Moving to Mexico and Your Relationship....With Your Stuff
Updated July 2017
Imagine yourself in your house getting ready to move to another country.
Look at all that stuff.
Like George Carlin said, “Our house is only a pile of stuff with a cover on it to use while we go out and find more stuff….and when we travel, we have to have to take a smaller version of our stuff.”
Or on a less contemporary note, maybe you have come across the classic Buddhist parable of the monk and the prince. Buddhism's basic tenet is that all our suffering is caused by attachment to stuff, to people and to ideas.
One day the prince asked the monk to his opulent estate with a palace full of exquisite art and intricately-woven tapestries.
While they were walking the grounds, a servant came running down the hill to breathlessly tell them that the palace was burning down. At hearing of this unexpected turn of events, the monk began running towards the palace crying, “My alms bowl! My alms bowl!’
(And who says Buddhists don’t have a sense of humor).
Now you are packing for Mexico and you have some decisions to make.
For one thing, when you come across the border with your personal possessions, you have to submit a detailed (makes, model numbers) list of every single item (in Spanish) and its value with four copies with each box having its own detailed manifest. That’s a lot of stuff. And don't get me started on bringing your American car across the border if you plan to live here.
Personal items are duty-free, but only one time. Electrical appliances like your bread maker and cappuccino machine have a duty limit and taxes apply after the limit.
What is the limit? If it’s like many things in Mexico, I think it depends on what kind of day Immigration is having. Some say hitting the border before they have their first cup of coffee helps.
If you are coming with more stuff than you can carry in your car, you will need to contract a Mexican moving company to meet you at the border to carry what you can’t to your destination.
If you are coming and going part-time and rent your home out, you might need to pay for storage for your stuff at home, hence the ongoing prioritizing and constant re-packing of things of which you will soon tire because in reality, you haven't used those roller blades in five years. Nothing notifies you of how much stuff you have like having to re-pack it every 6-8 months.
Sorting through your stuff is a bittersweet process. I examined my attachment to the Specialized bike bag I won as first prize in a mountain bike race, ran my fingers over the silver-studded dress I was wearing the night I met my ex-husband and traced the edges of the skis I used as a ski instructor in West Virginia. Your stuff tells your story.
Most of us can see ourselves leaving behind our tapestries and jewelry. The real test of your level of attachment to stuff is if you can walk away from the dinner set you used for Christmas family dinners for 20 years. Would you draw the line with the 1920’s dressing table, the table where you spent many nights preparing for your best nights.
Or what about the stuff we carry that characterize and define us? I couldn’t help but think of Tim O’Brien’s book, “The Things They Carried,” a famous book of stories by a Vietnam vet who centers the stories by describing his fellow soldiers as characterized by what they carried.
One soldier wore his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck for good luck, others carried things defined by their role in the war, like a two-pound poncho or a compass.
What would the contents of your purse or overnight bag say about your life? What would you bring with you to new country? What would you grab from the burning fire?
When I conducted a “Palapa Survey” under the thatched beach umbrellas one lazy Sunday afternoon and asked each of my friends what they would grab, I received the universal chorus of “Passports!”
I think they were on to something. Something about stuff.
I have heard it said, “ In the end, all we have is our stories.” Our stories are like stars that we flick out into the universe as if from the tips of our fingers, stories that establish we exist, and have existed in the past before their light dissolves into nothingness.
Travel is a great facilitator of stories, but not all that amenable to our stuff.
"Life doesn't rid you of things, it frees you of things" - Jorge Bucay, psychotherapist, writer (Argentine)
George Carlin talks about his stuff and he nails it - YouTube video of one of his best skits.
Next up: What does food cost in Mexico?
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Hola - I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to those considering expat life in Mexico. Most recently, "If Only I Had a Place," on renting luxuriously for less.
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