I’d wondered if it would be difficult to keep writing about relocating to London when I myself am not there – I’ve just entered week 2 of my visit home, and often my blogs are otherwise inspired by what I’m actually up to or happen to see any given day in the UK. Once you yourself move to London, though, you’ll realize it will never again be very far from your mind. Not only is it constantly in the news for some political/cultural reason, but you’ll likely find that living in London offers enough contrast to your previous lifestyle to make you as constantly compare the differences when you return home as when you first move abroad. Crazy how the unfamiliar can become familiar and vice-versa!
One ghost of my 2008 London relocation that really comes back to haunt me while I’m here on the US side of the Atlantic is that dreaded experience of packing. The two weeks of boxing my belongings to ship overseas or into storage (see my Saturday Weekend Warrior series for detailed packing tips for moving house) weren’t nearly so bad as that very. Last. Day. The day that I had to officially evacuate the premises of my condo so my new tenant could move in – even though I was still going to have to sit around and wait a month for my UK visa to come through before moving to London. I remember how I’d held onto so many items I considered precious either sentimentally or monetarily that I’d wanted to carry on or check with my baggage rather than send on with the movers. They were items I wanted close as they made me feel a little bit more myself in the absence of everything else, which does bear legitimate value in that respect. But not all the items did…I recall being indecisive about clothing and other random objects like the toasting flutes from our wedding, and at the last hour I’d realized I hadn’t kept enough luggage behind to hold it all. Talk about a freak-out! I threw a royal fit, cursing and crying. But you know, it wasn’t about the stuff after all.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t bring everything I’d so thoughtfully set aside. First of all, it’s not as though I couldn’t have borrowed or bought additional baggage to pack it inside! Second of all, it was just the fact that it was becoming an issue, that the stuff that had up until then fit so perfectly inside my home and in my life was now feeling like cumbersome dead weight that I had to schlep around in a laundry basket and stow in my car trunk for the time being. That suddenly that combination of items made no sense together or in the question mark my life was becoming, and it was a difficult early lesson in simplify, simplify, simplify.
Honestly. I know I have boxes of clothing, for instance, sitting in storage at some family member’s house or other. Gee, now after not seeing it in almost three years and only imagining what musty, wrinkled, yellowing state it must be in now, do I really think I’ll ever wear any of that crap again? Especially after I’ve been accumulating giant piles of the clothing I did bring to London to give away? When we move back, I’m figuring after a quick glance into those particular boxes out of sheer curiosity of what outdated items my hording held onto, I’ll promptly reseal them and kick ’em to the curb for AmVets.
You see, the right attitude to have when living in London as an expat straddling international borders with essentially a foot in two countries is, yes, simplify. At first you’ll want to define yourself in terms of your stuff—your clothing, your house, your car, whatever—but after enough time living abroad you’ll start to instead define yourself in terms of your experience. It won’t be about what you have but what you do. Exploring the city and traveling to other towns and countries is certainly a part of that, but it’s also negotiating in other ways this giant “Reset” button you’ve just pushed in deciding to relocate to the UK—it’s where your career or education will take you or what other opportunities you’ll discover for applying your talents.
Beyond my individual existence, I think the impact of this “Reset” is even what I enjoy most about the way my relationship with my husband has evolved, along with the friendships with other London expats I’ve established; we’ve all had to leave the stuff behind and redefine ourselves in this simplified state of being, so we relate to each other more on a level of intrinsic substance, not material pleasure. There’s not enough time in a day for all the experience London has given me, which leaves not a minute to waste worrying about what stuff I was or wasn’t able to move with me. I know now what I can do without, that I don’t need to pad myself in pretty shoes or decorative knick-knacks to feel whole. Even if I wanted to, heck, that London apartment we rent doesn’t have enough space to fit it all, which started as a curse but became a blessing—at right about the time that living in London became living.