some online resources, and I’ve noted the dates for our office, school, and church rummage sales and toy drives.
We’re offering first dibs on everything to our Ayi and the other ayis in our building. And, slowly, we’re making headway. I’ll miss some of the things we’re parting with, but many I’ll forget about instantly and wonder why I ever thought we couldn’t live without them.
Except for maybe that one University sweatshirt shoved way back in the corner. That one I might keep, just in case!
6 Resources for Purging:
- Operation Blessing
- Lion Club
- Freecycle Beijing: FreecycleBeijing@yahoogroups.com
- Beijing Mamas: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Courtesy: Linsey Crisler