Last night I couldn’t sleep. For two hours I lay awake in bed — not worried about work, or buzzing with excitement for South Africa. No, I lay awake mentally cataloging every single item that my husband and I own. Every single utensil and bowl and pair of shoes. Why was I doing this, you ask?
Let me start by saying I have moved many more times than most people. Growing up my family moved basically every two years from the time I was six. I went to eleven different schools from kindergarten until I graduated high school. I have extensive experience packing up boxes and labeling them, watching the movers come take them on the truck, and spending the months it takes to fully unpack and move in a family of six to a many-bedroomed house. But when I got older, I stopped moving in that way. I still kept going new places (strangely the ‘every two years’ thing seems to be ingrained in me like some kind of egg timer that starts ticking more loudly once 18 months have passed), but I never had the stuff.
When I left Charlotte, NC to move to DC I sold everything I had. All of my fancy work clothes, all of the furniture I had acquired, most of the art…everything except my books and a few bags worth of clothes. When I moved to New Zealand I had nothing but a backpack. When I came back to the States, I still had things in storage scattered at the houses of various friends. I got rid of all that too.
When I moved in with my then-boyfriend, now-husband in 2011, we went to buy a toaster. I love toasted bread and toasted bagels. Untoasted sandwiches are blasphemous to me. And yet, I didn’t own one. More so, I refused to own one because I always knew I was going to be leaving again. Why would I spend $15 on something I’m just going to give away?
As we started attempting to build a life together — and I knew moving overseas again was more than a year off — we finally went to Target to look at toasters. Browsing through the aisle with shiny new appliances all promising more features than my required “make toast” I was overcome with sticker shock.
“$40??? For a fucking toaster? You gotta be kidding me!” I half joked at the higher-end models. We roamed up and down the aisle with every appliance an affront to my exceedingly frugal sensibilities.
“Well look, this one is only $15.” Hudson said with a dose of encouragement. It was the bottom-of-the-line, two slices go here, white plastic box. I still couldn’t bring myself to make a purchase.
“How about this $10 one? There don’t seem to be any left on the shelf…” We looked to find an employee and ask if they were hoarding the garbage toasters in the back to which he replied, Nope, the floor model is the last one. My eyes widened…
“OOOUU does that mean we can get a discount?”
“We really recommend customers not buy the floor models. They have always been beaten up and they almost always break. And you can’t return it if it does.”
“But do we get a discount on it?” I pressed him further.
“Yeah, I mean, I guess I can give you 20% off if you really want that one. But seriously, like it’s probably gonna break. They always do.”
With this new information, Hudson pressed me to upgrade to the $15 model. Why spend $8 on something that will break when you can spend $15 and actually have it for a couple years? In my mind, either amount of money was money down the drain regardless. We wouldn’t be keeping any toaster we bought because in a year I would be leaving again. And the only thing I ever take with me is my backpack. Toasters don’t go in your backpack.
We went on in this conversation for possibly 30 minutes. When we finally got in line to check out, I had what can only be described as a panic attack. Our cart was full of home goods: a $75 duvet, an $8 toaster, some other crap for the kitchen. I don’t even remember what we were buying, but I was overwhelmed at the prospect of owning things. I wanted to put it all back. I wanted to run out of the store. I wanted to take the $200 we were about to spend and buy a one way plane ticket to anywhere but here. But I didn’t. We checked out and brought our Target bags home and put the toaster on the counter and the duvet on the bed and it suddenly felt a little more like home.
I am telling you this toaster story because I believe that something changed that day. Something shifted from the life of a single backpacker to the life of someone ready to build a life with someone else. Even though I had a panic attack — and even though we still got rid of the toaster when we moved to Korea — a willingness to own things with another person sprouted that day, and it has only continued blooming in the years since we’ve been married. We moved into a two bedroom house in Texas and the shelves are covered in books and knickknacks and the kitchen counter is home to several appliances — including a toaster.
So why was I making a mental catalog of every item that we own last night? Well, as we are getting ready to move to South Africa we are faced with an entirely new, yet strangely familiar situation. The school provides a $2,000 allowance to ship our things over. We are not moving into a 150 sq. ft. studio apartment in Korea. We are moving from one real house to another. We don’t have to sell everything we own this time around. And so I can’t sleep buzzing with a different kind of excitement. The kind where I am packing boxes in my head and where I imagine every corner of our new home filled with the things that have made this place ours.
When we got married, I put a $40 toaster on the registry. And now, for the first time in my adult life, I’m taking the toaster with me.