13 Days to go

Moving is always a pain. Moving cities is a bigger pain than just moving down the road. Moving countries however is another issue altogether. Believe me, I’ve done this before – and I’m about to do it again.

Moving cities involves packing boxes, loading boxes onto a van, unloading those boxes and carrying them upstairs, accompanied by too much furniture and a lot of stuff we’ve forgotten we’ve actually every owned.

It also involves painting and decorating, talking to people like estate agents, and worse of all it confronts you with having to make decisions that you’d rather not want to make.

Moving cities knows no boundaries – other than the space of the van or car you’re using to move. You can approach moving countries in a similar fashion if you ask an overpriced removal company to store and ship all the stuff for you.

I remember my mentally deranged flatmate did this, and I’ll never forget his face when 40 boxes came delivered some months after we had found a small house in Nunhead, South London. That little room was packed to the ceiling – and he looked as pale as the boxes. Classic!

We’re not moving like that to Miami Beach: We’re moving with a maximum of 6 suitcases and therefore we have a much tighter limit when it comes to packing. Right now we’re taking a good hard look at our possessions and make painful decisions as to what is worth bringing and what can be disposed of.

This is a tough task believe me.

The amount of stuff I’ve accumulated over the last 13 years is astonishing. It’s all good stuff, but the sad fact is that we’re living in a throw away society. There really is no need to keep that half used pack of screws I bought in 2001 at Homebase.

Old Adobe Software boxes of past versions. Will I ever need them again? Definitely not!

It’s fun to look at your life like that: what are you keeping around just because you’re too lazy or too soft to throw away?

I remember I had an old Sony Vaio laptop. Used to cost me £1849 in 2003. No way I’m ever throwing that away! Granted the battery is worn out, the keyboard sucks, of the 512MB of memory only 256MB are usable, and a 30GB hard drive isn’t all that big – but considering what it had cost me, part of me wants to keep this around forever!

Bad thinking. This is what makes moving harder than it has to be. You’ve got to talk yourself out of thoughts like that. I will never in my life use that piece of crap again. Period.

Yes it was once good, yes it’s served its purpose, and now it’s time to let it rest in piece. Not a single app in the world will be able to cope with a configuration like that anymore. Besides I think my phone has more storage and processing power than two of those laptops combined.

Everything we’ve bought over the last decade was meant to last anywhere between 2 and 5 years maximum. This includes my washing machine! You don’t buy one of those for life anymore, everything is a throwaway product – some products more than others.
Technology is the worst in that respect, particularly Samsung notebooks and mobile phones. You’re not meant to use them 2 years after you’ve bought them – you’re meant to upgrade every 6 months.

With this in mind, I had a visit from Jeffery Avery a few weeks ago. He specialises in house clearances and the proper disposal of your old goods. He’s a lovely man, and it turns out he’s famous for clearing hoarded houses.

If you haven’t’ heard of this phenomenon before: hoarders are people who cannot let go of anything. Everything has value to them, this can be an empty crisp packet, a pizza flyer or the box for a 20 year old microwave oven. So they keep these things around – until they can’t walk around in their house anymore.

Luckily neither Julia and I are hoarders, but I think we all have this tendency in us (some of us more than others). So we’ve divided our household into two rooms: the stuff we don’t want anymore, and stuff that needs to be sorted and potentially taken to the US.

Stuff that isn’t making the journey

The pile to throw away included an electric piano (88 weighted keys, complete with seat), and old 36” CRT telly (60kg or more), a desk, 3 Ikea Billy shelves, 4 Benno CD towers, a large leather couch, two coffee tables, vast amounts of small electrical items and other stuff in over 30 rubbish sacks. Valuable stuff, not pizza boxes you know.

Jeffrey’s crew came and cleared all that away in a matter of an hour. That was a huge step in the right direction. You only notice how so much stuff frazzles your brain over time. Too many possessions keep your brain in a loop, unable to envision things other than the huge amount of clutter around us.

I’m so glad all this stuff is gone.

Next came the other room full of possessions that had value. This was to be divided up into two further categories: stuff that won’t be going to the US, but has value on eBay, stuff we want to keep, and stuff that needs some work and then will be thrown away.

Over the last four weeks we’ve had quite a little business going on eBay, selling anything from expired film, old cameras and lenses, various other electronic gadgets and greeting cards. It’s the best way to have a clear out and get some cash at the same time. Everyone should do this once a year, it’s a cleansing and rewarding experience.

In fact, it’s inspired me to write a book about how to sell for the best price on eBay. Even though there are 123 pages of books about eBay on Amazon, they all want to show you how to quit your day job and become a gazillionaire within 4 weeks. Mine will have a slightly more earthy approach I think. But that’s for another time.

More stuff to sift through – all piled up in one room.

Right now we’re at a much tougher point of sorting possessions into keepers and throwers: the stage of the small nitty-gritty items with personal memories attached. Stuff that makes you think, “You can’t throw that away!” but deep down you know you won’t ever use said item again in your life. This includes pictures, books, old Christmas cards, even Powerballs and twisty puzzles.

It is said that a picture says more than thousand words. Any object really stirs up huge amounts of emotions and memories in us. We probably wouldn’t be able to bring those back any other way. It’s such an efficient process too: look at a single family picture, and you can recall when that picture was taken, what the situation was, that you’ve spilt wine that evening while wearing your favourite jumper, who you were with and what it was like.

Ask the question in reverse, much like “Describe event X to me in as much detail as you can recall” and you’ll probably draw a blank. A single picture helps you remember so many things.
Aside from pictures, many other objects can invoke memories just as well, and throw our thoughts off onto a specific path. I find this phenomenon fascinating.

Let me give you an example: you have a box full of stuff, stashed in the corner somewhere, or perhaps in the attic. You’ve forgotten that you had that box and have been happily living without it for the last 5 years. Now moving day is here and you discover said box: as soon as you look inside, you find one of those items that triggers memories, and suddenly you’re overcome by the feeling of “I can’t throw all this away”.

Yet when you didn’t remember that you had it, you would have never missed it in the first place!

Even more fascinating is this: once you make the tough decision and part with said object – against every screaming voice in your body – once it’s physically out of your house and out of your sight, you can’t even remember you ever owned it! And to top it all of: suddenly the absence of said object has turned your sorrow into huge relief. How is that even possible?

Either way, I’m glad this is how we humans work. Otherwise I’d never get our suitcases packed!

My old couch on its final journey. I brought this all the way from Hamburg in 1999 and moved with it three times in London over the last 13 years.

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