The Story of MY Stuff

Sorry for being incommunicado for the last while. After a fairly easy transfer of some of my stuff to Lasqueti, I returned to Salt Spring to help the chef move his stuff, and the rest of mine, to the lower suite of the duplex. It was like an M.C. Escher print: endless trudging up and down stairs, laden with boxes and armfuls of books.

Then cleaning the upper suite in preparation for the new tenant, which took far longer than it should have, since I was determined it wouldn't be draped with cobwebs and teeming with dust bunnies, the way it was when we moved in. It is amazing how one can think they are living in a clean house, and then once all the furniture and knick knacks are moved out, discover enough cat hair to build several new cats.

I'm back on Lasqueti again now, trying island hopping for the winter. As I carried yet another box of stuff up the ramp from the ferry, I reflected on a lifetime of moving house.

I have moved over 40 times in my adult life. I've never hired movers, an unthinkable luxury, although I have usually been lucky to have volunteer help. I've moved in snow and torrential rain, back and forth across Canada and into the States. I've used moving conveyances of every description. I consider myself a reluctant authority on moving. I can even almost carry furniture not like a girl. But, most emphatically, I hate moving.

If I hate moving so much, then why do it so often? Many people would see this as a sign of some kind of domestic dysfunction, or a pathological inability to settle in one place. Let me plead my case.

Looking back, it has been rare for me to move simply because I didn't like where I was living. Other than a ten year period of home ownership, I have rented, so some of the moves were due to leases being up, rents being raised beyond budgets, or the landlord's daughter wanting to move in. In Toronto, I once lived in a series of nice houses that the owner was flipping like dominoes in a hot housing market. Often I was trading up, or being offered a great deal for a short period of time.

When I was younger, I didn't mind all the moving. I had a great team of friends who didn't seem to mind hauling all my stuff up three flights of stairs.(Granted, I had fewer books then, although I did have a set of free weights.) I didn't think it odd that my friends always seemed to stay in one place, while I moved regularly. Maybe they had too many books, cheap rent, a great location...

Then I hooked up with a mathematician who was going through the requisite post-docs and career-building moves to various cities. Those were serious moves requiring ever bigger U-Hauls, and at one point, because we were crossing into the U.S., a complete inventory of all our stuff, down to the number of pieces of cutlery. The border guard shook his head and said he had never seen such a thorough inventory, making me feel like I had wasted weeks of counting and itemizing. I guess not that many Virgos went through that crossing!

Later, the mathematician got tenure and we bought a house two blocks from where we were renting. This is where I can see that my years of transience were starting to show. Thinking I would be practical and save money, and get some exercise in the process, I borrowed a shopping cart from the grocery store and moved much of the small stuff in the cart. No wonder my biggest fear is becoming a bag lady.

A major move west to Nelson, BC had my new partner (a good-looking ne'er-do-well) driving a 27 foot truck jammed so full the wheels were bowing inwards. I followed behind in the Toyota, also jammed full, with Angus perched on my lap, paws resting on my left forearm, looking out the window and meowing the whole way. Another indelible memory of that move: 27 crates of vinyl LP's. Uh huh. I did say ne'er-do-well, didn't I?

Several years later, leaving him and his record collection to enjoy each others company, I made my first major purge of possessions and moved further west to Vancouver, where I discovered Craigslist and its magical "Free" category, where I could post that huge china cabinet that didn't fit in my apartment and have it disappear in an afternoon. This marked the beginning of my awareness that there is such a huge pool of unwanted/unneeded stuff in the world that it is possible to avoid monetary transactions altogether. Unfortunately for the pack rat in me, it can be easier to acquire free stuff than to get rid of it, but gradually I have been able to distinguish between wants and needs, and the pile of stuff has gotten smaller each move.

Finally, I moved to Lasqueti by barge and wrote about it here. Re-reading that post, I'm surprised there were just five pickup trucks loads. I remember I had hardly any furniture, but there were still an awful lot of books. And boxes and boxes or fabric.

Living on a small remote island where everything has to be carried by hand up and down ferry ramps makes one very conscious of how much stuff weighs, and requires careful consideration if it is really needed or not. I am happy to say I am now down to one pickup load of stuff. No books! ( I made a large donation of my best textile books to the new Salt Spring Library, gave a couple of boxes of art therapy books to a grad student, donated a stack to the Literacy fundraiser, and left several bags at the Recycling Centre free store.) Only a couple of boxes of fabric.

Have I learned anything from these many moves? Besides to bend at the knees when lifting? Primarily this:
Material possessions can be a burden, both physically and psychologically. I've already made my New Year's resolution: to end 2013 with less stuff than I start it with.


  1. onesmallstitch9:08 PM

    oh, Heather - that's one heck of a resolution. Wish I could promise to join you - not yet!

  2. Anonymous5:26 AM

    How right you are! Things can become a burden. I wish I had your fortitude and perseverance and could part with more of my things. I have been in my little house for two years now. I'll never forget the move from my previous apartment. I spent a month trying to toss or donate the items I really didn't need. I thought I had succeeded well but when I started packing the keepers in boxes, the work never seemed to end. The piles of boxes grew and grew and I came to realize that I have way too much stuff. On moving day the movers arrived and I swear, their eyes popped out of their heads. They must have been wondering how one person could collect so much. You are to be congratulated. You've found a way out from the maze of things.

  3. NO Books!?!

    Surely you jest.

    Thank you for giving us this story of your moving history, and although I too am making the resolution to have less stuff - books, especially when you live on a remote island - are a life line.


    However, I do cull very regularly and give everything to our local library......

  4. Judy: Well, I confess to a few. The Codex Canadensis weighs as much as three or four books, so I had to be careful! One of the great things about being on a remote island is that I am eligible for the Vancouver Island Regional Library's "Books by Mail" program. I go to their website, browse, order my books, they ship them with a prepaid return mail bag, all courtesy of our beloved government. Best use of taxpayer's money ever!

  5. Vanessa10:34 AM

    I heartily agree with the burden of things (I get caugth up in the "this was Grandma's" or "My mom gave me this when I was 20" etc). My loving husband is a pack rat and LOVES the free store and picks up all kinds of things - that we don't necissarily need. this past summer we took a load to the free store and then came home with equal amount of different stuff!! Did I say my hubby was a pack rat??Hmmmm. I have given away a lot of books of late as a fundraiser but there is still all that stuff - like the 100 year old plus piano that weighs a ton that is beautiful but...sigh....I might adopt your resolution too!
    all the best
    PS and yes ne'er do well, indeed!
    PPS Oh the verdant green of the Gulf islands - it is white and COLD cold here; in fact it might warm to -20 and that will be great!!! Moving....not so bad an idea...

  6. Yikes, I'm one who can't imagine all that moving! However I can totally understand why you would want to pare things down if you have to lug them around so often.

    Personally I've only moved a few times in my entire adult life (last time was in 1979!) and I still live in the same neighbourhood I grew up in. Guess my roots are really deep, huh?

  7. Ah... moves... I am 12 years now in the same appartment and that is the longest time in the same house. (Though I do not come up to 40 moves.)
    Our last move was payed by DHs company and was the only one with movers. Full service. They come, they pack avery item and they unpack everything also. Or they would if we would have known at that time what went were. Which we did not know yet when we moved in... but it was really heaven! Especially since it was not our money...

    But after every move we swore to purge before the next one. Which always came to unexpected to actually do it.

    But some years ago I started very slowly getting rid of things I very likely will not need again, of books I did not like that much... so IF we manage to buy a bigger house there is a chance that this time we will not find the "why do we have that??!?" boxes when unpacking them. Or at least not so many of them... ;)


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