On Stuff

Everything we own might have just burned in a fire. 

It probably didn’t, but hearing that over the phone at the Nordstrom’s cashwrap yesterday was a real humdinger. 

And you know what?  The first thing I thought about was those stupid rugs. A few moments later my mind moved through our old apartment and I thought of Max’s recording studio, our electric piano, my book binding equipment, a beautiful bench made of Moroccan walnut we bought in Casablanca.  But then I felt this sense of….freedom.  It was pretty bizarre.   I felt bad about our Morocco stuff, which would be the hardest to replace and are the fruits of so many wonderful experiences, but we have insurance and all that stuff is just stuff.  And so much of it was collected in the nascent years of our marriage when we thought we needed a 10 piece kitchen pan set (you don’t, you just need two really great ones) and cheap paperback copies of John Grisham  (you don’t, you just need…well, I don’t really know that anyone needs John Grisham in any form) and 6 pairs of exercise pants just for variety (you don’t, you MAYBE need two for when you are feeling lazy bones about laundry).  The idea of starting fresh with more grown up and paired down tastes was kind of intoxicating.   To eliminate waste and overindulgence and clutter by employing excruciating minimalism and discipline as we constructed our new lives.  Boldly facing the future free of stuff that doesn’t work for us and occupies valuable mental, physical, and emotional space that could be used for intangible, real joy bringing endeavors, experiences and relationships. 

And then I went straight into Anne Taylor and bought a blue and white pencil skirt that I don’t really need.

I know, what’s wrong with me?

The past few weeks have been a bit challenging for me.  When you prepare to move overseas you think of all the stuff you need, the stuff you want, the stuff you can’t live without, the stuff that will make your life easier/livable.  When we were students in the Middle East we went without a lot but since becoming diplomats with access to things like an American commissary and Amazon shipping our stuff obtaining options have increased dramatically and we have shifted our “needs/wants/must haves” accordingly. 

And I hate it. 

I don’t hate that these things are available, I hate that I become this comfort lusting monster who can no longer make decisions about what one must have in order to live a happy life.  The irony being that any and all of these things are seldom the key to having a happy life anyway.

Costco is the bad influence best friend to the kind of need creep that I’m trying to explain.  Being in America for a little while has given us the chance to stock up (a phrase I’m coming to loathe) on a few things that will, in theory, make our life overseas a little easier.  But you go to Costco with a list that says “Yeast, Paper Towels, Hot Sauce, Almond Milk” and leave with two flats full of things you just can’t live without.  The line between need and comfort gets so blurry in the enormous emotional wasteland that is bulk purchasing that you’ve blown your entire “stock up” budget on 50 gallon jars of pickles and two years worth of dishwasher liquid that is most certainly available where you are going.  

Let me say here that for many people serving overseas in the Foreign Service where regular things like dish soap are not available flats of stuff from Costco are a no brainer.  It’s hard to know what will and won’t be available in your new home and depending on circumstances related to health, your children or spouse, local realities and financial situation buying like this makes a lot of sense.  This is not my issue.  My issue is how merely trying to plan our future comfort has twisted my brain about in knots and accentuated consumptive vices I’d like to see diminish instead of charging to the top of the hill where they throw my best intentions off a cliff and claim their role as king.

All this is to say that my stuff is probably fine but if and when it arrives in Oman, perhaps I’ll muster the courage to burn a lot of it myself.  Figuratively, of course, I’m pretty sure back yard bonfires are against the rules. 


  1. When we both arrive in Oman we will help each other get rid of the non essentials and figure out what is the important stuff, because this packout we came in slightly over and I suddenly realized that most of the stuff we are hauling about really isn't important or improving our quality of life, it is just stuff. Who needs all this stuff? Cant wait to meet up in a few months.

  2. Hooray Shannon! I definitely think it will take will power outside of my own :)

  3. We have gotten better at downsizing with each post, and better at not "stocking up" on more crap. With a move into a TINY apartment the sorting, giving and selling got brutal. But the giving away felt great! We were able to outfit a new library and literacy center in Africa and embellish a few other establishments as well. Still downloading for refugees now and I can tell you that LESS is so LIBERATING! I am jealous of you and Shannon for getting to Oman and can't wait to live vicariously through you. Hoping the fire has spared your home - you are in a great mindset though to know the difference that memories will never be taken!