Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cleaning House

This is what it looked like as the movers packed up our house to move from Washington DC to Albania:

Yes, we moved seven full crates jam packed with our worldly belongings overseas with us.  Since this didn't include any of our furniture it was comprised of our "household goods": clothing, personal items, and my endless and very heavy collection of small kitchen appliances, serving dishes, and cookbooks.  I've always prided myself in being a minimalist and initially I was quite proud of how little we were bringing.  That was until  we went six weeks without any of our belongings and survived just fine.  The arrival of our seven full crates reminded me that the reality is we have too many unnecessary things. 

Fast forward nineteen months.  We are still one year away from moving (to where I have no idea) but I'm already starting to worry about what this next move will entail. Rather than get rid of things while we have been here ---something I had crazily thought we would do and used to justify the reason I brought so many items I no longer used-- we have only been consistently accumulating more items.   We are regularly gifted with knick knacks and miscellaneous trinkets that while interesting (sometimes very "interesting") just collect dust and take up shelf space.  But not all of our acquisitions are destined for a mythical yard sale.  In addition to two large and heavy pieces of furniture, a giant custom made solid oak kitchen table and an extra large antique dowry chest, we've accumulated more books, toys for Sidney, and yes, kitchen items.  As I look at my overfilled wardrobes, pantry that could feed a small country for a year, and cabinets filled to capacity, I'm realizing that I do in fact have too much stuff.  No, I am really not a minimalist.  So how did I get to this point and more importantly, what is a girl to do about it?

I used to be one of those people who carried that teeny tiny purse that was so fashionable yet incredibly impractical.  I remember my friend Catherine laughing at me and telling me that some day I too would be lugging around a cavernous bag.  At the time I told her it would never happen but fast forward a few years and here I am, over sized bag in hand, digging through the bottomless pit to find a pen.  Somehow I have become "that" person.  I am the very same person who used to be able to travel for a week with only a carry on.  I am now the one who checks an large suitcase for a long weekend.  I really dislike being that person but can't quite figure out how to minimize.  Whereas my mantle and bookshelves used to hold a single, carefully selected picture frame, our shelves are now filled with lead crystal plaques, post Communist era military propaganda, miniature lithographs of scenes depicting European cities, and oddly enough, a collection of shot glasses and key chains.  And the alcohol.  We love good wine and an occasional after dinner liqueur but the number of potent brandies, rakis and vodkas filling our shelves is threatening a collapse.  There is no way we could drink everything in the coming year and what on earth will I do with these items once we leave Albania?

So here is my plan:  2013 will be a year of downsizing.  No matter how pretty, unique, or potentially useful it might be, I will not be purchasing additional serving dishes, table linens, or pottery.  I'm going to limit myself to a single medium sized suitcase when traveling for a long weekend.  (Hey, it is a start and in my defense, my bag usually includes all of Sidney's clothes and sundry paraphernalia).  For the rest of our time in Albania I'm going to limit the size of my weekly grocery shop.  No longer will I buy things just because they look interesting or extra items because they might not be there next week.  I'm also going to stop taking all of the extra food from people who departing post.  Seriously, we could easily go several months without shopping and still have food to spare.  When the annual Embassy yard sale comes around, rather than simply organizing it for everyone else, I'm going to personally be organized enough to rid myself of the too small clothes, obsolete baby items, and other boxes filled with things I have no use for.  

Without a doubt a year from now we will be taking more "household goods" out of Albania than we brought in.  I will strive to have fewer items then than I do now.  Somethings I won't part with though; just think about the dinner conversations that will be able to ensue when we pour our special Russian vodka into Hungarian shot glasses as we show guests our Albanian double headed eagle plaque and Chinese key ring collection.  I bet you would all like an invitation to that dinner.


  1. I downsized to move to a bigger house. I didn't want to pack it all so I had 3 dumpsters over the course of a year and gave all the kiddie things to a Jimmy Fund yard sale. I want to keep it up. The purge before the purchase kind of mindset. I tried to get my kids to participate before Christmas, but I think they are a wee bit traumatized by the last go round. This summer, though......this summer.....trauma or no. Stuff is moving out. AND I will be better about buying less clothing for them and throwing out sheets purchased off our registry. I am not as young a bride as I feel. Them sheets be OLD!

  2. We did the dumpster thing when we moved from Norfolk to DC. It was so liberating but unfortunately we immediately began to replace what we had gotten rid of. As of late I've been trying to purge the toys Sidney has outgrown. However, every time I remove one from his playroom, even one he hasn't shown any interest in for months, he seems to immediately notice and ask where it is. I feel as though this is a never ending battle.