Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What's Next

These 2 photos depict pretty much everything I knew about Switzerland at the start of the summer. Also banks. And chocolate.
There is nothing like the prospect of moving to make you reevaluate your relationship to things. I think, on the whole, we own less stuff than the average American couple. We have a small apartment by most American standards, though a fairly roomy one by NYC standards. We shed a lot of stuff when we relocated to Brooklyn from Chicago six years ago. But we were still obliged to leave a few sizeable piles of stuff on the curb outside our old Chicago apartment the morning we packed the moving truck. It just would not all fit.

We now have another move on the horizon. An even bigger move than our last one to New York. We are relocating to Zurich, Switzerland by the end of this year. I know! Who'd have thought it? But an interesting job prospect was presented to my husband and now this is what's next. So: Exciting! But also: Terrifying! Terrifying insofar as we've decided to chuck almost everything we own. This will be my primary occupation over the next 2 months. Sorting, selling, donating, or tossing almost all of our worldly goods.

Getting rid of stuff is not a major personal strength. Growing up with my mother, a benign hoarder, influenced the subsequent habits of my sister, brother, and me in different ways. My sister is happiest in a supremely pared down space. She readily throws things away. The very few objects she has of sentimental value she has had for years and I can count on one hand. My brother, a much more ready consumer of stuff than either my sister or me, has zero tolerance for shabbiness or wear. He and his family, though they've moved multiple times over the past decade, have only ever lived in brand new houses. The thought of moving into a space that has been lived in by someone else previously makes him shudder. He, too, has the ability to discard stuff with remarkable ease.

Me? Not so much. Paper is my biggest weakness. Books, magazines, letters, photos, drawings, and so on are incredibly difficult for me to get rid of. I still have the essays I wrote in grad school in 1992. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I finally recycled my undergrad drawings (and only after first photographing them digitally). I've kept every letter I've received since 1983. I have accumulated a not inconsiderable archive. And it's gotta go. But first I have to look at it all again. I really don't have time to look at every scrap of paper I've filed away and carted around for twenty years, but I can't NOT. I keep sorting books into piles and shuffling them around our apartment. THEY HAVE TO GO BUT IT IS KILLING ME A LITTLE. I am feeling smothered at this point and exhausted by making decisions. I hate stuff! I've actually had an itch for the past year to strip away as much stuff as possible, so why is this so hard? Partly, I know, it's because I feel the need to dispose of it all in as responsible way as possible. To redistribute it consciously, being aware that there is no "away" in throwing something away. There was a great Roz Chast cartoon I ran across lately that was perfect to me. Here's a screenshot:
I suppose the immediate anxiety of disposing of all our stuff is good insofar as it keeps me from ruminating on the fears I have about this move. For instance: I do not speak anything but English. Zurich is going to be very small in comparison to NYC and I don't know anyone in the entire country. How will I make friends? And so on. I am doing my best to repress this for the moment, and trying to concentrate on the adventure part, instead. I'll turn 50 on a whole different continent! Change is good!