Almost four years ago I wrote a devotional blog post for Baptist Women in Ministry, looking into the New Year of 2017 and reflecting on hurricane preparations when we lived in Beaufort, S.C. Trying to decide what to leave behind in the event of a impending potential major disaster is one thing.
Deciding what to leave behind every time we move, every 3 years or so, is a samey-but-differenty experience, in terms of both the physical stuff and the spiritual.
Since I’ve moved this often since I was a kid, I’m well-accustomed to routinely examining, sorting, and purging. I’m used to asking:
- How long has it been since I used this? (Did I even remember I had it before I got it out just now?)
- Am I realistically going to want it in the new place? Is it so important to me that I’ll want it to see/use/enjoy it every day?
- Is it important enough to save it, to put it in storage? Or am I only keeping it out of habit?
Je me souviens…
When I studied high school French I learned the verb “souvenir” means “to remember.” Souvenirs are extremely important to me, perhaps because of how often I’ve always moved. Every place we live we collect memories–souvenirs–and our house is full of things that help us remember where we’ve been and the people who have loved us.
This can make it extremely difficult to let things go. But it’s also not feasible to keep every thing we ever cared about. For while I would not let go of anything we bought during the time we lived in England. For awhile I would not let go of anything that had once belonged to my grandmother.
Slowly, over time (in the 15 years since we moved back to the US, and the 9 years since Grandma died) I’ve realized which items are actually close to my heart. Marie Kondo might call it “what sparks joy,” but it’s not just that. It’s that they spark memories of the experiences and the loves that helped to shape us. They remind us who we are.
Not every item can do that. Not every item should. And it’s okay to let the others go.
The Marines call this “Semper Gumby”–always flexible.
When we move, we have to be flexible about… pretty much everything. We need the right house at (most importantly) the right time, and beyond that we’ve learned to be easy-going about the details. Every house is different, even if the square-footage is the same.
We practice “Semper Gumby” by choosing furniture that can do multiple jobs, depending what room we need it in this time around. We accumulate pieces that (mostly) go together so we can mix-and-match between bedrooms and living spaces. We never buy anything very large, and we have only a few “heirloom”-level pieces; everything else needs to be expendable. We shop secondhand first for almost everything, because we know in three years we may need to donate it away.
In our upcoming move, the right house at the right time is also in the right location–closer than we have ever been to my husband’s work. It’s also a much older and smaller house than we’ve had before. It has features I adore (glass doorknobs and slanty roofline ceilings), but none of the “modern conveniences” (walk-in closets and double bathroom sinks with cabinets) I’ve gotten used to. We’re going from a spread-out ’80s suburban to a snug ’40s city-side cottage… and we’re going to have to “Gumby” ourselves into the space.
We will have to be smart, flexible, and possibly a bit ruthless. We will have to be able to Let It Go, and then to Make It Work. These may be the two abiding lessons of the moving life–LIG and MIW can apply to much (all?) of life. Beginning with the furniture.
Not only is every house different, every stage of life is different–especially with kids. In three years’ time they grow out of one phase and into the next, and each stage is visible in the way they play. As a kid, I moved as frequently as we do now, and looking back I tend to see my own life in three-year(ish) chunks. As a mom, I look at my boys’ growing up in the same way.
Every new house seems to coincide with a new phase. For awhile we needed living-room space to accommodate the sprawling baby amusement park of Fisher-Price playthings. We graduated to a Thomas the Tank Engine/Lego-ing table. Then it was kiddie-sized tool boxes and building projects, followed by WiiU sports games (how can fake bowling take up so much real space?).
Now we’re on the verge of having two teenagers. In the three years ahead of us, one kid will be getting ready for college, the other moving firmly into teen-land. Their new rooms in the new house will reflect where they’re growing. They’ll create their spaces with a mashup of souvenirs and imagination–the memories that are still shaping them, and the vision of who they are slowing becoming.
Moms grow, too.
I guess when it comes to it, I still create my own space in the same way, with memory and with imagination, reflections of how I got here and visions of where I’m headed. We also do this as a family, creating the home that we need for this chapter of our life. We do this over and over. We examine, and sort, and purge; we consider and reconsider our story from top to bottom.
In about five weeks the moving truck will arrive. Until then I’ll be considering and reconsidering furniture and space, souvenirs and storage. I’ll be imagining where (or if) each item will fit in the new house, and I’ll be trying to think ahead about how we will all grow there. I’ll attempt to be smart, flexible, and a bit ruthless about what we let go, and what we make work.
And, as always, I’ll be looking at what we take with us–and looking forward to where it will take us.