When I left for Germany the first time, I took a bag. In it were clothes appropriate for a few days in muggy Shanghai, a week or so in crisp and sunny London and a couple of months in the baking heat of Santorini. I figured I would sort out Germany when I got there – it would be Autumn, after all, and I’d have time to wear leggings and flats while stockpiling jackets and boots. Meanwhile, back in Sydney, 99% of my worldly possessions were packed into boxes and put in storage.
A consequence of taking one bag with which to move countries was having very few possessions. And clothes. I learnt quickly that wearing thongs for a quick trip down to the shops in September in Germany is akin to walking around with an emu on your head. Once the snow hit, early, in November, I caved and bought a plastic bag jacket like all the cool kids. As the weather got colder and I got fatter, I stopped wearing the bright colours I swanned around in at home and on Santorini and started buying only navy and grey and black, as if to blend in with the sky. Mum sent over boxes of stuff from home, but I gradually forgot about everything on the other side of the world, all the books and sentimental jewellery pieces and shoes, my God, the shoes and the brightly printed summer frocks. The vintage handbag collection. The fragrance collection. All of it in boxes, all of it at the back of a mind now focused on suitable boots for snow and jeggings to accommodate an expanding body.
When I packed up life in Münster, for Weiden, I had, through various means such as kindness, generosity and raiding Scando stalwarts, H&M and Ikea, acquired stuff. I called them anchors. A wardrobe, a bed and bedside table, a book shelf a coffee table. Clothes. Warm clothes in greys and blacks and navies. Books. Boots. Work things. A huge wine glass that was filled and refilled every Friday evening with my flatmate and used to facilitate the weekly catch up. All of it got packed into boxes and those boxes got loaded into an over-sized truck which SG then steered down south into our new apartment. Down there, that stuff multiplied again as we made the apartment a home. Lamps, tea cups, cushions, more books, more clothes (navy, grey, black, a touch of camel), bed linen, vases, furniture, kitchen things, bathroom things. Life fattened, the anchors dug in.
Packing for Sydney, homesick and thinking only of Sydney, I took the same bag back that I had taken over. A few wintry things, a lot of summer things. Everything else stayed in the cupboards and drawers in that apartment we made home. I came back into a crisp and chilly Sydney winter and a more streamlined existence – the house had been ‘decluttered’, the storage unit full to bursting. I unpacked my lone bag and got reacquainted with my Sydney wardrobe which no longer fit and seemed to belong to someone else. And slowly, that streamlined existence cluttered right back up again. Clothes, bright ones, yellows and blues. Books. Work stuff. Perfumes. Tea cups. Christmas delivered Australiana gifts and books to take back over. I pulled stuff out of storage to sort through and choose what was going to go back over to Germany. The life back over here that I had culled and stored in order to build one over there, slowly expanded like a page from a pop-up book, until it stood in all its full-colour, full-scale glory.
So, now, to pack it.
Germany Take 2 is just around the corner, the life over there I pressed pause on in order to reacquaint myself with life over here, awaits. The grey and navy is waiting for the neon yellow and lilac. The tea cup collection is jostling to make room for five new friends. There are 50 perfumes to haul across. New shoes. Old rings and bags from my Nanas. Pictures and paintings and wine glasses. All this shit to bubble wrap and sticky tape and wrap and nestle.
Last night I watched the news. They showed footage of people in the midst of the bushfires that are burning down my state. One man, in his shorts and singlet, was filmed running back to the house he had been told to flee. He began stacking outdoor furniture, making sure the chairs were in a neat column. His house was burning down but he was stacking his patio chairs. It was the only thing he could do and it was fruitless, so horribly fruitless. I thought about all the stuff, and the logistics of keeping it close, that is currently preoccupying my mind. I thought about what I’d take if a fire was bearing down upon me, whether I would realise that all of it means nothing at all and run like hell. And I realised I didn’t feel guilty for being preoccupied with stuff and the logistics of keeping it. Because stuff is important. We make it important. They are the anchors we choose, the ones we pick to give us weight, to adhere us to a spot in life that we like, that we want to call our home.
I know why we attach so much importance to stuff because I know what it’s like to build a home from scratch, to be stuff-less and flailing. I know why that man ran back and stacked his patio chairs as the fire swallowed everything he had ever chosen to anchor himself with. In that moment, he could control something, he could touch his belongings, his possessions. I don’t know whether, when all is said and done and he has nothing but a concrete slab left, what conclusions he will reach about meaning and things and material weight in this life. But I know why he ran back to his house, full of his things, and did the only thing he could do to make it feel like he wasn’t going to lose everything.
Most of it means something. Most of what we gather, collect, buy and keep, to feather our nests, warm our souls, most of it means something or tells a story or brings a moment to mind that we want to hold onto. That’s what I’m packing, that’s what I’m taking with me. What I will hold onto for as long as time and life let me.