My struggle and relationship with stuff

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.

Here it is. All of our stuff. [Honolulu International Airport, December, 2017]
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.

The book I found at the library to get me through the tough times with my mom and the unknown.

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.


18 thoughts on “My struggle and relationship with stuff

  1. Parting with stuff can be tough, no question about it. The other day I noticed that my comb of 20+ years that I’ve been using as a teenager wasn’t all new anymore – a few of the comb’s teeth broke off in just a matter of weeks. And I felt so sad and can’t bear to throw it out let alone stop using it. I’ve just gotten so comfortable using something without even realising it – like it’s been there for so long without me asking or thinking about it.

    I really like to think twice about purchasing something. Then again if I do think about it, it can take me so long before I decide to buy something. Sometimes the best outcome for me is not buying if I don’t really need it and that means I know there’s no money wasted. But if something that I want and I’m tired or not in a good mood, I might buy what I want right away.

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    1. Things that have lasted a long time and stayed with us often hold a special place for us. I think that’s why we have childhood treasures. It’s funny that you mentioned a comb. I, too, have a pink comb that I’ve had FOREVER. I found it in a spa bathroom in New Mexico and you’re reminding me of the circumstances around it. (A very sexy time)

      When it comes to purchases, sometimes I impulse buy and other times, I think about it. And then other times, I forget about it. What I’ve found though is when I have money, I’m more careless and free about spending.

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  2. I always love your posts, but this one is close to my heart. When we left America with only two pieces of luggage each it was very difficult to decide what to take from 40 years of marriage that would fit in that tiny space. While living in Thailand for 3 years we were not sure if it would be our permanent home. The two places we rented were advertised as “Furnished” but when I opened the cupboards I realized that one cup, spoon and plate wouldn’t work. So I went out to the markets to add things I needed to function in the kitchen, bathroom and later realized I needed a broom, dust pan, mop and cleaning supplies…..the list went on and on, just to be comfortable.

    I gave away a lot of things to the cleaning ladies at the building where we had our apartment in Chiang Mai and again in Hua Hin. By this time our luggage was broken and we ended up with 4 medium size boxes for our move to Portugal.

    We decided that Coimbra, Portugal will be our permanent home now and because furnished places are rare and rentals get snapped up quickly we had to decide in a hurry if we were going to put down roots. I don’t shop like I used to in the US and still have to mull over if the thing I see is something I really “need” or just want to admire and collect dust.

    I have struggled with remembering a few things I gave away and remind myself that there is no way I would have known I would be living here and needing a quilt. I wish I could get it back…..but alas. One other thing I miss is my cast iron frying pan. ***Sigh***

    We talked about filling our apartment and if we ever needed to move for any reason and had to walk away from what we have now, we have done it before and we know it will move on to other people.

    Roots are important, if only for a few years or longer. They help you feel grounded and connected to your space. A friend of mine and I discussed this the other day. She moved here recently from America and is needing to partially furnish her apartment. She doesn’t like to have closets, or dressers or places to hide things away because, “If I close the door, how will I know what I have?”

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    1. I moved often in the States so I learned to let go of a lot of things over the years. When I met Brad and we were together for 6+ years, we started to accumulate stuff because you need furniture to rent apartments! Then when we left for Thailand, we had the big decision of deciding what stayed and where. Funnily, it’s all tucked away in his parent’s and grandparent’s homes.

      That’s another mess I have to deal with sometime in the future. You’re lucky that you don’t have stuff left behind that needs maintenance. Of course I couldn’t foresee that we’d no longer be together, but man, it’s still stuff, my stuff. UGH.

      Your story though is a good reminder of what expats go through. It’s just the way of life, part of the culture of living and starting over and doing it all over again. Sometimes I want to kick people who think it’s all glamorous and fun living in another country. No, I think I’ll just stick them in a Thai immigration line instead. 😛

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  3. Again, parallel lives. Emotional Agility was super helpful for me this past week, and I’m going to be applying its principles to EVERYTHING.

    But stuff, yeah, stuff. I like stuff. We talked about that over on my post. But your post reminded me of the problems I had when I first moved abroad. I got rid of a lot of stuff before I moved, but kept a lot with my parents; the things I couldn’t part with but wouldn’t fit in two suitcases.

    My whole life I’d been a bit of an interior decorating attic, watching HGTV Dream House like there was no tomorrow and redoing my room a dozen times or so in different styles as I grew up. I like things around me to be beautiful. Maybe it’s my INFJ side, or my HSP side, or just the me side, but I don’t do well when my immediate environment isn’t pretty and organized and clean. I went on a mission trip to Russia a long time ago and we helped out a church that was in the basement of an old building. It was moldy and dirty everywhere, and it was a wonderful place to be, but I could feel it draining me as I went each time. I felt guilty about feeling that way, but there it is.

    Anyway, when I first went to SK, I had a very small, very dirty apartment. Grungy. The floors were uneven and the laminate was coming up in spots, the kitchen had unremoveable stains (I tried so hard), the bathroom had an old mirror with water stains, the faucets and fixtures were so old they had that hard water, not-quite-rust thing going on…and the place was bare. Unwelcoming. After a long flight and my whole new life ahead of me, alone, it was a bit too much. I cried that first night over the ugliness of my apartment; really I cried for a lot of things, but that was the main thing. The dirty hallway and stairs, the lack of a window…no window, can you imagine the prison? It wasn’t really as bad as all that, but that first impression shook me hard.

    Two years later I liked my little home a lot, but it took two years to get there. Two years of buying this and that, decorating where I could, buying floral sheets and rugs and setting things up how I liked. It was toughest in the first few months because like, I want my home nice immediately.

    So yeah, I feel you. I’m glad you have a positive mindset, even with the regrets and the missing of stuff. I hope that will pass soon, and despite the money, you can look forward to buying awesome new stuff.

    xxoo

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    1. I so feel for you. There is something about traveling all the frickin’ way to the other side of the globe and facing the shock of a dingy hotel room or apartment that just doesn’t meet our culture’s standards. I should find the link to my BF’s first Chinese apartment. He took pictures. The stuff of horror movies! You’ll laugh.

      Yeah, he pulled up a picture yesterday and in the background was our old apt in Cambo. Yeah, we worked hard on that too. Lots of plants, very home-y and the walls were green! But I told myself this morning that in order to be ready to receive something new, I have to appreciate and be present, I can’t be constantly living in the past. We glamorize it anyhow.

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  4. “I hate stuff. I love stuff. I need stuff.” I think we can all relate to this!

    I had so much stuff when I lived in England. And every time I visit the family home I’m split between wanting to cart everything back to Bahrain with me and realising I haven’t missed a single item.

    Stuff is good. Sometimes we just need the feeling of having stuff. And that’s okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this! “Every time I visit the family home I’m split between wanting to cart everything back to Bahrain with me and realising I haven’t missed a single item.”

      Yes, I’ve lived overseas since 2009 and I haven’t had any of my stuff from America in all that time. Makes you wonder, huh?

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  5. I really do hate to throw away stuff. For some reason I connect with every little item some memory..
    At least I am somehow able to throw once a year or more really stuff away which is only junk.

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    1. Ah, a sentimental person. Now that you have children, it’s going to get worse! Hahahaha. You’ll be wanting to save everything they do, right? 😀

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  6. Damn all the stuff! Bring on all the stuff! Ugh. I feel you. I’m always sure if I get rid of something I will want it again later. Yet I never do. But things that I haven’t gotten rid of have come in handy occasionally. Maybe…5% of the time.

    It’s not worth it and yet I find it difficult to give up the stuff! My husband, on the other hand, jettisons stuff too easily. He’s still kicking himself over leaving the two story ladder in our old condo. Didn’t think we’d need it for a one story house. The rain gutters and orange tree have proved him wrong.

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  7. I used to be a bit of a hoarder when I was a child. Well, in fact I still have LOTS of things at my parents’ house. Luckily it is a very big house and they don’t need the space for now. I would be sad if I had to throw my childhood toys and shit from my teenage years xD But in my own place I sometimes go crazy and start throwing things we haven’t used for a while. This apartment is not too big and I don’t like the feeling of not having any space left.

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    1. Interesting. You value stuff, but you value free space, too! I suppose aesthetically there is something about having the eyes rest on emptiness or giving them a break.

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  8. I, too, have a love-hate relationship with stuff. I’ve had to move several times over the last 15 years or so and each time I get better and better about getting rid of stuff. It makes me a little sad at first, but as soon as the stuff is out of my sight I always feel more free.

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  9. Definitely food for thought, Lani. (Especially for someone like me who’s currently evaluating my relationship with stuff.) I think it’s a sign of you feeling more settled in CR versus other places. You want to grow roots and that includes owning things that anchor you somewhere. My two cents as someone from the outside looking in. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think you’ve nailed it. I think I am ready to settled down again and stop the madness! 😛 Just need to exercise patience now. Thanks.

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