Note: For those of you saying “geeze, Jo, you can’t even keep your posting schedule going for more than a week?” I must apologize; the internet company forgot to transfer our services to our new address, and so I was internetless on Monday and Tuesday. Things should be fairly normal starting next week!
Onto the original post:
I’m no stranger to moving, even if I’m only distantly acquainted with being packed in a timely manner. There’s probably some sort of “like many of my generation” here, as I’ve moved at least once a year every year since graduating college. College, too, came with back-and-forths, but at least in the end I was always going the same place: home or school. It’s been four years since I’ve had any real permanent sense of place, but that’s for another post.
This post is about my stuff.
As my mom is so fond of saying, when she helped me move from Seattle she refused to pack a single box for me. She cleaned the entire apartment top to bottom (and got our security deposit back in full–thanks Mom!), but I was responsible for throwing everything in boxes and making sure they were safe and secure in the back of the car. I may have lingering shame about my inability to avoid procrastination, but I take great pride in my packing–protecting breakable items with paper towels, fitting things into boxes so they don’t rattle around, not mixing kitchen things with bedroom items so that unpacking is relatively easy–that, I’m darn good at.
I’m also something of a pack rat, so the process of packing allows me to unearth not only old things but old memories. Ask me “what is this?” of some ratty old piece of paper and almost every time I will be able to tell you not only what it is, but also why I kept it. I know what they say about cleaning out, how you have to throw things away and narrow down all your memorabilia to one or two things that really matter, and it’s something I’m slowly trying to get better at, but it is not my forte. (Of course, I also have a secondary memory of many of the things I’ve thrown out, possibly because I find the experience vaguely traumatic. For me, it’s much easier to lose things and forget about them than it is to have to decide consciously to get rid of something. My pencil pouch from high school with nearly every important note I’d ever passed in class disappeared somewhere in my sophomore year of college, and I only felt a vague regret. Had you actually made me get rid of the notes…well, clearly I was incapable of doing it on my own. And I was younger then! but clearly have not made much progress in that department.)
Moving has always been a chance to revisit those memories, and my last-minute style of packing has often forced my hand in terms of disposing of things that I don’t know what to do with. It’s also a chance to take ownership of my things–to recognize what I value, what I think is worth dragging around with me, to be aware of just what all I own, to maybe donate or give away those things that I really don’t need anymore, or maybe never needed in the first place. It forces me to take stock of my life and my possessions and to reflect, if only for a moment, on their importance in my life, and it allows me to start life in my new location with only the things I really wanted to bring with me.
Unless, of course, someone else does the moving for you.
Since my husband’s in the Army, and the Army will pay to move you, we had movers come last Tuesday to pack up our house and load it onto their truck and haul it away. The one bright spot here was that I was in no way expected to have to move any furniture, which is a really big deal because I am pretty useless when it comes to heavy lifting. And we don’t have to rent a U-Haul and drive it ourselves, which is nice.
But standing around while other people pack my things just about drove me up the wall. It did drive me out of the house to run errands while my husband supervised the movers. Part of it was I think a class issue. I’m not at all accustomed to paying other people to do that kind of work for me or to sitting around while someone else does something I could clearly at least help with. I understand that they can’t put boxes we packed on their truck because of liability issues–I understand they’re being paid to do the work–but not being able to help, having to sit and watch and try to stay out of the way, just made me feel uncomfortably lazy.
But it was also the fact that the movers, who were very polite and professional gentlemen, just happened to be packing my things. These things are not important to them; they don’t have memories associated with them; and since I hadn’t had a real chance to go through the house and sort everything, I don’t even know what I sent on that truck with them. Furthermore, they took my stuff away on a truck and with it I lost all control over what happens to it. And yes, I understand that if they lose it or break it they owe us money, but money doesn’t replace memories that I didn’t even get to retrod.
And then part of me feels guilty for being so concerned over what happens to my things–part of me feels guilty about the amount of things I have, thinks of Christ telling the rich young man to sell all his possessions–and we’re all called to stewardship and to share our blessings freely, and some of us are called to give everything up and others are called to prudence with what they have. And I wasn’t called to a religious order; I was called to marry my husband, which means compromise (another topic for another post). Yet rather like my pencil pouch it’d be easier to let everything go if the truck simply disappeared, drove all that stuff out of my life and never brought it back, instead of making me responsible for those decisions.
Am I too comfortable with the life and things I have? Do the things I have help me to serve others, or only to serve myself? When I do dispose of things, do I make every effort to find ways they can be reused or transformed, instead of just rotting on a landfill? Do I recognize the difference between mementos and junk?
Some of those I do better at than others, but it’s always worth the reflection. (Even the language I’m using here–“things” and “stuff” instead of, say, “belongings” or “possessions”–subconsciously points away from ownership and towards something more objective. Maybe it’s just lazy writing! OR IS IT.)
I guess I’ll be doing mine on the unpacking side this time around.