What has haunted me since we’ve left Cambodia is all the stuff I gave away, all the stuff I left behind. My mind tosses and turns like a salad, over and over again, remembering this particular thing or that object that I miss. Because when we left, we left thinking we were going to the United States. We left believing we were never returning or not returning anytime soon.
Of course, there was this small possibility that we’d be back, but at the time, it felt small, very small. We were long-time expats finally making the voyage back to homeland shores. It was time for a new chapter and I culled and gave everything that I could away without asking for a single cent. In return, I didn’t have to worry about where, who, how and what to do with many of our household and teaching belongings. In return, I cultivated good karma. In return, I left as unfettered as a rat in an outdoor market.
But now, I’m burdened by all the useful, practical and seemingly irreplaceable no-longer-mine items that I could have easily mailed to Thailand. If only I had known. If only I could have seen what a disaster the States would turn out to be, I would never have jeopardized my relationship with my mother. I would never have spent all that goddamn money flying back and forth. If only.
I’ll be mentally preparing for teaching or I don’t know, just doing something when a bright shiny object that I no longer possess would enter my mind. I think about it like a lost lover wondering where it’s at and what I would do to get it back. Then the scenario repeats at another time when I’ve thought I’ve conquered this desire for things I have left behind. And for someone who embraces minimalism, I’m starting to wonder what is going on with me.
First, I could not and did not predict we would be returning to Asia. So why does my mind constantly cast itself back to a decision that I cannot change?
Intellectually, I could reason with myself that starting over is starting new, fresh, a chance to build a better foundation. But then I’d feel overwhelmed by how much starting over costs, what it exactly entails and how patient I’d have to be. I started to sympathize with folks who’ve lost everything to a natural disaster. How do they do it? One day you have it all, the next you’re budgeting for a toaster, a table and relying upon the charity of others.
But if I had a chance to return to my old life, possessions, and job back in Siem Reap, I wouldn’t take it. Something about having gone too far down a different road, seeing too much, etc. has allowed me to continue to scramble up the mountain. And it’s not that I’m not a fan of turning back, sometimes when you’re lost, it’s a good idea.
I remember talking to my stepdad about one of his latest projects – cleaning up the clutter from his girlfriend’s mother. She was a hoarder. He said that you’d need an avalanche tracking device before entering her home and that pretty much helped me realize that I’d rather be on this extreme than the other.
I also remember a friend excitedly proclaiming how much she loves the Container Store and I thought, “Dear God, don’t let me ever set foot in that place.” Sure, I’d probably fall in love with the organizational aspect of it, but when I think of the Container Store, I think about an army of plastic drawers to shove all my shit into so I can forget about it. I’ve moved enough times to know what a outstanding surprise it is to open a cabinet or a closet to discover I have more stuff that I thought I did.
For a while I was addicted to Sunset magazine (well, a lot of magazines) and then it was all those cute blogs on creating beautiful homes. Then I got depressed because, well, Asia, you’ve got to work with a different set of circumstances, stuff and cash flow. So for me, right now, I’m so humble with what I have and where I’m at that I can’t even compare myself to other people. I can only compare myself with where I’ve been.
But that’s not a hot idea either. It feels like I should be progressing, right? I should be continuing to possess more stuff, or upgrading to more expensive stuff, but what if I’ve gone the other way? Sometimes I joke that if the zombie apocalypse happens, I’m ready to run. Other times I fool myself into thinking that I don’t want this or that.
What I have come to terms with though is that I have to practice patience. This whole moving to that side of the globe and then back again is only stressful because I’m not fabulously wealthy. And there is also something rather nice about starting over, making wiser decisions about what I buy, not going for short-term cheap this-will-do-for-now objects, but let’s invest in something of quality and wait on other things.
Seriously. This is really hard for me. I’m the kind of person who wants her house set up perfectly RIGHT NOW. I used to make loads of purchases that I’d soon regret just because I didn’t want to wait. I’d buy cheap and then get angry that it was falling apart or broke. I look at stuff with new eyes now. I remember the days when I bought something and I was so excited about it that I’d take it out of the bag and admire it, etc. However, I can remember countless more times when I came home, put the bags on the floor and ignored my purchases until much later.
I’m ready to not be obsessed with stuff. I suppose though it is part of the starting over process. I want and need certain stuff. We’re functional for the most part and we’ve received some really thoughtful gifts, loans and help that I appreciate every day. For example, I use the cutting board my friend gave to me and the chairs another friend is letting us use.
Previously, because I’ve been such a lifelong gypsy, I’ve gotten used to giving stuff away, donating and receiving stuff from friends who are moving. It’s part of the expat lifestyle. So I’m not sure why this time around it feels so different. Maybe because I’ve been vulnerable, because of what happened with my mom, because I was jumping into a future I didn’t plan.
I want to remember this time though. I don’t want to return to the days where I bring back my shopping and drop it on the floor. I want to appreciate what I buy and not be so wasteful. I want to get used to standing in the department store debating with my BF over an object that we want. Ultimately, I want a better relationship with stuff because I’ve lugged it around the world, packed it, dragged it and carefully thought about what I need, what’s important – and now I’m ready to settle down, but I don’t want to fill an empty space simply because I’m not comfortable with less.
When I was back in Hawaii at my mom’s apartment trying to clean out her tiny space, I discovered she had three vacuums (and that’s not counting the hand-held mini vacuum she had). I looked at her like she was crazy. I think about the fact that I’m a woman in her mid-forties and I just bought an ironing board. As a frequent flyer, I try not think about how many ironing boards I’ve bought in my life. But I’m remembering that the vacuum that we gave away when we moved from Thailand was given back to us when we returned. It’s sitting in the corner where I have forgotten it because now that I don’t have cats, I don’t really need a vacuum. This is SE Asia, the carpet-less land.
I hate stuff. I love stuff. I need stuff.