What Overseas Moves and Refugees Can Teach Us About What is Truly Essential

What Overseas Moves and Refugees Can Teach Us About What is Truly Essential

I’m serious about my work. On the outside, it may look like I'm just this stuff organizer, helping folks resort their stuff in endless bins, all the while waving my label maker around.

I'd argue that my work with people, boiled down to the absolute core, is to help them identify the essential.

So yes, I'm a little serious.

A little too serious, lately, I have to admit. I forget sometimes, in my focus on work and family, that there’s a whole world out there that begs my attention. And what's happening in the world today has plenty to tell me, and you, about the essential.

Reading the news late at night on my phone (a no-no for the sleep deprived, I know) I read a Motherlode blog post that got me thinking about what I’d bring if I had a chance to move the family overseas. We couldn’t pay for overseas shipping of our stuff, I’m sure of it. And if we could, then this wouldn’t be a good thought experiment on what’s really essential.

I commented this morning on the NYT Motherlode blog post:

“I've moved 31 times, but never overseas. Last summer, for a two month summer vacation, we moved into a house share in the Catskills. Two kids plus me, husband came up on the weekends. We brought some toys, basic clothes, some kitchen things. The studio on the top floor for the three of us had just basic furnishings.

Wow - we really could live on far, far less than we currently have in our NYC apartment. Prior to this vacation experiment I considered myself fairly minimalist, as I am an organizer by profession.

I was less stressed out, the boys made paper airplanes on rainy days, we had less choices about what to wear, what to eat, what to read and enjoyed everything and every day more.

The point is - the fear of leaving everything - to begin again - to spend money on new furnishings - on books - could be replaced with the faith that life can be better without bringing it all with you. Bring the bunny, of course.”

And speaking of essential, and of pulling our heads out of our own American, Western-style busyness, I think we can find some idea of the right answers for each of us (because what’s essential is relative, right?) in these gorgeous and devastating photo essays on Syrian and Sudanese refugees. 

Reality check, readers.

When I help people prioritize what they really need to function at their best, their possessions have become a problem to solve. I feel I need clarity sometimes in order to provide that guidance to others. In order to help them answer the questions of what to keep and what to give away I have to be crystal clear on what is essential. The too much stuff problem has to be recast against the problems of people in nations undergoing war, displacement and scarcity.

So, while I read the The New York Times late last night, I recalled how I discard shoes that I think are worn out, but they are never in the kind of condition of the shoes worn by Sudanese people forced from their homes and walking for days to camps that will provide aid.

We are living with our problems of unprecedented abundance here in the U.S. Every now and then (maybe every day) we have to look at what is considered important when you have the opposite of abundance. What we think we need isn't really what most would consider essential.

Imagine, for a moment all your possessions in your arms. What would you carry while you walk for miles search of food and shelter?

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