The Things I Carry

In six days I’m moving across the country and have decided to only bring whatever fits in two trusty suitcases. This decision was influenced by a couple of factors. As the plan is to stay on a friend’s couch when I first get there, I thought it best not to show up with twenty-eight boxes. Also, when I looked at my stuff, the cost of shipping it would have been much more expensive than the cost of just replacing everything. Not that I plan on replacing everything — because as it turns out, I’m not a big fan of stuff.

This isn’t the first time I’ve shoved my entire life into two suitcases. And by the tone of their voices, my family isn’t convinced this will be the last.

I was born in Belgium, which I’m only bringing up to illustrate I’m much more worldly than most people. Not that I remember any of it — I was way too small and busy being a newborn to fully soak in the delicious beer and frites-soaked culture. But having to repeatedly respond “Belgium” in elementary school when asked where I was born (and then explain where it was and yes, I love those waffles too!) left me with the distinct feeling at an early age that the world was much bigger than our col-du-sac and nearby 7/11. And I wanted to see as much of it as I could.

When I first really traveled on my own at 17, first to Paris and then around Europe (I told you, I’m incredibly worldly) I carried everything I needed in a giant black backpack I bought at REI with tip money from waiting tables at IHOP. It was your classic backpackers bag, with a ridiculous amount of zippers and straps and strategically placed pads and even a tiny backpack that could quickly be zipped off and taken around on day trips. This. Was. Living.

I carried that bag with me for the next ten years, and it was there for most major life moments. Moving to college. Moving apartments in college. Moving to New York. Moving apartments in New York. Moving to Korea. Moving back to New York. Moving to China. Moving back to New York.

I slowly became accustomed and then comforted by the fact that at any given time, I could fit all I owned into that black bag and maybe one other suitcase and be off.

When I returned to New York the last time, it was with a significant other. Taking a cue from most of my friends at the time, I thought I would begin settling down, a notion my mother couldn’t have been more excited about. If I was going to be here, really be here, then it was time to properly invest in some things. This is what people do, right? They buy a bunch of stuff and build a home.

So I bought a nice couch from a store that wasn’t IKEA. I bought a big TV. I bought clothes to fill every closet and kitchen appliances for every cabinet. I bought a quirky dining room table and cool chairs from a furniture store in the East Village. And if I was setting up a home, then it was probably time to throw that black backpack out. My twenties were over; if I was traveling anywhere now, I told myself, it would be with a nice suitcase and hotel reservations.

As often happens, life did not go exactly according to plan. The relationship I was building the home for soon ended, and I was now left with a sofa that had a rip in it, a dining room set able to seat six (which made eating alone most nights super fun) and a big TV. This didn’t seem like a home; it just seemed like me surrounded by a bunch of stuff.

At about this time, a good friend told me about Marie’s Kondo’s book on decluttering that was then sweeping the country. The basic tenet seemed to be if an object doesn’t “bring you joy,” you should “let it go.” Looking around my new apartment, I realized none of these objects really brought me anything close to joy. This was also about the same time I started really examining and rethinking almost everything about my life and made the decision to move out West to follow an insane dream.

And so, for the past couple of weeks — much to my mother’s chagrin — I’ve been busy selling and donating most of my worldly possessions (and listening to Frozen’s “Let It Go” on repeat, obvs). I’m sure at some point I’ll understand the need for decorative lemons and throw rugs, but apparently for now I still find joy knowing I can check everything I own on United for only $35.

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