POLAND: The Unimportance of “Things”

POLAND: The Unimportance of “Things”

mudEight thousand pounds, ten suitcases, three car seats, and a mammoth-sized double stroller. That is how we move from place to place. Our lives measured in mass. The “things” we take with us as we circumnavigate the globe.

Every time we pack up and unpack I ask myself, do we really need all of this stuff? All of these things? What would become of us if we couldn’t bring these things with us?

Before I became a parent, I wasn’t so concerned about having our things. It was always nice to receive our personal items and make our new house a home, but we could do without. While on assignment in Sudan, our household shipment took a year to arrive and be released at the port, at which point we only had one more year of our assignment left. Surprisingly, we found it pretty easy to live without our things.

But then I became a parent, and we acquired all of the things that come along with that wonderful privilege – toys, blankets, cribs, clothes, plastic plates, bottles, kid-proof cutlery, safety gates, bikes, trikes, scooters, hot wheels tracks, mountains of Legos. All of the things that entertain kids and make them happy (so we think). Times three.

Somehow our things mushroomed from two thousand pounds to eight thousand pounds overnight.

With three young children and all of this stuff, it then came time to move — not once, but twice (internationally) in one year. The first was a move from Thailand to Washington, D.C.; the second from Washington, D.C. to Poland. And with each move came new regulations about how much of our stuff we could take with us and how long it would take us to receive it. And naturally, as parents do, I worried about how the kids would fare without their things. How will they keep themselves entertained? Won’t they be bored? Won’t they miss their stuff?

And then the test came. In Washington, D.C. we were allowed 1/12th of our unruly-sized load of things. This actually turned out to be a very good thing. We got out to explore often – every day – and many days, multiple times. We lived near trails of every kind, streams, baseball and soccer fields. There must have been ten playgrounds within a mile radius. Libraries, museums, nature centers. Most within walking distance. By getting out, it became increasingly clear that the kids didn’t need their “things,” that in fact, those things become pretty unimportant when there were was so much exploring to do.

Their happiness was not predicated on whether or not they had their stuff. They were just as happy as before; if not, more so at the excitement of discovering new places.

Crib jumpingAfter a wonderful year in Washington, we moved to Krakow, Poland last month. Our things arrived in several different shipments over the course of six weeks. It was amazing to watch the kids use what little they had at the beginning to easily amuse themselves. Crib mattresses became trampolines, our back yard became a place of adventures, plastic tubs became swimming pools, and moving boxes . . . you name it, and moving boxes turned into all kinds of things from forts to art tables and clever hiding places. And just as we did in D.C., we are exploring. We are exploring our neighborhood, the main square downtown, the forest, the zoo, castles with dragon caves (yes, you read that right), biking trails, outdoor fountains, ice cream parlors, chocolate shops.back yard

On Friday, the last shipment of our 8,000 pounds arrived. As I look around, I realize how easy it would be to simply. To cut down the clutter. To purge all of the things we don’t need and choose to get out and explore as an everyday way of life. Kids are the best versions of themselves when they use their imaginations. Less really is more. Happiness is not about what they have, but about who they are with. So what does that mean for us? It means we will slowly be letting go of our “things” over the next three years and lightening our load before we embark on our next overseas adventure. And I’m sure the movers will thank us for it.

Have you ever felt the need to cut down on all of the “things” you own?  Have you thought about how you might do this (i.e. – by donating to local orphanages, Goodwill, etc.)?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Loren Braunohler.  Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer.  She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don’t ask why she is currently in Poland).  Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C.  She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleep more.  Loren blogs about her family’s international adventures and parenting at  www.toddlejoy.com.

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.

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INDONESIA:  Too Much…Stuff

INDONESIA: Too Much…Stuff

clutterThis month marks our third anniversary of living in Jakarta. Considering how empty our house was when we first arrived here, I am staggered at how much stuff we have acquired in that short time.

We initially started out with garden chairs as living room furniture and took our time furnishing our new space. Though the house isn’t exactly cluttered, it feels full – and I feel daunted by the sheer volume of STUFF that seems to fill every closet and drawer.

It’s the never-ending tide of cheap party favors, orphaned toy and game parts, and plastic galore. It’s the piles of paper: children’s artwork, old receipts, and unfinished magazines. It’s all the things I never use or wear, the boxed objects I might use one day and the stock of (US-bought) items I think I can’t live without.

Moving from the US to East Timor 5 years ago was a great opportunity to clear things out and scale back. Although I did feel a little sad watching an expectant dad cart away our twins’ disassembled cribs the night before we moved, it felt good to sort through our accumulated belongings and assign categories: donate, sell, ship or store.

Donating unwanted items was easy. I arranged for a pick up with a local charity group, stacked everything on my porch and it was all magically whisked away. We sold our car and other big items, sent friends home with plants and other housewares and shipped our edited possessions to Dili.

Everything else went into our storage unit. A few years later I visited it for the first time and was amazed by what we’d deemed worth keeping at the time. I randomly peeked in a few boxes and found…sweaters. Lots of sweaters. What was I thinking? It was winter at the time and we didn’t know how long we’d be away, but still.

We also stored our furniture, though we recently realized that the cost of storing it for the last five years has probably exceeded its value. While visiting the US, my husband spent a day digging out furniture and giving it all away – couches, tables, lamps, washer/dryer…everything. I was thousands of miles away at the time but it felt fantastic.

Leaving East Timor prompted a similar purge. And yet here I am again, feeling the urgent need to reduce and simplify.

Here in Jakarta, this process isn’t as straightforward. While it’s fair to say that nothing will ever go unused, getting rid of unwanted items isn’t as simple as piling them on the porch. I frequently give outgrown kids’ clothes and shoes to friends or neighbors, donate household items to women’s association charity shops, or leave things out to be upcycled by our handcart-pulling bin man.

Last month my children got involved and we went through their toys, books and clothes and filled 10 bags with donations for a local orphanage. Though it was good for them to be part of this process, I would also really like for them to see where their donations are going and consider giving back in other ways (time, money, materials etc.).

Although I will never be a minimalist (or a light packer…), I’m committed to scaling back and am hopeful that this is a first step toward living with less.

A quick internet search reveals hundreds of creative ways to de-clutter, organize and simplify our homes – and ultimately our lives. We are told that having too much stuff is draining and overwhelming us, that we are wasting too much time and money managing our things and that getting rid of all this stuff can make our lives richer and happier.

All of this may be true, but for me the bigger question is about how to acquire less stuff in the first place.

Clearly I don’t have the answer yet, but it’s definitely something I would like to explore and practice – starting now.

Please share your strategies and tips to get me started!

How do you minimize/manage the “stuff” in your house and life? Do you have any tips for living with less? 

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour.

Shaula Bellour (Indonesia)

Shaula Bellour grew up in Redmond, Washington. She now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia with her British husband and 9-year old boy/girl twins. She has degrees in International Relations and Gender and Development and works as a consultant for the UN and non-governmental organizations. Shaula has lived and worked in the US, France, England, Kenya, Eritrea, Kosovo, Lebanon and Timor-Leste. She began writing for World Moms Network in 2010. She plans to eventually find her way back to the Pacific Northwest one day, but until then she’s enjoying living in the big wide world with her family.

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MEXICO: The Treasures We Take

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). (more…)

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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