In 7 days, the full consignment of the contents of our entire material lives will be delivered to our doorstep. Packed into a mobile single garage sized container is everything we have accumulated over 13 years. Some sentimental, some essential, some only vaguely useful – but it’s “our stuff” – and stuff helps us to feel safe. Things that belong to us help us to feel like we ourselves belong.
The process started weeks, even months leading up to our departure from South Africa. We painstakingly scoured through heaps and heaps of household goods in an attempt to identify the items we could leave behind. We found ourselves leaving much of it to charity or giving things away to people who could make better use of them. With helping hands from a few good friends and family, we finally sifted through the last of the clutter and were left with what would be crammed into our 20ft shipping container.
I feel I should discuss the de-cluttering process. For many immigrants, the task of shipping your household items is just one of the many stressful activities that need to take place as part of the moving process. People talk about what shipping companies to use, which ones to stay away from, how much insurance they should take out and how long it takes to ship. While these are all important and necessary parts of the decision-making process, not many people speak about the emotional toll this particular step takes on us.
For me, there were some very significant feelings to work through during this phase.
It is easy, in our every day lives to get caught up: in the business of life, in the drama, in the chaos. As South Africans, we also tend to deal with things in a constant state of heightened emotion. We take experiences and we shove them in closets, we stuff them in folders and file them away. We’re rushing. We’re fast-moving. We’re forward thinking. We don’t live in the now.
And then you start to unpack. You start to unfold and unravel all those bits of life that you pushed into a corner, away for safe-keeping. I’m referring to those sentimental bits, the most difficult part of your consignment to sort and pack.
Old letters, birthday cards, funeral booklets, photographs and wedding invitations – your life is laid out in bits of paper sprawled across your bedroom floor. You’re forced to pick each one up, open some dark boxes you once tried so hard to close and really think about how much you need to remember it, how much you need it and what it means to you.
I found this part of the process extremely therapeutic. So many doors had to be shut, so many chapters closed. It was in one afternoon that I found tremendous sadness, shards of anger and traces of despair and longing. In the same afternoon, I had also found forgiveness. I found that things that once brought me to tears now bring me to a place of peace, contentment and enthusiasm for the life I have.
I deliberately chose to keep only the items that gave me peace. I pictured myself looking at those items in another 13 years, making sure that in the future they’d bring me only happiness.
Once the de-cluttering and sorting came to an end, a new set of emotions rears its ugly head. This happens on the day they come to pack your house into said container. Room by room, your house, your home, is emptied. Filled now with echoes of forgotten birthday parties, first baby steps, family movie nights, childlike giggles, splashing pool water, dinners with friends, all of the memories you so carefully crafted over the years.
Walking out of that front door, keys in hand to the vision of just brick wall, bare windows, a scattering of dust and the odd empty cardboard box is not a feeling that can easily be described.
While waiting for these 7-8 weeks for our belongings, living with bare essentials, we have come to realise just how little we really need. I know now that 99% of the items on that ship we can live without. We have little desire for material objects. But here’s the thing: We are immigrants. No matter how much we come to love our new land, this will never truly be our home – at least not until we have had the years we need to create our own new past. Things that belong to us help us to feel like we ourselves belong.
7 days… and counting.
This post honours and remembers those Syrian (and many other) refugees who have had to flee their war-torn countries, losing loved ones, losing most and if not all of their material belongings. Let’s not forget what really matters: each other. Visit https://www.worldvision.org.nz and read about the “40 Hour Famine”.
Our eldest daughter has decided to take part in the “40 Hour Famine” and we are incredibly proud of her for coming to this decision on her own. To support her efforts, please follow this link: