In less than 24 hours the packers will be here to pack up all of our belongings. In 13 days we’ll be driving north out of Mexico and into the next chapter of our journey in the intrepid life of an US Foreign Service family.

Throughout the house is a series of piles, some of which are cordoned off with anti-toddler barriers made up of sofas cornered with loveseats, and other piles atop the most unreachable pieces of furniture away from little curious, grabby hands.

But, despite our efforts, our 20-month old twins know that something is afoot, and they team up to undo all the hard work that goes into keeping our hectic life organized and manageable.

They peak under the sofas and squeal in a questioning tone why stuff that is usually in the kitchen is on the floor in the corner over there, and they try to trick us into letting them enter by throwing balls into the ‘no-go zone’, expecting to be allowed in to fetch them…a definite no-no. Because, you see, these various piles are not all going to one place (wishing as I write this that it was that simple).

Some things are going by cargo ship to Vientiane, Laos, where we will not arrive for another year. Other things are going by air to Washington, DC, where we will be in Lao language training for nearly 11 months. And then, there is stuff to go with us by car in two week’s time to spend a mandatory month of ‘home leave’ at our home in Denver, Colorado.

And, oh yes, I almost forgot all the 110v electronics that are sorted into our extra bathroom are to be packed into permanent storage since they will not function in 220v Laos. Fun stuff, right?

Well, lucky us because we will get to do this all over again after 2 years in Laos because US Foreign Service officers get reassigned to another country every two to three years.

How do we survive all this moving around — the sorting, the packing, the vagabond living without going completely insane? Well, first we try to not accumulate a lot of stuff. My husband and I have lived a fairly paired down life since our time in the Peace Corps, where it was almost mandatory to live on nothing, and yet, still do a lot.

I think it became almost a game after that to see how minimally we could live. It helped, too, that we continued to work overseas in remote locations for non-profit organizations that didn’t give us such luxurious shipping allowances so that living as if we were packed for a two-week vacation became the norm for several more years. (The big disclaimer here being that working abroad with both non-profit organizations and the US Foreign Service come with furnished housing at every location.)

To stay paired down, we utilize the computer for just about everything where it can replace a physical object. We definitely do not accumulate books, CD’s, DVD’s, or binders of photos. We love the pocketbook value of second-hand goods and give away just about everything that we no longer need that are still in usable condition.

It helps to know that we do not plan for any more children allowing us to give away all the things that they outgrow and become bored with so quickly. And neither, my husband nor I, are big into fashion and trends.

In fact, my husband often proudly exclaims to our friends that I have the least amount of clothes and shoes of anyone (male and female) that he knows. He came to this realization after unpacking my things during our move to Mexico (because I was pregnant and on bed-rest at the time) and was surprised that all of my clothes didn’t even take up 1/3 of our shared closet space!

And what about all those lovely keepsakes and wanderlust trophies that I used to accumulate? At one point in my travels I came to the conclusion that I no longer wanted my living space to look like an airport souvenir shop, so I stopped collecting knickknacks.

More importantly, however, I’ve come to appreciate the intangible pleasures of exploring other lands and cultures…savoring local cuisines and learning new recipes, for example. I’ve learned to experience the places for what is there, instead of looking for things that I can carry away; and, best of all, becoming friends with the people I live with.

So, while we go out of our way to keep our material belongings to a minimum, we do the exact opposite about accumulating friends.

We will leave Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, with extremely fond memories of all the special people who have been a part of our lives for the past two years…people who have watched our children grow who are practically our surrogate family, our tennis coach and partners with whom we’ve come to share lasting friendships and camaraderie, our Foreign Service friends who we hope to see again in other lands, and acquaintances who have been so kind to us each and every time we see them. I would trade all of my shipping allowances to bring everyone with me if I could!

There are many reasons to try to minimize the material things in our lives including ecological and financial benefits. Are there things that you do to de-clutter your life? Do you have good tricks and tips to share?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer,  Dee Harlow in Mexico.

Photo credit attributed to Jordan Fischer. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.

Dee Harlow (Laos)

One of Dee’s earliest memories was flying on a trans-Pacific flight from her birthplace in Bangkok, Thailand, to the United States when she was six years old. Ever since then, it has always felt natural for her to criss-cross the globe. So after growing up in the northeast of the US, her life, her work and her curiosity have taken her to over 32 countries. And it was in the 30th country while serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan that she met her husband. Together they embarked on a career in international humanitarian aid working in refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan, and the tsunami torn coast of Aceh, Indonesia. Dee is now a full-time mother of three-year old twins and continues to criss-cross the globe every two years with her husband who is in the US Foreign Service. They currently live in Vientiane, Laos, and are loving it! You can read about their adventures at Wanderlustress.

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