The "Stuff" that owns us....

The "Stuff" that owns us....

As we get ready for our big retirement move to Portugal, I have had to evaluate every item we owned and have concluded that we Americans have a love affair with our “STUFF”.  These affairs can be healthy or toxic.

I interviewed folks on what they did when they moved overseas.

Option 1.  The first option I observed was to order a large shipping container and take most everything owned.  I spoke with several who chose this option.  When I was in Portugal I sat and visited with one senior couple and listened to their story.  They insisted that I needed all my ‘stuff’ to be happy.  At that time, I owned an old Victorian home in a historic district in Springfield Oregon with 4 bedrooms, 4 ½ baths and a full cottage filled with family heirlooms and antiques. We ran this home as “The Pony House Inn”.  It was lovely and my husband and I certainly had a deep and rich history with the “Stuff” in our home.

I asked this couple why they felt we must bring it.  They quickly told me how Portugal just didn’t have stuff like America.  That our things would make us feel at home in a foreign land. I listened carefully though I was skeptical.   I told them that we were ready to downsize and have a much smaller footprint and asked them the size of their new home.  They quickly told me about the lovely 2 story 4-bedroom 2-bath villa they had bought which was large enough to hold everything.  As I listened carefully it became obvious that we didn't want to reproduce our American lifestyle and needed to reinvent it in our new land.  

This option costs about $25,000 and takes months of waiting for it to arrive.  Then the cost of buying a museum to put it all in.  I didn’t think this was for us.

Option 2:  I interviewed many who had brought some items on the plane and ordered a small shipping pallet to ship family treasures but not the household.  It costs between $1900 to $3500 depending on size. This option also takes months of waiting but many described the experience of it arriving like a mega Christmas event.  They felt they had reunited with old friends.  This seemed to be the sweet spot most picked.

Option 3:  Take very little and jump into the new culture with both feet.  This option is about $500 to $700 in extra airline fees to take a few more bags on the plane in cargo.  I interviewed my pal Dale who had moved from Salem Oregon about a year ahead of us to Coimbra.  He rented a small furnished apartment and focused his time on getting involved in the community.  Here are a few of his words:  

“I’m still processing my feelings on Stuff, so don’t know how good an interview with me would be. People seem to get SO defensive when I discuss how happy I am without so much Stuff. It really does feel like they’re trying to convince someone that their Stuff is good, and it ain’t me…

One of my fave things to do is to listen to conversations and note how much is only about Stuff: shopping for Stuff, judging Stuff, maintaining Stuff, being frustrated by Stuff. These are never real Quality conversations, more like cover and filler for a lack of richer discussions.

I look forward to getting proficient in Portuguese so that I can hear what they (the Portuguese) discuss for so many hours at dinner with their families. I’m betting it’s not what is on sale this week…

. "The joy of ownership" is becoming one more of those old myths that I am realizing that I have been indoctrinated into.”

Dale has become a minimalist and it seems to be serving him well.

Portugal isn’t a 3rd world country as I found when I went shopping in May to set up our new townhome in Caldas da Rainha. It was easy and affordable to find most everything I wanted and needed new and used. My Pal Rita and I did go junking it at Antique stores.  I found that many locals preferred to shop at Ikea and dump the old family heirlooms which were selling for a song.  I picked up a small desk with stone top, a mahogany dining set and other great catches for 50 to 80 euros each.

I also observed that the more stuff people took, the less likely they integrated into their new communities and constant complaints on why Portugal isn’t more like America.

Our decision was confirmed to take a version of option 3 (traveling light) with 6 duffel bags, 3 guitars, 1 carry on, 2 boxes and 3 pets with us to Portugal. OK, to be fair, I took 3 bags with me when I went in May to set up the townhome.  We took some artwork (minus the frame and glass), music (yea we are musicians) and pets with a sprinkling of clothing and personal care items. This process of letting go of most of our stuff really drove home our relationship with it.  We realized our two small dogs “Ginger and Ruby” and cat “Bob” own us and thus were not an option to leave behind.

So how do we say goodbye to all those things we have collected. The logic was easy, but the emotions can take their toll.  It can be painful.  I had to ask myself;

1. Are we defined by our “Stuff”?  I am my car. I am my house.  I am my record collection etc.

2. Are we human ownings instead of human beings?  Does our stuff own us or do we own it?

With any change, we need to let go of the old and make room for the new and in that process of letting go our emotions can take over.

Consider an iceberg with only 10% showing above the water.  That is the logic.  The other 90% is hidden under the water and can control most of our decisions.  Our emotions can be the force that drives our new dreams to success or sinks the Titanic.  

To let go had its pains but was very freeing. Mark and I found ourselves drifting through our home the last few days totally lost and confused and picking up items and saying, “this is all I need”.  The classic line came from the moving “The Jerk” starred by the Wild and Crazy guy, Steve Martin.  We had to laugh about it as we processed our tears and grief.

This blog piece speaks of part of our journey to start many new and exciting adventures in our retirement years.  You may not be retiring or moving to another country, but I challenge you to dream large and be willing to let go of whatever doesn’t fit into your new dreams.  Whenever making a change, it is the emotional part of the iceberg (the big part underwater) that gets us.

I find that the most extraordinary people I meet on the planet let things go of things, paradigms, and values that no longer serve them.  They evolve to reach their dreams with grace.

This is all I need by Steve Martin from the movie the Jerk  This short clip from the Movie the Jerk is a great satire on we humans and our stuff.  Mark and I found ourselves here many times over the past 6 weeks as we decided what would and wouldn't make the cut in our few bags to go.  Please watch, enjoy and laugh with us.  

Outside Track by Garnet Rogers  from Nova Scotia, Canada.   This tune was written the immigration from the British Isles to Canada.  Garnet sings about people going "one by one and two by two"  It feels much like the journey so many of us retirees are going through.  Enjoy.  


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