I’m packing up my room and preparing for a steep reduction in the amount of physical stuff I have in the world.
If all goes according to plan, I’m getting rid of electronics, books, clothes, furniture, and a whole crapload of random junk. I’m going to reduce my possessions to two categories: a small amount of stuff that will remain in long-term storage, and another small amount of stuff that I will travel with.
Moving is always a pain in the ass. Packing, cleaning, discarding things you have some level of attachment to, and always limits and deadlines. You have to narrow your belongings down to this much stuff within this much time.
I own a lot of books. Right now I’m staring at nine or ten stacks of books – mostly novels and old textbooks – that I’m considering getting rid of. I don’t really need physical copies of all the Wheel of Time books if I have them all in .pdf format on my hard drive, right?
I’ve always thought that my collection of books would expand over time and, as an adult, I’d establish a small library somewhere – preferably in my den or something – and then my children would grow up around those books, and company could look at them when they came over and judge what kind of person I was by my book collection, or just be impressed at its scope and magnitude.
But now I’m faced with challenges to that dream. I don’t have a house, and I’m not really close to having one any time soon. My parents are moving and will have limited storage space. Moving books around is difficult and expensive and consumes time and labor.
And so I’m forced to choose. Literature stays. Philosophy stays. Books that are rare or expensive or hard to obtain for any reason stay. Books that have strong sentimental value stay. Everything else has to go. It’s easy to toss out bad books that I bought or found and discovered to be unsuitable, but it’s hard to toss out books that are perfectly good, that were gifts from loved ones, but that I know I’ll never read or use. It’s hard to get rid of books that I love but have in electronic format – books that I would want my kids to read – books that define me in some ways.
A book is something concrete. It’s an object – a solid object, with weight, with a presence in the world, with what the Enlightenment philosophers would call “extension.” Ebooks don’t have extension. They are ones and zeros – mere ephemera, subject to being wiped out by a careless click, and easily ignored in the vast wilderness of my hundreds of gigs of data. I am not confronted with them every day. When I give up a book I feel its loss, the loss of that object, the loss of that connection to reality, of that thing to hold on to, of those sensible properties of solid objects.
This is, I imagine, a problem for many travelers. What to do with your stuff? Sure, many TLGers have parents who store their things. Some may even have houses of their own where their things are waiting for them. My parents have limited storage capacity, and anyway, anything that is in storage is essentially useless to me while I am out traveling in the world. I can’t access all my wonderful books while I’m teaching English in Georgia. Whether I stay in Georgia or move on elsewhere, as long as I am away from home, I’ll be away from all of my material possessions save those I choose to bring with me.
And yet, I am considering bringing a small pile of books – maybe eight or ten, in total – to Georgia with me. Why? Largely for research/academic purposes; most deal with language or linguistics in some way, with another few devoted to the nature of consciousness (another of my fields of interest) and one about sex and gender. I am considering this because I want my life in Georgia to be more full and more interesting, and because I want to continue to expand my mind and pursue things that I am interested in, and because I think that in particular the more I study language the better I’ll be at teaching it.
And the more books I bring to Georgia – the more stuff in general, because this applies to clothes and electronics as well – and the more things I buy in Georgia, the more Georgia begins to feel like a second home. A place where I have my things. A place where moving is difficult.
So I’m now concerned about moving into – and out of – my next homestay. I already have enough stuff stored at my host family’s house that a) it wouldn’t fit in the two suitcases I’d be allowed to bring on a Turkish Airlines flight and b) it is going to be a pain in the ass to move it all, requiring multiple trips up and down the stairs, and a taxi; which facts together mean that I already have more stuff in Georgia than I can travel internationally with. Add to that the fact that I tend to accrue stuff (I’ll certainly need to buy new jeans when I get back to Georgia, and possibly new shoes as well) and add to that the fact that I plan to bring at least another full suitcase of stuff with me this time… and yeah. I’m getting weighed down. I’m setting up a foundation in Georgia. By measure of my material possessions alone, I’m becoming more than a guest, more than a temporary, transient traveler who brings in and takes out everything he needs for his stay on his back.
And then it occurs to me. I’ve talked before – mostly with my former roommate – about the possibility of using Georgia as a base of operations from which to travel and explore the surrounding areas. I’m interested in the Balkans and the Middle East, and Georgia is fairly central to both of those areas. It wouldn’t be crazy to set up a home base in Georgia – a place to store my stuff, a place to come back to and relax, a place to have so that I know that I always have a place – and to travel and pursue my other interests without ever having to worry about the things that you have to worry about when you don’t have your own home.
It especially wouldn’t be crazy because rent on a small, reasonably-priced apartment in a reasonable neighborhood of Tbilisi is not much more than the cost of long-term storage in New York. I could rent a storage unit in Queens for something like 100 USD per month, or I could ship the stuff I really want to Georgia and store it in an apartment for something like 200 USD per month, with the additional benefit of actually being able to live in that apartment.
Of course, international shipping isn’t exactly cheap, so if I wanted to actually go through with this kind of plan I’d have to plan to live abroad for quite some time. I don’t think it would be worth it to do this for just a year. I’d have to imagine that there was a good chance that I could make use of an apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia for a long time to come.
The truth is, that isn’t that hard to imagine. Even if I decided to, say, teach in Korea for a year, just to save up some money, I could still easily afford to maintain an apartment in Georgia (perhaps even sublet it to some TLGer) given the kind of money I’d make there and the currency conversion rates.
In any case, in writing this entry I’m procrastinating from the task at hand, which is to clear out my room and make everything in it portable so that it can go either to the garbage or to temporary storage while I figure out what to do with all this stuff in the long term.
The hardest part is that moving means moving on. Leaving things behind. Acknowledging change. Accepting loss and trying not to dwell too hard on the opportunity cost of what you’re doing. Everything I throw away, everything I leave behind, weighs on me, even though I know that getting rid of those things will be a weight off my shoulders. Without my possessions I am a little more free and a little more lonely.
But you have to keep moving.