What’s your answer to the following question –
If your house was on fire, what things would you save first?
In the ‘old days’, it was the box of photographs or photo albums, personal documents like birth certificate, marriage certificates and school records, and maybe something of sentimental value.
Now maybe it’s the smartphone, laptop or some other technological items that we ‘can’t live without’.
Of course, all those things were saved after you saved your family and pets, right?
Thankfully, I’ve never been a victim of a house fire, so I’m not sure how I would react. But I do know some of the things I would want to save first if it came to the worst case scenario.
We all have things that we don’t ever want to lose.
I want to tell you about the two times in my life when I’ve left almost all my stuff behind. They’re completely different stories, but they’re related. Funnily enough, one story’s about going to Moscow and the other one is about leaving Moscow.
A full circle, I guess you could say.
Leaving Australia 2006
At the time I decided to leave my home town in Australia, Perth, to live and work as an English teacher in Moscow, I’d been living alone in a small studio apartment.
I had some furniture – a bed, some bookcases, a TV cabinet, a table and a few chairs.
And I had ‘stuff’. Kitchen stuff, photos, old toys from my childhood, photos in frames, and little ornaments on the shelf. I also had a lot of books, and a lot of videos I’d taped French films onto (yes, it was back in 2006, and we still used VHS).
My task was to reduce all of that stuff down to one suitcase and a carry-on bag. The standard baggage restrictions applied to me, even though I was moving my whole life across the world.
I gave away most of my furniture to family. That was the easy part.
I took two boxes of my precious books to a second hand book shop. The woman told me that they don’t buy books, but she could give me credit to spend in her shop. Considering I was moving away, I told her that if she didn’t mind, I’d just choose 4 or 5 books from her shelves, and she can keep what I had given her for nothing. There were probably close to 70 books in those two boxes.
Then, I packed the rest of my stuff into boxes, and put them in my sister’s shed. Yes, this sister.
And then I left with my excess-baggage suitcase for my new life in Moscow.
Back in Australia
I stayed in Moscow until May 2008, and sometime after that I found myself once again at my sister’s place in Australia for a few weeks. Some of my time there was spent going through my boxes which were safely stored in her shed, and I threw out a few things that I decided I could live without.
I didn’t really have a fixed plan for the future, the only sure thing was that I wasn’t going to stay in Perth. So most of my things went back into my sister’s shed.
Then I left Australia to go and live with Olivier in Paris for about a year.
Fast forward to 2009. Olivier and I arrived in Perth together, to prepare for our Australian wedding. And, while we were there, I decided to get all the things from my sister’s shed that I didn’t really need anymore, and go and sell them on Sunday morning at the local ‘Swap Meet’ (Trash ‘n’ Treasure/Secondhand Market/Flea Market). I figured that I’d lived without this stuff for a couple of years already, so I probably don’t need it.
I wasn’t a stranger to this Swap Meet, I used to live in the area and had sold things there a couple of times, and I’d also been there often to pick up a bargain.
Our borrowed car was full of boxes of my old stuff. Lots and lots of kitchen stuff, clothes, shoes, knick knacks, books, and other things that I can’t even remember.
We prepared some change, coins and small notes, for the day.
We prepared some food and drinks, because it lasts for some hours on Sunday morning and there are not a lot of shops around to get refreshments.
On the Saturday night before Swap Meet, the car was packed up, ready to go.
Sunday morning came, and we got up early, ready to start the day and make a little money from my old stuff.
It was still dark when we went to the car park where Swap Meet is held.
We arrived. The car park was full. Every single parking space was already taken. I drove around the whole car park. There wasn’t one single place left for me.
We were too late. And it was only 6am.
There was nothing else to do but to turn back and go home to bed, for a few hours at least.
Charity Shop to the Rescue
And a bit later that day, with the car still full of my stuff, we drove through the streets looking for a charity shop that was open, so we could donate everything. I didn’t want to put it all back into my sister’s shed!
And we found a place that was open, and the woman was thrilled to receive all these unexpected things for her charity shop.
Although she didn’t show us much charity when Olivier saw a shirt that he liked and asked to buy it – she didn’t even give him a discount!
I still had all the French films on video, so I contacted the Alliance Francaise in Perth, and posted a notice on their community board, offering my videos to whoever wanted them. There were a lot of videos, probably about 60 or 70. A lovely woman soon contacted me and came around one afternoon to collect them. She was passionate about France and was thrilled to get such a huge selection of French films.
By then, I’d gotten rid of a lot of what I had stored in my sister’s shed. And I was off on another adventure – back to Moscow with Olivier!
Moscow Part 2
And so, later in 2009 Olivier and I headed to Moscow together, each with a suitcase weighing about 23kg, and hand luggage.
Over the years, for each visit back to France (Olivier) and Australia (me), we brought back to Moscow bits and pieces to make our lives a bit more ‘comfortable’. Old photos, or sentimental objects that we didn’t really want to live without.
Ten years in Moscow together, and our flat was extremely full! Especially since, as you may know, Olivier is a Spiderman fan and had quite an extensive collection of all things Spiderman.
Do you remember when I was sad about saying goodbye to my favourite cup? And how I had decided to ‘get rid of stuff’ after my cup broke? Well, I didn’t get rid of stuff. I kept it all.
Then we decided that we would leave Russia. About 5 months before leaving, Olivier took some of his Spiderman collection to Paris and sold a few things.
Planning our Departure
Our planned departure date was 13th April, 2020. In January and February we started to try to sell some of our stuff through ex-pat groups on Facebook and other ex-pat forums.
We sold a few things that way, but it was time-consuming and annoying because some people just like wasting your time without any intention of buying anything. I don’t have the patience for that.
Olivier asked his colleagues what they wanted from our flat – some furniture, vacuum cleaner, kitchen ware etc. So we made a note of who wanted what and set a date in early April for them all to come and take what they had reserved.
We thought we still had plenty of time.
Our original plan was to leave Russia with one additional/extra suitcase containing things that we wanted to keep but not to take travelling with us, and we were going to leave these things with a friend in France (much the same as I left my things with my sister).
So, we were slowly and calmly deciding what to take, what to put in the bin (or next to the bin for someone to take if they wanted).
And we slowly started packing our suitcases with things we wanted to take that were not needed for our last weeks in Moscow.
Then, well, you know what happened on 17th March. So you know that we didn’t have time to really think about what we were taking and what we weren’t.
We didn’t have the possibility of taking an extra suitcase of treasures to keep and store with a friend.
We manically packed what we could. Difficult decisions had to be made.
Some of the things I didn’t keep.
– my favourite winter hat which I was looking forward to wearing again in some cold place one day.
– my piece of petrified wood given to me by students when I left their company.
– my favourite pair of jeans that I’d had since 2012 that I always feel good in but hadn’t fitted me for a year because I was two kilograms too heavy (they weren’t stretch!).
– bags and bags of clothes.
– my big French-English dictionary which had been in my possession since 2001. It weighed about a kilogram.
– my books, including my two all-time favourites.
And lots and lots of other things.
However, let’s get over the loss of these material things. Even if some of them can never be replaced, they were just things.
But there were some things I just couldn’t part with. Things that I knew I needed to be able to look at and hold from time to time.
Our wedding frogs – Olivier and I bought these in Kalgoorlie, Australia, in 2009 before we got married. Olivier being French we just had to buy them. We had them with us on our wedding day. I dropped them a few months after we got married and both the heads broke off. They’re now glued on. I’ll keep these forever.
Cheburashka – you read about him. I love him.
This necklace – my first boss in Moscow, Natalia, gave me this. I don’t wear it often but I love it. The stone’s from Russia’s Ural mountains (if I remember correctly what Natalia told me). My first 2 years in Moscow were really special, and Natalia was a big part of that really special time.
Perfume – I didn’t bring this from Moscow, but I bought it duty free when we arrived at the airport when we were leaving. It’s extravagant maybe, considering the circumstances, but I love wearing it. (I used to wear Opium fragrance, I changed to this one a couple of years ago).
One pair of shoes and 2 pairs of sandals – I was in a panic and had already half packed my suitcase with Asia in mind. I now only have these blue shoes for cold weather and all occasions! Fortunately it’s going to start getting warmer soon (I hope).
A few dresses and blouses – this is the total of my hanging clothes now. Who needs more?
Some pants and shorts – this is my collection of shorts and long pants. You can see by the colours that there are some Asian style pants in there. Not sure I’m going to look like a local here in Romania if I wear these.
T-shirts – about 6 or 7 t-shirts and singlet tops.
I also brought with me some old photos which I took back to Moscow the last time I was in Australia. However, I left another bag of old photos with a friend in Moscow for safe keeping. I didn’t think I had room for them in my suitcase, so I scanned those photos and left the originals behind. My plan is to get them back one day.
My unopened jar of Vegemite (only Australians will understand this necessity). I think the opened jar got put in the bin.
I also kept this pillow case. Olivier bought this for me when I first lived in Moscow and he lived in Paris. He went to Amsterdam for a holiday and found this. He thought it suited me, because I was always saying I didn’t want to go to work!
And, of course, my laptop, some other things like notebooks, diary, pens, and bits and pieces.
And those, my friends, are all the things I’ve kept from my last 10 years spent in Moscow.
My whole life carried in one suitcase, one day-pack and a handbag. Maximum 30 kilograms.
How would you manage if you had to reduce your possessions in a hurry. What would you keep? Would your choices be rational or emotional? Let me know because I’m not sure I did a good job of it!