Six years in six houses: The value of possessions

This month my wife and I have been organizing our apartment and packing it into as few boxes as possible. We are less than one month away from moving to Spain for a year.

Thanks to a gap year, college, a foreign-born spouse, and a master’s program in Spain I will be moving to the sixth house in six years, 10 if you count crashing at a friends house for a week to a month between leases.

We only have one last check baggage to fill.
We only have one last check baggage to fill.

Three of these moves were also bound by what I could fit into two checked bags on my flight, any furniture and household goods were acquired upon arrival. After you pack clothing and other essentials into your suitcases, it is always a surprise on how little space is left, but it does provide an amazing lesson.

I learned two valuable ideas from all these moves; the value of possessions and how to turn a house into a home.

The value of possessions

Since meeting my wife, I think the most valuable lesson that we have explored and learned together is value of material possessions.

When moving to Ecuador, we brought over 100 boxes of stuff, both personal and household items. One year later we can fit everything in approximately 25 boxes. We did not just get rid off everything from 3/4 of the rooms nor do we have just one plate sitting in our kitchen.

Many items went unused, were falling apart, or we just had too many of one thing.

There is no secret or set guide to limiting the number of possessions to those that are valuable to you. Each person values things differently. My KitchenAid mixer would be a dust collector in many homes.

The key to reducing the number of possessions is doing it one room at a time, from top to bottom, and only keep the items that have personal value. Do not be afraid to do each room multiple times, as something you were afraid to get rid of might have now lost all purpose.

When going through items like clothing or kitchenware for the first time, you often keep things for a “what if” moment. What if I need to serve coffee to 20 people at once? What if I need to wear three different off-white dresses in a row?

Well, if it hasn’t happened yet, it will probably not happen in the future. If you do ever end up having 20 people over for coffee, they will understand that you don’t have enough mugs for everyone at once, or get some disposable ones.

If you re-examine your stuff every few months you will quickly realize that your many “what if” moments will never come to fruition.

I am not saying to get rid of everything you do not use on daily basis, I have a decorative beer stein that has never been used. It is one of the items that I value beyond its material worth. You just have to be careful to not say this about every single item in your home.

How to turn a house into a home

It is the little things that make it count.

When moving so many times in a short period of time, the first things to go into the trash or donation pile are household decorations. Posters rip, picture frames are too heavy, and tchotchkes break.

There is the inherent value of possessions to turn a house into feeling like home. You would be surprised how few possessions are actually required to fulfill this feeling inside of you.

As we are Jewish, there are some relatively small and simple items that turn any rental apartment into our newest home. Affixing mezuzahs to our doors and we are done.

The mezuzah affixed to our current front door
The mezuzah affixed to our current front door

While this is an oversimplification of what makes our house a home for us, it does drive the point home.

The value of possessions in this case goes beyond its monetary cost and goes into the significance an item brings to an empty room, for you personally. Be it special pots and pans, a painting, a family portrait, a souvenir from your favorite trip, or an Apple TV in my wife’s case.

Every individual has a list of items that without their house does not feel like a home. The hardest part is figuring out what is on this list.

What possessions make a house a home?

The concept of the value of possessions and what they add to a home is a simple one, but is difficult to follow through on and master.

The easiest way is moving.

Let’s take the example of our kitchen. Since we keep a kosher kitchen, we are bringing dishes, cookware and flatware to use, rather than whatever comes with our apartment rental. Last month we packed up all the nice dishes and most of the cookware to save for after the masters program, when we start a more permanent home.

Everything sat in boxes in the corner of the kitchen for a month as we figured out which items we would really need to bring. As it turns out, having a cheese grater is more helpful than I thought it would be. One week, half our dinners needed it, and it felt like a burden to plan dinner without it. It might sound silly, but a cheese grater helps make our house feel like a home.

If you are not moving, it is hardly more difficult, it just might take more time.

Put a box or two of stuff from a room in storage for a month. See if the items are missed. The first time my wife went through her makeup this year she made three piles: keep, donate, and maybe I’ll need it. The makeup in the keep pile was placed on top of her makeup table, while the maybe I’ll need it pile was placed in the drawers.

A month later she went through her makeup again for donation. Basically everything in the drawers went straight to donation. They had not been looked at in a month and were never missed once. The “what if?” question had easily been answered.

Conclusion

If you put my wife in an empty house that has a bed and a TV with Neflix, that would be enough. Give me a fully stocked kitchen and mattress on the floor and I’ll be happy.

Sometimes oversimplifying and exaggerating can help you figure out what possessions are valuable to you and help make a home.

Besides a bed, refrigerator, stove, and washing mashine, ask yourself what are the five items you would need in a house to make it your home? Imagine you are moving, what would be the first things you unpack and set up?

Keep those items!

Now think about the last time you moved or if you were to move, what would be unpacked last? For our most recent move it was our Wii. It was months more before it was actually set up and used once in a year. So, now we no longer have it, simple as that.

If you are moving, set a number of boxes per room, and once those are full you have to really think hard about each additional item.

If you are not moving, go into a room with a set number of things to remove. Go to your living room right now and remove 10 things to donate, sell or dispose of.

It is easier than you think.

The key to not getting overwhelmed is taking your time. You can pack up a house in two days if you have to, but you won’t even know what is in which box or what made it into the trash. If you can, spend an hour or two each night packing and/or a few hours on the weekend.

The same idea applies to if you are not moving. Spend some time after dinner filling up a box to donate. Just do it multiple times!

So, that my insight to the value of possessions and how they turn a house into a home.

If you have any tips or tricks to share, or just want to say hello, please leave a comment below!

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