Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How do you fit your whole life in 2 luggages? (Thoughts on moving on)

I have always dreamt of working abroad, of living abroad. One time I asked a college professor of mine (who claimed to be clairvoyant) if I will ever be able to work abroad. He said only for a vacation, for a short time. I was disappointed to hear that but I tried to be optimistic and thought that's better than not being able to travel outside my country at all.

photo from the book "moving on"

9 years later. After 2 H1Bs (work visa) stamped on my passport, one Italian employer job offer and in between deciding if I should go to Singapore or New Zealand, my time came. It was year 2007. The time I was 98% sure I'm leaving because I have my 2nd H1B visa stamped on my passport (first one was 1999) and a plane ticket in hand. It was the time I was faced with some important decisions - what to leave behind.

The problem is, even without trying, I always accumulate so much stuff over time. So choices will have to be made and some stuff will have to be left behind, but which stuff? I have to fit my whole life in two luggages, with a maximum weight of 50 lbs (or 23 kg) each and a maximum dimension total of 62 inches (or 157 cm) each. How the heck am I gonna do that. My shoes and books would already occupy one luggage each (and maybe more).

I started packing the basic stuff. Business clothes & formal attire with matching shoes. Some technical books that I really need to bring with me. Some casual clothes and lounge clothes with matching shoes/slippers. The rest I can just buy from there. Easy,  right?


What do you do with items of sentimental value? I suddenly found myself staring at boxes after boxes of letters and greeting cards and photos and books and souvenirs and all kinds of knick-knacks that someone gave me and means so much to me.  How do you know which ones to take with you and which ones to leave behind?

What do I do with the letters I got since I was in high school. Letters from classmates thanking me for helping them with their math assignments or someone thanking me for giving her an idea for a good title for her biography project. How about pictures of friends with dedications at the back. You know, J-A-P-A-N (just always pray at night), C-E-B-U (change everything but us), and all those mushy gushy girly stuff that still puts a smile on my face whenever I read them. How about the first love letter I received and all the other "from your secret admirers" notes folded origami-like that I have somehow kept. Of course there are these one box of letters and greeting cards and pictures I have kept and have meticulously labeled from a long time college pen pal MB that I really connected with and thought I would end up with (he suddenly disappeared). There's more, I also have a box of letters and greeting cards, and some tiny knick-knacks and dried flowers and even dried leaves, I received from the first boyfriend to the 2nd boyfriend of 7 years. I also have boxes of diaries after diaries after diaries. Some of them were even written on secret codes that only I can understand (it's a good thing though, that I kept and remembered where I hid the code cracker). These might sound just petty little things, unimportant things, but to me they're not but I can't bring all those boxes with me or at least I have to decide which ones I'll take along.

This is pretty much the same as moving forward with your life's journey. You have accumulated lots of memories, stories, and a few grudges here and there but there would come a time in your life when it's time to purge them out from your system and move on but where do you start?

I remember this analogy I read somewhere, I think it's from Joel Osteen (but I'm not positive because I've read too many versions already)  about a car's rear view mirror versus the windshield.

There’s a reason why the windshield of a car is so much bigger than the rear view mirror and that is, what’s in front of us is much more important than what’s behind us. We cannot move forward looking at the rear view mirror. If we take this rear view mirror vs windshield as an analogy to our life's journey, it just simply says our past isn't as important as our future. Have you ever experienced looking too long on the rear view mirror that you almost hit the car in front of you? Same deal. We can look at our past from time to time but one shouldn't dwell on it too long or we'll screw up our future.

Sometimes we start blaming the past for what we have become and start making that as an excuse not to grow. Somehow, we succumb to this sadomasochistic, self-pity approach that we still like to play the bitter past in our mind like a broken record and all for what?

I am guilty of thinking about the past and dwelling on it that I sometimes end up drowning  with  could-have-beens and might-have-beens. It wasn't a good feeling. That's a very potent ingredient for insecurity.  Not to toot my own horn but I am not one for staying low for too long. When the rubber hits the road, when push turns to shove I learn to just let go. I have to. For myself. For my family.

So I forced myself to start the de-cluttering process. Both literally and figuratively. It was actually therapeutic. You start to realize that the stuff you thought is important to you wasn't really that important at all. I did have some bouts of sentimental breakdowns and crying spells on some of the items or letters that I found and I won't lie, it wasn't easy to decide whether or not I'll take them with me or not. I have one tip though, when I'm faced with situations like that, I would step away, do something else, walk, eat,  sleep, whatever and then come back and see if I still feel the same way.

Things are things and if it's really that important then those shouldn't be sitting on some dusty shelf or an old box. It should be on a frame or special glass cabinets. If you think it's worth the trouble of framing them or building a custom-cabinet then keep it,  but if you're fine with it sitting on an old tattered, moldy box, then just give yourself a favor and throw it away. Because that just means you really don't care too much for it than you thought you do.

Moving to another country is like starting on a clean slate and de-cluttering is the first huge step and when I was done, I have a new box in front of me and it's labeled "time to move on" box. It was fun glancing at the past but I also need to give room for the future. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the past, because it molded me how I am, what I am right now and what I will become in the future but it's time to let go.

I remember our clutter-control instructor who said something like: people who are holding on to clutter (memorabilias, souvenirs, old stuff given by so and so) are afraid of facing the future.

That wouldn't be me.

And so I left my home for another country. 8539.01 miles away. Carrying my whole life in two  luggages....

and a hand carry.