How to Pack a Life in a Bag of Less Than Twenty Kilos

I am traveling from Thessaloniki to Frankfurt, Germany and from thence to San Diego, California, via Seattle.  For my flight I am allowed one check-in bag of less than twenty kilos, one carry-on bag of less than eight kilos, and my laptop in a separate bag.  I am leaving Greece to move to a new country; two sons will follow me in a month but my wife will remain here.  We have a house full of stuff – the type of stuff you accumulate in the course of life when you figure you won’t be picking up and moving again.  Furniture, appliances, household items:  I care for none of these things.  I have never been much into clothes and I don’t own too many.

But there are other things.  Countless documents have to be sorted through, and many photocopies have to be made.  There are albums full of photographs, the old-style paper photographs that go way back to the mid-eighties when our first son was born in Bangladesh.  I scan each of these meticulously.  It takes me many hours, but at least these all only take up a bit of space on a memory stick; the amount of space they take in the luggage is insignificant.  I have to go through suitcases and briefcases and drawers and cupboards full of odds and ends to be sure I leave nothing important behind.  When you are moving halfway around the world you cannot just hop back for the afternoon and look around for that one essential item that you overlooked.  All of this must be thought out in advance.  I plan it all in detail.  I will go through the cases, drawers, cupboards, and so on methodically in my free time so I won’t have to do it in the last hours in a final rush.  To a certain extent this works, and it is my salvation.  I tell you, you think you are not a hoarder, you think you are not too attached to things, but it is amazing how much bric-a-brac, how many odds and ends which just as easily could have been thrown away can gather in the corners, tossed aside with the thought that they might prove useful in the future.

And books.  What can I say about the books?  I created a small but beautiful library over the years, and the books are arranged on shelves in the basement, a joy to behold and to peruse.  I have to leave them all behind.  Some of the best hardcovers I gift to the local English-language library, which is attached to a private college.  I have been using this library over the years and know that it is deficient in many areas, especially fiction, so I am glad to donate some of my riches in hopes that future readers will be able to find what I could not.  But I have some rare books, some beloved books.  I want to bring them but I can’t.  I set them aside hoping that my sons who are following me will find space, or that I will be able to pick them up on future trips.  In the end all I can take with me are a couple of books I am currently reading.  In addition, I gather a set of the magazines and anthologies in which my stories have appeared, and a set of my published books.  I will try to fit these into my luggage if nothing else.

As far as clothes, I wash my fall jacket and have my heavy winter coat dry-cleaned.  On the day before the flight I do last loads of laundry and in the meantime wear torn-up rags which I won’t be taking.

In addition to my personal effects, I decide to take a few household items of which we have extra, such as a summer blanket, a few sheets and pillow cases, and a few towels, so I don’t have to start completely from scratch.

So, okay.  The photos and documents I have pre-copied, but still I leave the main packing itself for the last day.  In preparation for it I open the big suitcase in the upstairs hall and start tossing things inside, stacking them haphazardly as I think of them.  The pile starts to grow but I don’t really realize how high at first.  I continue to add to it, imagining that afterwards all I will have to do is make slight adjustments to make it settle comfortably inside like the pieces of a puzzle.

The final evening arrives.  I drag the big suitcase into the bedroom, along with the carry-on bag and the laptop case.  I have purchased a scale so I can check the weight of the luggage when it is full.  On the bed I pile all the items in the suitcase, as well as the blanket, sheets, towels, and so on.  Then I start emptying my clothes drawers and putting the clothes on the bed too.  One more load of laundry is drying outside but most of it I will be wearing on the flight.  Now – to business.  Ah, I have forgotten my shoes.  I have two more pairs other than that which I will wear on the flight.  I wrap them in plastic bags and put them in the suitcase, then I start to load in blanket, coats, clothes, books, and so on.  I am only halfway finished when I realize that already the suitcase cannot close.  Decisions have to be made.  Items have to be forsaken.  The first to go is the summer blanket.  Then the sheets and pillow covers.  Then all my pajamas – I only use pajamas in the winter and summer is upon us, so I figure there is time to replace them if needed.  I might be able to close the bag now, but I weigh it and it is far too heavy.  I reluctantly take out the expensive heavy winter coat.  Then my leather winter shoes.  Still not enough.  Real despair sets in as I come to the conclusion that I will have to leave my books, magazines, and anthologies behind, the only proof of my published work that I have.  I give them to one of my sons and ask him to try to fit them into his luggage when he comes, and he assures me that he will do so.

The carry-on is full of documents, books, toiletries, and fragile and valuable items.  It is double its weight allowance.  I remove a few more books but take a chance that the powers that be will probably not weigh it.  The laptop case fits only the laptop and its wires and mouse, plus a small paperback I plan to read on the trip.

So many essentials I have to leave behind.  Later I remove the fall jacket from the suitcase and put the winter coat back in, and I carry the jacket in my arms.  I also stuff my house/beach slippers into a side pocket of the carry-on.

That’s all.  That’s it.  The possessions I have accumulated in the many years of my life reduced to a suitcase, a carry-on bag, and a laptop.  Everything else discarded, set aside, forsaken, abandoned.  It reminds me of when I set out on the road in the mid-70s, how I sold or gave away everything:  a great collection of books, some rare and out of print; a television; clothes and odds and ends.  Okay, I was single so I didn’t have so much.   But I gave up everything that wouldn’t fit into my duffle bag, which I had to carry comfortably over my shoulder.  I ended up with a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, toiletries, a notebook for writing, and one book for reading.  And with that I ventured off into the unknown.

It’s so easy in life to accumulate possessions, and so hard to get rid of them.  That’s one reason many people don’t make changes that would be good for them – they are crushed under the weight of that which they own.  But it seems so strange to me, sitting there in that room with my things around me, realizing that these few items are only the tip of the iceberg, that there is also a house and a car and appliances and furniture and books and all sorts of other things I am leaving behind, and I wonder how you pack a life into an airline’s luggage allowance.

The answer?  You don’t, of course.  Life does not consist of these things.  Sometimes, in fact, they just get in the way.  Sometimes they are an impediment, not an enhancement.  Sometimes the best thing for the psychic and spiritual system is a good purge, to rid oneself of that which gets in the way of what constitutes real value.

So off I venture once again into the unknown.  Even the few bits of luggage I have, when in transit, are a pain in the ass.  They are heavy and awkward and when I have to take a piss at an airport I have to drag it all into the men’s room with me.  At least I try to hold my bladder until I can check in the big suitcase.  But I didn’t write this particular piece in order to give you travel tips…

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