Living Abroad · Musings

Packing tips for moving abroad

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If you read this blog, you’ll know that I’ve moved a lot in the last 10 years. You’d think by now I would be an expert, but actually, I am a terrible packer. I am learning that right now, even though I already knew it, as I face the daunting task of unpacking and organizing all the things I crammed into two large suitcases and one carry-on, all the stuff I decided to take with me from Poland to Spain. I am just as bad at this as I once two years ago when I moved from Los Angeles to Wrocław. I have too many things, and I have a hard time letting go of them.

I used to pack a full carry-on for every vacation, even short trips. Now, necessity (a.k.a. Wizz Air’s highly restrictive baggage requirements) have forced me to learn to scale it down for short trips (2-5 days) but I still struggle when I can’t take an entirely different outfit for every possible occasion that might arise yet somehow never does.

But slowly I’ve been able to ween myself off, to par things down. Last summer I spent a whole month and a half with just my carry on hand luggage and a backpack. This summer I did the same, only I must admit that I stuffed that sucker to the brim. I’ve learned that I don’t need to have that particular brand of sunscreen, or that you can bring only one pair of jeans because no one can tell you haven’t washed them.

Before I went to Herräng this summer, I had to stuff all my belongings into two 20-odd kilo suitcases. Whatever didn’t fit was either slated to come with me to Sweden, wrapped around 10 liters of booze (true story) or to the donation bins. Deciding what to take was agonizing, especially with five weeks of vintage dance camp to consider. How many cute outfits do I need, especially since I’m going to be sweaty after dancing in them all night? How many pairs of shoes? Which sweatshirts, socks, underwear, bras should I take? Bras are the worst, they take up so much space, and you’re supposed to wash them after every wearing (which I definitely don’t do) so theoretically you need even more of them!

I have a lot of clothes. Certainly more than I need. There’s this 20/80 theory, that you use 20% of your stuff 80% of the time. I’ve tried to think about this when it’s time to shed the extra layers, but I just can’t seem to shake the mentality in the back of my mind that it might come in useful someday; it will work for the perfect outfit, costume, for that one crazy event that you never could have predicted. (I think I have my ye olde university days of weirdly specific themed parties to thank for that.)

I try to use the Marie Kondo method, but I haven’t actually read the book. Most of my knowledge of it comes from the Gilmore Girls revival. I’m too liberal in deciding that something sparks joy, and perhaps this was more suited to people who live in a permanent home. Because after all, you only need to worrying about fitting everything into 3 suitcases when you’re moving between countries every year or two and you’re in no position to get a relocation bonus.

I also try to think about my political philosophy about the drudgery of capitalism, the way we are enslaved to our material possessions, how we are now programmed to accumulate things even when we don’t need them, how we’ve been brainwashed into thinking these things will make us happier and more complete.  I know that’s not true, and I want to reject that political system, but then I see a cute dress at the mall and all political conviction goes out the window.

Today I signed a lease for my apartment here in Murcia. It’s actually a closet-sized room in someone else’s apartment. I haven’t moved in yet so I don’t know how I’m going to find a place for everything that I’ve brought. Maybe it’ll finally be the push I need to go full-on minimalist, and next time I’ll pack everything up neatly, easily, and move on to the next place.

The hardest part of letting possessions go is that your possessions are not just possessions, as any good ad man knows. They are tied to people and places and memories. When you pack all your stuff to move to a new country, you are also packing up your relationships and memories, hoping they all fit into your suitcase or Facebook account, worrying that things will change, shit, knowing that things will change and that you are essentially leaving behind people you care about.

You might fit all those clothes in a suitcase, but there just never seems to be enough room for all those feelings.

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