It is almost exactly a year ago that I rode away from the home I had lived in for the past eight years in a cab, airport-bound, in a driving rain. (“A monsoon” the neighbor who helped me get the last things out of the house has described it.) I have described the experience of having to move out of that home WAY too quickly here and here. And some of the lessons learned in that move here.
The first anniversary of this momentous move seems like a good time to look back and reflect. This particular move was not just a move from one place to another: it involved moving myself from the U.S. to Europe, and putting everything I didn’t either sell, donate, or fit into a couple of suitcases to take with me, into long-term storage.
What stands out to me about the process, emotionally, a year later?
The goodness of people. One of the things that stands out is just how good most people are. Neighbors I didn’t know stepped up and helped me in a host of ways. The men from the work crew that was digging up the street outside our house in my final days there (yes, there was that too!) helped me by carrying the last few pieces of furniture that I couldn’t move, couldn’t sell, and couldn’t carry myself, outside for me and refused to take the money I offered them for the task. Perhaps this was because for days they had been bringing home clothing, toys, etc. from the “curb alert” piles I was leaving out every day, sometimes sending their wives, mothers, and friends back at night to take a look at what was still there. (I guess what goes around comes around…)
Other neighbors loaded up their cars to take things to charitable organizations when I ran out of time to do so myself. Friends made meals for me. Still others stopped by simply to offer a kind word, or good luck with the move. It left me with a good feeling about people in general, and my neighbors in particular.
The unimportance of things, and freedom from them. When I first arrived in Paris after my move, someone who heard I had just been through the experience of downsizing my home asked me if I had any regrets. “I have no way of knowing that yet,” I said, and at the time I really didn’t. It was too soon to know. I was on one side of the ocean and most of the possessions I still owned were in a storage locker on the other side. The whole process had been so rushed and confusing that, aside from a few key things, I didn’t really know what I still had, what I had given away or sold, what had been lost. I was in a state of confused suspension from all the things not only I, but my parents and grandparents, my husband’s parents and grandparents, and others, had accumulated for generations.
A year later, I still don’t really know what I still have, and what I gave away, sold, or lost in those final crazy weeks. I did return to the States for a few months, and during that time I went to the locker a couple of times to either retrieve items I needed or put a few more in. But I didn’t have enough time to really examine anything.
But I can say with confidence now that whatever mistakes I may have made, I have no regrets, at least not yet. It has been really interesting to be freed from the state of knowing what you have and what you don’t. To be free of spending time looking for this favorite book or that favorite sweater, or to be plagued with trying to figure out where you put x, y or z. There’s been a lot of time saved from thinking about and looking for objects, and also a kind of dawning awareness that what so many people say at the end of a downsizing move really is true, deep-in-your-bones true: “It’s all just stuff.”
The importance of maintaining balance in the process, and of “taking one’s time…” For the most part I feel much surprisingly much more at peace than I would have thought I could be, about having lost connection with all those things that have always served to make me feel comfortable and happy in my home–mostly pictures and books–for a whole year now.
I’ve managed to bring a few of these things with me to France. My piano is a notable exception. I couldn’t bring it with me to France, not easily or inexpensively. It probably doesn’t make any sense to do so in any case. But I wasn’t ready to give it up a year ago and I’m not ready to do so now, either. That piano is special to me (and to one of my sons) for many reasons musical, emotional, aesthetic. Since I am not yet sure where my permanent home is going to be, I’m still holding out hope that the piano can join me there one day. So for now it is safely stored in a climate-controlled storage space, along with more books, more pictures, waiting the day I can sit down and play it again.
And knowing that makes me feel good.
Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.