My life in a box

20 May

Since I’m about to leave for at least a year in China, I have been moving out of my apartment in Austin and preparing for my trip.  Not wanting to burden family members with my possessions and not knowing whether I’ll be back for them in a year or much longer after that, I’ve simply decided to downsize (though that might be understating it).

Thus, everything I own went into three categories: stuff to bring with me to China, stuff to store with family and stuff to simply give away.  (I’m pretty sure Goodwill either loves or hates me right now!)

Such a phenomenal task was both daunting and exhilarating.  First, being the child of at least one pack rat (who shall remain nameless), I have developed a counter-tendency to get rid of things I don’t use.  Yet, for all my minimalistic desires regarding hording, there are still things I’ve spent the past 6 years hauling around with me to college dorm rooms, my first apartment and later apartments.  Things I knew I’d sort through one day, things I thought I’d want one day, and things I simply didn’t feel like spending the mental or emotional energy to decide what to do with.  For all my desire not to be a pack rat, I’ve packed around quite a bit.

Thus, sorting through everything was at once a trip down memory lane and an era of irrevocable decisions.  Do I keep my high school letter plaques?  What about all the cross country medals?  Do they mean anything to me any more?  Will my potential future children want them?  Or will they really care all that much after an initial cursory glance?

And, what about practical items, like kitchen wares and furniture?  Is that the sort of thing I’ll want to buy again one day?  Is it the sort of thing that’s worth keeping around?

In the end, I erred on the side of minimalism.  I set aside the mementos of my childhood that truly mean something to me – the ones I’ll never forgive myself for not having around when those hypothetical children surface.  I limited myself to only one box for storage, and I found it was pretty easy to stick to that limit.  I have set aside only the essentials to bring with me; I’ll be able to buy any other necessities in China.  And, as for the giving away part, it was easy.  I know my belongings will eventually find good homes.

There’s something liberating about ridding myself of all my worldly possessions except for what can fit into a large suitcase and one box.  Throughout it all, I realized that I had kept around so many little knickknacks that mean nothing to me; I had held on to reports and notebooks and souvenirs because I thought I would one day want them but knew all along I never would.

What has survived the great cataloging of 2010 are items that actually mean something to me and will in the future.  Those things are important because they are tangible items that will one day remind me – vividly – of an earlier time.  But, for now, I’m far prouder of the fact that I can fit those things into just one box.

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2 Responses to “My life in a box”

  1. Kathleen Schmieder June 19, 2010 at 14:01 #

    Good for you, Robin!

    Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the sheer mass I’ve accumulated, and yet I’ve been unable to liberate myself from it, reasoning that many objects and photos are good fodder for future assemblage or collage art, or in the case of my old journals, writing projects.

    I’d make a lousy Buddhist because many more things are touchstones to memorable people, places, events I cherish from the past, mirrors of a sort of who I’ve become via my history. Not so good at being here now I guess.

    Then there is this whole share the beauty I’ve encountered by making my home an art or natural history museum or library of sorts. I shudder to think what it would take for Paul and I to relocate, esp since most of the stuff I could get rid of most easily, is his. LOL!

  2. Ruby June 24, 2010 at 15:25 #

    Kudos. It does take a lot out of a person emotionally and physically to shed small (or big) mementos in any number. But to be able to fit your most prized possessions into one suitcase and one box! My my my, Miss Robin, I can only say job well done.

    I pare my belongings from time to time, too, and one thing you might consider is digitizing any written work you have. For instance, I don’t want to get rid of notes/essays from interesting undergrad classes, so I’m either typing up those pages and pages of text or scanning the more interesting articles. Makes me feel like Merlin in The Sword and the Stone.

    It’ll prolly be lotsa work, but it’s a small compromise if you wanna keep essays, etc.

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