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My life in three pieces of luggage

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Making the decision to come live and work in Japan wasn't an easy one. There were many things to consider. I didn't know the language, I would be separated from my friends and family, I had a dog, and really I had an entire life I had developed in America along with a lifetime of things I had accumulated over my 34 years. But my decision was made and I had set myself to the task of uprooting from North Carolina, which I had lived in since I was born. In reality I had committed to this decision a few years earlier when I had gone back to college to study Japanese language and English education. If you want to know the reason for this decision, please check out my earlier post "Why I came to Japan." This post however, is about everything involved in actually taking those first steps of relocating and the difficulties and realizations I had to face after making this decision.

"The reality of this situation didn't hit me until I began the process of narrowing down my entire life into one carry on bag, one backpack, and two fifty pound bags for checked luggage."

The reality of this major life changing decision never really hit me until a few months before graduation. Not when I decided to go back to college, not when I studied abroad at Hiroshima University, or even when I was completing the process for graduating or talking to people about my next steps. No, the reality of this situation didn't hit me until I began the process of narrowing down my entire life into one carry on bag, one backpack, and two fifty pound bags for checked luggage. My entire lifetime of memories and necessities all had to fit into those 4 bags. At first I told myself it was no problem. But as I soon found out, this was a very heartfelt and emotional process that had to be spread out over many months.

To say I had a lot of stuff is an understatement. I seriously had a lot of stuff. I was a bit of a tech junkie and had lots of electronics. I loved to cook so my kitchen was well equipped. I loved to entertain so I had a lot of furniture and other things to fill my home. I rented out the extra bedroom so I had not only my own bedroom suite, but also an extra bed and dresser for the spare room. I had a dog too, so I had lots of things and toys she never used or played with. I had my car and bicycle I used for so many years. Finally I had an attic. An attic that was stocked and stuffed to the brim with boxes. Some boxes that went all the way back to my childhood. Full disclosure, I was a bit of a pack-rat and throwing away things was very difficult. How do you give up, toss away, or sell things that held such precious memories? It was almost enough to make me change my mind. Thankfully I didn't though. Instead I made a plan and told myself that this was a part of me finally moving forward with my life. This became my mantra. Every time it got hard, I would remind myself that I am taking a step forward with my life.

The first step? Make a plan and get started. I decided to start by simply cleaning my home. A clean house made me feel accomplished already. Plus it gave me the floor space needed for other things. Next, I decided to go ahead and pack my bags. Sounds simple right? Just fit the necessities into your luggage so you can set it aside and not worry about it. Wrong! this became a struggle that took way longer than I would like to admit. My goal was only to pack the bare necessities and then see how much room I had for other things. Turns our I had a lot of clothes. Which was weird because I pretty much wore the same handful of things from week to week. I had to adopt a new process. I started easy, I told myself that if I hadn't worn it in the past year, it was getting thrown away, donated or sold. This alone filled two large garbage bags of clothes to be thrown away because of bad conditions. By the end there were about seven bags of clothes that were donated and a few more that would be used in a yard sale later on. I realize now that this was a good first step at severing emotional attachment from material things. I realized that I would often hold onto a shirt or something because of the memory I had and not because I actually liked or even wore it. This was made very apparent by the many bins of clothes from as far back as my high school days. As a side note, I graduated High school back in May of 2000. Recognizing the fact that most of the things I held onto were due to an emotional attachment, and not exactly rational, made it both easier and harder at the same time. Easier to identify the emotional attachment I held to something and thus separate the attachment from the actual memories. But it also became harder as the entire process became a trip down memory lane.

After I finished getting rid of everything except the clothes I actually still wore, my closet and two dressers were finally emptied and my bag of necessary clothes and toiletries was filled. Yes, I lived out of my suitcase for several months before coming to Japan. Next I decided to start getting rid of furniture and kitchen appliances that I didn't need. I cleaned each Item up and took photos as I listed them on different websites and community groups. I sold as much as possible. Projector, sound system, several game consoles, a handmade 110 inch projector screen, dining room table, chairs, recliner, wrap around couch, coffee table, TV, a spare refrigerator that was supposed to replace the one I had but couldn't because it was too big, three dressers, the spare bed, my electric guitar, and so much more. Some things were more difficult to give up than others but in the end it was best to let it go.

As I waited for responses and continued to sell off everything, my home slowly started to feel more and more empty. The next step was to empty the attic. By far the most emotional of it all. As I pulled one box at a time down from the attic, I would go through each box and trash as much as I could while consolidating or selling the rest. There were undoubtedly many things I had no idea why I kept and thus were easy to just trash. Some boxes would take an entire day or more to go through because of all the memories and emotions I faced. Nostalgia was in full gear and it would grasp my heart and pull while begging me not to get rid of many things. It was during this long arduous process that the reality and scale of what I was about to do started to really set in. As I struggled with the emotions of my past, I was now overcome by the magnitude of what I was about to do. I was face to face with many fears and worries. Afraid of being alone, afraid of the language barrier, afraid of not being able to see my family for a very long time, afraid I wouldn't be a good teacher, afraid I wouldn't be able to build the life I wanted. These fears and more raced through my head and placed doubts in my decision. They caused me to worry and made it a lot harder to do what I needed to do. They made me want to cling to my past. Probably because that was what was there for me to cling to and try to find comfort in, my past, all laid out in boxes across the floor.

As difficult as it all was, I would repeat my mantra and push forward. I kept telling myself "this is a step forward with my life." Eventually, the memories from each box changed from my childhood to my young adult life. And I came face to face with my very reason for wanting to make this change in the first place. I wanted to dream. I wanted to build on those dreams. I wanted to build a life. Thanks to that trip down memory lane and the fact that I even kept a few things in those boxes of my regrets in life, I was able to remember why I decided to move to Japan in the first place. I began to find strength again. I remembered that I wanted to be more than just a person who thought about doing great things. I wanted to be a person who acted on his ideas. My first step was knowing what I wanted to do. I wanted to open a business in Japan and build a life for myself as part of a community there. Second step, go to school to learn Japanese and obtain a degree that would aid in getting me a job that would sponsor a VISA to live there. Third step, apply for and obtain that job. Fourth, prepare to move to Japan. My current step. There are of course many other steps after this, some of which I am still working towards, but it was this fourth step for me that I had to wrestle with the most emotions and fears. It is also the step where the reality set in and I realized how big of an undertaking this truly was. This was an adventure. You take an adventure to make new memories, not to carry all your old ones with you.

"I kept going right up until I had to fly out to Japan"

Eventually I was able to go through everything. I took several trips to the city dump to get rid of truck loads of garbage. I sold the most valuable things online. I gave old toys to my niece and nephew. Large garbage bags full of clothes were donated to charity and I even held a yard sale in hopes to make a little more money. I wish I could tell you I was able to get rid of everything, but I can't. I came very close though. As I write this, there are still about five boxes of things I kept, sitting in my parents basement, and a pile of things waiting for the next yard sale put on by either me or my family. It was a lot of work both physical and emotional but I worked hard. I kept going right up until I had to fly out to Japan with my two checked luggage bags, my carry on bag and my backpack.

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