The Important Lesson I Learned After 7 Months Living from a Suitcase

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One of the first things people would say when I’d tell them most of our stuff was in a box floating on the Atlantic was that you realize what’s important to you and what’s not when you don’t have it. And I didn’t really miss those pots and pans and drills, did I?

No. But actually…yes. Not for the reason you think you’d miss something. It was out of desire, but a new kind of desire I hadn’t ever really experienced before.

We packed up our New York life in a total of 16 boxes this past March. At first lovingly arranged, each china plate and crystal flute lovingly wrapped in bubble wrap and newspaper. And then, the remainders tossed haphazardly (we only called the movers the day before our flights departed…). When we signed the papers for the crate to depart, we were suddenly light, free of all of the junk that ties us to a place. I was excited to move to our new stage of life.

For months, while we traveled Japan and Southeast Asia, I didn’t think for a moment about the stuff I didn’t have. Why would I? We had the world to absorb and distract us from the reality that awaited.

But when we arrived back in Paris in June and moved between several temporary rental apartments through September, I started to feel out of place. Like I just wanted a home where we could really settle. A closet with my clothes, a cupboard full of our glasses and bowls.

It wasn’t because I missed the actual stuff, per say. It was more because we were finally settling in a new place that we were supposed to call home…except I didn’t have any of the things that made it feel like home. Not my family or longtime friends, though that was a given in moving to a new country. I was going to have to learn to deal with that. But beyond that, there was a gaping hole. Something more was missing.

As the weather cooled and our cheap rental Ikea silverware began to rust, I realized I really did actually want some of our things. Finally, the first weekend of October, our boxes arrived–marking seven whole months without most of the things on this planet that belong to us.

Of everything, it was the little stuff–not my nice shoes or bags–that I missed most. I spent hours looking at loose photos from high school (holy mother, my hair at junior prom =/) and college (wow I dated some idiots!) that I hadn’t seen in years, flipping through my favorite books and organizing them on the shelf.

What did I learn in seven months without things? It wasn’t so much missing individual things, but the concept of what made it ours. I didn’t really miss our Breville coffee maker or my favorite pair of ankle boots. I missed the act of making myself an espresso first thing in the morning, grinding the coffee and sitting with the warm cup in front of my computer; I missed having warm toes. The stuff was ours, and finally having it with us fulfilled a sense that this was the start of our new home.

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