Unpacking all of my belongings after more than a year away was a strange rite of passage, and one that was much more emotional than I thought it was going to be. I lived out of two suitcases during my time away in Costa Rica, most of it in a little house the size of a car. I learned to live with only the basics. But when I moved back to Las Vegas, a storage unit’s worth of belongings came with me. Alone, I watched the movers fill my new house with boxes, each a mystery that had been untouched for 13 months. I had no idea what I was in for.
Excited to be going back to work and again living in the land of Whole Foods and movie theaters, I was at first thrilled with the idea of setting up my furniture and again enjoying my own bedding and fluffy pink towels. Instead? The first boxes I opened contained piles and piles of purses and belts and shoes, none of which I’d remembered even owning. It made my heart race. I threw it all in my walk-in closet and forgot about it. I should’ve given it all directly to Good Will; instead, my shoes alone lined up both sides of my closet, two rows thick, and the purses and accessories overwhelmed one wall-to-wall shelf. It made me uncomfortable to look at all of it, but I wanted to give myself a chance to get used to having “stuff” again.
And I did get used to it. Yes, don’t think this is a post about how I came back from Central America and lived a spartan life in the U.S. Oh, no. Old habits die hard.
What shocked me the most as I continued to unpack were the dust patterns on my furniture. I guess I hadn’t thoroughly cleaned before packing up! I could literally see exactly where my printer had sat on my office shelf, the small circles where my flower candles from Thailand were arranged, the spots on my dresser where I stack the bangle bracelets I buy around the world. I’m not sure why, but this totally unnerved me. I scrubbed and dusted like a mad woman to get rid of these glaring placeholders; I was not going to just arrange my rooms exactly the way I’d left them, as if I’d never left at all. Long-term travel is way too important and life-changing for me to pretend to just be “back” as if I’d just put my life on pause. But can you really simply dust everything off and start over? I was determined to find out.
In the end, I was indeed ecstatic as I, after many loads of laundry, made my bed with my own linens and put out my beloved pink towels. I lovingly laid out all of my favorite jewelry on my dresser and arranged my trinkets purchased in places like Malaysia, China and Brazil. But my closet was its own beast. The dresses didn’t fit, and my pathetic wardrobe of $15 cotton frocks from the tropics was not going to get me very far in my new life of five-day workweeks and almost nightly events out on the town in Las Vegas. But spending so much money on new clothes made me ill. It seemed to me that hitting the mall for expensive dresses went against everything I’d learned while living abroad for a year, where I had only what I could bring on an airplane, no mail and only the rarest of shopping excursions. Was I throwing all of that simplicity away?
Eventually, my need to do well in my new surroundings won out, and I survived two shopping sprees. I’m even going to admit that I love my new clothes. It’s been really fun, too, buying too much at Target again and spreading out into a three-bedroom townhouse. But just because I’m adapting doesn’t, in fact, mean that I’m throwing away everything I learned in Central America. I’m not going to buy a kitchen table just because I feel I “need” one, and I feel absolutely no pull to keep up with the Jones’s in my neighborhood.
Every picture here was taken during my last trip to Las Vegas before I moved back, when I had no idea I’d be returning to live. I’m wearing dresses I haven’t put on once since the big move. I’m not sure if they feel too “tropical” or if I’m trying to separate two parts of myself. But I love them so, just as I’ve loved my transition. Moving away is thrilling; coming back is special.
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