One of the defining features of the Foreign Service lifestyle is its mobility; every two or three years you WILL pick up and move. You WILL pull your every possession out of whatever shelf or drawer or corner you have it crammed in, look at it, and have to decide what to do with it. This biennial migration provides both an excellent incentive and an excellent opportunity to really think about all of your stuff and what it means to you.
As FSOs go, I’m already traveling light. It’s just me – no spouse, no kids, and none of the stuff that comes with them. Granted, Jabberwocky has a surprising quantity of toys and furniture and other accoutrements, but nothing like the amount amassed by another human being. I hardly owned any furniture before I joined and I gave some of that away when I got assigned to a post with furnished housing. My earthly possessions fit comfortably in the back of a U-haul.
And yet, as moving time rolls around again, I find myself overwhelmed by all my stuff, particularly the stuff that just sits there. Clothes I don’t wear, books I don’t read, gadgets I don’t use. I could just toss these things in a box and cart them across the Atlantic again – I’ve sure got the weight allowance – but why? They don’t add anything to my life. Last time I moved I mostly did just throw everything in a box because I was so busy preparing for this new life that I didn’t have the time or the energy to really consider each and every item. This time I’m getting a head start on the sorting and packing process, because it’s time to slim down.
I set aside about a hundred books – old textbooks, novels I didn’t bond with, classics I can get on the Kindle for free – for donation to the embassy’s Information Resource Center, which serves as a public source of information on the United States and one of Guinea’s rare English-language libraries. This probably accounts for less than a fifth of my current collection, but it’s a decent trim, and except for travel guides I haven’t bought a physical book in years. I went through my drawers and my closet and came out with a huge stack of clothes and shoes that don’t fit my body or my lifestyle anymore. Some of them were nice pieces, expensive pieces, that were hard to put in the pile, but if I can’t wear them they aren’t doing me any good so they may as well do good for someone else. I also have a plastic bin I like to call The Box Where Technology Goes to Die: it’s full of old external hard drives with less memory than a flash drive has now, blank CDs, and cords, cords, cords. I’m not quite sure what to do with that stuff, but I’m sure I can find someone to take it off my hands. And there must be plenty of other things lurking in dusty corners that I’ll want to get rid of but haven’t yet unearthed.
Of course, even as I’m working on divesting all these old things I am simultaneously dreaming up new things to acquire for Ireland – a sunlamp, a bicycle, basically an entirely new wardrobe. The cycle of consumerism continues. I’m trying to slim down more permanently, I really am, but somehow I suspect that when I move again in two years I’ll find myself right where I am now, wondering what to do with all this STUFF.