Why do we have so much STUFF?

So yesterday our shipment came, aka heavy baggage. For the non-expats among you, this is always a major moment in the life of the newly-moved abroad: your stuff is here at last.

But oh my! Why oh why do we have so much of it?


Where does it all come from? And where is it all going to go???

As box after box was unloaded and distributed around the house by a small army of Pickfords men, I kept wondering what on earth was in them all. We have been living fairly happily for the last two months out of a few suitcases plus a couple of boxes of “float” (eg crockery and cutlery, linen, a tv etc) from the office. Ok, the house looked a little bare and yes the children did complain from time to time that they didn’t have any toys – but still, we survived just fine.

So why do we have so much STUFF?


Man with a van…this was only half of our boxes – there was a larger lorry outside the gates of the compound…

Do I really need this many clothes, many of which I haven’t worn in years? And shoes that have sat in my cupboard forlornly since we left St Lucia more than four years ago? Do we really need all those books (ok, maybe yes to the books!), the toys that haven’t been played with in a while, the thirty-eight different shopping bags?

The thing that really got me though was the kitchen goods. HOW many glasses? And mugs….four cafetieres, although only two with glass still intact; cups and bowls and cocktail twirlers; old crockery, new crockery, chopsticks still in their original wrapping from when I bought them in Cambodia; fish-shaped placemats from St Lucia, a beautiful tablecloth with a less-beautiful stain from Pakistan….We thought we had got rid of most of this back home – we seemed to do trip after trip to the second hand shops and the tip. But look at all of this!

I think the reason we have so much STUFF is because much of it is memories that we fear throwing away. We seem to have thousands of glasses – but so many of them are engraved with a particular event that brings back thoughts of a particular night. A disproportionate amount of which seem to be either Oktoberfests or Marine Balls….


A few of our glasses…

But I know we have to do something about this mountain of STUFF. I found it particularly difficult watching all our goods be unpacked from their boxes yesterday knowing that the people doing the unpacking (the Pickfords Army, plus our helper Sana) probably own less than about a fiftieth of what they were unpacking. Forefront of my mind, just like many in the world at the moment, is the Syrian refugees, arriving in their new homes with not much more than what they can carry to their names. And living here in South Africa, you see terrible poverty all around you on a daily basis. All of this just rubs in how rife consumerism has become in the “west” – and I know I buy a lot less than many people (for one, I hate buying shoes!).

Luckily, living as we do in a country like South Africa, there is always someone who will take some of your unwanted STUFF. Yesterday we passed a frying pan, a couple of chopping boards, some children’s lunch bags and a whole pile of coat hangers to Sana. I later put aside a bag of clothes for her granddaughter, unworn and unwanted by my fussy youngest – who, at the moment, will only wear playsuits (this is an ongoing minor crisis in this family at the moment – we are now down to three said playsuits….).

I am sure that over the next couple of years we will continue to find homes for our unwanted goods. At least here I  I can feel like we are not being wasteful, but rather starting a cycle of life for our stuff that shouldn’t finish when we (spoiled as we are) have had enough of them. But in the meantime, I am now embarrassed all over again as three plumbers have just turned up at the house and I have had to apologise for all the cr**p strewn all over my daughter’s floor. Ah, first-world problems!

Do you think you have too much STUFF? What do you do when you move – take it with you or have a good clear-out?

My Expat Family

A Long Hill to Climb – my blog post on Expat Focus

I am delighted to be blogging at the expat website Expat Focus. This month, I decided to write about the coming months and what I know I have to get through before we’re settled into our new life in South Africa. Read it here and please let me know what you think – do you agree it’s usually at least a year from your first preparations  until the day you can finally say you feel settled in your new home? Or if you’re not an expat and have never been an expat reading this, does it surprise you how long it can take for someone to feel happy when they move abroad? Are we all just a load of moaning minnies? Or has this opened your eyes a bit?



Nappies, bread makers, tampons…what else do you pack when you move overseas?

We turned up in Pakistan with a bread-maker, three boxes of flour and about 400 little sachets of yeast. I realise this sounds a little strange – but in a country where it’s hard to buy any kind of bread product that isn’t basically flat, it helped when we wanted to make sandwiches. Or toast. In fact, we were the envy of the compound – and when we had to leave unexpectedly thanks to the Mariott bomb (in 2008), there was a mini scrum over who was going to relieve us of our bread-making ingredients.

Our next posting was to St Lucia, and once again we took the bread-maker. And again, it came in handy. Bread in many countries just isn’t what you’re used to at home – in the Caribbean, for example, they seem to add more sugar. Make your own and you can chose to have it just the way you like it.

In the Survival Guide, I recall how we also took boxes and boxes of disposable nappies. Our youngest, M,  was only one-years-old when we moved, and at that point we had no idea how much longer she would be in nappies for. But what we did know was just how expensive disposables – known just by the brand name “Pampers” in St Lucia – were. So we took our own. I recently read a post about another family living on a tropical island, this time in the Seychelles, who have decided to go down the reusable nappy route for their son (you can read the post, by Seychelles Mama, here). Looking back, this was the obvious answer – why on earth didn’t we do this ourselves? So much better than lugging our own two-year supply out with us, although in the end she was out of nappies just after she turned two so we had lots left over to give to friends.

Nappies by the beach

Nappies by the beach

Another item that many people take with them when they move to another country is,to give it it’s errr, “sanitary” name, sanitary products. Every country in the world seems to have its own policy on what it does or does not sell for women to use during their periods – and you don’t want to find that they just don’t have what you’re after when you get there and it’s too late. I have read many stories of women who either did or didn’t take their preferred make or brand with them when they travelled – tales which include confused conversations in foreign pharmacies, airport grillings by customs officers who didn’t know what they were looking at and suitcases stuffed with nothing else. In case you haven’t already read it, Kirsty Rice did a fantastic post on this subject on her blog 4 Kids, 20 Suitcases and a Beagle, here. All I will say is try and find out what’s available in advance or, as more and more women are now doing, invest in a Mooncup. At least that way you won’t have to ask everyone coming out to visit you to bring 20 boxes of Tampax with them….

This time, moving to South Africa, I’m not sure yet what we’ll be taking. It’s one of those countries you can get most things you’ll need or find a damned fine local equivalent.  Although I don’t think they’ve opened a branch of Hotel Chocolat there yet. I might well slip a couple of boxes in my suitcase to get us through the early days….

Did you take anything with you when you moved – and then lived to regret it? Or is there anything you wish you had taken, but didn’t? How did you find out about what you needed to take before you moved?