The things I left behind

The things I left behind

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"In the months preceding our move abroad, my relationship with all that I owned changed dramatically."

In the months preceding our move abroad, my relationship with all that I owned changed dramatically. Anticipating an international move and a three-year stay in Belgium, I could look at nothing under our roof without considering, "What am I going to do with it?"

Should I:


  • throw it away,
  • give it to a friend,
  • donate it to charity,
  • sell it,
  • send it to storage,
  • have it shipped or
  • find someone to keep it for me?


It had been 15 years since I'd last moved and being the type who likes everything to be neatly sorted and in labeled containers, I'd frequently gone through our belongings and hauled stuff out of the house. But this was different — I didn't know what my new home would look like, how much storage I'd have and what I would I would need in my new life.

The sorting process was as exhausting as it was endless. There were too many decisions to make, too many unknowns and a lot of unexpected emotions unearthed. My past decluttering expeditions had focused on clothing and housewares — this one included art, photos and my substantial collection of old letters.

I was forced to let go of the past and imagine a new future. I tried not to be overly sentimental, but practical and smart about what to do with my belongings and yet I still made many mistakes — and learned a lot about my habits in the process.

I discovered I have an obscene amount of Tupperware. Who knew? I was blind to my weakness. My girlfriends should have staged an intervention because I was suckered in by every variation on the basic plastic storage container that Tupperware offered. Despite leaving some in storage, I brought far too much with me. It's now providing luxury housing for spiders in the basement.

Back in the kitchen, I wish I'd brought my big slow cooker here and left some mugs behind. I brought inexpensive wine glasses with me but left my good crystal in the States — another regret.

In the US, I had three giant Rubbermaid boxes of gift wrap, accumulated over years of stocking up at clearance sales and school fundraisers. Not only was I equipped for every gift-giving occasion, but I could choose a wrap based on the gift recipient's personality or interests.

Alas, I left all my wrapping paper and supplies in storage in the US, reasoning I'd buy what I needed when I got to Belgium, a decision that proved completely unsuitable when the birthday party invitations started coming home and the holiday season arrived.

My children had enormous herds of stuffed animals, accumulated from birth onwards. They represented the love of friends, birthday happiness, souvenirs from their dad's travels, the reward for enduring unpleasant medical procedures and a passion for collecting all that's sweet and fuzzy.

I had the children select a few favorites, donated some to charity and put the rest in storage. Not only do the children miss them, but I miss them too; a reaction that caught me completely off guard.

Fearful of my family photos being lost or damaged in shipment, I left nearly all of them behind. A mistake. Not only does our home feel hollow without them, but my children need them to refresh their memories of home and loved ones and life in America.
I jettisoned all manner of extra linens and brought only enough sheets, towels and blankets for my family. Now that was a wise move! My choices on what books to bring and which to leave behind were on target.

In the realm of shopping, I stocked up on favorite toiletries, many of which I later discovered I can easily buy here. But I didn't stockpile American-sized paper, file covers, and folders nor did we bring along a large supply of vacuum cleaner bags and basic car parts — a situation we've regretted over and over again.

I brought too much art and too many decorative objects with me, even though I gave a lot away and sent a bunch to storage. The placement of walls, windows, and radiators here limits what I can hang and I've discovered I like a more streamlined look. The house breathes a little better with more blank walls. I like the overall lack of clutter.

I fully expected moving abroad to be a life-changing experience — learning about new cultures, customs, points of view. I didn't realize how much the physical process of relocation would teach me about myself, my lifestyle and what was truly essential versus what I thought I couldn't live without.


V-Grrrl / Expatica

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Expat Archive Centre posted:

    on 2nd September 2013, 11:55:11 - Reply

    A familiar experience for all expats! When you're decluttering, it is tempting to throw out a lot of your "paper trail" - invites, rental documents, travel itineraries, packing lists etc. But instead, consider donating your expat story to the Expatriate Archive Centre. We can arrange free delivery, you can keep adding to it with each move, and you will be helping future research: