How much value does “stuff” add to you life? To some degree I am about to find out since we left behind 99% of our belongings when we made the move to Denmark.
After receiving John’s contract to work in Denmark, we had only about six weeks until we needed to be moved there permanently. Six weeks not being a lot of time to prepare for an international move, we knew we would need to make lots of decisions–many of them big, and all of them quickly. I have a very hard time with decisions. I tend to research and mull and then research and mull some more. After a comfortable (to me) amount of time, I make the decision, after which I decide if the decision made was Right, or Wrong. Next I regret the decision (or pat myself on the back). Lastly I dwell on it morosely (or reflect on it with pride). For better or for worse, this is my process, but this process could not happen in the time frame allotted with this move, so I did what was necessary: I evolved–at least for a few weeks. I made lots of decisions, and I made them quickly.
Some of the decisions were easy:
Q: Sell our house in Colorado or rent it out?
A: Rent it out. (Lucky us, John’s brother was in the rental market.)
Q: Ship all of our stuff or leave most of it behind?
A: Leave most of it behind.
Q: Get rid of the stuff we’re leaving, or store it?
A: Get rid of some and also store some.
Q: What do we take and what do we store?
And this is where things got tricky.
When making the decision to relocate, it was with the knowledge that we would need to be careful with our money, so we were not just going to ship over a house-full of belongings, all willy-nilly. In the process of deciding what to bring, we winnowed and winnowed until we could winnow no more.
Here is the breakdown of what we brought on the plane with us:
Six suitcases/duffle bags: (1 per person)–everything we need to get by for several weeks.
Six carry-on wheelie suitcases: (1 per person)–each filled with books because they are dang heavy, we are all big readers, and books in English are not readily available in DK.
Six “personal” items–backpacks/briefcases filled with stuff to entertain kids, lap tops, Ipads etc.
Additionally, we shipped nine 18″ x 24″ boxes via USPS. Not exactly sure how much they weighed, but it cost $1370.00 total to mail. Our other option was to ship via an international cargo company. The minimum that could be shipped was a volume equal to twenty 18″ x 24″ boxes. The shipment would take six to eight weeks to arrive and it would cost $2700.00 dollars. Since we had winnowed past the point of twenty boxes, we decided to go with USPS, a bonus being that our boxes would arrive in six to ten business days.
Of the nine shipped boxes there are six (1 per person) with additional winter clothing, boots, etc that wouldn’t fit in our suitcases
Three boxes contain miscellaneous items: treasured stuffed animals, toys, blankets, etc. I let each of the kids pick a few things and then I picked a few things for them, since I know best ;). I packed several games, because my vision of life in Denmark includes quite a few rainy days filled with family-time-game-playing. Now, maybe packing all those games is silly because we don’t play them all that much here, so why would we there? But this is my vision. And I am the mother. And alongside all the maid-like duties that consume most of my days, one of the perks is that on occasions such as these, I get to make the final call.
We’d figured out how much to take, now we needed to decide how much to store longterm, and how much to get rid of. This was certainly as tough as deciding what to bring to DK.
You see, I’m a hoarder at heart. I just like things. I like interesting things. I like vintage things. I like pretty things. I like colorful things. I like ornately carved things and stream-lined modern things. I like nostalgic things. I also like finding deals on things and I buy pretty much everything possible used via Craigslist, thrift stores, or eBay. Therefore it is not surprising at all that I have accumulated what my husband considers to be a “lot” of possessions.
And here we encounter one of my life’s biggest quandaries: I hate clutter.
It’s messy, it sucks to put away, it’s underfoot. It makes anything and everything hard to find. It feels unnecessary and wasteful. It’s dusty, it’s dirty, it’s disorganized. It is visually unappealing to me and makes me feel anxiety.
My basement: the nightmare of my life/my life’s treasure chest.
My mom understands. When she comes to visit and ventures down there, she always returns upstairs to remark, “Your basement is full of such cool stuff!”
To which I invariably respond, “Oh, I just really need to go through it, it’s a mess. I shouldn’t have so much stuff down there.”
So what is in my basement, you might like to know?
Oh, a little bit of everything. Antique window panes and a door original to our old house. Cases of canned food that I stocked up on when they were on sale. A collection of four vintage paper mache hot air balloons. Actually, now that I think about it, the four vintage paper mache hot air balloons are no longer in the basement. They made their upstairs debut a mere few months ago after a five year moratorium in a box in the basement. And since I didn’t get a picture of all my treasures down there, here you go:
What else? Way more holiday decorations than I have any business owning. Several new-in-the package toys that I found on clearance and am saving to give to the kids for Christmas or birthdays. Train sets, house decor, baubles galore. Canvases, art work, easels. A lamp with a round black base that John has been desperate to throw away since the day I bought it. Not one, but two, large dollhouses that were treasured by me when I was a child.
And the clothes:
With four kids (two boys and two girls) it only makes sense to keep their old clothes and save them as hand-me-downs, but the result is an inventory of children’s clothing that has reached warehouse-like proportions.
As we were sorting everything in the basement, deciding what to get rid of and what to store, at first I wanted to keep almost everything. I finally had what can best be described as a “come to Jesus” moment, when John “advised” (here the quotations denote that I am using a euphemism) me that I needed to get rid of more stuff or everything wasn’t going to fit into the area we had allotted for it.
So I got rid of a ton of things, including most of our furniture as well as four truckloads of random “stuff.” We also unloaded random items on anyone that would take it: a trailer full of furniture to a friend, various tool items to one of the guys painting our house, a swing-set to the brother of one of our tenants.
I honestly might be experiencing PTSD from the last week we spent in Colorado. Not to take away from anyone that actually has real PTSD, but when I think about those last several days, I start to shake and shudder. We were so busy, so tired, so many kids…
Many kind folks from church offered to help us pack and move things, but our situation was such (moving our items from our house into our own basement and garage over the course of a few weeks) that we wound up with more of a constant trickle of stuff to pack and move rather than a large load at any given time. The result was that I ended up packing the entire house myself with either a toddler on my hip or a toddler constantly dedicated to unpacking the boxes I had just finished packing. Utilizing his super strength–and in the time-honored tradition of duties divided by gender–John moved almost the entire house by himself, fortunately with the occasional hand from his brother who was currently living above our garage. Lest you think that John got off easy with the moving part, let me explain that the area we had designated for storing our items on our property (in order to have them in the least obtrusive place possible) was the area in our basement we have dubbed “the recesses.” (Imagine scary music and waggly fingers).
It must be understood that our house was built in 1901 and evidently there were different standards for subterranean construction back then. Our particular basement has been referred to as “scary”, “dungeon-like”, or, as I like to call it, “more of a cellar.”
Here is the entrance, looking spooky as usual:
The basement has a dirt floor and walls that are precarious and intermittent. Even more unpleasant and difficult to navigate than the basement proper are”the recesses”.
How to explain the recesses?
Well the area is just as the name describes. It is the part of the basement that hasn’t been fully dug out, but for some inexplicable reason was partially dug out. It is untouched earth with a “floor” three and a half feet from the beams supporting the house above. It is reachable through the following process: You must climb over a concrete berm and under an electrical box. You must duck, bob and weave under the dangling electrical wires, and finally you must scramble up the dirt cliff, being careful not to hit your head on the beams above. I may sound like a Dora the Explorer episode, but that is the process and this is where John had to move all our boxes and things.
The good news is that because of all our winnowing and John’s back-breaking labor (and in spite of last minute disasters aplenty), we were able to get pretty much everything down into the recesses, and here is the picture to prove it:
Of the few random items left in the house, I must apologize to my brother-in-law Jeff, who now must deal with it.
It was tough parting with much of my hoard as well as many furniture items accumulated over time, cost and effort, but it was all for a purpose: the plan for our family is, during our time in Denmark, to own fewer possessions but to enjoy travel; experience new friendships, customs and cultures; learn a new language; and most of all, focus on family time–all of which I believe contribute to the most valuable “stuff of life.”