Accumulation sneaks up on you.
I am slowly accumulating THINGS.
They have been creeping in since I moved to Portugal.
At first, they were just things I needed: sharp knives for an Airbnb that had none, hangers, storage bowls.
Once I moved into my permanent apartment, I needed more things. Like a printer for my work. Then I had friends who were coming to visit over the holidays so I got an easy chair to add seating and some DVDs for our Harry Potter Holiday Marathon, which meant I also needed a DVD player. And I needed measuring cups and spoons, but maybe I didn’t need three Pyrex measuring cups with covers and the set of scoops. Then I discovered charity shops and they are all overrun with books. So I grabbed some English language novels because I like to read from an actual BOOK before going to sleep. A like, not a need, but really, for me, books are a need.
A trip to Italy necessitated a warm coat and once there, I found a gorgeous leather jacket at a “happy price” in a perfect color and weight, so yes, that came home with me. I went up to Porto and forgot to bring a coat because, really, I’m not used to having to bring a coat anywhere (30 years in Florida will do that to you), so I picked up a nice winter coat in Porto. And my visiting friend gave me the fabulous tweed coat she picked up in Milan. And I needed new jeans and some leggings because I’m still dressing like it’s 1978. So, yeah, welcome to the 21st century, 20 years in. The running shoes I brought with me were starting to wear thin in spots, so I bought a new pair. But I haven’t thrown out the old pair yet.
I’ve also outfitted my dining room table/office with a stapler, boxes of paper clips, push pins, binder clips, rubber bands and a hole punch. I have no use for the push pins. Having the pushpins might induce me to buy a corkboard. Another thing.
Winter in the Algarve for most of us involves space heaters. I got two, one for the living room and one for the guest bedroom. These get used every night. Well, at least one of them does. The second one was for my guests when they were here and I figure if we have a cold snap, it will come in handy.
I picked up two feather pillows because the foam rubber pillows that came with the place were rock hard. Some people seem to like them. I like a pillow I can beat into shape. The mattresses here are hard so I finally got a mattress topper. My one little section of shelves is filling up with books and I’m going to need a book shelf soon. And of course, linens for the bedrooms and towels for the bath and kitchen, and some whisks, and wine stoppers and…
Now I feel like there’s too much stuff.
I had thrown out or donated thirty years of accumulated stuff when I left Florida. I moved to Portugal with one large suitcase, one small carry-on size suitcase, and my computer bag. The rest of my earthly belongings are in a five by five foot storage space in Florida.
I pledged to not buy stuff for the sake of buying stuff. I actually feel lighter NOT having stuff to worry about or carry around from place to place. Right now I am torn between the idea of renting furnished places for the rest of my life or buying a place or even renting an unfurnished place. If I move to an unfurnished place, then yes, I will need the stuff I bought and even more stuff.
A part of me, the adult part, doesn’t want to be encumbered.
But spending time at Livraria Lello in Porto last week triggered my acquisition mode. For a bookaholic like me, this is the place you want to be when you die. I walked around thinking, “I want this in my house. I want a library just like this.”
Visiting all the old churches and castles and oh-my-God we had brunch in a place that screamed quiet old world elegance, and really, when you’re eating off fine china, drinking from crystal, and looking at stained glass windows, frescoed ceilings, and silver everything, you start thinking, “Living like this would be nice…” (Actually I thought, If I were JK Rowling, I’d have a replica of Livraria Lello in my big-ass mansion for my personal library.)
I would love a huge room with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, comfy chairs, sunny windows, a cozy fire, and approximately 437,294 books. (Give or take one or two.) And of course, I would love to have the time to read them all.
But I don’t. And having moved from New England to Georgia to Florida back to Georgia to California to Hawaii back to Florida and now to Portugal, I can tell you first hand that books are heavy. (And no, I am not a Kindle girl. I like to hold books in my hot little grubby hands.)
So I need to set up a system where I read the books and then donate them somewhere. I know that the charity shops I got them from do NOT need more books. (One shop had paperbacks at 10 for a Euro. They just had too many books. As if there’s such a thing.) I will find good homes for these novels that I am racing through. I am learning that I don’t need to keep a book once I’ve read it. (Reference books excluded, of course.)
I also am instituting a policy of one item in, one item out. Or maybe two items in, one item out. I realize that I have duplicates of just about every article of clothing. I have some things I brought with me that I haven’t worn since I got here a year ago. I tell myself it’s because we’ve been in lockdown for most of the time I’ve been here, but the truth is, I don’t go out all that often, pandemic or no. So I probably don’t need ALL of those blouses.
We spend a lifetime accumulating things. My mother used to look around her condo, sigh, and apologize, saying, “I’m so sorry that you’ll have to go through all this stuff when I die.” We convinced her that not one of us wanted her Hummel statuettes or Norman Rockwell plates and she managed to part with most of her “collectibles” before she passed.
I don’t have kids to go through my stuff, hold up an item, and ask, “What the hell was she thinking?” That will be left to some random stranger, I suppose. While I don’t plan on leaving the planet anytime soon, I do want to make it as easy on people as possible when I do go.
What happens to your stuff if you’re an expat with no family close by? I have seen expats asking about assisted living facilities and nursing homes, but I haven’t seen anyone talk about shipping our stuff (or our bodies) back to the States. So, that’s on my “figure out” list. (Stay tuned for THAT blog post!)
A year in, I still haven’t set up all my systems. This month I will apply for my Portuguese social security number and set up my quarterly taxes with an accountant. My Portuguese license is in process, which could take a couple of months or over a year. I have met my new doctor and have a full check up scheduled for later this month, but still haven’t found a dentist.
Moving to a new country is a cumulative process. Each step leads you to the next. And you tend to accumulate things along the way, including knowledge. It’s a building process. Should I be “further along” than I am? In language, yes, definitely. Learning Portuguese will move up in priority now that I have a bit of footing here. I feel a bit conflicted about accumulating things because I don’t quite feel permanent here yet, in spite of getting my residency. I don’t know how long it takes to feel “settled” in a new country. So maybe that’s why I’ve been surrounding myself with things—to make myself feel more at home in my new home. Or, more to the point, to make myself a home in my new home.
But this new home will stay uncluttered, I swear.