The Many and Varied Properties of Stuff

Our household effects (HHE) arrived last week. As anticipated, it was insane. As in: defying the laws of physics. No way was it all going to fit in this house! (No photos, as I’ve been told several times that they are “triggering” for some expats…)

So, for the last several days, we’ve been making even more decisions regarding what we truly need or want in our house. It’s not as difficult to make these decisions as you might think. Adrenalin sharpens the mind, of course, but strange things also happen to stuff when you don’t see it for years, or even just for a few weeks!

1.) Clothes look shabbier than you remember.

One reason, depending on what country you are coming from, is that “hard” water just doesn’t get things as clean. It also fades bright colors. Warsaw’s water is so hard that is actually rusty on occasion! After seeing my clothes in the bright DC sunshine, it wasn’t difficult to let some of them go. (Not to mention the five outfits I’ve been wearing non-stop since we packed out in July…)

2.) Furniture some how gets larger in storage.

Or maybe it just looks bigger when stacked up in the middle of a small house. A good bit of it some how becomes shabbier as well. And then there’s the things you keep because your kids might need them some day–but then one kid moves to California and the other one moves in with you!

We have unloaded about half of our total furniture inventory over the last month. Most of it came out of the storage delivery, but several items were from HHE as well. One or two items were difficult decisions, but on the whole, I was glad to let it go. Our kids will just have to shop Craig’s List when the time comes to furnish their own houses. Which leads to point 3.

3.) Your kids don’t want your stuff.

Well, hardly any of it. Millennials travel light. My kids have expressed an (eventual) desire for our Polish pottery, for some European Christmas ornaments, and a few of our paintings and maps. If pushed, they’d probably take a few of their books, dolls and wooden trains. That’s it. They don’t want our furniture. They don’t want our souvenirs. They definitely don’t want to deal with it all when we get old or pass away (to be fair, has anyone ever wanted to deal with their parents’ stuff?)

Keep it if you love it. If you don’t love it, do yourself and your kids a favor and give it away.

Yes, we were posted to Poland. Any questions?

4.) Tourist crap is not improved by being packed into boxes for weeks.

When it emerges, and you have to make decisions about what will fit into your house and what will not, tourist crap will lose (almost) every single time. So, maybe better not to buy it in the first place. Or pick one manageable category to collect: our souvenir refrigerator magnet collection is definitely crap, for example, but takes up almost no space and makes us happy.

A shoebox full of memories.

5.) There is such a thing as too many books.

In the U.S., we have these wonderful things called libraries. With tons of books. In English, and absolutely free. Seriously, you can borrow books almost any time you like!

Also, ebooks are a thing. I’m a big reader, no doubt about it (647 books on my Kindle, and that doesn’t count the library books I’ve borrowed!) but I no longer have any desire to keep any physical book except for reference. Even those are becoming less relevant. How often do I actually open a cookbook these days when every recipe is online?

OK, I have three shelves of my kids’ books  which will have to be pried out of my cold, dead hands. But that’s maybe 1/100 of all the books my kids had, overseas, in non-English speaking countries, in the pre-Kindle days! So, I think I’m doing pretty good. They make me happy, and hey, maybe one day there will be more little people around for story time…

6.) People love free stuff.

Especially furniture. They love it so much, in fact, that they are rarely willing to pay for it! Or maybe the DC area is just awash in too much furniture. I have only succeeded in selling a couple of items, both for under $50.

Most of our giveaways were much more utilitarian: IKEA, etc. But this little Austrian chair went to someone whose daughter will enjoy it. Win-win.

Most of the items that I posted for sale eventually ended up being given away. Which is fine, and better than the alternative. When a pretty decent leather sofa didn’t sell, we ran out of time to give it away online, thrift stores wouldn’t take it (because they didn’t have space–see above) and it ended up at the dump. I felt really bad about that. Not just because we had to pay to dump it! But because if we had posted it for free on Craig’s List, someone surely would have taken it. Lesson learned!

7.) Stuff can serve a different purpose in each home (or none at all).

In a flat-white apartment full of gloomy hotel furniture, it’s great to have a lot of colorful stuff to cover the white-white walls, to throw over the ugly sofas, to set on top of the white-white kitchen cabinets. Otherwise, in the Foreign Service, we’d basically be living our entire lives in a Residence Inn. Ugh!

However, in your own home, with your own furniture that you actually want to look at, there just isn’t as much need for visual distraction or personalization. Since this is not my first rodeo, I did actually know that. It’s one reason I unloaded quite a lot of stuff before we left Warsaw. More went when our storage was delivered. Two more carloads of small stuff went to the thrift shop last week, from which it will no doubt depart to jazz up someone’s bland rental apartment. Perfect.

8.) In the end, the most important thing we carry with us is not our stuff.

Yes, shopping is for “ethnoplunder” is fun in many countries, but is even that really about the stuff? Usually, it’s about socializing with friends, going on day trips to factories and “hidden gem” stores, or bargaining with street vendors. It’s about the adventures, which we can remember without the stuff!

Well, without all the stuff, anyway.




  1. when the big bang happened it created what some refer to as the universe. the big bang’s real creation, though, was STUFF — omnipresent, everlasting STUFF…


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