The Story of My Stuff: How it Grew

By your late 20s, how much had you/have you accumulated? If you had to pack it all up in suitcases and boxes – how many pieces would you have? How much would it weigh altogether? Would it all even fit in boxes and suitcases? How much would you have without counting furniture?

When I first moved overseas at the age of 23, I took 1 small and 2 large suitcases. It was about 70kg that I tried to take with me on the plane to London. I was moving over for ten years, I determined, so I wanted all my favourite stuff with me. Except I didn’t have anyone to ship it to; no one I knew had ever lived abroad long-term before, so naively, I thought the only other option was to lug it all myself by plane.

For better or worse, I left Australia the weekend of the AFL football grand final. Scores of people queued ahead of me for their flights to Melbourne – back in the days of paper tickets and check-in queues for all – and the airline staff refused to let us Sydney-bound international transfer folk skip ahead, until they realised there wasn’t much time left before the Sydney flight would leave us all behind. Suddenly there I was, with my entire family, at the front of the queue, checking in my wares, when the airline clerk said she could only check two pieces internationally, the other I’d have to collect in Sydney and check it in again. In essence she knew I had too much and just didn’t have the time to process me or run me around to pay the excess luggage fee, so just delegated it to someone else. Just my luck, the Sydney flight failed to arrive into Sydney on schedule. So, with little time to spare before my next flight, it was a frenzied rush to collect that suitcase from the domestic terminal, share a taxi with my zero Australian dollars left for transfer to the international terminal, and then repeat the check-in process. Of course I couldn’t take the transfer bus since I was on the wrong side of the security gates. The Sydney airline clerks, three of them with no one left to check-in, were stunned when I came running up to hand over the suitcase and said I should be paying about $800 for excess luggage, but that I was so late for my flight I should run to the plane. They actually said it was my lucky day. Gulp. It didn’t feel it. Alas yes, those were my lasting memories of life in Australia, the self-induced stress that left me crying my eyes out throughout Sydney airport as I ran for my life to get on the plane that would jettison me away to a new life.

I should have learned my lesson, but I never really did. In the early 2000s life was filled with CDs, cassette tapes, a mix of videotapes and DVDs and early electronics that I was carting around in addition to the piles of winter woollies for the expected snowy winter I was arriving into. Plus I had a pile of favourite books I needed for my job as a nanny. I love books, I do. By the time I’d moved to Bahamas four years later, I loved about 300 books’ worth that I carted with me from London. Fortunately, I often visited Australia and dumped some stuff home from time to time, but not enough of it.

I really had three major moves in my life. The first was that move to London, after which I left the bulk of my stuff with dear friends over a period of four years as I lived in jobs around Europe and just visited often to switch up my things. Then there was the move to Bahamas, which took three trips to transfer all my stuff, again by plane rather than ship. Finally all that stuff in 2008 came home to Australia again. After starting with 70kg leaving Australia, growing on that trip to Bahamas; when I had to get it home to Australia – with no foreseeable shipping route and needing it in a hurry – I Fed-Exed an unbelievable 11 boxes weighing 500 kg. Half a ton. Now that’s a wake-up call. A $5000 wake up call.

I still swear I would probably have equal amounts to other people my age, it’s just most people don’t cart it on a circular journey around the world with them. There was a lot of stuff that stayed in Australia, incredibly, and only as recently as 2013, 11 years after packing it all up and dividing it in the first place, I got it almost totally back together again. There’s still one suitcase left in London I need to ship back here. And skis. And a few boxes remain at my parents’ house. But everything else was finally, finally with me.

So you can imagine how much it broke my heart when, three months after putting it all in one place, circumstances meant moving into temporary accommodation, packing it all up into storage again, before I had even the slightest chance of sorting out anything. I had no idea and still have no idea, when the boxes will next be moved out of storage and unpacked.

Here we are, 18 months later, it’s still in storage, and I’m still living out of my suitcase, just as I have for the majority of the last 13 years.

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