In my mind, 2013 will always be known as the year of upheaval and displacement. We lived in four homes this year, downsized from a large apartment in Cairo to a small apartment in Arlington with only what we brought in our luggage, and then downsized some more into a hotel room in Lima, still with only what fit in our luggage. We did some things right, we did some things wrong. This is what is vital.
Move in right away: No matter how long you’ll live somewhere, unpack the boxes (or the suitcases) put up pictures, bring out some cloth napkins, stick the kids’ artwork on the refrigerator. Do whatever you need to do to make it feel like home. I’m a huge fan of those fathead type stick-on things. You can personalize a space, especially for the kids, in minutes, and take it all down and take it with you to the next spot.
Know what you have: Take an inventory of your belongings and update it every single time you toss something or bring something new home. If you lose everything and have to claim insurance you must know what you had. In our case, our apartment was packed in our absence. Many people had access to our belongings and by the time it all gets here, it will be 8 to 9 months since I last saw it. Will I know if something is missing? Only if it is on the pictures we took, or the list I didn’t update as frequently as I should have. There is another reason to do this. Our movers claimed we were over our weight allowance. While I find that hard to believe (I decluttered like a madwoman in Cairo, we didn’t buy very much, plus we used plenty of the consumables we took with us), I can’t argue when I’m not there and don’t have updated records. It’s costing us $2000 in additional moving expenses.
Kindle and iTunes: I used to think my Kindle was a nice diversion, but could never replace my favorite books. You cannot take your entire library with you if you have paper books. You cannot pack all your CDs in your luggage. But my Kindle and my iPod came, all of it is backed up online, and just like that I have access to my favorite books and music which makes me feel much more at home anywhere in the world. Besides, books and CDs weigh a TON – see above.
Emergency fund: We were really diligent about saving my last few paychecks since I didn’t know when or if I would start working again. I got a job right away, but it didn’t start for several months, and then we were evacuated, and I never started at all. Evacuation is very expensive. It cost thousands of dollars to care for and move pets, pay household help you are no longer using (after all, its not their fault you are out of the country.) We chose our health insurance based on being overseas and it turned out to be an awful plan for being stateside. Small necessities add up – a vegetable peeler, sharp knife, a larger cutting board, a cheese grater, a steamer basket, bath mats and non-slip mats, childproofing locks and latches, command hooks to hang and organize our things in a very small space. Not to mention all the duplicate items: winter clothes, a double stroller. I even had to buy duplicate christmas presents for the kids as everything I diligently purchased early is in a shipment somewhere on the ocean. There are allowances to help with some of these things, but no matter how frugal you are, you will need reserves.
Learn when to say yes. Learn when to say no. My biggest lesson this year was to accept help. I even asked for support, and it made a huge difference. A desperate Facebook message had friends and family from everywhere reaching out immediately. Even if they can only say they are thinking of you – say yes to that. Say yes to opportunities to see and do and learn. Say no to over scheduling. Say yes to quiet time spent outside. Always yes to more time with friends. Always no to pressure to be what you are not.
Don’t take anything for granted: Not people, not opportunities. We made amazing friends in Cairo. In fact, I was at a party with many of them when we got the call that we would be leaving in two hours. I would love another cup of coffee with those friends. I’ve written elsewhere about the opportunities I missed in Egypt. It will not happen to me here. I have a list, and I’m checking it frequently.
Know what’s vital: It’s not the stuff. It’s not the place. It’s not “home” however you define it. All you can really take along are the lessons you learned, the experiences you had, and the love you shared. My family is safe, and we are all together. That is what’s vital.