So we’ve moved. Out of the apartment we’d lived in for ten years and into…nothing. Most of our stuff goes into long-term storage, some stuff already got shipped to Abu Dhabi (where we’re moving into a furnished apartment), and some stuff will get wadded into the suitcases we’re lugging with us to the Middle East.
We’ve said good-bye to the apartment where our boys were babies, toddlers, little kids—stages of life that are, quite literally, mapped out on the rug: there the diarrhea attack, over there the “mommy I think I’m going to be sick…” and over there where Caleb wrote on the rug in marker that he hated us.
This move is different than a move cross-town, or even cross-country. When you know that half-used jar of curry powder will get used in your new digs, you toss it in the moving box. But should you really bring that jar half-way around the world? Or put it in storage for a year? No. You should throw it away. But throw away a half-full jar? Can’t someone use it? That is the type of insanity that’s been rolling through my mind for the last month: who wants my half-used spices, the almost-full box of uncooked risotto, the barely touched bag of tater tots (aka, god’s perfect food)?
Lots of people have been telling me that moving is a fresh start, a new beginning, a chance to let go of the past (and half-used jars of curry powder).
But you know what moving is, really? It’s the ring of hell that Dante forgot—or was too afraid to think about.
Because in order to let go of the past, you’ve got to sort through it all first and that means confronting some unpleasantness: your failures as a housekeeper (the dust! the crap under the couch!); your failure to lose that last ten pounds (those trousers you’ve been saving for “when the diet kicks in?” bwhahahaha); your inability to say no to your children (the bin filled with plastic doodads from McDonalds, vending machines, and various ninety-nine cent stores).
Moving means confronting the stuff with which we crowd our lives, the stuff we tell ourselves we have to have, or should have, or that everyone else has so we should have too. And moving into long-term storage means asking yourself what stuff really, really matters: what can you say good-bye to for a year—and if you can say good-bye to it for a year, then why do you have it at all?
What did I discover during our pre-move purge? A jar filled with $40.87 in coins, plus an additional $12 in loose change scattered over desk tops, bureau drawers, and under couches. Power cords, battery packs, and thingamajigs for phones we no longer own. A length of red velvet meant to cover a cushion for a bench I owned two apartments ago (in the lifetime called “pre-marriage”); my grandfather’s white acrylic golf sweater, circa 1972. Political buttons dating back to high school; a Grateful Dead button that used to adorn my favorite jean jacket, long since disappeared.
I found random holiday cards and assorted Playbills (which I don’t have to keep because Husband, bless his hoarder’s soul, bought special plastic boxes in which he keeps ALL his Playbills, from, like, forever. Want to know the name of the second understudy in the 1978 production of “Ain’t Misbehavin”? Husband can look it up for you.)
Throwing things away used to be so easy. You just dumped whatever you didn’t want into the garbage: hangers, shoes, old sheets, half-empty jars of mustard, bags of rocks, plastic toys, broken lamps.
Now? Now, unless you want Al Gore appearing in your dreams shaking his finger at you, you’ve got to put paper recycling over here, bottles and cans over there, the shoes in the bag for Soles 4 Souls, the raggedy socks and t-shirts to textile recycling, toys and clothes and old sports equipment to Goodwill or some other thrift shop. The random oddments from fridge and cupboard should be composted—or you can, for the span of an afternoon, make a six year old boy really happy. He can make a hellacious, probably toxic stew in the sink: a twice-used jar of Chinese mustard, a pot of unidentifiable chutney, salad dressing bottles with one swirl coagulating at the bottom, something that was once, perhaps, olives. A pile of old rice, the dregs of the hot cocoa powder, stale breadcrumbs, a few mysterious frozen lumps, and voila! A witches brew that stank up the kitchen for hours.
By last Thursday, everything had been packed by the moving minions into tidy boxes, headed for some storage facility in god-knows-where Pennsylvania. I’m sure that when we unpack those boxes the decisions we made about what to keep will seem utterly mysterious: matches from restaurants? cookbooks that haven’t ever been used? sheets we were given for our wedding that are now threadbare and slightly ripped?
Until then, I will pretend that we are unencumbered by Stuff, that we are floating lightly in the world. Except, of course, for those ten or so suitcases we will be dragging to Abu Dhabi. But that’s a post for another day.
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