After two months of an MIA package, my (impractical, not-really-summer) summer shoes have finally arrived. Excitement! Joy!
Immediately after comes the inevitable thought for a transient expat: where will these fit in my suitcase?
As someone who hasn’t lived in the same room for more than 9 month since 2007, I’ve had quite a bit of experience in paring down my possessions. However every time moving day comes around I get a tightening in my chest and a headache between my eyes. I love clothes. I love books. I love shoes. I do not love the idea of moving them. The though of the ensuing disorganization makes me feel a little sick. Every move I purge but by the end of my next lease the same thing happens.
A quick list of what I own for those interested in how I define “minimal”:
4 long-sleeved shirts
2 pairs of pants
1 pair of shorts
3 pairs of high heels
1 pair of BEAUTIFUL new sandals
(Plus underwear and socks that I don’t count)
Total: 40 items
Other Stuff I Plan to Move With
1 small bag of makeup
1 tablet + cords
1 ancient laptop + cords
1 HTC phone + cords
2 cameras + cords
5-6 books (I only buy “real” Russian books. All English books are on the tablet.)
3 Russian board games
1 stuffed animal (gift)
1 blanket (from childhood)
Other stuff I’m probably forgetting
Total: ~25 – 30 items
I think this list is a lot smaller than most people’s. That’s great, though I still don’t consider myself a minimalist by any means. My lifestyle is more out of practicality than any deep belief in the minimalist lifestyle. I have less — most people haven’t been living out of one suitcase and a carry-on bag for three years. When contemplating two bags versus an entire apartment, your view of possessions definitely changes.
It’s pretty natural for people to collect possessions. This natural human tendency is particularly exacerbated by the constant barrage of advertisements telling us what we need to buy at this very moment or we’ll be totally behind the times / totally unable to function in society. I think it’s important (particularly for expats) to fight this desire to accumulate in order to save your sanity and your wallet.
Questions for expats to ask themselves before buying/moving:
- What’s my uniform? Clothes are the biggest space-suck, and often for no reason. It’s incredibly difficult to anticipate what you’ll really need when living abroad — and hard to pack for some place like Russia which has four distinct seasons — but do this right and your life will be so much easier. I really enjoy reading Into Mind, a minimalist blog that offers really insightful tips on how to create a small but effective wardrobe.
- What can I buy home/abroad to make my life easier? Knowing your destination well helps with this. What can you get in your new home that is cheaper or simply less hassle than dragging it from your current home? For example, in Russia sheets and pillows are outrageously expensive and pretty terrible quality. After my first trip to Russia I always made sure to bring my own sheets — worth the space in my suitcase! Other stuff I leave behind.
- Do I really need this? I know, it’s cliche. But seriously: do you really need that second frying pan you’re frantically trying to stuff into your second suitcase?
As it comes to less than a week before I vacate yet another apartment, I’m making myself ask these questions for what seems like the hundredth time in the past few years. It’s no fun, but I’m trying to take a deep breath, relax, and accept that most things I really need aren’t actually physical. Except for (my very warped idea) of the perfect summer sandal.
Any other tips for getting over packing anxiety? What’s that one weird thing that you absolutely refuse to get rid of, regardless of how cramped for space you are?