They were so cute and innocuous at the beginning. When I first started traveling, I collected little knick-knacks from all around the world – miniature Greek vases, blown-glass penguins, and way too many little plates with Fox Glacier, the New York City skyline, or Dutch windmills etched and painted and stamped all over them. I was even on an animal kick for a few years; I bought a felt camel in Abu Dhabi, a carved wood llama from Peru, a leather giraffe in Tanzania, and a wooly sheep figure from Patagonia. My shelves and other furniture were soon housing a menagerie, and I felt like I was living in a trinket shop.
I’m not a clutter fan; I like my rooms (mostly) spare and my surfaces (mostly) bare. When I got tired of all the little tchotchkes, I cleared many of them away (into boxes … mistake!) and began buying fewer, but bigger and nicer, things: a rug, a wall-mounted kudu head made out of paper, an Alpine cowbell, a chief’s basket, larger pieces of art and, my favorite, a Buddha head from Tibet. I carefully selected only one thing on each trip, and it either had a function or added some artistic value to my home, reminding me every day of some of the fascinating places I’d been.
But if there is ever a time to reassess one’s acquisitiveness, it is before and after a whole residence has to be stuffed into boxes. The prayer wheel made the cut (good karma), but the Delft dishes did not. The Mongolian yak rope is just too cool to ditch, but the Ghanaian coasters had to go. Some of the bigger things are making my new house feel like home, but I remain overwhelmed by the smaller stuff emerging from boxes, some packed months or even years ago. I wince every time I encounter another little “gift” of packing paper wrapped around some small, unknown object.
When we prepared to leave Chicago, we rented a dumpster and pitched pound after pound of household junk inside, and we took anything clean, attractive, or usable to Goodwill. So how did I arrive here in Houston with more boxes of paperweights and tapestries, jeweled trays and woven hats that I hadn’t seen in years? I start the assessments again: OK, the boomerang can stay, but where am I supposed to put this leather drum and that teak bowl? Let’s just say I’ve already found a donation spot here, and they know my face and car well after two weeks in town.
Whether you’re a traveler or not, or a shopper or not, may I suggest you start cleaning your house or apartment out now? It’s really not a fun job, and it’s even less amusing when you’re under the gun and/or your significant other has trouble parting with things (see: Maasai spear). Luckily, in recent years, all I have really wanted to take home with me from my travels are memories and experiences. In many ways, this blog is now my travel memento, a repository for recollections, feelings, and affection for the places I’ve been. Best of all, it will not ever need to be put into or taken out of a box. I don’t ever want to see another box.