The Things We Leave Behind

In preparation for the move, I’ve been purging. Pants, shirts, shoes, furniture, books, and knick-knacks. Nothing has escaped my Marie Kondo-inspired wrath. With each pair of old, worn sneakers deposited in the trash or article of lightly used clothing dropped into my local donation bin—because I’m a good person—one question nagged at me. “When the heck did I get all of these things?”

I’ve known since I arrived in Boston nearly two years ago that this year, I would be moving to Israel. Consequently, I made a concerted effort to live without collecting stuff. At times this meant living with bare floors or blank walls. A cherry wood dresser or a decorative pillow was often the difference between a minimalist, twenty-something’s bedroom and a cold, unwelcoming cell in solitary confinement. Were it not for one roommate’s prodigious decorating skills, the entire house would have felt like an asylum.

Collecting, try as one might to resist its cluttered clutches, is inevitable. A picture to give the bare wall some life. A rug for the wood floor so my feet might ease into the cold New England mornings. Birthday gifts from friends. Chanukah gifts from friends. A new shirt for that theme party next week. A coffee table/bench/shoe rack, a multipurpose treasure retrieved from a curb during Boston’s famous Alston Christmas. Stuff adds up and that is okay. Constant shopping and hoarding are unnecessary, but acquiring things along the way is a byproduct of our natural urge to build a home. We’re not unlike birds in that respect; darting around, looking for things to add to our nests.

More surprising than all of the things I had collected over the years were all of the things I parted with that held sentimental value. Of note, a pile of t-shirts acquired throughout high school and college, memorabilia from performances and adventures around the world.

I wore one such shirt while celebrating Holi in Jaipur. What started as a plain-white-T was quickly dyed pink during the water fights, as were my teeth, a gentle reminder that I should keep my mouth shut more often. The decision to part with the shirt came only after a friend from that same trip promised to periodically remind me of that day. The thought of losing that memory is just too painful.

It’s not that I have an affinity for stained, 100% cotton. Rather, the shirt, and others like it, preserved fond memories, physical reminders of great moments or accomplishments. But they were still only t-shirts, and when push comes to shove, there is only so much room in the suitcase. Getting rid of a few shirts hasn’t erased the memories they held, but it has offered some much needed time to reflect on the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done.

One of the realities of moving across the world—of uprooting ourselves—is that when we come out of the ground, we are bound to leave behind a few leaves.

For now though, I feel lighter, and for good reason. Today my possessions reside in one suitcase and six small boxes. I’m hoping to make it five before too long. Things are becoming easier to leave behind. People are still hard, but I’ll save those thoughts for a different time.