The post I wrote about online shopping and the mountain of goods we purchase every summer when we visit the U.S. got me thinking about stuff—not only the stuff we collect and accrue in our overseas location, but also the stuff we leave behind.
I’m sure a quick poll of expats around the globe would reveal that many of us have a variety of stuff somewhere back in our home countries—futons, BBQ’s and bikes, photo albums and mementos—sitting either in rented storage units or someone’s spare attic or garage.
When Alan Paul—a former expat and author of Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star Beijing—returned to his New Jersey home and retrieved all of his belongings from storage after living overseas almost four years, he filmed the experience, which you can view on YouTube here.
While he and his wife recalled storing 15 boxes, the actual number was 64. Inside the boxes, Paul finds things like vintage coffee mugs and stacks of magazines, as well as photos, letters and other family heirlooms. He’s pleased to discover some of the contents as he opens the boxes, but he’s also overwhelmed at what to get rid of and what to keep.
When R and I left Boise, we never dreamed we’d still be in Thailand seven years later. Before leaving Idaho, we had a yard sale, made plans to rent our house, and, because of the unknown, because we could have gone overseas and decided that it was not for us, we put all of our remaining stuff in a 10 x 13 storage unit—just in case.
A year or two into R’s contract in Thailand, we saw how foolish it was to spend money paying to store things that, in all likelihood, we’d today sell or give away. Besides the few pieces of furniture and the mattresses, the bike and the Weber grill, what else do I remember storing in the rental unit?
I remember the green ceramic bowl R’s sister gave us for our wedding, a framed brightly-colored greeting card Ross had sent me from Honduras sometime around 1999, the Huichol yarn paintings R and I bought together in Mexico, R’s record player and childhood record collection. Each of these things hold memories, and while memories stay with us if we’re lucky, sometimes the objects associated with our memories are just as important. Especially when you’re moving half way across the world.
Getting rid of all our belongings at once means saying goodbye to all that we know. And that is a pretty tall order. Making such a big change, a big move, at least emotionally, happens in stages. Hence, the expats’ need to saves pieces of themselves they can revisit later. Perhaps, after we revisit these mementos of our past, we can then really say goodbye, if not to the things, at least to life as we knew it before our move.
What sorts of items do you have stored away, in rental units, attics, etc.? What memories do these items represent for you?