Shifting Possessions: Moving Along 

June 19th, 2014, 5pm

I’ve got to shift apartments and pack for an extended summer trip to Canada, with a wilderness canoe trip in the midst. This brings out all sorts of thoughts: anticipation of joy, sadness at leaving a space I’ve live in for five years and made my own, reminiscences of times gone by, the ghosts of memory inhabiting fond objects, the eros, a desire and yet odd fear of having to live more ‘simply’ than I am used to, the good times … and also the pragmatic realization that a certain income means one buys, acquires and doesn’t really need all one has accumulated.

Of course, the philosophical answer to the question as to just what not to carefully curate and how many slightly different but practical and trendy courier bags one needs for one’s photo walks eludes. If I knew now the padding ordered from Amazon to convert one of the Timbuk2 bags would sit unused for three years, I mightn’t have bought it. Times the padding perhaps a dozen, other items now exist in multitudes, like tribbles on that old Star Trek episode.

The move is straightforward, or at least can seemingly be converted into simple sounding lists:

  • discard (or better yet sell);
  • store in some neatly labelled container for an indeterminate period of time so as to be ready to emerge when the glass and hardwood floor, modern yet quaint, apartment materializes magically in some exotic city; and
  • pack for immediate use and for the trips.

There are a couple of strategies I have uncovered. One is to assume one is leaving tomorrow or in the next hour and imagine what needs to get done - passport, etc. It is a reliable way of tackling the urgent list, although avoids all of the illicit joy of delay and not unproductive indecisiveness (see lingering memories, above). Another strategy is to methodically go through items, carefully sorting them into subtle piles for future … well, for a future when there really is only an hour or a day left and they have to be hurriedly tossed into boxes.

I am particularly cognizant of the research that shows we place greater value on what we own and in present value than we do in the future value. This is especially true for objects for which we paid a decent penny. I’ve learned this the hard and humourous way. The surprisingly well-made pull out sofa that has hosted many guests and fond memories and has served as an easy place to watch movies and TV has been around the world, literally. Originally bought at Ikea in Beijing, it now has a view, perhaps not 400m away, of the Singapore Ikea store. The planet was spared the making of one more Ikea sofa, but in exchange shifted a large object across three continents. Its updated incarnation is less expensive and would have a newer cover. This time it must go. So much for the obvious decisions.

But the three neat categories start to break down as soon as I pull books and clothes off the shelves.

In the process of setting aside for sale (because I perceive it as too valuable to just discard) I discover a category which I wished I’d settled on earlier. An artist friend, for whatever reason, covets the rough wood slat table that has sat on the micro balcony getting weathered by tropical storms and palm oil fire haze. He agrees to buy the table but I plan to give it to him and just before he arrives, I realize I would be glad for him to have almost anything as it is for a good cause. So there is a large category of things I just wish for to be used again, as their life hasn’t fully been drained.

I allow myself to catalogue my books and then sort a few into a stack for sale. I list them on a online site. The local options for discarding books are limited unless they are antiquarian and my two first editions are staying with me, thank you. Its not too tedious and almost fun to have the LibraryThing CueCat recognize the bar code. After a few hours I have dozens of books listed, but I realize that the selling price of $2-4 is never going to cover my time. And as days go by and only one sale happens … but I have a decent exchange with the buyer and I think this is not a bad way to send books into the world. In spite of eBay etc most of what I have will have to go in a yard sale, to deserving or willing friends and local scroungers and then to the vagaries of the waste men and women, who hopefully have a sense to put what is of value to better use.

I discover another category between store and discard. I’ve bought and elaborately shelved books I mean to look at and because of Nokia, Blackberry and now Apple, readier access to the screen means I don’t take the 20 minutes to ‘digest’ the book. Sometimes that is all that is needed to bid a fair adieu. Other times after the 20 minutes I know it is to be a reference and can be safely shifted to long term storage as they are ‘nice to have’. Others still need to be put in a box of ‘projects’ with the commitment to go through them properly the next time an hour or two is available, and to resist the siren of internet. Of course there are my treasured and personal books - my friends - and they stay.

It is easier now - things broken are more easily discarded. The large boxes that will be shipped to the Philippines have arrived and it is easier to pack them full of clothes one was lingering on. Also, the intermediate piles - because I have granted myself the time - can now be gone back to and given a fresh eye. What was I thinking about the wool Jack Norman golf vest? It still fits but I don’t golf. Or the rugged bright yellow Helly-Hanson cotton pullover that served its urgent need when I was ill dressed for a Halifax gale and that I somehow fashion myself wearing some cold winter morning. But I now life in Singapore and the cold winter mornings are far away. The small mountain of adaptors: how long til we settle on a common micro-USB format? I can easily discard some that won’t ever fit again. And I just now realize the carefully boxed collection of Apple plugs isn’t needed: I have the chargers for the things I am using now and the likelihood of a horde of apple-product, charger-less Tibetan monks arriving is small. A lot has been saved for a peculiar kind of rainy day that one can quietly admit isn’t coming and if it did, the umbrella would easily be bought elsewhere. Or three men’s shaving brushes: one travelling version (cap missing), one with old bristles and a raw wood handle but in working condition and a fine proper porcelain one. Just in case … I keep two.

Time has moved on, and not. I can see it in some possessions. Camping gear, unused for years has now de-laminated and succumb to the humidity. A waste and not salvageable. Other foci have remained: old photographs are still good to look at and in rare cases I marvel at the photographic capability one imagines one has just recently acquired. A plethora of papers about topics now gone or fading … and yet others still so seemingly vitally relevant and worthy that even the hard copy is worth cumbersomely hanging on to.

Also, I’m less troubled by committing my kids art (and collected prints and sculptures that mean something only to a Canadian - Douglas Coupland would appreciate) to the well packed long-term storage box. Its ok to hang on to ‘baggage’ like that for a decade when a reappraisal can take place, I tell myself.

I’ve got to be careful - David Allen of Getting Things Done ubiquity says clearly over my shoulder - of falling into doing the stacks of work I’ve created and am now energized to tackle because it is all in one place and the doss has been discarded and so one can see a contented tack to completion, but with a date long after the movers have been and gone and the keys have been handed back to the landlord. These are to be items on a ‘projects’ list - captured and tracked. Not to be undertaken now. The slightly artificial and school marmish feeling of the voice passes and I am glad: there are many projects and each one has an immediate glimmer. CDs digitalized. Put in box labelled CDs and store. Business cards - ok I indulged after discarding hundreds (no, not yours!). But I realized I was saving some not because of a long forgotten contact who might inexplicably propel my career, but because as I pause I realize some have a company name that is a trigger for a start-up I envisage, or a reminder to contact someone again … and so I now have a waste bin full of name cards, a neat un-alphabetized card deck of important contacts, and another stack - a project - of triggers which I can happily go through. Later.

It seems to me this is, if well done - and I am only scratching the surface - it can start to feel liberating. I’d recommend Leider and Shapiro’s Packing Your Bags - which isn’t so much about literally packing but as a metaphor for what one carries in life. And there is no better place, I am realizing, than the pragmatic and pressing work of packing up a home that, with a bit of time, allows one to rethink the next stage of the journey.

Friends are exchanging emails about kids departing for University. One older friend is glad his daughter went to University in the same town as he lives; he says he’d be heartbroken if she were further. I don’t have the luxury and another friend reports that it isn’t so bad having a child head across the country to University; they return and parenting is never done. Through that remarkable way time can be shaped, at just that moment, my older daughter, although at least 15000km away, responds to my message about shedding a tear for her younger sister’s recent departure on a final high school trip to Indonesia. It’ll be fine she says. And I remember my youngest daughter Lucy and I talking about adventures. She has her adventures to go to now.

Surrounded by boxes, the hours and days are starting to press in. But I need a coffee and so pick-up a couple of treasured books to leaf through. While grinding the beans it occurs to me I could write about this packing experience. And so I make a start for the Air, to add it to the electronic projects list.

Caffeine stimulated I think how it might be brilliant or even not too bad to write an article on packing .. oh indulge that one for a bit … just a quick draft. Will get to the final later, if decent …. Live in the moment. A few minutes … elbow demons who say you are always starting things and never finishing things, like your mother whom one is presumably reminded of having seen old pictures and a few objects in this recent shifting of boxes. She died, happily insofar as one can tell, but with 25 years of handwritten starts to academic papers. How to start? Writing about how there seem to be simply three categories, when packing to move …

What is that I hear? A knock? The movers! Hurriedly, into boxes …


  • The lightweight demand of Hi! of having to add a photo means I’ve had to release my follow the rules self and chosen an image from another era and another continent, rather than a poor iPhone snap of stacked boxes.
  • I hadn’t realized Hi! supports markdown. Click edit and then scroll to the end of your excellent narrative to see Styling tips…


January, Sanna, Ragini and David Wade said thanks.

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Peter Morgan

Lots of travel, still trying to capture the moments with photos, every so often inspired to take the roughly written notes and put them on air.

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