It’s a rainy afternoon and I’m throwing stuff out. I love a good clearout. One of the best things I’ve learned from expat life is how good it feels to get rid of all the excess stuff that weighs you down, both physically and mentally. Stuff is what my Nana described as “neither use nor ornament”. It can be brand new, like the spare lightbulbs for lamps you don’t own any more, but mostly it’s used, like the clothes in your closet which don’t fit or which never did come back into fashion.
Having moved so many times in the last 13 years I’ve become almost paranoid about accumulating stuff and try my best to operate on the principle of one-in-one-out, ie buy a new shirt, throw out an old one. Despite the fact that I’m married to a collector, living in a variety of different apartments, some large, some small, has taught me a lot.
For example, for many years I believed I needed a big, well equipped kitchen. In my last apartment the kitchen was so small I could barely turn around in it but I was still able to prepare exactly the same food as I did when I lived with a kitchen so vast I actually had empty cupboards. Similarly I survived for a year without a working oven and a fridge that struggled to maintain an interior temperature of 13C in summer, so now I’m much less tempted to buy fancy appliances, gadgets and multiple dinner sets because I know the food won’t taste any better. The company of family and good friends is more important than size and decor.
Living with less is truly liberating. When we were young we felt footloose and fancy free in part because we didn’t have much to anchor us down. The things we acquire all need cleaning, painting, mowing, insuring, repairing . . . and if you’re an expat, packing and moving. It’s taken a lifetime, but I’m gradually learning that the things I value most are all in my mind – the memories of all the things I’ve done, people I’ve met, places I’ve been. Oh, and my laptop, of course . . . ;-)