In the last 4 years of my living here, I have moved four times. It was a different protocol each time. The first time I had so little stuff (and sadly even less money and manpower) that a friend made 2 trips in his car and I was done moving. I had promised then not to increase junk. But like the old and clichéd adage of promises being meant to be broken, my stuff multiplied and reproduced on its own through a series of visits to the garage sales, malls and stores. The next time I had some money, I suspect the potential manpower I might rely on could develop sudden neck aches or temporary lumbar immobility contingent on my move, and hence I hired movers. However, preparing for a cross-country move was a different game.
First, it was not a newly recruited Microsoft move, where the company paid for the movers and the transporters. It was a poor graduate student moving. What I had and wanted to take with me was what I had to pay for and arrange to move myself. I tried asking my advisor-to-be if I could get some moving costs reimbursed, even partially, to which I was promptly reminded how lucky I was to get a research assistantship in this lousy economy in the first place. It’s a different story that the measly amount of money I make as a student is barely anything to boast of. So the protocol was simple. I make a list of things I want to keep. I donate the rest to Goodwill. I contact shipping companies and car movers for lowest quotes. Unlike what I was told earlier, some companies do let you ship stuff in your car. 150 lbs seemed a lot at first, but I soon discovered otherwise.
So here goes my theory about the five stages of moving stuff cross-country.
Stage 1: I love my stuff and I’m not giving you anything.
You go through your stuff and discover this strange and newfound love for everything you have. The chocolates and the boy friend are long gone, but the chocolate box he gifted you five years ago still remains. The queer looking irregular heptagon shaped wooden table your senior left you when he moved (which you thought looked odd anyway) doesn’t look that queer anymore and you want to hold on to it. The cheesy coffee mug you got on your birthday that you were secretly hoping to recycle someday doesn’t look that cheesy anymore and you want to hold on to it. Pots. Pans. Plants. Pictures. Potpourri. Paintings. The grandma handbag you bought for one dollar at the garage sale. The shabby looking comforter set from Walmart. The free tee shirts that no longer fit you (and never suited you in the first place). The hideously out of fashion long frilly skirts you got from India. The dinner set with patterns straight out of a chessboard. Suddenly you develop a deep, spiritual love for all these things and you do not want to let go.
Stage 2: You look up for quotes of shipping companies and realize that the price of shipping is more than the price of the articles.
Life is all about optimization, let us face it. Since you cannot take everything with you, but neither can you throw all you stuff, you turn philanthropic and now spend a month asking your friends to come over and take your stuff. You organize an open house, even promise them free chai and samosas if they took your stuff and relieved you of your junk. You are even willing to home deliver. Of course, hardly anyone shows up, and you are left with whatever stuff you had before, plus a big plate full of samosas you need to recycle now.
Corollary 2a: Craigslist. You do manage to sell some stuff on craigslist, but that is after a lot of effort of putting up ads and pictures, answering emails about the specifications, color, and condition of the furniture (the details you have already provided in the ad but don’t want to seem rude when they ask again), answer phone calls, deal with stingy buyers who bargain beyond shamefulness, miss parties and stay at home sulking because someone promised to come pick up your sorry looking couch but never showed up, and finally realize that you have only made 35 dollars and 29 cents selling the sorry looking couch and the rug, and ending up having to give the TV, rocking chairs, and the glass table as free items to the person who just picked up the couch and the rug.
Stage 3: The Classification mode.
You segregate things as belonging to one of the following categories:
3 a. Absolutely essential and cannot be replaced category: Pressure cooker from India. Old letters from friends. Photo albums. Your progress report cards dated 30 years ago. The bikini set you bought for personal inspiration, hoping you’d be able to get into it someday.
3 b. Absolutely essential but can be replaced category: Self-improvement books. Aerobics DVDs. Things you never use but keep them because possessing them makes you feel good about yourselves.
3 c. Hangar category: (Can be purchased anywhere for real cheap): Hangars, Sandwich Makers, and anything and everything you get in Walmart.
3 d. Router category: (Don’t need it, but is expensive to replace and you might need it someday). Includes the router itself, the DVD player, and those polka-dotted thongs you cannot even use as a hanky, let alone use them as thongs.
3 e. Should have disposed long back category: The ill-fitting salwar kameez you wore in India till you moved to the U.S. and developed a better dressing sense. That heart shaped chocolate box from the ex. That hideous looking bedding set. The superman tights you picked up on sale for Halloween. The porn-collection you stole from your boyfriend’s computer when he wasn’t looking.
Stage 4: You go back and forth changing categories.
Some “should be replaced” become “cannot be replaced, are you kidding?”. You are reluctant to let go of that clothes iron you got on a black Friday sale because it reminds you of the effort you put standing in line from one in the morning on a cold November night. You transition between philosophy and materialism, from “man was born empty-handed and will die empty-handed”, to the philosophy of materialism that says possessing goods makes you feel less depressed and shopping is the best anti-stress kriya. Perhaps anything that can fit into the car must stay. That hideous wall décor doesn’t look that hideous perhaps. Oh and I think I will hold on to the boyfriend’s collection of “you-know-what” I stole from his computer.
Stage 5: Throw it all.
You dump everything except that bikini set that didn’t fit you in the first place, and decide to buy everything afresh. You are sick of classifying things as essential and non-essential, and holding on to non-essentials as if they were essentials. You realize it is not worth the hassle of packing, moving, paying, and lugging everything up and down the old place and the new place multiple times. You realize you have better taste in shopping and better expendability now, and need to show off your brand new stuff to your new friends anyway. You are tired of eating in those old dinner plates that can be used to play chess too, sleeping in those same orange checkered sheets for years, and need a reason to release your negative energy by going shopping and camping in the nearest shopping mall during the weekend. So you leave everything behind, master the art of letting go, move to the new place, buy new stuff, and the vicious cycle of buying, accumulating, and throwing stuff continues till you move again.