Why do we have so much STUFF?

So yesterday our shipment came, aka heavy baggage. For the non-expats among you, this is always a major moment in the life of the newly-moved abroad: your stuff is here at last.

But oh my! Why oh why do we have so much of it?

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Where does it all come from? And where is it all going to go???

As box after box was unloaded and distributed around the house by a small army of Pickfords men, I kept wondering what on earth was in them all. We have been living fairly happily for the last two months out of a few suitcases plus a couple of boxes of “float” (eg crockery and cutlery, linen, a tv etc) from the office. Ok, the house looked a little bare and yes the children did complain from time to time that they didn’t have any toys – but still, we survived just fine.

So why do we have so much STUFF?

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Man with a van…this was only half of our boxes – there was a larger lorry outside the gates of the compound…

Do I really need this many clothes, many of which I haven’t worn in years? And shoes that have sat in my cupboard forlornly since we left St Lucia more than four years ago? Do we really need all those books (ok, maybe yes to the books!), the toys that haven’t been played with in a while, the thirty-eight different shopping bags?

The thing that really got me though was the kitchen goods. HOW many glasses? And mugs….four cafetieres, although only two with glass still intact; cups and bowls and cocktail twirlers; old crockery, new crockery, chopsticks still in their original wrapping from when I bought them in Cambodia; fish-shaped placemats from St Lucia, a beautiful tablecloth with a less-beautiful stain from Pakistan….We thought we had got rid of most of this back home – we seemed to do trip after trip to the second hand shops and the tip. But look at all of this!

I think the reason we have so much STUFF is because much of it is memories that we fear throwing away. We seem to have thousands of glasses – but so many of them are engraved with a particular event that brings back thoughts of a particular night. A disproportionate amount of which seem to be either Oktoberfests or Marine Balls….

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A few of our glasses…

But I know we have to do something about this mountain of STUFF. I found it particularly difficult watching all our goods be unpacked from their boxes yesterday knowing that the people doing the unpacking (the Pickfords Army, plus our helper Sana) probably own less than about a fiftieth of what they were unpacking. Forefront of my mind, just like many in the world at the moment, is the Syrian refugees, arriving in their new homes with not much more than what they can carry to their names. And living here in South Africa, you see terrible poverty all around you on a daily basis. All of this just rubs in how rife consumerism has become in the “west” – and I know I buy a lot less than many people (for one, I hate buying shoes!).

Luckily, living as we do in a country like South Africa, there is always someone who will take some of your unwanted STUFF. Yesterday we passed a frying pan, a couple of chopping boards, some children’s lunch bags and a whole pile of coat hangers to Sana. I later put aside a bag of clothes for her granddaughter, unworn and unwanted by my fussy youngest – who, at the moment, will only wear playsuits (this is an ongoing minor crisis in this family at the moment – we are now down to three said playsuits….).

I am sure that over the next couple of years we will continue to find homes for our unwanted goods. At least here IĀ  I can feel like we are not being wasteful, but rather starting a cycle of life for our stuff that shouldn’t finish when we (spoiled as we are) have had enough of them. But in the meantime, I am now embarrassed all over again as three plumbers have just turned up at the house and I have had to apologise for all the cr**p strewn all over my daughter’s floor. Ah, first-world problems!

Do you think you have too much STUFF? What do you do when you move – take it with you or have a good clear-out?

My Expat Family

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30 thoughts on “Why do we have so much STUFF?

  1. I wish we could be one of those families that moves overseas with just a few suitcases and that is it. On our first move, we had 110 boxes! Then from BCN to AMS, we had somehow managed to double that (and yet moved to smaller space)!!! Have “fun” unpacking and rediscovering all your stuff – as much as it’s a pain to unpack, the rediscovering is fun!

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  2. Oh honey, you needed to purge big time before packing up and moving LOL.

    I love a good purge – each move we get rid of clothes that don’t fit, or styles we’ll never wear again; plastic ware without lids (or the other way round), mismatched crokery (I’m very anal about that), tatty linen and towels get cut into rags and given to the local vet, toys that MissM has outgrown go to friends with younger kids or a local Montessori etc etc.

    We move lightly and like you said, we manage really well.

    Hugs
    x

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  3. I remember setting off for life in Vietnam with a 30 kg suitcase (I was allowed 10 kg extra as part of the expat package!!!), when I left there I was married and the 2 of us shared a small container with some others leaving. By the time we moved from Paris to the south we had a 40 foot container! Since then in the last 8 years we’ve moved house 3 times and pack up most of our personal stuff every summer when we let the house out as a holiday rental. Each time I get rid of a ton of stuff and yet we still have so much crap….oh to be minimalist! I hear you Clara!!

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  4. It’s so hard to streamline your stuff. I know exactly what you mean about looking at it all and thinking how did that happen, but hell no, I can’t get rid of any of it! It is so much nicer when you can give the items away. I’ve recently started to clear out my wardrobe and it’s lovely to see how happy our cleaner is to receive new clothes, items for her husband and also baby clothes which she takes to her church group. It has really inspired me and there will be nothing left soon enough! I’m pregnant and I am sort of reverse nesting or so it seems! #myexpatfamily

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  5. Hi Clara!!
    I found it so amazing the stuff we felt we “had to have” and by the time it got to us, like you we wondered what we were thinking!!!
    We also did countless runs to the charity shops and sold loads on eBay, we were limited to 50kg plus our luggage allowance on the plane so we had to be really ruthless but even so there was still a lot of “stuff”

    I’m gonna have a nose through your blog now to see how you’re settling in šŸ™‚

    Thanks for joining in with #myexpatfamily

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    • Thanks! And you had a very small child (and now two!) so that must have been really hard. At least when they are older you can cut down a lot on the toys. And nappies etc. We’re settling in ok – my husband might be making a trip to Seychelles before Christmas for a conference or meeting or something!

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  6. It’s like you’re saying the words just before they come out of my mouth!! Our shipment arrived 2 days ago and I’m just appalled at the amount of kitchen stuff we have. It’s so hard to resist a pretty mug!! I’m already planning a yard sale. Maybe not until next summer but I have already re-packed three boxes worth and put them into the basement. Ridiculous. You are definitely not along Clara.

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    • Don’t put them in the basement…they’ll stay there until the day you move back home (or to your next posting)! I think this has been our problem for too many years, we just keep putting it away and then when moving time comes it’s easier just to take it with us…again. And despite how much cr*p we have, I still nearly bought another mug today…..

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  7. This makes me so jealous! I would love to have so much stuff – ours is all stuck in a container in the UK, we moved to KZ with a maximum 3 cubic meters whcih we bumped up to 5 on our move to Malaysia – we can’t take much more because we are self funded. A far cry from the corporate sponsored moves of my childhood. The sad thing is that while we think we have absolutely nothing the employers look at us as though we are terribly profligate for bringing things like books, mugs, clothes and toys. We should, apparently, travel with just one suitcase per person. We got a Ā£100 (yes Ā£100) moving allowance for our move to Malaysia. When we leave here I will have to sell on a lot of stuff that has accumulated more’s the pity.

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  8. Straight away when I saw your kitchen photo memories of moving out to the Middle East came flooding back! Moving with 2 tiny ones I did sod all about thinning things out before we left, it was only when the movers came to see me “madam we have run out of room for the glasses, would you like us to leave the rest in boxes”
    I came to inspect they had basically filled every single cupboard AND the entire dining room table with just our glassware (let alone any pots and pans etc!). We do like a drink, but…. sadly I don’t think I have a set of anything more than 3 that match and the vast majority are “trophy” glasses full of memories but basically dust collectors. I still have some in boxes that I guess will be making the move with us again next week (Seriously how many Oktoberfest steins does one need – oh except when you’ve just had a baby and run out of vases, then they’re awesome!)

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  9. We seem to gather stuff with each move but did manage to get rid of a load before coming to France – but I do have to admit to having a couple of boxes of books that are still to be opened and were not opened at our last house where we lived for 5 years. But eighty are books and I can’t get rid of books!

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  10. This made me laugh, as I’ve just been through the same thing! And that’s bearing in mind we self-funded our move and therefore had to be quite ruthless about what we could and couldn’t ship. Well, I thought we’d been ruthless – now it’s all waiting to be unpacked I can’t quite believe how much there is! I think you’re right about wanting to hold on to memories, and I also wonder whether, as chronic globetrotters, there is a sense of rebellion in taking your own things with you: I might have to live in yet another faceless rental, but I’ll be damned if I don’t pretty it up with MY blankets (my equivalent to your glasses). I do also feel embarrassed though, and I’m certain there is still a lot of stuff in those boxes that we don’t really need, despite my big pre-move cull.

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