Imagine yourself in your house getting ready to move to another country, either for good or for six months and you have to move your possessions into storage.
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.”
George Carlin knew his stuff.
Maybe you have come across the classic Buddhist parable of the monk and the prince, which is also about stuff.
One day the prince asks the monk to his opulent estate with its 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.
When you come across the border in a car 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.
Most of the time, expats end up posting on-line that they wished they hadn't carried so much. The furnishings don't fit their new circumstances. It wasn't worth it. That especially applies to cars.
Personal items are duty-free, but only one time. Electrical appliances like your bread maker and cappuccino machine have a duty limit of how much you can declare. Taxes apply after the limit.
What is the limit? If it’s like everything else in Mexico, 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 will need to pay for storage for your stuff left at home.
If you are planning a permanent two-country lifestyle, you will have ongoing prioritizing and constant re-packing of things each time you leave or return. You will soon tire of this 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.
The American Dream has increased in how it defines itself in material terms over the decades. At the point where people earned enough income to do more than just feed themselves, sociologists wrote articles that in coming years everyone would be working a utopian 30-hour week.
Why didn’t that happen? Because our material cravings increased faster than our incomes, increasing our need to work even more. In Mexico, I have never had a dishwasher. In America I can't live without one.
In the first winnowing down of material goods needed for part-time expat life, sorting through your stuff is especially bittersweet. I examined my attachment to the Specialized bike bag I won as first prize in a mountain bike race. I 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 the king's tapestries and crown jewels. 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, or your alms bowl.
Would you draw the line with a 1920’s dressing table, the table where you spent many nights preparing for your best nights. Those are the decisions my expat friends have made. They aren't easy.
In Tim O’Brien’s book, “The Things They Carried,” a famous book of short stories by a Vietnam vet, what soldiers carried defined them. 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 and freedom from stuff.
"Life doesn't rid you of things, it frees you of things" - Jorge Bucay, psychotherapist, writer (Argentine)
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. They establish that we existed before they too dissolve into nothingness - just like our stuff.
George Carlin talks about his stuff and he nails it - YouTube video of one of his best skits.
Just beginning your journey toward the minimalism required for a real two-country lifestyle? These two writers of the blog, Theminimalists.com have helped 20 million people live more meaningful lives with less.
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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.
I am also the passionate author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web.
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