July 5, 2016

The day that the movers came to unload all of our stuff in Connectict, we discovered that black mold had ruined almost everything we owned. In the two months it had taken our stuff to get from Hawaii to Connecticut, mold grew across things that we needed, like our mattress, and things that had sentimental value to Nick and me. There was the kitchen table table that my cousin gave me. There was the bookshelf that Nick had gotten me as a surprise while I was away. He had to rent a truck to get it to our apartment and it was the best surprise ever. There was the laptop that had my college pictures and documents. There were over 300 books that I had collected, that professors and friends had given me, some signed, some first edition.

Everything was completely wet and it smelled awful. I couldn’t be near the truck because I felt so sick.

I instantly knew how this happened. It was raining hard on the day of our move, and the movers left everything out in the rain while they took their time loading the truck. I was inside my apartment with the other movers who were packing up. At the time, I trusted the movers to do their job and never considered the idea that they could completely mess up the job that they do every single day.

Once the movers saw the mold in Connecticut, they had to pack up everything and bring it to a warehouse. If there is any mold present from a move, I learned, every single item has to go to a professional company to be looked at. It took about 6 weeks for them to go through all of our stuff, looking for mold and determining what could be saved.

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During those 6 weeks, we sat on the floor with no furniture because we were waiting to see what exactly we would get back. We had nothing to cook with. We didn’t know what could be cleaned, so we didn’t want to go buying anything just yet. We did have an air mattress – our saving grace.

Think about all of the little things that make up your home, that you use every day or every week.

Think about all of the things that you use every day that plug in. All of our electronics – from our blender to our laundry machines to our computer, were suddenly gone. So was most of our furniture, some paintings and photo frames, and countless little things. I would go to do something, like make coffee, and realize I couldn’t.

In the end, a professional company cleaned our dishes, some Christmas decorations, and pots and pans — things like that. Another company cleaned all of our textiles, but not much else could be saved. We had to throw away most of our furniture and all our electronics, from our blender to our laundry machines to our TV. We did get to keep a cabinet that my dad made, which made me so happy. Somehow the mold knew not to mess with that.

One night while all of this was going on, Nick and I threw a blanket on the floor so we could have a picnic while we ate dinner. We opened some wine. It was romantic.

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I realized that not much had changed. I still had Nick. We were still having dinner and hanging out and drinking our wine. Same old us. We just had less stuff.

I learned a lot in the months that followed. It’s a bit conflicting, but I tried to articulate what I’m feeling as best as possible.

1. I realized that we need to take the time to be grateful for the simple, basic things that we couldn’t live without but take for granted every day. We lost a lot, but we still have so much, and I found myself feeling like couldn’t get myself to be that upset about something so trivial as stuff. We have a place to live. We have food and water. And we have each other. Even after we threw everything away, we had more than we could possibly need.

2. That night as we sat on the floor, I was just as happy as I ever had been. Your happiness can’t come from your stuff. It can’t come from having the latest computer or fancy kitchen gadgets. It comes only from within, and from who you surround yourself with.

3. But that doesn’t mean you have to go getting rid of everything you own. There is something nice about drinking coffee out of your favorite mug, hanging your wedding photos on your walls, having a bookshelf full of your favorite books, and cuddling under a blanket that your grandmother made.

I realized that even though stuff isn’t everything, surrounding yourself with your favorite things can make a house a home. As I bought some of my favorite books and hung up some photos, I started to feel like I was finally home. You should build a home you love full of things you love, without letting those things take over. I was so thankful that I was able to keep a few of my absolute favorite things, like a cabinet my dad made us, a photo that everyone who came to our wedding signed, and a drawing that a professor had done for me in college. Im actively replacing my book collection and it’s so much fun to have my favorite books around.

You just can’t let your stuff consume you or form the basis of your happiness. Stuff isn’t everything. And it can be replaced. 6 months later, I don’t miss much that we lost. Losing everything just wasn’t the tragedy that I thought it would be.

4. I realized how lucky I am to have such an optimistic partner. Whenever someone would remark how hard the situation was, Nick, an eternal optimist, would just reply, “we’re doing fine.” Luckily, his optimism often rubs off on me when I feel like the world is about to fall apart. I am so thankful that I married someone who always finds the good and who helps me find it, too.

6 months later, we are still waiting to get money back from the insurance company (a long story, but if you have ever dealt with insurance companies, you probably are not surprised). In the meantime, we replaced all of the basic things that we need. We are doing just fine. I might not have a KitchenAid mixer anymore, but I can easily make all of the same recipes I used to, just by using my own strength. Over time we will replace more things, but I am doing it slowly and deliberately.

I don’t find myself wanting to buy a lot of stuff anymore. Less is more. Happiness doesn’t come from the store.

And I learned that patience, a sense of humor, and a glass half-full will give you so much more than a house full of stuff ever could.

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23 responses to “What losing all my stuff taught me.”

  1. I still don’t know how y’all dealt with losing all of the things that had sentimental value to you. I know that I would be so upset if I lost all of my pictures from a certain period in my life. But what you did say about stuff not being everything is 100% true! As long as you have the people that you love surrounding you and the basic things that you need to survive, everything else just extra.

    • Carolann says:

      That was the hardest stuff to lose. The sentimental stuff. I don’t really care about our TV or couches! But since the books were the biggest thing I lost I just look at it as an excuse to buy more books and go into every single used bookstore I can find! I’m so glad I had Nick to go through all of this with – he really is so optimistic. Even when I don’t think I can be, I find myself being optimistic too because his attitude just rubs off on me.

  2. Audrey says:

    I just can’t imagine losing everything 🙁 If our house caught on fire my only concern would be getting K and our two dogs out, but I would definitely be sad to see all my books and photos and things disappear. You definitely have a rare, amazing attitude about the whole situation!

    • Carolann says:

      Like you said, all that really matters is having those you love! It was really hard and still is, but it’s mostly just annoying to have to go out and get new stuff and deal with the insurance company!

  3. Good grief-this is absolutely terrible! I’m so sorry. But good for you for being so positive and learning from it-that’s pretty amazing.

    • Carolann says:

      Thanks Chelsea! I’m lucky that Nick is so positive and always helps me see the good. I’m not always good at that but he is so he keeps me sane!

  4. Sara says:

    I was so sad for you when I originally read about this, but I am so glad that you have been able to work through it. Things are things, but some of them have such special memories attached to them.

    • Carolann says:

      Thanks Sara. I think I’ve found my peace with it knowing that at least I have Nick and that we will get to make new memories together! It was sad at first to lose a lot of things that have memories tied to them and it still makes me a little sad when I think about it, but in my regular life, I don’t really think about it!

  5. Heidi says:

    It’s crazy how just something so simple and unassuming (the rain) can change your life so dramatically!! But you definitely seem to have handled it well. I’m a huge fan of living simply and really only getting what you need – which sometimes it’s easy to think you need things you actually don’t.

    • Carolann says:

      I try to only buy things I really need, too. When we lived in Hawaii, we had such a small apartment that every time I wanted to buy something I would have to ask myself if I really wanted to make space for it, if I even had space for it. It’s definitely hard to only buy things you truly need, but once you get into the mindset, that kind of life become a lot simpler. Books are my weakness – I love owning books 🙂

  6. Anne says:

    I found your blog while I was dreaming of visiting Hawaii. How wonderful you lived there. Not so wonderful losing so many sentimental things. That would be the hardest. Day to day things are not so valuable I suppose. You certainly have a terrific attitude. I had to pop over and say hello. Enjoy your new digs in Connecticut, another place I have never been. Blessings, Anne

    • Carolann says:

      Hi Anne! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. Are you thinking of going to Hawaii soon? I would be happy to answer any questions you have!

  7. Susannah says:

    Oh my goodness, hearing about your stuff is heartbreaking! I’m so glad you’re able to look on the bright side and that you realize what is truly important in life! <3

    • Carolann says:

      Thank you so much. At the time it was a bit overwhelming, but now looking back I realized that losing our stuff, even sentimental. stuff, really wasn’t too bad. Thank goodness I have Nick 🙂

  8. Lea says:

    So beautifully put, Carolann. Probably my favorite line(s) … “Your happiness can’t come from your stuff. It can’t come from having the latest computer or fancy kitchen gadgets. It comes only from within, and from who you surround yourself with.”

    Wise words from a wise woman.

    Xo

    • Carolann says:

      Thank goodness I learned a lot of it from you! You really have taught me so much over the years and I love you for it. It was great seeing you tonight. Surrounding myself with you and your littles makes me very happy! <3

  9. Sorcha says:

    Brilliant post about what must have been such a difficult situation to handle. Sounds like you did so with grace and good humour.

    I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism lately and bringing the idea of it into my life slowly.

    It’s not all about having empty rooms and white walls – but it is, like you say, making a home by having things you love around you, and not just stuff.

    It definitely makes me feel more content and as though I have more than enough. Which is a feeling I never had when I was surrounded by clutter.

    • Carolann says:

      I agree with you, Sorcha. I feel so much more content and happy now that we have less. I get to look at the things that I truly love instead of having everything cluttering my view. Before this happened, Nick and I lived in a small apartment in Hawaii and we had way too much stuff to fit into it. It was just cluttered and difficult to even walk around, and caused me so much stress because I felt like the apartment always looked messy. I feel so much happier now that we have less. Our home seems cleaner and we have more space!

      As I replace some things that were missing, I’m trying to be intentional about what I buy. If it takes a long time to replace certain things, I am okay with that, because I only want to have things I love around. Have you read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? I was going to try her method but then this happened and I didn’t need to. But I liked her ideas and her method.

  10. Mandy says:

    🙂 We’ve had such similar experiences! When we moved home from Nigeria to UK when I was four, we lost absolutely everything because our container was flooded. All we got to keep was a stainless steel cutlery set but even the crockery went funny.

    • Carolann says:

      Oh my gosh, Mandy. That is crazy. We were lucky that we are able to keep a lot of sentimental stuff, clothing, and some dishes. The more I talk to people about what happened, the more I realize that this is not as uncommon as I thought.

  11. Anneliese says:

    I give you so much credit that you came out stronger from this experience. If I had lost my things I dont think I would be able to write about it. Great Article!

    • Carolann says:

      Thank you so much! If you asked me to write about it right after it happened, about 7 months ago, the post would be very different. I was not happy at first. But I’ve learned so much over the past few months and I realize that I am even happier now in my home than I ever was with all of that junk. Thanks for stopping by!

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