On a recent rainy and humid Sunday, I attended a book club organized by Istanbul-based expats. One of the members shared her story of how she ended up in Turkey. In middle age, she made a radical life choice to consolidate her possessions, downsize her life, and relocate to Istanbul. She described how liberating it was, and how much happier she is without so much “stuff.”
Everyone nodded in recognition. It’s a shared experience of every “expat,” including myself. In the past three years, I have lived in three different cities in two countries, and the coming years promise to be almost equally mobile. This kind of itinerant lifestyle has implications for accumulation of material possessions–simply that it does not allow for it.
This is not to say I live frugally or that I own few things–with every move I end up paying annoyingly excessive checked luggage and overweight fees and having sore shoulders for three days from hauling heavy suitcases. But there is always a limit because in the end, my life has to fit into whatever I can drag through an airport, and this has daily implications. Prior to each and every not-alimentary purchase, I ask myself “How will I get this home?” (“Home” being wherever the next destination happens to be.) Many purchases get vetoed on this basis, and many shopping trips simply don’t happen.
When I decide to collect something, it must be something tiny, like earrings, or perishable, like wine bottles. My books are e-books. My household decorations are origami cranes which I gift to local friends. I have two pairs of jeans, one black and one blue. My only material valuables are my laptop, cell phone, and my passport. (A fact which was reinforced last month after a gas explosion on my street. I went into the raw, exposed, glass-littered apartment to recover my valuables–in case of a robber intruding before the windows were repaired–only to realize I had almost nothing that needed saving.) And moving frequently implies regular and frequent culling of “things,” so the “things” never have a chance to proliferate.
I don’t automatically scorn people who choose to accumulate material possessions–only those who accumulate them thoughtlessly. One thing about living itinerantly is that it prevents one from careless, reflexive multiplying of possessions and forces conscious consumer habits like quality over quantity, value over convenience, need over want–all of which are good habits whether one lives abroad or not. A rich life is not about having lots of things, only having those things that you really value.
Photo: Wall mural in the Hacıosman metro station.