Coming up nine years ago my partner and I left New Zealand to live in the UK for a “few” years. Our furniture was given away or sold. Various possessions were loaned to friends. Most of our books were taken to second-hand bookshops. And to be honest quite a few of our belongings were also taken to the dump. A few boxes of precious possessions were stored away at my parent’s house to keep for our return.
Every time I have gone back to New Zealand for a holiday since, I have worked through more and more of the precious stuff and began to realise that what was once so important really didn’t hold any meaning for me anymore. New purchases from London and our travels began to hold more significance in my life and I began to even forget what was stored in some of those boxes. At each trip back more and more was given away or thrown away.
But something changed when I headed back in late 2014. My parents were selling their house and my belongings were either going to have to come back to London with me or they would be finding new homes in New Zealand. Although I was down to my most precious of precious NZ possessions, there was still too much to bring back with me. But culling them was easier said than done.
Going through those last couple of boxes was HARD.
It was an interesting journey down memory lane. My childhood immunisation records. Cards I had given to my mother when I was about eight. School reports. Creative writing of a 12 year old. Lots and lots of photos. A tea set from my grandmother.
Which got me thinking:
Who am I if I don’t have these in my life?
What happens to my Great Aunty Tui’s memory if I don’t choose to take her crystal glasses back to London?
Do the stories of what I have done and experienced still exist if I don’t have the proof?
Will I regret having no evidence of my naive younger self?
Who am I without my possessions?
Although I love the feeling of travelling for months on end with just a few meagre possessions in a backpack, I have always known that somewhere in the world was a storage locker full of “my stuff”. The stuff that I could get out and look at and remember where it was bought and the stories would come flooding back.
But what happens to the memories when your possessions are no longer in your possession?
It was a difficult question to answer, so a few more things were discarded but I lugged an oversized bag back to London with me, full of the most precious of the most precious of precious childhood and young adult possessions!
In the eighteen months since returning with this oversized bag I have loved drinking my lemon water from my Grandma’s tea set and putting it down atop my kauri coffee tables. I smile as I use them and love that they remind me of places seen and people passed. Just like the photo we took in the Marlborough Sounds on our first anniversary or the artwork we bought at a market in Amsterdam.
I LOVE having reminders and stories around me, but this pile of memories and possessions doesn’t really fit in with my vision of living a simple life in a tiny home within nature. And so over the past few weeks as we’ve been once again going through all our stuff to decide what comes with us on the next phase of our adventures to a new life in Canada, all these questions are coming back to me.
Who am I without my possessions?
I know my belongings don’t define me and that if I lost everything I owned in a fire I would be sad but I wouldn’t be bereft. I realise I’m separate from my things and I’m more than my possessions BUT giving it all away is just beyond me at the moment.
This whole process of sorting and throwing, storing and discarding has been such an interesting one for me. A lesson in attachment. A lesson in stories. A lesson in what is important and what I use to define who I am.
We are currently down to one small storage unit of stuff and an overflowing bedroom at a friends house. We’ve bought and sold so many things over the years that my attachment to stuff isn’t the same as for lots of people, but it is still there. They tell my story of how I got here and my journey along the way. They bring me joy and a smile to my face. They have almost become a part of me. And I guess at some level I’m concerned that the stories of what I have experienced will morph over time and without the “proof” of photos or documents then I won’t realise how much these stories have changed…
So over the coming months before all our possessions in the whole wide world are put into a few tea chests to send to Canada, there will be more culling. There will be more separating out of me from what I own, from my stories and my possessions. There will be more reflecting and deciding how I want to keep the memories of a wonderful life lived without the need for more stuff. Wish me luck!