What to Pack?

November 13, 2009

How do you pack?  For the next stage of your life.


Changing country is good for the soul.  Everyone should do it.  Well, perhaps not too often, but every few children or so.


I arrived here ten years ago with three children, a small dog and two suitcases.  I will be leaving with my husband, five children and an adolescent cat (said dog having given up on the challenge of yet another move).


So what to take?  A move from France to Canada needs some planning because it is not worth the shipping costs to ship most things.  They have to pass a test.  The “Can I see my life without this article test?”, and then a second one, “Is this part of who I am?”


The aim is to reduce what we take to one suitcase each.


For advice on this I turned to an expert.  Adam is a Tuareg nomad I met in Niger.  He is a silversmith like the generations of men in his family before him.  Whilst he doesn’t travel light when it comes to family obligations – two wives and nine children, he can carry everything he needs in a sling bag.  I asked him about this and he shook his head and smiled.


He carries one spare outfit, an elaborate kaftan-type thingy with impressively long headgear to match.  At night he can unravel his head topping (over 3m) and curl up to sleep under it with a bunched up bit at the top for a pillow.  I asked him to show me what else he had in his bag.  Here is a list.


Stuff to carry if you are a Tuareg: 1 spare tunic

1 spare pants

1 teapot

Tealeaves and sugar

Dates (to eat or swop for millet)

1 metal bowl

4 small glasses for tea in case of spontaneous tea


1 spoon

1 very sharp  (and beautifully decorated) knife

1 cellphone


I know it is rude to ask but I ask anyway.


“What about a toothbrush?”


He laughs again and gives me the opportunity to verify that his dental hygiene is surprisingly good for someone who doesn’t carry a toothbrush.


He pulls some twigs out of his pocket and hands me one.


I don’t know what it is.  I sniff at it tentatively and he shows me what to do.


He chews on the end of his twig with his molars until it becomes a mini-mop and then polishes his front teeth with it.  I do the same and am surprised at the sweet, fresh taste.


Then I think of something else and know I have caught him out.  Of course he can’t travel with just this – where is his water bottle?  How can he live in the Sahara without swigging water every 15 minutes?  He must have a stash over other items somewhere.


“Water?”, I ask, with a victorious look on my face.


He pats what I think is his lower back.


I peer behind him and see a soft leather gourd.



And now I am transported back from that place of heat and wonder to our house in the wintery, provencale countryside.


Our very full house.


What  is all this Stuff?


Granted, we live in a small house and we do have five children, but seriously.


But Adam has taught me something and it is revealed to me in a flash.


Instead of agonizing over each item and whittling away until I arrive at a pile of objects I can’t bear to part with, I will carefully choose what we are taking and get rid of everything else.


So what is important?


People.   But I carry my People with me always.  The ones who are in my family and the ones who may as well be.  But this move involves a shedding of people too, the ones I have never really got to know and the ones I have, but prefer to quietly place back on the shelf.


The wonders of technology have fed all the keepers into my computer and a firmament of friends hovers in cyberspace, no matter where we are.


But what about other friends?  The sofa that has cradled us all, the mixing bowl that is just the perfect size?  I have to thank them for their friendship and find new homes for them.


My home has become an archeological dig of who we have been for the last ten years and our suitcases will represent sleeker, more streamlined versions of ourselves.


The time has come for us to shed this skin and step in to our future clad only in our shiny newness, receptive to the slightest kiss of light.





17 Responses to “What to Pack?”

  1. Typ0 said

    I move all the time so i totally empathize with you. I wish i could pack up the people i learned to call friends at each of our postings.

    Where in cAnada are you moving to? I’m from Toronto originally. 🙂

  2. That’s quite a move. But sounds like you’ve made major planet relocations before. Toronto is my favorite large city on the North American continent, even though I’m from the US – it’s got all the allure of a major cosmopolitan city without most of the darker side of big cities – not devoid of such, of course, but in comparison, rather a nice place to go to for a great time.

    Good packing list, too!

    Marvin D Wilson

  3. sinkuenta said

    It must be very difficult to get rid of the things that have accompanied you for ten years… but, at the same time, it must feel light to walk without such a burden!!! A new ‘you’ lies ahead and you’re packing to meet it!! I find it exciting to have an opportunity to start from scratch somewhere else surrounded by your loved-ones. I wish you all the best!!

    • Thanks. It is intimidating. We are only leaving in summer but have a lot to do before then – all very cathartic! I really appreciate your visits. I visit your blog too but as you will have seen from the comment I left, my Spanish is non-existent.

  4. what an amazing post. we carry so much with us, i wonder would the load be lighter is we let some of it go. safe travels.

    thanks for stopping by. i will definitely be back soon.

  5. Chef Kar said


    I have just found your blog after you visited me today. Wow ~ I am SO moved by this post and the one about Patience. I am going to be back to read more and more. You are an incredibly gifted writer and storyteller.

    As for moving ~ boy do I get it. In coming to Italy I brought 2 suitcases and a tennis bag. I left behind a car and storage unit full of “stuff”. Save for some personal photographs, I may not ever need to see the bulk of it again. It is tougher with kids, having raised 5 myself, to have them give up “things”.

    What a gift you were given by Adam. I too have learned from his lesson.

    Less is more . . . so, so much more.

    So happy to have found you.

    Chef Kar

    • If the truth be told I have had you on my mind this morning. I was intrigued by your blog and it has inspired me to write about a Boulanger/Patissier today. I’m delighted to have met you and would love to keep in touch.

  6. Susan said

    To travel so lightly and so happily…

    Good luck with your move. I can only imagine how exciting and scary it must be for you.

    • Thanks Susan, we’re only moving in summer but as you can see from “What to Pack?”, I am already starting on choosing what to bring. I am about to make a cup of coffee and come and visit you! Thanks so much for your fidelity, I love hearing from you.

  7. Stacey M said

    I love your emphasis on people. Our family really is the most important thing to bring with us. Everything else can be replaced!

  8. Megan said

    After moving twice in the last two years, and after packing up my dead sister’s house, I really came to thinking about the importance of objects. We, as humans and hoarders, come to place such significance on material goods and the memories they hold. But, I found, when divesting myself of most of my sister’s and my own things over the years, one only has to remember that the memory does not lie in the article or object but always within ourselves.

    I kept my sister’s toothbrush for over a year after she died. And one day, I had to look at that toothbrush and say to myself: Jesus! she doesn’t live inside that toothbrush. Where did I get such reverence for a stupid piece of plastic?

    I think it is the same with moving. Your life does not reside in the articles you have accumulated. Your life resides in you and your children – which is the most fabulous residence of all.

    Sorry for getting so Deepak Chopra on you. Oops.

    • I can see why you held on to that toothbrush. It is something so personal. I can see why you got rid of it too. It is a huge task to pare down possessions to the extent that we have to and our move to Canada is a huge leap of faith. We are only leaving in summer but still, I’d better keep sorting and tossing!

  9. Ah, Canada! I lived there for two years as a girl. My sister still lives there, in Victoria B.C. a lovely city. My father grew up in Southern Ontario, but I haven’t been to Toronto, I hear only good things about the city. Travel safe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: