Empty Rooms

The great decluttering has begun.

Since we brought our cats home to California, we have started going through our apartment ‘mari-kondo’ style and asking ourselves ‘Does this bring us joy?’. If not, the items find themselves on a trip to school to be dropped off at various staff lounges much like how Andy Dufresne unsuspectingly smuggled his prison wall out of his jail cell in the Shawshank Redemption.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been through an international move. In Vietnam, we had a generous shipping allowance and a company packed our possessions into 81 boxes to travel by boat from Ho Chi Minh City to Seoul. Last week, we received a quote of $3,000 for a year’s storage followed by a shipping cost to a point yet to be determined by our hiring school. East Asia would be the cheapest, the middle East and East Africa coming in second and Brazil the most expensive.

With exciting prospects on the horizon, it’s still a humbling experience to downsize your life. With every item that makes its way to the ‘get rid of’ pile, a quiet reflection comes into play. Do we really need this? Would it just be cheaper to buy a new one? One item that came to mind was our wooden entertainment center. When our first moving company gave us a quote last week, it was one of our things that was ‘on the fence’. Solely practical in its function, it served merely as a stand on which to put the T.V.

“How long have we had that for?” I asked Lisa.

“Our second house in Vietnam”.

“Good good, we had that for 7 years there and 4 years here.”

Since 2008

It felt insensitive to give away something that is older than our daughter and is practically a family heirloom, but make no mistake-it’s just ‘stuff’. Easily replaceable and without real sentimental value. My mind danced around the house looking at which items have been with us the longest. My wool Nordstrom coat which my mother in law brought to us in Korea I got as a high school student 24 years ago. Still fits! The stained and tattered money belt we took with us when we moved to Thailand in 2002. 16 years old. Still works! It’s as if these possessions were the last holdouts in a house hold season of ‘Games of Thrones‘ or what remains of Andy’s toys in Toy Story.

One day in a few months, a group of people will box up what is left of our possessions, stuff it full of desiccation packets and shut it up in a container for a long sleep. It’s not us though. Just memories of our lives and momentos of moments that help us remember who we were and where we’ve been.

I think about the new tenants coming to live in our apartment after us and think of the new memories that the house will bring them. It’s as if we’re bequeathing the right to live in ‘our place’ even though we were renting it just the same. “Respect our old home.” I imagine telling them. “It brought us so many good memories. By the way, can we come back to visit?

Ultimately, that’s never true. Whether it be a house, apartment, tent, mansion or even ger, they’re all just empty shells. Empty rooms never have a story to tell. It’s the people in those rooms that do. The times they shared. The laughs they had. What fills their photo albums, hard drive, or is worthy enough of a frame to be hung on the wall to show off to visitors. Everything else is immaterial floating through time and space from the sales racks of big box marts to the discard bin of thrift stores or landfills that litter the world.

Last night, we said goodbye to our cat’s old ‘tower’. A five-foot tall scratching post with sitting areas on which our two felines curled and slept for the last 4 years, and last remainder of their time with us in Korea. If you were to visit us now, you would never know that we ever had 2 cats. I paid 5 dollars to discard it at the recycling center outside our building and noticed this morning while peering out the window, that a nearby dweller had scooped it up before it was picked up on the normal 10 am rounds.

I imagined this lucky person finding our frayed beast in the early hours of the morning and being so excited to welcome it to its new home and loving family in a mysterious building and apartment we’ll never know. I imagined them carrying it to the elevator thinking, ‘the kids will be so excited!’ not perturbed by its ragged appearance nor giving it much thought as to where it was from, or what it had to do with anybody’s life.

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