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.
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.
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.