Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Accumulation of Stuff

Those of you who have had the wonderful, not so simple, pleasure of living with me know that I have an incredible ability to accumulate stuff. I’m so good at it I’m worried I may end up on one of those horrible TV shows 20 years down the road. A while back, I got a letter from a friend who had moved for grad school at about the time I was leaving for Peace Corps. He said he was so impressed that I crossed the Pacific only taking two checked bags and one carry-on, while his car was packed to bursting. I would like to note that those were the PC/airline regulations, and had I been allowed to bring more stuff, I would easily have done so – except that I had to be able to carry it all by myself.

Here I would post the picture of me with my three bags - my bright pink, spotted carryon, my school backpack doubling as my personal item, my backpacking backpack as a carry-on, and a big silver and blue suitcase as a carry-on. However, I do not have this picture saved on my computer, so my description will have to suffice.

Upon arrival in Samoa, my packrat tendencies have been able to let loose. This was a problem during training, because my hotel roommate and I had THE TINIEST HOTEL ROOM ON THE PLANET. She managed to bring more stuff than I did, since both her checked bags were marked with brightly colored tags boldly stating “oversize luggage.” Before we went to our training villages for 7 weeks, this was fine. The room was a manageable mess, but there was a clear pathway. After we left training villages and returned to the hotel for one more week before moving to our site placements, we were placed together in the same TINIEST HOTEL ROOM ON THE PLANET. This time, there was no clear pathway. The room was avoided at all costs because even beds (meaning – hers – I may be a packrat, but I live in organized chaos) were mostly covered with things, even while being slept on. Anyway, this is a rough list of all the things that have somehow gravitated towards me while I’ve been in Samoa

  • Two shelves – desperately needed for a packrat in a country that does not seem to value shelf or storage space
  • One shelf holds
    • Tupperware, a cutting board, three pans, various containers of salt/sugar/seasonings/popcorn kernels, some cans of tuna, and some mixing spoons. The vast majority of this goes unused, currently because I do not have running water, regularly because it’s a huge inconvenience
  • The other shelf holds
    • Way too many books that I keep taking from the PC library, thinking “I’ll read this someday.” I have about a dozen books on my shelf, and 6 more waiting for me in my mailbox at the PC office. DVDs, some of which I came with, but many more that have been sent in care packages. Decks of cards, a Rubik’s cube, three mugs/jars full of pencils and pens (pens are more valuable than gold in Samoa), my computer, letters I’ve gotten while I’ve been here, more books, notebooks, puzzle books, coloring books, and the dishes I bought thinking I would be hosting and feeding visitors at some point, but that won’t happen until my water comes back
  • Clothes – I always have way too many clothes. I asked my cousin for advice before coming to PC and he said “you won’t need as many clothes as you think you will,” but I packed way too many anyway. And my wardrobe has more than tripled since I’ve been here.
    • 16 or 17 puletasis (which is way more than you ever need, although I think the belief here is that you shouldn’t wear the same puletasi more than 3 times or something like that. Other people seem to have a never-ending stream of new puletasis), of which 2 now fit! I have a wonderful seamstress in my village, and these are the first two puletasis I have gotten made. They are wonderful.
      I also got a new (used, new to me) suitcase to hold all the clothes and presents I received as gifts from my host family in the training village – not sure what category that goes under
    • 6 or 7 button down shirts, which are very comfortable and lightweight for Samoa
    • 3 pairs of knee-length shorts
    • 3 new long skirts
    • New running shorts
    • New tennis shoes (they don’t last long in the rainy season in Samoa)
    • Various cute birthday clothes
    • 2 new pairs of shoes and 2 new pairs of flip flops
    • 6 lavalavas – these are the one thing that I wear all of. Just wear it one day, then leave it on when I go to shower so it gets clean (ish) while I get clean (ish), then wear a different one the next day
  • A shoebox that holds all my tools (hammer, screwdriver, nails, etc.), coloring pencils, crayons, pencil sharpeners, and other knickknacks
  • Soccer jerseys, balls, ball pump, and various other equipment
  • 4 buckets – but I need more if this water shortage keeps up like it seems it will. 2 hold my food so that mice and rats can’t get it (I lost 2 bars of soap to rats in 3 days last week – why do rats like to eat soap? I don’t know), and 2 hold water. All my bowls have also become water containers as well
  • A fridge
  • A nifty little three tiered shelf/thing that lets me display my hairbrush, hair ties, toothbrush and toothpaste, floss, makeup (that I wear less often than I did in the States)
  • A water filter – I like to use it as water storage really
  • I also have a bed and table in my room, but I’m not sure whether they count since I don’t have to worry about what to do with them when I’ll leave – they stay.

In short, I have accumulated enough to fill a house in addition to the fairly sizable room it already fills. The thing my sister noted on her visit is that it looks just like my room at home – everything is neatly laid out in my favorite style of organized chaos so that I can see everything – all my vitamins, medicines, pens and pencils, books, different levels of sunscreen depending on how long I’ll be in the sun and what I’ll be doing, etc. etc., all of it is neatly placed so I can see it all in a glance. Old habits die hard, some things never change – pick your favorite cliché. I swear I never intend to have so much stuff, it really does just gravitate toward me. And I can never get rid of it. I have to keep everything until it is dead and I’ve gotten every last use out of the corpse. It’s how I am. In the meantime, I have more stuff to accumulate

1 comment:

  1. Hi Natalie!

    I had to post because I had the SAME thing happen to me! I was in Australia for a much shorter time than you in Samoa, but hey, I have a hard time getting rid of anything that isn't completely 100% unusable anymore too.
    Funny story I have to tell you - so in Tasmania, my flight back to the states went from the mainland (Aus) to the US, so I had to get a little flight to get from the island (Tasmania)to the mainland - I chose a supper tiny company that was cheap. Unfortunately, Even though I was allowed 2 checked bags per person (there were 2 of us which I thought meant we could have 4 checked + 2 carry-on +2 personal) on the international flight, I found out the night before my flight that you had to actually BUY luggage credits to be able to check extra bags for this little leg of my journey, and you had to purchase them more than 2 days ahead of time. You could buy them 24 hours before your flight, but they were 2X the price. We were looking at this at about 12 hours before my flight. I called them and begged them to let me buy just one but they wouldn't let me. And if you went over weight they charged you $15 per Kilo over the limit AND they weighed your carry-ons, not just your checked bag. I had just bought another suitcase to shovel all the stuff I had accumulated while being there, so I had to return that. I had already packed at this point, so I had to start unpacking and piling stuff to leave behind. I used the bathroom scale to weigh my suitcase (which weighed 15 kilos empty!) and had to part with more stuff each time I weighed it ("still too heavy...take more out") We decided to wear every piece of clothing that could possibly fit on us. We wore several pairs of pants each, about a dozen shirts each, several jackets and scarves, and stuffed heavy small things into the pockets. I was sweating bullets on the way to the airport and while they weighed the carry-ons and our checked-suitcases (one each per person) and they were still over so I had to fork over $60. Then we ran to the bathroom to unload our extra clothes and stuffed it all into our carry-on. Needless to say, I, like you, brought way too many clothes with me there, and had to leave a lot of them behind, along with the air bed, sheets, blankets, pillows, books and all sorts of other things I was planning to take home with me, but it must have not been all that important, because I don't remember most of it now.

    Anyway, long time no talk I know! I've been reading your posts (sporadically) despite the fact that I never say anything. You are way better at keeping up with your blogs that I ever was. (I stopped after the first month!) But I like seeing yours. When are you done? Are you sad or glad? Probably a bit of both eh?

    Anyway, hope your well.