There’s nothing like a move to help you realize just how much stuff, and
unnecessary stuff at that, you accumulate over time. As our household goods now
head by sea to California, it’s life kind of out of a suitcase for the next six
weeks. And that minimalist life is pretty refreshing.
I often tell friends about one of the best times of my life. It was
backpacking through Europe in 1989, and one day in particular always comes to
mind. My friend and I had made our way out to Westport, Ireland — just above
Galway. We walked up the local mountain Croagh Patrick, had a night in the local
pub, then it was hitchhiking time.
We’d never hitchhiked before. Ireland, we were told, was the place to do it.
Feeling a bit nervous, we gave it a go. We started walking down a coastal road
with no particular direction in mind and for me, pretty much all I owned other
than my books on my back. Aside from my books, I had a few more clothes and a clunker
of a car I’d left behind in California. Being out of college, I was pretty
What I had on my back was enough. Walking to nowhere was great. Years of both
working my way through college, worrying about money, dealing with coursework,
pondering what I’d do after college — none of it mattered. I had a backpack
with a few clothes, a good book I’d picked up at used bookstore, a friend at my
side and all day to go anywhere or nowhere at all.
Of course, my trip ended. And back home, it was nice to get an apartment
again, a couch, a TV, the trappings of a "civilized" life. But when my wife and
I decided to move to England in 1996, many of those things were abandoned. Some
things were shipped — my growing book collection, some clothes but much was
sold. Shipping was expensive, especially when we still hadn’t saved much and
what we did have was going into a four month long trip before arriving in
More than a decade later, the possessions have built up. Those who know me
are pretty familiar with my pent up consumer demand when I get back to the US,
hauling to the UK things you can’t get there — holiday items, books for the
kids about the US and other things. And the kids! How did I end up buying so
many toys they never seem to play with? And was I completely obsessed with
wooden Brio track for the boys (yes, I apparently was).
Unlike the move out, we don’t have to trim things back for financial reasons.
Actually, the shipping turns out to be much less than I’d expected. We booked
our own container, like something you’d see carried by a small semi-truck. It’s
all ours, to fill as we please.
While we could get most everything in, lots got disposed of. The house we’re
heading to is smaller, for one thing. But more important, the move was a good
time to dump the items we don’t really use.
Away went many of my ties. I had quite a collection from my newspaper days,
many of which were so out of style that you’d laugh if I wore them now — not
that I wear ties much anyway. And those jogging shoes I bought from when I lived
in Newport and briefly tried running for exercise along the beach? Yeah, not
going back — plus running shoes have advanced somewhat in the years. The old
wooden tennis racquet I won in a Read-a-thon? OK, I couldn’t let that go. C’mon,
it’s an antique!
I already wrote about doing the
car boot sale to rid my garage of
stuff that wouldn’t work in the US, like an old shredder or power washer plus
assorted junk. The Xbox 360 and Wii aren’t going. I could probably get them to
work on a US TV, and getting a voltage adaptor is pretty easy. But I’d still
have to buy UK games. So all the games went up on Amazon Marketplace this week,
and I’ve been thrilled to find how quickly they’ve all found a new home — plus,
you know, it’s still exciting to make a sale.
Lots of furniture is heading back. Some of it makes sense, some nice dressers
and tables that you won’t find easily in the US. I laugh to think they might be
excited about a new life in a warmer climate. Into the container went other
things, like some outdoor tables and a nice old bench. All the outside stuff
apparently gets steam-cleaned, we were told, to ensure we bring no bad plants or
insects in to the US. Sounds very efficient, but somehow I think it’s more to
make everyone think this will really work than actually effective.
Other things like two couches and a chair, we pondered selling them. But we
have the room, and we like them — who wants to go through the hassle of finding
a couch you like once again. Plus, I remember moving into the first house we
owned, when all our things arrived from our London apartment. Suddenly, it
really did feel like home to have our own stuff around us. So these items, I
know they’ll be reassuring to the boys as they end up in their new lives in
The boys remain remarkably positive about the entire move. Like they’re not
worried at all. My oldest even said something about how he was going to live in
paradise, where school ends early on Wednesdays and he’ll get chocolate
milkshakes everyday after school.
Heh. I’m sure the first week of school, when it’s no longer seeming like
they’re on vacation, we’ll hear about them wanting to go back home. Maybe not.
But if we do, at least we can sit with them on the couch they’re used to.
Because our stuff is going by sea, it had to leave about six weeks ahead of
us. We’ll arrive in mid-July, so last week was packing day. The movers were
fantastic, covering seemingly everything with bubble wrap. Some pics, starting
with lots of boxes:
A couch, bubblewrapped!
This is my favorite. I have this leather pig footstool, which is a story for
another time. He hadn’t been wrapped when I shot this:
Later when I came back, he had — and the movers enhanced his wrapping with
eyes and a mouth:
Outside stuff wasn’t wrapped but kept out for that later cleaning:
Buried back in there are two bikes that originally were shipped out from
Newport. I couldn’t leave them behind. They’d be sad.
I also love containers. Plastic bins, big buckets — I’ve used them for
storage for years. It sounds crazy to take them, but there was plenty of room!
Plus, what, I’m supposed to buy them all again on the other side?
Then there are the books. A blurry shot, I know:
Those are just some of the books going back, but that’s a special bookcase,
containing science fiction novels I’ve been buying since I was a kid. Lots of
Heinlein. Asimov. Herbert. Steele.
Some of the books are really old, though not first editions or even valuable in any
way. But they’re my friends. They kept me company when I was growing up. They
came with me to college, from apartment, to storage behind a trailer (another
story), to apartments in Newport and then eventually to an apartment in London,
then a home in Wiltshire, then our current house. And now they’re going home.
Part of the move also meant going through my office. It was amazing the
collection of stuff that was so expensive originally (my old Zip drive or
SyQuest drive) that’s now worthless. Much went to recycling. And much was a fun
discovery. Take these:
Ah, yes, 5 1/4 floppy disks. I thought these were so amazing after having
used a tape recorder originally to load programs into a computer. I do have an
old 5 1/4 drive in among my things, more for nostalgia than in hoping to access
these disks. And the contents of them were long ago moved to 3 1/2 floppies,
then to hard drives, where they reside today.
Dump them all? Yeah, I got rid of a bunch. But this collection makes me
smile. When I wrote the foreword to
Philipp Lenssen’s Google Apps
Hacks, I talked about
how I "borrowed" software when in college. I originally wrote pirated because
c’mon, that’s what I did. But there was a little concern that even after all
these years, some software companies might come after me.
Bring them on. After years of paying for software and endless "upgrades," I
feel I’ve redeemed myself. There’s my copy of Lotus 1.0, lifted from our student
newspaper office. And Leather Goddesses Of Phobos, lifted from a copy that was
lifted and lifted again. SimCity I liked so much that I actually bought. And
just some backups of stories and letters I wrote, all safely copied to 5 1/4.
As for my office:
Most of that stuff on the right is electrical remnants. A huge number of
phone cords, from when I actually needed to run a modem connection around an old
house with two phone points. Many extension cords, again because those 18th
century cob house builders didn’t put in as many power outlets as I’d have
My desks have gone. So have my monitors, except for a 15" one that
I’ll take when we go (and currently being used to make up for my wife’s Macbook
crash). My wonderful chair! So where am I working?
That’s the hallway outside my office. We had an old cheap desk in the kids’
room that’s going on the bonfire when we leave (it’s barely holding together).
An old chair on its last (heh) legs. And my Macbook Pro, my wonderful Macbook
Pro. I’ve been on it since my Dell desktop crashed, and I haven’t looked back.
I’ll be on it until we arrive in California, and I might just stay with life on
Similar to my office, it’s not completely life out of a suitcase. There are
bits and pieces we still have, an old outdoor table serving as a kitchen table,
to be left behind. Some old chairs that will stay behind as well. Air
mattresses! Some plates and silverware that we’ve borrowed from friends.
I’ve got two sets of clothing. Some "good" clothes I’ve kept that all fit in
one suitcase. Then there’s stuff that will be donated, some old T-shirts,
shorts, sweats and jeans that have seen better days. Last week in town, I was in
"old" clothes and trying to find the entrance to the post office. It’s in the
same building as the Job Centre, which is the unemployment office to non-Brit
readers. A woman came out from a side entrance, saw I was confused, looked me
over and said "Job Centre? Around the back." I guess they really were old
So not quite a suitcase’s worth of possessions, much less a backpack. Yet
there’s a light feeling not having all those other possessions around, of
realizing how much less you really need. I’ll be glad to see my books again,