All the Stuff

As I stare at our household goods, clustered in the center of what used to be a somewhat cozy living room, the environmentalist in me is having a heart attack. Now a mass of cardboard boxes, brown paper, and plastic shrink wrap (no recycled materials to be found… ack!), it’s hard to remember what’s even among the pile, and even harder to remember why we need so much stuff. The thing is, I never feel like I have a lot of stuff… until it all gets wrapped up and pushed together in one spot.

Our movers, five wonderfully kind and professional men from Monterrey, in the neighboring state of Nuevo León, spent ten hours at our house today, methodically packing up our belongings and preparing them for shipping. They’ll be back tomorrow to load everything into wooden crates and haul the entire load off to the border where it will await customs inspection and entry into the United States. From there, some items will be sent to our new temporary housing address in Arlington, Virginia, and the rest of it- the bulk of it- will sit in a holding facility in a place unbeknownst to me for the better part of the next year until it gets put on a cargo ship headed to our onward post in Riga, Latvia. As the movers bustled around our house, wrapping, packing, and weighing everything, our beloved dog Frieda paced and panted with worried eyes, not quite sure what to make of the scene. It’s her second pack-out, but I don’t think that made it any easier for her.


Sweet Frieda seeks refuge under a desk during the hustle and bustle of moving.

I had spent the last two months preparing for this day by organizing our belongings, packing some items, and separating others, so that our move would go smoothly. We’re allowed 450 pounds to be sent to Virginia for our use over the eight months we will spend there while M. learns Russian, while the rest- up to 7,200 pounds (which we do not even come close to owning and hope we never do)- will go directly to Latvia. I thought that deciding what to bring to Virginia would be tricky, but in the end, it wasn’t so bad. We came out with a little room to spare, at 407 pounds. Still, we’d tried to be strategic in our preparations, carefully sorting through our things, making piles designated for the allowance to Virginia, piles of things we could do without for the next ten months and designated for Latvia, and piles designated for the car when we leave our post here in Mexico. I’d heard the pack-out horror stories from other families… passports, trash, dirty diapers, and- God forbid- even small pets being accidentally packed because the movers come in like Mary Poppins and swiftly make everything disappear into cardboard boxes, and if you’re not organized or paying attention, anything is fair game. Thus, in my best effort to avoid opening the bag of discarded shrimp tails under our sink ten months from now in Latvia, I started preparing early, which made me acutely aware that in this lifestyle, we spend an average of three months per year either packing or unpacking.

It’s hard not to take little trips down memory lane while sorting through old photos and yearbooks, and somehow, inevitably, piles of clutter seem to materialize out of nowhere in the process: paperclips, stray socks, post-it notes, business cards from people we know we’re probably never going to see again but keep “just in case”…. Somehow, those little things seem to reproduce until they are scattered all over the house. Hours of sorting through them to the point of exhaustion seals their fate either in the garbage or all jumbled together in a bag to deal with on the other end of the move.

During this whole process, I always have the same thoughts: How did we accumulate all of this? And if we can do without it for ten months, why can’t we do without it forever? 


All the stuff… piled in our living room.

The answer from the sentimental, home-bodied side of me is always the same: One day, you will have a normal house and a normal life and you won’t move every year or two, and you will have a crafting room and a place to display those yearbooks and that quilt and guests will come to your house to drink coffee from the Turkish coffee set that you’ve been carrying around for the last seven moves and have yet to use. Even once.

To which the more ruthless and rational side of me retorts: Bullshit. This is your 26th move in 35 years. And you already know that you are moving again in eight months. And in two years after that. I’ll bet my left kidney that that Turkish coffee set never sees the light of day.


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a treadmill.

Though I have this internal struggle each time I move, I always cave to my sentimental side, hanging on to that Turkish coffee set (although I actually tried to sell it once in a garage sale) and a glimmer of hope that I will one day settle down and stay put for a while. I thought I’d reached that point twice in the last several years, only to pull out the packing materials and move along with life’s unexpected twists and turns. I don’t seen an end to this nomadic lifestyle for quite a while, so I’ll continue to remind myself that home is not about my address or my stuff, or how long I’ve lived in one place; rather, it’s the people who surround me and the experiences that I’ve been so fortunate to have that make a home for me, no matter where I am in the world or in my life. That will remain true over the next years and the next few moves, as we transition from Mexico to Virginia to Latvia and to wherever we end up after that, no doubt collecting a few more things along the way and being forever grateful that we have movers to help us.

Thank you for reading!

Frieda 2

Frieda relaxes in her favorite chair after the movers leave. Moving is stressful on a sweet pup!

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