“What about these books?“
“Do you want us to pack up the Iitala glasses?”
“One of the bookcases has to go, or the cabinet in the bedroom. Are there any extra duvets anywhere?”
My head is spinning as my sisters video chat through the apartment I haven’t seen for 4 months. When I left it, I thought I would be back long before now. It never occurred to me that other people would be packing it up because I was not coming home. Well, Covid.
It’s a shock seeing the belongings that I had not so long ago whittled down, from a large house worth to a small apartment. It had been a difficult process, and now I was going through it again.
But instead of working through it slowly for a year, then more intensely in a few months, I am doing it all right now, on a video call, with a two week deadline before someone else might be living there. The camera work is shakey, making me dizzy, as I answer questions while trying to drink it all in— my art on the walls, my books on the shelves, the view out the windows. Home.
But is it? I’ve decided to stay here in Barbados. We’ve applied for the one year, remote working visa. We’ve signed a lease on a place across the street from our favourite surfing beach.
And once again understanding lands. It’s all just stuff.
I watched my mother go through this process. Her move twenty years ago, to a two bedroom townhouse in a retirement complex, was her choice and she did it herself, assigning her daughters and their spouses the heavy lifting and the errands. But 10 years later, when the assisted living spot came open, she had to move more quickly. She still felt she had some control, berating us for not getting more money for the furniture she asked us to sell, accusing us of throwing or giving away things she meant to keep. Her last move, into a care home, was more traumatic. She had no agency. Everything was going. She answered questions and had no memory later of what she had said.
I felt the same way this week. It was all too fast. There was no time to process.
I thought I had let it all go. I thought I had worked it through, determined what was important, and knew it was people, relationships, memories.
But apparently, I am still pretty fond of my (greatly reduced amount of) stuff.
With each iteration, the amount decreases. Three years ago, enough to fill a 3000 square foot house. A year ago, an apartment’s worth.
But again I think of my mother. At the end, she had her bedside table and a small closet. I was the one to go through her pictures and papers, and realize that even those had so little value after she was gone.
Yes, I will buy a decent garlic press, if I ever find one here. And I really do need another bathing suit, and my own surfboard.
So I will remind myself, once again, that only people matter. The material will all go, eventually. So much of its importance is the memories attached, and those will remain.
What is truly of value is my relationships: here, with Scott and the people I am meeting; at a distance, with my many relatives and friends.
Brave travels don’t require anything but the heartstrings.