On Moving: My “Too Much Stuff” And My Husband’s Little Blue Duffel Bag

A stack of moving boxes
(photo by Chris Schauflinger)

One tiny blue duffel bag. That’s all John brought over to my apartment in Hangzhou years ago when he first moved in with me.

So imagine his surprise when he discovered, months later, all the things I decided to take with me when I moved to Shanghai — to find a new job closer to him. My stuff barely fit into his cousin’s microvan, causing him to shake his head at my accumulated belongings and sigh, “So many things!”

It’s no wonder. According to my Chinese husband, whenever he moved before then (in and out of boarding high school and college), he only carried his quilt/cover and clothing (usually three or four pairs of everything). “Nothing like I have now,” he said to me with a grin.

Thanks to me, my husband will never again fit his life into a tiny blue duffel bag, or even those rice sacks I always used to see passengers carry onto those Chinese trains. We just moved last week from Idaho to Cleveland, and though we squeezed almost everything into our Honda Civic, we still needed to ship four boxes of mostly clothing and another four boxes of books. Years of shopping with me has guaranteed that John will never again have only, say, three pairs of underwear to his name.

Then again, years of living with John also means that I can never again hold onto everything with the same abandon I once had. Long before this move, John kept telling me over and over again, “Go through your things, get rid of what you don’t need.” I spent hours in corners and huddled over drawers, sometimes even wondering how I ended up with these things — and knowing that even when I finished, I could still never fit it all into a tiny blue duffel bag like he once had.

Of course, when he moved in and out of schools and colleges with that bag, he wasn’t alone in those rooms. For most of his schooling days, he shared his room with seven other roommates (except in grad school, when he only had three). Space remained a premium — even during the move, which usually involved a bus or train — and nothing beyond the size of a duffel bag could really fit there anyhow. Nothing like me. I only ever had one roommate in college, and otherwise apartments all to myself, each space an empty invitation to fill it with more, more, more — often with the help of a large car or even a moving van.

But for John and I, the mantra has become less, less, less — before this move, and before the next one next year. After all, we plan to move back to China, a move that means we’ll no longer have a Honda Civic to squeeze everything into.

If only a tiny blue duffel bag would do. 😉

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17 thoughts on “On Moving: My “Too Much Stuff” And My Husband’s Little Blue Duffel Bag

  • July 2, 2012 at 3:14 am
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    My name is jiajiaZeng,english name is jack. I am a Chinese home in Luoyang, Henan Province, engaged in the seo work.I hope to find a very English-speaking countries want to learn Chinese friends, I’ll teach you standard Mandarin Chinese, you teach me English, we learn together.My Mandarin is very standard, I would say very little English.(Ps. this passage is the google translation. ☺) my email: [email protected]

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  • July 2, 2012 at 3:14 am
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    Moving is a bear…. I’ll have to relocate from Europe to China in the next couple of months, and I am absolutely dreading the hassle of it; so, on that front, I can sympathize.

    Good luck to you both and I’m looking forward to the writing you’ll share with us in your new locale.

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  • July 2, 2012 at 6:46 am
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    Good luck with the move. The last time I moved somewhere was when I was twelve years of age moving from Dallas to another city. LOL I’m scared now at the idea of moving somewhere and packing stuff I’ll need. (Will need tons of boxes just for my books, five or six boxes for my dvd stuff, music and movies and so forth… then there are drives and my computer and clothing and other essentials…)

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  • July 2, 2012 at 7:47 am
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    Like John, I used to move with one bag. A taxi would more than contain all that I had. It was nice. No hassle. You could move place anytime. Then as the years pass, without knowing you have accumulated a ton of things. In my case, mostly books. And now moving would be a hassle. Ah, the freedom of having little. The joy of being mobile.

    @Kedai, I am curious. Kedai is Malay for shop.

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  • July 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm
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    Good luck on the move! We will be moving this fall as well, but we are the opposite. I always say I “hate stuff”. It stresses me out to have more than I need. I’d love to have just a duffle bag.

    My fiance is the oposite. He has SO MUCH STUFF (part of the reason for our move, we can’t fit in my tiny 2 bedroom apartment) and has warned me that what I have seen is only a SMALL portion of his books, movies, music and art collections.

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  • July 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm
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    I am just happy you both made the trip safely! Moving, yep you begin to wonder how you obtained x,y, and z, as you sort through everything, and then some things you forgot you had. I think that a good yearly purge of stuff you no longer need helps a lot.

    @svetla
    I envy you only having to go through moving once.
    The most horrendous move I made was with a cart down a huge hill into another dorm one person to help with some of it. At least five or six times on that day. Needless to say, my plants in didn’t survive.

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  • July 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm
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    I ended up enacting the 18 month policy. When we move, we write the date on the packing tape. If 18 months later the tape remains unbroken, the box is thrown out without being opened. Exceptions of course for the various heirlooms and the like we have from family members.

    The trick is I can’t let my wife look in there, because if she looks she’ll start rationalizing why we need to keep it. So I take it out, open it and decide if it goes to the dumpster or over to the Chinese Student Association to pass around.

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  • July 2, 2012 at 10:46 pm
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    I came to US with two suit cases. First move was packed in one car. Second move was packed in a big van. Third move was … omg did I really buy that many stuff?
    Moving is tough I have to say. It took me a long time to unpack… good luck with the move.

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  • July 3, 2012 at 2:03 am
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    Last summer I’ve made a decision to stay with my chinese bf and moved here from Poland in March. I also had two suitcases but took only four or five t-shirts and two pairs of shoes cause I already knew that it’s more important to take the things which I can’t buy here. So I brought books, my painting/drawing tools, a lot of coffee, chocolate and gifts for my boyfriend’s family. I don’t care much about clothes – in my case they get dirty sooner or later 😉 Sure that I miss my collection of prints, drawings and figures but it would be just weird to bring all those things to China.
    My bf has lots of stuff at his parent’s home but when he moved to our new flat he took just a few shirts, his suit, undrewear and a toothbrush.
    Sill, after these three months, our appartment seems to be quite empty. But my boyfriend’s sister and her husband (they live next door and moved in shortly before us) or our neighbours have really cluttered flats with tones of strange stuff (I’ll never get it why adult people here buy those huge teddy bears, plush rabbits and QQ pinguins for themselves ;)).

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  • July 3, 2012 at 7:37 am
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    My Chinese boyfriend is the same way as John. He also had to live with roommates during his university days and since it was away from home, he mostly just had clothes that followed him. All he needed was the home cooked meals his mom would make him to take back when he would come back during the holidays. 😉 When we first met, I was surprised at how little he had at his place.

    Compared to him, I pretty much lived on my own and had space to fill; I also slowly bought my furniture and other household items so it would not be a big expense all at once later on. This works out because when he moved in with me, there was still enough room in my apartment for his [little] belongings!

    Now that we will be moving to our first home in 7 months, I am happy to have most of the furniture/items needed to make a home, a home. However, I am still going through everything I have not used in the past year or two and giving it away (unless it is some sort of family heirloom, as Allen above mentioned). The only things I can’t part with are my ton of books and painting/art supplies; they are unfortunately more than just a duffel bag!

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  • July 3, 2012 at 11:35 pm
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    I am having a similar problem at the moment. I plan to spend most of my life in China with my future Husband (Engaged for two weeks now!) But i think he could never understand the fact that at my mothers home in Australia I have boxes and boxes of books, clothes and just…things that i have kept all these years. I still don’t know how/ if i will bring it all over to China, or if i should just leave it there! Planning to go back for three weeks very soon and I think i might do a big clean out! Haha

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  • July 4, 2012 at 2:02 am
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    Well China has developed rapidly We welcome the white girl living in China ….. I know that most Chinese boys and Russian girls Ukraine, Belarus ….. In northern China near the Russian Northern young boys young boys than in the south to high 4CM to 10CM Yes China has a different man 1.Beautiful ..2Ugly …3 High short ..4 Fat thin 5….. Humor, kindness and sincere smart ::::…. Yes \…. we are different .. .I hope …. more Chinese boys want to know a white girl ….Chinese boys like smart Kind-hearted Yes … Good girl

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  • July 4, 2012 at 2:50 am
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    Chinese boy likes a girl He will use he practical action to prove it Mouth to say I love you to easily……………Yes……Chinese men intense emotion May be only a month But love is life One will always support you love your man

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  • July 4, 2012 at 9:30 pm
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    I really don’t know how am I going to move like this. Seriously, I have lots of things. Since I like so many things and interests within a few yrs, I do have many items . It’s not even funny when I think about it. It took us 6 months to arrange everything on our last move. Why so long? hmmm we worked also.. Don’t buy junks. Just buy high quality items so you only have to buy once. I won’t move for another 25 yrs 🙂 lol to a smaller lot and home.

    Bruce

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  • July 5, 2012 at 9:30 am
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    I wonder if George Carlin’s famous standup routine, “A Place for My Stuff,” would translate well into Chinese? I do think your husband would get a KICK out of that routine! 😀

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  • July 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm
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    I think it’s great how you’ve shown John to expand a bit and how he’s shown you to conserve. I think American students are way too spoiled in college and seem to think they have to move into their dorms with a proper dowry! I prefer the Chinese way!

    Reply
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