(Grateful to be) Starting Over, Again

Somebody I used to know euphemistically called personal tragedies like major illness, grievous bodily injury and divorce “Learning Opportunities.” While I hated this sugar-coated euphemism at the time, I’m starting to see the silver lining of the cloud.

Moving across an ocean with nothing more than I can pack in a suitcase (well, with a little unexpected help from my friends, seven suitcases) means I’ve touched, weighed and considered every single item I’ve chosen to keep in my life. Some things I valued didn’t make the cut simply because they were too big to fit in a suitcase, like my bicycle repair stand. Others had an unfavorably high opportunity cost because of their weight-to-replacement value ratio (goodbye cast-iron skillet and forearm-sized adjustable wrenches).

Generally it comes down to two questions:

  1. How much will I miss not having the use of this item?
  2. Will it cost more to move or replace this item?

Note that number one above isn’t how much will I miss OWNING this item, just having the use of this item. That’s an important distinction because people like to help, and you’ve probably got at least one nearby friend who would be happy to swap books, tools, etc. with you on occasion. Which isn’t to say owning a thing is bad, just acknowledging that the costs of ownership (purchase, storage and maintenance) need to be weighed against the frequency of use and costs of borrowing or renting the thing when needed.

(Paper documents have always been a special kind of hell for me because they’re historically how I offloaded stuff from working memory that I didn’t want to forget forever, but I managed to reduce them down to a manageable level by spending a month scanning most of them to PDF, making doubly redundant backups, and then shredding the originals. Also, PDFtk has become one of my new BFF’s.)

The fun part begins after wheels down, when I move out of my temporary accommodation couch-surfing with a friend and into my own digs: identifying the things I use often enough to actually go buy, not because I enjoy spending money, but because it’s an opportunity to exercise my creativity: remember, that shiny “new” thing becomes “used” the moment I take it out of the package at home. In other words: do I really need a brand new kitchen table? Probably not. What about a replacement for that too-heavy-to-fly 12-inch cast iron skillet? Nope, a thrift shop probably has a perfectly good one for a fraction of the new price. How about those stainless-steel pint “glasses” I’ve been lusting after for three years? Ooh, that’s a toughie. I’m sure I can find perfectly usable glass ones for cheap, but I’ve got a history of breaking glass things and then cutting myself on them, and plastic tumblers have an unsavory habit of picking up and holding scents. I might finally be able to justify buying one (or maybe even two) of those stainless steel tumblers–you see the fun part is exercising your creativity in finding the most perfectly “you” sized solutions to your everyday needs, the few favorite things that you use so often that it really does make sense to own.

Just for fun, I started to list out the things I think I’ll need, and whether they really have to be bought new or if I can take advantage of the often substantial savings of buying used:


  • pillow
  • futon mattress
  • hand-crank burr coffee grinder
  • 8-inch chef’s knife


  • kitchen table
  • 2 folding chairs
  • 2 plates
  • 2 bowls
  • 2 forks
  • 2 spoons
  • 2 blunt table (“butter”) knives
  • 2 sharp table (“steak”) knives
  • 12-inch cast iron skillet
  • 2-quart pot and lid
  • 2 stainless-steel pint-sized tumblers (hey, it’s possible I could find them used)
  • heavy-duty folding bicycle repair stand (ditto)
  • 2 bath towels (nothing a little bleach and laundry detergent can’t fix, right?)
  • 2 hand towels
  • 2 dish towels
  • 2 wash cloths
  • sheets, flannel
  • sheets, cotton (because Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road construction)
  • pillow case, flannel
  • pillow case, cotton
  • mattress pad
  • futon frame
  • clothes drying rack

Now that I think about it, I may have to ask friends and family if they have any of these “used” items laying around, taking up space but never actually in service before I start spending money at thrift shops.

Creativity: I has it.

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