Packing Up

And Letting Go

It takes six months to pack up, six months to unpack – David Pollock, Third Culture Kids

Mentally, emotionally, literally – Pollock, the late expert on nomadic expat life was right. When I left Australia in 2002, it was an exit I knew was a long time coming. Travel was all I ever dreamed of doing. And, months before I gave notice in each job overseas, I realised that I was emotionally ready to leave. Sometimes it was due to visas running out, other times because with families ever-growing and changing, the time was just right. Now, after three years here, I know it’s time to go. Mentally, I have been coming to terms with the exit for months, planning how to wrap up work projects, working out what jobs big or small, need attention. Making and checking off a list of sightseeing and experiences to finally do. Pollock is spot on – much as it does take months to emotionally plant your roots in the new destination and feel connected, likewise, the emotional pack up, the mental preparation to leave, equally doesn’t happen overnight. After so much practice, moving here, moving there, I’m still in amazement of how well it’s going.

From sand dunes to flat desert to deserted beaches and abandoned fishing villages, my sense of adventure always took me far from the city and there are few sights and experiences left to try. These days it’s the packing that I’m working on. With the cat departed to his forever home, ringworm officially cleared up and much of the clutter cleared during its height of contagion, the house was ready to be tackled. Each night I came home from work, in my late-hour unmotivated haze, I would notice things to add to the to-do list, things that could easily be removed or given attention.

It started with a clean-up of the spare room. I had slowly started using its large cupboard space to remove kitchen appliances I’d bought but I hadn’t found useful and would sell or donate. With the cat gone, I designated some boxes to the project and set up a clothes/accessories donation box, the damaged goods box, the sell box and the leave out for other staff to take box. A room with no furniture, there’s space in there to put things and leave it out of sight while adding to it on days off. This process also has the advantage, like my storage unit, of helping me detach from things because when I can’t see it, there’s no room for sentimentality or attachment or ‘buts’. So with those boxes established, it has been easy to whisk through a room during a clean-up or late-night haze gaze and decide I want to part with something else and add it a box.

Next, I turned my attention one day off to my bathroom trolley with its medicines, make up and toiletries. Having had the cat nosey his way round things time and again, many things got thrown onto the trolley shelving haphazardly, leading to a large mess needing a sort. I emptied everything on to my dining table, placed it in categories and spent a few hours sorting through what was near empty, what could be consolidated (same product, too many bottles or jars, tipped into one), what was out of date. Then I worked out what I knew I wouldn’t use in the next few weeks and decided to start packing them in my new toiletry compartment system, away in the suitcase. As I watched them go in, I acknowledged the ‘just-for-when’ usage of these things. Later, inspired by my clothing compartments and deciding I had too many little compartments for my first aid/medicine stuff when I should just have one big one, I went to Muji and discovered their fantastic double layered compartment packages. Eep, there was some excitement in the store that day, but mindfully I kept my purchases down to what I needed – deciding to use those to replace some old clothing compartments that had broken and needed replacement as well. Although large now, I am loving my newly filled medicine kit, bottom layer for first aid and travel health, and top layer for medicines.

This past weeks’ clean-up has focussed on the paper still lying around. The remaining magazines, the books that are short and should be read. The stationery and work projects. In a house overfilled with couches but not much surface space, each couch is a landing zone for things to return to work, paper that needs sorting, or project papers divided and being tackled task by task.

Being the desert, winter has passed quickly and since I won’t be here for summer, both season extremes have been folded away into my luggage and the wardrobe continues to be culled. Especially given the cat scratched little thread balls on nearly all of my pants, it’s all destined for the boxes and I am currently entertaining Courtney Carver’s 333 project and the ‘uniform’ people have adopted, and pondering some basics I could add for now – since I have no clue what my future currently holds.

Time is running low. I will soon hand in my notice and within weeks depart for home. When I think of my luggage and what’s in there already, I constantly ask the minimal questions – Will I use this? Do I need this? Is there joy or value for keeping it? Would I be happy to pay extra luggage if this item tips the scales? Will it end up in storage at home? Will it be better to stay here?

My life abroad kit. L-R: clothes case (all seasons), toiletries & other; carry-on valuables, documents & an overnight kit

When I look around my house, I know I’m pretty well on track. There’s not much left in my living area. Just a few items from my kitchen will come with me, the rest belongs to this apartment. My spare room is all for donation and selling, which I will start to part with once my notice is handed in. Very little in my bathroom now will be packed, just a small toiletry bag of the everyday items – I can identify all the things that need using or will just be thrown instead. From my closet, I know from each trip we take that it all fits expertly in my one large suitcase. Combined, right now I would estimate my big and small luggage will total around 30kg which is the limit for our local airline. My carry-on will be my computer and hard drives, a couple of notebooks, a couple of books. Barely anything.

And I say this, and take a step back and say wow in a way that takes my breath away. When I think back to leaving Bahamas ten years ago, when I had a similar amount of time packing up, and still didn’t see/do everything I’d wanted, and freighted half a ton of stuff home, mostly years of paper and about 300 books, I shake my head. I feel speechless. That is the journey of minimalism right there, folks. A dozen cartons and suitcases down to 1 large 1 small. 500 kg down to 30 kg. I am proud, satisfied.

And you know what else I noticed? Without the moving stress, with the clearer frame of mind and the achievable projects left to do, I am completely devoid of anxiety about leaving. I don’t cry, I’m not devastated. I simply know the time has come and I acknowledge and allow myself to feel sad to leave my kids behind and my friends, but whereas before I was devastated and would cry a pool of tears at the thought of going, this time, the emotional energy is healthier, the mental separation easier and literally it will be easier to go. To let go and embrace my new journey.

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