The Big Cull: downsizing life into a couple of suitcases

I take pride in my ability to pack light… but packing up your life for a huge move is a far cry from a two week trip. No matter what I decided to do, it was bound to be a big project.

I am not a wealthy person, nor am I particularly materialistic. So, in the years of preparing for this next big adventure, the plan has always been to bring only what I can fit in a suitcase. Hiring a moving company or shipping a pod full of my belongings was something I never really considered for this transatlantic move. For me and my lifestyle, it would be a pointless and wasteful expense. I would much rather spend money on bringing my dog with me safely and settling in my new home; and thankfully, I have worked to make this possible.

But that is a story for a future day. Today, we talk about The Cull — the somewhat dramatic process of getting rid of (almost) everything I own.

Despite having prepared and planned for this day for the better part of five years (dreams take awhile to achieve, ok?), it is much more work in practice. Much more than can be done in a day. And in a way, even the thought of writing about it feels somewhat daunting. I’ve debated quite a bit about how I want to tell this story, ways in which I can make it both informative and interesting. Finally, near a month after my grueling 32 hour drive to my parents’ (another story for another day), I have decided to break it down into the planning, the trying, and the doing.

The Planning

A quiet visit to the University of Glasgow, 2017.

In January of 2017, I visited Scotland for the first time. Within my first week there, I fell so madly in love with the country that I knew I wanted to move there, even if only for a small while. I visited for ten days, and ten days was all it took to build an obsessive drive to make it happen. By the time I made it home, I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen; but I knew that someday, somehow I would.

Me, being a dreamer, I scratch the ever growing itch by planning. I love logistics. Strange, I know; but it brings me so much joy to plan, to prepare, and to research. So, I researched. I planned what I would bring and what I would leave. I made spreadsheets mapping out everything I owned. I ranked each item by usefulness, sentimentality, and weight, and sorted them into what I would keep, what I would gift, and what I would donate. I practiced packing my suitcase — weighing it each time, pushing it as close as I could to that 50lb limit.

For the most part, I was able to make it work. But from the beginning, there has been one major flaw in my plans — my books.

Books have always been the one thing I struggle to let go. Somehow, even a dream as big as migrating to a new country has not diminished this struggle. So, like any responsible twenty-year old, I put the problem off for another day. Afterall, the whole process was just me prograstinating a string of essays anyway.

The Trying

As excited as I once was to pack up and go, the reality was much more daunting. Since those first few years of wistful planning, I have moved and downsized my life. From the moment I decided I wanted to move overseas, I made a concerted effort to not accumulate stuff. I haven’t always been successful in these endeavors, especially given the length of time between initial ideation and execution.

So, when I stood in my home and looked at all that I owned, all the benefit I though I had from my obsessive planning deflated. I had too much stuff. It was overwhelming.

Leading up to this summer, I was working as much as I possibly could. I managed a tax office and worked for three of my local school districts. There was next to no time to pack, especially considering what little time off I did have I wanted to spend with my loved ones. I found myself dealing with this strange dichotomy of wanting to see my family and friends as much as possible while I still could, and needing to prepare for the move. When I was with my loved ones, I felt guilty for not packing… and the same could be said for moments I was working or preparing for the move. My poor heart was twisted until the day I left California.

But I digress.

Knowing that all of my jobs were seasonal, both ending in May, I put it off until then. I’m still not sure whether or not this was a good idea or not. I had so much to do and still so little time to do it all. But then May came and went and my books were still on shelves and my clothes still in drawers and hampers. Which left me with only one month to pack up or get rid of everything I owned. Twenty-five years of accumulated crap and almost no time to sort through it.

The Doing

With the move so close and my massive procrastination, June became an entire month of crunch time. So, I started with the task I was most dreadig — sorting and packing my books. I started by picking out the books that I absolutely knew I was taking with me. I ordered a ten pack of large flat rate boxes for free from the US Post Office, which allowed me to pack up to 70lbs without adding additional weight charges. I wrapped my selected books in a layer of tissue paper to provide cushion, a layer of wrapping paper to prevent scuffs and scratches, and a layer of plastic to protect from water damage, then sealed it all with packing tape. Its a bit over the top, I know; but I take my books very seriously.

I then sorted the rest by what I planned to gift and what I wanted to sell/donate. With my bookcases finally clear, it motivated me to start listing my larger furniture items for sale. Facebook Marketplace quickly became the most used app on my phone. It was both satifying getting rid of my stuff and incredibly annoying spending so much time managing inquiries.

In the process of clearing and photographing my belongs to sell, I had to take my bed off its frame. I was back to feeling like an undergrad sleeping on a box spring and a matress on the floor, a fact I was not too thrilled about. It took a lot more work than would be interesting to write about (including a wildly unsuccesful yard sale during the hottest weekend of the summer), but eventually I ended up with that matress and box spring and a couple of suitcases being the only things left in my room. And that’s when reality really started to kick in. It was then that I truly began to get emotional. Not because I was sad to see my stuff go, but because the emptiness signified an ending.

An ending that makes way for a new beginning is still an ending. And despite being excited for that beginning, I still mourned the ending. I was dreading the goodbyes that were coming, To my family and friends… and my roommates’ cats.

Man, I miss those brats.


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