When I leave Corvallis, I’ll leave with a suitcase, a carry-on, and a computer bag. Every other possession that sits in my apartment must be disposed of – either sent to limbo in my mom’s basement, given to friends, donated to charity, or thrown away. Figuring out what to do with everything that can’t come with me is a stressful process, far worse than figuring out what to take. Packing is full of delicious anticipation – I love imagining the potential surprises of my next adventure. De-packing, on the other hand, is awful.
The worst thing about de-packing is that it’s full of guilt. For example: in the corner of my apartment sits a rescue bike I pulled off a curb the night before a city-wide junk pickup. The bike is in fine condition except that the tires are flat and the seat is missing a clamp to secure it. These are easy fixes, and shortly after I rescued the bike, I joined a bike collective where I had the necessary space and equipment. But that, my friends, is the end of the story of the bike. I never did those fixes, even though having a bike would have been pretty helpful. I could claim I’ve been too busy, but I’m suspicious when I use that excuse. Probably I was intimidated, probably I’m just lazy, probably I lack motivation… And so on chants the internal chorus of self-recrimination.
I confront many such failures when I’m de-packing. Most are banal: I arrived in Corvallis with three rolls of specially engineered dental floss, and I will leave with two-point-five (as well as insufficiently flossed teeth, apparently). When not displaying my failures, de-packing highlights my foibles: my skin is never so pampered as in the last weeks before a journey, as I frantically use up the pile of bath products I’ve amassed and won’t throw away.
But there is a silver lining to this painful process. Over repeated iterations of de-packing, the things I own become an ever-more-curated collection of the Absolutely Necessary and the Much Beloved. I learn more about who I am every time I de-pack because I’m forced to refine the everyday tools of being me. While there are many possessions I like, there are few possessions that actually enable me to be myself, and that’s the ultimate test. Shoes may be pretty, but if they aren’t comfortable after twelve hours of walking around a city, they won’t make the cut, even if they’re new.
De-packing is arduous but essential – the equivalent of molting for travelers. I’m pretty broken up that I’m finally donating an adored blazer I’ve carried on every adventure since I bought it in Paris in 2010. On the other hand, I’m pleased that a cocktail strainer I was given when a Corvallis restaurant closed will allow me to share my love of American mixology with my international colleagues at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Every time I de-pack, it strips me of a crust of accumulated stuff that has started to prevent the life it was originally meant to enable. I emerge from the molting feeling squishy, wide-eyed, and a little shocked, but also stronger – and ready to take on something new.