Travel Magazine

Just Stuff

By Russellvjward @russellvjward
I didn't need this stuff and I couldn't take it with me, I remember thinking, as I gathered my UK life into numerous black bin bags and poorly formed cardboard boxes. This 'stuff' would shortly be sold at a local market in town. A hoarder by nature, I didn't exactly want to dispose of my early childhood possessions and used household goods but the upcoming journey overseas dictated that I travel with the bare minimum - and I was in no position to bring along any of this excess stuff. My stuff would therefore become someone else's stuff.

Just stuff

Image: scottchan /

On a gray and overcast morning, I farewelled what I believed was a large part of my English identity steadily accumulated through the years of life on this island of mine but which, in reality, was not far off being junk. I detached myself from the process and proceeded to de-clutter my very self. The riddance of these familiar items was a blow to my parents and one in a series of events that crystallised the harsh reality of us leaving on a one-way voyage overseas. Inwardly, I'm sure my parents grieved for the loss of these 'things' that represented my established life in England. Outwardly, they put on a brave face and watched silently as my worldly goods sold for mere pounds and pence in a nondescript school playground in an indistinctive southern town.
I have no doubt that I left a part of me behind on that day in that playground. I sold broken bookshelves, faulty cabinets and wonky chairs, as I moved forward with my life taking a brave step into the unknown. In my mind, I was not simply giving up physical belongings, but unnecessary baggage. The part of me left behind at that marketplace was the part that refused to let go, that wanted to remain in a safe place, that needed to sit tight in its comfort zone. I left the market emotionally fatigued but all the lighter for releasing myself of this stuff. Because that was all it was. Just stuff.
In time, I grew better at purging myself of these seemingly unnecessary things. In fact, I became almost obsessed. In the lead-up to a big move, I would become maniacal in my efforts to clear every room of any effects that could hold up progress or add expense to the upcoming journey. I would discard these obstructive annoyances with relish and a lack of regard for their worth or significance, only to be reigned in by my wife when the cupboards lay bare and the packing boxes still empty.
There was one treasured possession that I could not face parting with, that I clung to with the stubbornness of a spoilt child. When the flat pack boxes arrived and we had armed ourselves with brown tape and bold marker pens, I would head straight for my beloved collection of 12-inch records. This army of battered vinyl warriors, this organised mass of plastic and paper and memories, waited patiently for a touch or a dust down, as perfect in my eyes as the day they were made.

My records were meticulously lined up in rows on the shelves of my spare bedroom. I would carefully take one by its spine, smell the damp and musty aroma as it came free, feel the well-worn edges and dog-eared corners, and flip the delicate ageing cover over in my hands as I remembered the beat, the tempo, the vocals, that baseline, the last time I'd soaked up its precious musical cargo.

Just stuff


This thing, mere stuff, had a bewitching power over me. I could suddenly be transported from my Sydney bungalow to a time and place in the past when this record revolved on a dimly lit turntable, in a darkened booth, in the corner of a dingy club, in front of a die hard crowd. The record's sounds, this most beautiful of stuff, would be lapped up by the gathered crowd, whistling and clapping, moving as one pulsating, electrified mass to the rhythm of the tune, always hungry for more. The atmosphere heightened as the song reached its climax. People thumping on the floor, jumping up on benches, cheering and revelling in the heady atmosphere. The ever-present baseline reverberating around the club's walls, pulsing through the sofas and stools, shaking exit doors and jolting mammoth speakers. I soaked up the atmosphere, sky high on the energy, electrified by the reaction to this record, this thing, this stuff.  
My collection of records is so dear to my heart. My records are my prize, my trophy. They are more than just grooved discs, more than a family of sounds. They are a point in time when I studied hard by day and DJ-ed harder through the night. They were my escape from the monotony of reports and essays, of lectures and exams. They note a day, a week, a month when life was carefree, when responsibility was shirked.
Although I've tried to move on, I allow myself these brief moments to reminisce, a knowing smile stretching my face and a shoe tap tapping the floor. My battered and grimy records remind me of what was, but could never really continue to be. And this stuff has weighed heavily on the purse, being shipped from one city to the next at maddening expense. I have often caught my wife gazing out over the tightly packed boxes waiting expectantly to be carried away to our new home in some exotic locale. She will shake her head, let out a small sigh, and turn to other more pressing matters.
When moving to Sydney, I hauled more than fifteen over-sized boxes of my perfect records into the storage space beneath the house. It was a mistake of epic proportions. When a storm hit the city not long after, the accompanying downpour broke free of the overwhelmed drains to deposit soil and water in my records' new home. My beloved collection, my stuff, wallowed waist deep in muddy water until discovered several days later. I spent days and weeks in the garage peeling soggy covers from exposed vinyl backs, wiping slime off vulnerable torsos, carefully placing bruised bodies into clean paper cases.
My wife watched me one day and gave another almost imperceptible shake of the head. I sometimes wonder if she realises that this stuff is so much more than just stuff.
What stuff have you brought with you or left behind?  Was it worth the effort or do you miss it?
Thanks to Kristin Bair O'Keeffe for her Expat Sat: Writer Prompts, the "culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing", which helps fill my writing well of inspiration...

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