The Other Stuff

Our house in Libya was one of my favourites. Sure, it had a resident rat living in the clothes dryer pipe, a very inconsistent electricity source and random pipes that would burst causing water to inexplicably shoot through a wall at any given hour of the day – but I loved that house. A lot happened in that house.

When our shipment arrived in Tripoli it was a mess. It appeared that the container had been opened by customs, searched and then squashed back in sideways. Chairs were broken, picture frames smashed and ornaments misplaced. For months we’d find ourselves remembering something that was no longer with us “where’s the silver teapot from KL?” And then we’d realize it didn’t make it.
As the furniture made its way off the truck and was carried in to the house, even in its disheveled state, I automatically felt like we were settling. I think it’s a natural thing when you’re traveling, as soon as that container/shipment arrives there’s a feeling of calm. Photos are placed on mantles, clocks on walls, beds are made with familiar sheets. The change table and cot that were in Jakarta and then in KL were now in Libya, it was familiar – it was going to be okay.
The minute the dining table was up we began entertaining. I taught myself how to bake and in between breastfeeding, toilet training and bum wiping I’d usually manage to coax a few extras into our lounge room each week. G and I learnt how to make our own alcohol, yes Mr Ghaddafi we did, and after working through some supply issues, soon enough we were having dinner parties and curry nights resulting in our house being known as the Australian Embassy. 
When we moved to Canada, bought a house and became settled we began the routine again (minus the grog making). The children were tiny, we became experts at child friendly events, feeding little people on arrival and attempting an adult meal that usually resulted in at least one child being passed around as each of us finished a meal. In Houston we had a fairly constant stream of people either around the pool or at the dining table, we cooked ribs and G barbecued the side of the house, but that’s another story for another time.
And then we came to Qatar. And we stopped entertaining.
When we moved here we came with a container full of flat packed IKEA furniture, it was all shiny and new and without the scuffs and memories of 10 years of travel it suddenly felt soulless. The other “stuff,” the “stuff” that we scoured through furniture stores in Jakarta and picked up in markets in KL and discovered in the Souq in Tripoli was all sent back to Australia.

When the shipment came off the truck and was all assembled I looked around our house and said to G “it doesn’t feel like our home”. I wanted to sit at our dining table, I wanted to see the framed Libyan wedding jewellery and the big blue bowl that had been with us everywhere. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when people came to the house I would find myself explaining what we’d left behind “we have this great dining room table, but it’s back in Australia”.

Really? Who cares?

I drove G crazy. Every time he’d suggest having a group over to dinner I’d say the house wasn’t up to it. I found excuses, we didn’t have the right table, we didn’t have enough plates, when really the underlying problem was I wasn’t house proud. Which is just dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Some of the prettiest houses are filled with the ugliest people.

We bought some new plates (I love my new pink plates, that’s them up the top), some new cutlery and little bits and pieces, but more importantly I finally got over myself. Our house is just fine and I’m a tosser for thinking otherwise.

Last night we had ten people come over for dinner. In the afternoon G and I stood in the kitchen together and cooked, we argued over time constraints, did some passive aggressive mumbling and nearly divorced over entree plates, and then we sat down to a really fun evening. This morning we began planning the menu for next weekend and the weekend after.

I like the other stuff, but I can live without it.

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  1. We left behind most of our furniture/art/things, but I brought just a few choice bits to remind me of home – I still miss so many things, though! One of the most interesting aspects of expat life is the fact that homes really don’t tell you as much about people as they do in our home countries.  We have friends who came with absolutely nothing except their clothes and a few framed photos and dishes and live in serviced, furnished apartments.  Others we know brought everything they ever owned;  still others bought everything new when they got here, and some, like us, have brought a little bit from home.  I’m sure your dinner guests loved their dinner on the new pink plates, and that all they thought about was the wonderful time they had with you.  My biggest challenge has been learning how to scale everything down -going  from our large house in Texas (and you know how big those houses are) to our tiny apartment in a high rise in Seoul has been a challenge!

  2. My husband and I often talk about re-locating somewhere else. Either to the States (my home country) or somewhere hot. We both say we would just pack up the kids and a few suitcases and not bother with the other things. It would be hard – as I’m sure you know – but it would also be exhilirating. For the moment we are stuck here in the UK. One day though….

  3. Naomi Hattaway says

    Those pink plates are AWESOME!  We are in the process of relocating again and I am struggling with what to send / ship where.  Thanks for the reminder that it will all be ok, regardless.

  4. Heike Gaskell says

    So true – home is not made up of stuff and things but of people, family, memories and the odd photo! When people ask me ‘where is home’ I reply where my suitcases, husband and children happen to be ……

  5. We take everything with us, wherever we go and it is really important to us.  We have never got around to buying our own house and we have not decided where we will settle so our contents make our house a home.  I love finding new places for our things – when the “good couch” becomes the comfy couch or a painting finishes a room.  It makes me feel settled quickly.

  6. We’ve moved with everything except the kitchen sink, a small airfreight shipment and finally just 2 suitcases each.  I’ve come to realize that the only things I really cherish are few indeed, what matters most are the things I carry in my head and my heart (oh and my laptop, of course, lol!).  But seriously it’s been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an expat.

  7. Circles in the Sand says

    Hello! Just discovered your blog and loving it! 🙂 I’ll be back!

  8. thanks! heading over to you now.

  9. I agree. We always traveled with a 40ft container and I really felt it when we arrived here with a small shipment of flat packed IKEA furniture. It didn’t feel the same without the usual suspects. It feels like home now (it’s been 2 years) but it still surprises me every time we get back to the beach house and all of our stuff is there. Kx

  10. Good luck with the move. Will be thinking of you. BTW, I am still in love with my pink plates.

  11. G and I always talk about a day in the future when the children have forgotten about us and we can go and live in New York. I’d just love to do 6 months there, living like a local. One day. I know exactly what you mean about it being exhilarating. I agree.

  12. Naomi Hattaway says

     I may start hyperventilating as I type this, but I think we are going the “fully furnished” route for the next relo!  Gasp!  I’ll take virtually nothing except for clothes and the bicycles.  Whooooo.  I know it will feel extraordinary and be really freeing, but oh my goodness … to not have “the stuff” ???

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