[color-box color=”gray”][dropcap]Join[/dropcap] Canadian Expat, Dodie Schadlich, in her weekly column for “Off the Beaten Path”. Read on to hear about Dodie’s experience about something that all future expats will eventually deal with: what to do with all your stuff? [/color-box]
Making The Move
As time continues to roll along one mañana at a time I can’t help but look around me and think; where on earth did all this stuff come from? I vividly remember liquidating almost everything we owned not all that long ago.
We spent nearly 2 years researching before making the decision to move to Ecuador. I think the decision to move was easier to manage than the panicked feeling that set in when we had to ask; How do we manage all our stuff? It was an emotional roller-coaster ride that continued for weeks and even months as we waited for the property to sell.
We began to pile our stuff into groups, 7 of them actually;
- Give to family/friends,
- Stays with the property,
- Give to charity,
- Yard sale items,
- Keep and bring with us,
- Keep in storage, and finally
- Undecided pile.
Back in the middle 1980s George Carlin, with his unique brand of humour mixed with a dose of reality made us laugh at ourselves by pointing out our habit of collecting stuff which then leads us to find places to put all our stuff. Anyone thinking of making the move to Ecuador and wondering how to manage all your stuff, I recommend taking some time, 5:08 to be exact, to watch his youtube clip. It may help to put things into perspective and provide a chuckle at the same time.
Time Heals All
I certainly cannot tell you how to manage each of your personal items, but I would like to share that as emotional as the process was for us, it passed with time. I know how cliche that sounds, but honestly, aside from some occasional pangs of longing for those few isolated items, I now look back and laugh out loud at the entire episode. I have a couple of regrets; my dehydrator being one of them. In retrospect, I should have brought it with me.
The Story Of Stuff
Over our career and life, Randy and I had managed to collect an oversized home with 5 bedrooms, 2 baths for 2 people to live in. The home itself was filled to the brim with stuff, each room fully furnished to the point of ridiculous. Each closet, dresser drawer, nook, cranny, corner, cubby, cupboard, shelf and wall space had stuff in it or on it. Don’t get me wrong, we are not Hoarders like you see on A&E, each item was coordinated, organized and matched the theme of the room. Coordinated bedding’s with matching picture frames with colour coded file folders for dual purpose rooms.
On this property was also a shop, large enough to fit a transport truck with room to spare. Randy kept a section of it to be able to work on a vehicle or other project. He had enough tools to put to shame any service shop in Ecuador; his stuff was literally lining the walls, in multiple tool boxes, on the floor, shelves, benches and even hanging from the ceiling. The shop also doubled as a place to warehouse all the toys which included a snowmobile, truck camper, ride-em lawn mower, boat, 5th wheel, enough fishing equipment to rival any Bass Pro Shop and 5 vehicles. Yes, I said 5; a summer mustang, a winter Lincoln Navigator, our workhorse Diesel Chevy pick up, plus 2 trusty stand-bys just in case any of the primary 3 were down for any reason. Since we lived rural, hauling garbage, a boat or wood were common occurrences.
As I list all this stuff that we cleaned, maintained and paid insurance for one word comes to mind: INSANITY
As our life, expressed in piles of stuff, was being divided into 7 groups, the entire process became a walk down memory lane. Each and every item passed through my hands and was assessed in some manner. Each item, big or small, old or new was accompanied by a conversation, either in my head or out loud as we decided which pile the stuff should be allocated to.
Having a conversation with Randy about how fond I am of my favourite coffee mug and all the reasons I feel it needs to come to Ecuador is not something I ever thought I would do. Space is premium is these situations so we each felt the need to make a reasonable presentation as to why this or that particular item should be included in pile (5) keep and bring with us. Certainly, there were times when we would disagree on an item or collection of things and thus we would let available space in the U-Haul be the deciding factor. Essentially what this did was create sub-group (5a) take with if there is room.
The actually physical act of touching each item I found soothing. It was a way of saying goodbye to the old and making way for the new; closure for lack of a better term. This necessary part of our journey to Ecuador brought with it bouts of laughter, pain, smiles, tears, moments of indecision, pangs of longing, panic and of course anticipation for the new chapter that lie ahead.
Making The Cut
The early hours and days of the sorting process was slower, more methodical and filled with emotional angst. Questions like: Do I need this? Can I replace it? Will the person that gave it to me find out I did not to bring it? Would they be upset by that decision? Is it sentimental or simply practical? Initially, a large amount of stuff ended up in the (7) undecided pile. In fact, the pile was so huge that it made me realize that we have an attachment problem! How can we possibly begin our adventure if we cannot decide on what to do with the 12-piece cookie jar collection? Yes, they are cute and yes, they provide a memory of grandma’s kitchen but is it practical to bring all the way to Ecuador? Would they even make the trip and how much money for space and weight are we willing to pay to bring these memories with us?
Some items would start in one group but make their way around to multiple groups and most often going full circle back to the original pile. Again INSANITY comes to mind.
It did not take long to eliminate pile (6) keep in storage. As we researched the monthly cost for locker large enough to keep the ever growing pile of items, we decided that we were not prepared to take on this responsibility simply to avoid making any real decisions. The creation of pile (6) keep in storage, became our excuse and provided an easy cop-out option to put off some unpleasant selections on certain items; to put off the pain, if you will. Once we eliminated pile (6) these items eventually ended up yet again in the hand-assess-emotional angst routine as they were redistributed to the other piles.
After a few more days of sorting, I noticed a couple things. I became more decisive with fewer instances of the bouncing items from one group to another and also far fewer items place in pile (7) undecided. I was able to assess, acknowledge the emotional impact, but move beyond it to make a firmer, and thankfully quicker, decision. In fact, there were some items that passed through my hands with virtually no thought and simply were moved matter-of-fact to a pile without a single second guess. It felt freeing actually and I knew some of the emotional attachment issues were starting to weaken.
As the momentum was growing, with more time was spent on this emotional sorting venture and with our move date quickly approaching, my mother came for a visit. With her was a lovely little sentimental surprise. 2 boxes of her prized Swarovski crystal collection which she wanted me to have. Randy and I looked at each other; I could see he was ready to laugh. We were both mentally calculating the room in the Uhaul, what possession can we give up and how on earth will these fine crystal figurines make this trip! I graciously, and with love, accepted the boxes and after our visit; Randy and I entered into a fit of laughter. No matter how determined we are of downsizing, stuff just keeps coming our way.
Starting The First Leg Of The Journey
There was still some problem stuff that we found very difficult to part with. These items did not make it into any group at all for a long time. Procrastinating and leaving the hardest decisions for last, we were hoping a solution would present itself to the inner turmoil. Until then, they would sit is sub-group (5a) until the moment of filling the U-Haul arrived.
As you likely understand; we did not bring our things to Ecuador in a U-Haul, but we did bring our items to our place in Florida. Florida was our stepping stone to South America. To help acclimatize our Canadian blood and to also have our things closer when the big shipment would take place. We brought 2 vehicles with us to Florida; the mustang and the Diesel that pulled the U-Haul. Our most personal things, like photo albums, my sons growing up momentos, our wedding presents all made it into the U-Haul.
We settled into Florida for 6 months before continuing down to Ecuador and in those 6 months, guess what? We bought more stuff! Randy built another shed to hold more stuff and we bought a boat, kayaks, diving and snorkeling equipment, bicycles, and of course more furniture to fill our 2 bedroom mobile home.
Moving To Ecuador
When it came time to start the hand-assessment-emotional angst routine to go from Florida down to Ecuador for the final leg of the adventure, I was already prepared emotionally and far less attached to this new stuff. I also had a better idea of what we would have difficulty replacing and so the stuff coming down from Florida was far more functional and practical, like pots and pans and good cutlery. This time there were only 2 piles;
- Sell with property
- Bring to Ecuador
For this move, we used a Liftvan to be shipped over. I used painters tape to mark out the inside dimensions of the lift van on the floor and walls and then played a game of Tetris to fill the space as completely as possible. Our stuff arrived as planned and in great shape. That was nearly 4 years ago and guess what, our stuff has again multiplied exponentially! Randy has built another shed and it is filling quickly with stuff.
In our defence, this time we have a business to run, so much of the stuff is business purchases to fill the rental rooms and common living areas. One day this stuff will go to pile (1) sell with property. Until then, we will continue to manage and maintain our new Ecuadorian stuff that is peppered with our sentimental stuff from Canada and accented with our functional stuff from Florida.
While writing this piece, I said to Randy, you know, I still really miss my Fishing gear, in particular, my float tube and neoprene’s. He said, don’t worry, if you go first, instead of a casket, I will outfit you in River Rat neoprene’s and Caddis float tube and have it all cremated with you. I thought what a sweet thing for him to say.
I am happy to say the crystals made it with one only one casualty; a hummingbird figurine. Considering all the real hummingbirds in our gardens daily, it is loss we can live with.