July 4, 2016 we decided as a family to move to New Zealand for one year. Before we embarked on our Journey, many things had to occur for the move to be successful. One key thing was reevaluating priorities. Months ago the winds of change were felt throughout our house and life, though the decision to move was made 3 months prior to our departure. Let’s go back in time to better understand the progression of how we arrived at the launching pad across the Pacific.
John and I met and married while in Med School. Our education and living conditions were funded by loans. We lived in a very nice, modest apartment with 90% of items as hand me downs. In between classes we refinished furniture from relatives and repurposed garage sale finds. After graduating med school, our first move consisted of a 1/2 filled rental moving truck.
The Residency Spots at Penn State in Hershey Pennsylvania were our first real jobs out of medical school. In our excitement, we purchased our first home and filled it with hand me downs and various items repurposed from our neighbors trash. No really! Monday was trash day, so on Sunday nights we would drive through our quaint neighborhood and select discarded items from the curb. During the following weeks, we painted, sanded, refurnished, and rebuilt found items. HGTV was my tutor and my driveway was my art studio. After graduating residency, the move consisted of a 3/4 filled giant Allied Moving Truck.
For John’s fellowship, we moved to a spacious LA apartment. The accumulation of stuff slowed down and changed during this year. Clothing and fashion became my focus in LA, as were the great goodies left at the apartment dumpster. Don’t judge! Great stuff gets thrown out by people who are constantly on the move. The move from the West coast entailed the same giant Allied Moving Truck now fuller and 1 Car Carrier with 2 cars.
Finally after many years of school, residency, and fellowship, we obtained jobs and a large home. We were finally getting established. Over the years we filled our generously sized house with stuff. Lots of it. Tons of it. The days of trash diving disappeared and they were replaced by hours spent carefully selecting items for decor, cooking, cleaning, fashion, and living. By our NC move we had 3 kids and as many of you know, these creatures come with a bunch more stuff.
Somewhere along our career and life paths we understood that the more stuff we had, the happier we would be. But we missed the memo on the fact that the more stuff we had, the harder we had to work to maintain the stuff. Waaaaaaait a minute…… (or as they say in New Zealand, waaaaait two tics)
Meet Burnout — the culmination of keeping up with all the stuff, getting more stuff, and the constant worry that we may lose the stuff. That sounds really dumb when it’s written down. But it is a common thread woven into the fabric of many families’ lives, independent of economic background. This thread has been known to stealthily wind itself very tightly around the soul, spinning anxieties out of control, unraveling families and the very fabric upon which they were built.
In January 2016, John was reaching a breaking point of burnout. Keeping up with productivity, constantly worrying about the bottom line, and always being weary of budgets and spending, got to be too much. It was becoming suffocating, and change had to happen. He began searching for ways to ease his anxiety and bring joy back into his work. As his partner, I was asked to begin phase one of the Change. Stop Getting Stuff, aka the dreaded word — Budget. In the past, when this word would rear its ugly head, I would cheat and work my way around the bottom line.
This time however, the tone of the Word was different, the goal was sanity and not a shower remodel. The change on the horizon appeared shadowed and scary. So I stopped buying unnecessary items. As in zero purchases. My friends were stressed and panicked, and frankly baffled by my ability to hold it together and not buy the latest pair of shoes loved by Glamour.
Once I stopped getting new stuff, I started appreciating my clothes better. Unexpectedly, my focus sharpened and my existing items became more clear and more vibrant. Instead of whining in my head that I had nothing to wear amidst a closet stuffed with clothes, I started picking a shirt and making it work. Every day became a challenge: pick a dress at random, accessorize and glamorize it to the current times. My closet became energized and liberated once it stopped being second best to the latest sale. Its amazing how my need/want for more had made what I had less visible.
On October 3rd, 2016, we left with 3 suitcases a person for 1 year. That is all. To ship something across the Pacific is $100 or more per 20 lbs. Also, whatever you ship is taxed once it lands in New Zealand. Furthermore, we get 2 suitcase per person included in our flight ticket. The third suitcase is $200 a piece.
The house remains furnished for our tenants renting the establishment. However, closets had to be emptied, cabinets needed decluttering, attic spaces needed to get organized. Because the decluttering process was very daunting, I read The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing for help. I learned this:
“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of things you no longer need is neither wasteful or shameful. Let them go, with gratitude.”
And that is just what we did. Every category was evaluated from clothes, to books, to cooking wear, garage, decor, etc. It is mind boggling how many pieces we were pulling out of various cabinets and closets that have lost their purpose long ago. With every item donated, a small weight was lifted from our shoulders. As we continued to sift through all The Stuff, we became aware of how slowly, overtime we have accumulated endless items, and with each additional thing, the burden got imperceptibly heavier, until one day the heaviness of the load became oppressive. We are not pack rats, nor are we hoarders. But in our quest for success and happiness we got caught up in the spidery web of excess.
The time came to let go of the past and embrace the future. Time to simplify our life and spirit. Time to get rid of clutter and baggage. A new phase began: unburdening, decluttering, and restructuring.
Originally published at medium.com