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In My Own Write: A moving story
By JUDY MONTAGU
31/12/2013
"We think of moving as a physical effort, when in fact half of it – maybe more than half of it – is emotional; and never more so than when it comes to one’s possessions."
 
This is how it was: We moved into our new apartment at the end of August and took with us just what we needed, plus one or two things we liked. And we didn’t miss what we had left behind.

Experts place moving in the category of life’s most stressful experiences. Type “Moving house is stressful” into Google, and you’ll get 2.5 million hits. We think of moving as a physical effort, when in fact half of it – maybe more than half of it – is emotional; and never more so than when it comes to one’s possessions.

But we minimized the stress by never bringing more boxes at a time into the new place than we could easily cope with, unpacking and finding a place for everything before bringing in the next lot. I was happy that our newly renovated apartment stayed neat and never acquired the messy-storeroom look that generally accompanies a change of address.

We could indulge in this gradual move because I was planning to rent out my old apartment and no prospective tenant had yet shown up. But I had lived there for more than 30 years and knew the awful day would come when I would have to confront endless cupboards and drawers full of half-forgotten things whose fate I would have to determine.

This week, that day came. Tenants were arriving on January 1, and the apartment had to be empty by then. I had to get everything packed, and separate what I would keep from what I would jettison. The prospect was daunting.

Why do possessions exert such an emotional pull? Why is our sense of security so heavily invested in these inanimate objects? Even while aiming over the past few days to get all that inessential stuff dealt with efficiently, I could sense the resistance, an almost physical barrier.

Moving around the old apartment had a gluey feel to it, and it was almost as if the things themselves were saying, “Oh no you don’t; we’ve been here for years and we have rights...you won’t uproot us!” Each item sounded a different note, strident or plaintive – whether it was an article I had inherited, something I’d been given, or simply a thing I had purchased and kept for so long that it considered itself tenured for life. Each paraded its history before me as justification for staying put.

Don’t think I hadn’t made massive efforts to get rid of stuff months before. I had held a joint garage sale with a friend who was also moving, and given bags and bags of clothing, kitchenware and other stuff to charity. Even so, I was astounded at the sheer amount of what remained. There was an eerie impression of items secretly multiplying behind closed doors while I was engaged elsewhere.

It was chastening to realize how much repressed emotional dependency I had on things I didn’t need and wouldn’t miss, how hard it was to bid that mental goodbye.

The hallway of our new apartment is now a mess, strewn with boxes, bags and suitcases full of stuff just retrieved from my old apartment. And still ahead of me is the task of deciding what I will keep and what I will give away.

My friend Angela, visiting from abroad, always seems to come at an opportune moment. This time, too, she had insights to share about the whole business of possessions and divesting oneself of them.

“Things have their time,” she said, gently, when I showed her a small unframed tapestry of two Dutch children I had laboriously completed at the age of five.

Clearly its time has long passed, and I think I can now put it in the charity bag – even though I have kept it all these years and remember my beloved grandmother teaching me how to ply the needle.

Angela has had to move several times and is, as she puts it, “harsh” with herself about how many things she owns. When she buys a new article of clothing – a T-shirt, for example – another, older T-shirt “has to go.”

A mother of four, she told me that her three adult children, knowing how stuck one can get to one’s own stuff, get each other to prune their possessions prior to any move. They then hold an “inter-family auction.”

She also puts a basket of things she doesn’t need near her front door, and asks guests as they are leaving whether they would like to take something. “That way, they have no time for second thoughts, and I have one item less.”

Angela had a very nasty experience in 2012 following a year she spent volunteering in Israel. She had put her possessions into storage with a well-known company, which, without informing her, moved to new premises in another German city some six months into her sojourn here.

When she returned, she found a large portion of her furniture and other items, including her bed and lovely desk, broken, infested with vermin, or simply gone.

“I had to put my sofa outside in the street,” she recalled. “It was covered in fungus. And all my bags and suitcases containing my winter things were missing.” To date, the insurance company’s response has been laughable.

A hefty blow, indeed. How has she coped? What hurt the most, she replied, was the loss of paintings done by her father, and herself. The difference lies, she pointed out, “between the beauty of deciding yourself what to throw away, and knowing your things are gone as a result of someone else’s carelessness.

“One is cathartic; the other leaves you with a feeling of injury.” For the rest, she said, “I have learned that the less you own, the better; and that the older you get, the less you should keep.

The most crucial thing she has learned is “that it’s not important what I own as long as my family and I are fine, and can stay optimistic. “I loved it,” she recalled, “when my children came to visit me in my reduced household and said, ‘The only important thing is that you’re here!’”

Truly there are lessons to be learned about ownership and about what is really meaningful in life. And this laborious recent move of ours, with its physical – but mainly emotional – challenges, yet to be fully surmounted, has reinforced the conviction as I get older that I don’t need any more nonessential items in my home or in my life.

Many times, when we are arranging a visit to older friends – a Shabbat meal, for example – they plead with us not to bring anything, and what they mean is some item or object that, sooner or later, will only have to be dealt with. We all of us already own far more “stuff” than we want or need.

The one exception to this is edibles and drinks, which are lovely when you get them and don’t stay around to cause you angst in the future.

So if you ever visit me, I’d like to just mention that my husband is a lover of good red wine, while I am partial to white, and also that I have a great fondness for macadamia nuts and for orange and ginger jam.

And should I visit you, I will find out what you like, and reciprocate in kind.
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