Any expat who has packed up home and moved to another country knows that within a few years’ time, most of the stuff that they have carefully boxed up and stored will no longer be relevant. Out of sight, out of mind; apart from a few books and my mother’s ashes, there’s little I will still want from the mountain of items left in my loft in London – winter coats, bedding, knick-knacks and now obsolete electrical equipment.
This is OK – we didn’t necessarily know how long we were going to be away and sometimes the passage of time is needed to more easily sort out what we do and don’t want.
But now that I’ve been living abroad for almost a decade, in a smaller space than I had at “home”, I find that I now need to have an annual clear out in Abu Dhabi too. Regular travel means that I accumulate more printed matter, in the form of brochures and suchlike, than I can usually keep up with, but tend to hang on to in case it is useful “sometime” – for an article, a repeat trip, or simply for someone who wants more information about a place.
Last weekend I tackled a few select bags and boxes and, whilst it was satisfying to chuck out the duller, bulkier items, I found a few choice mementoes and filed them with other keepsakes in a dedicated box. Most people, I guess, throw this stuff out, but the memories these items can bring back, I think, make them worthy of saving. While memories of a place fade over time, a detailed menu from a fabulous restaurant, an entry ticket to a museum or even a metro ticket – can take you back to a place in a visceral way.
Last weekend I kept a menu from Number One, a Michelin-starred restaurant at The Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh. The smoke-filled glass dome that covered the house-cured salmon repeated itself in my mind, as I scanned down the list of items. I kept a boarding pass from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan, and tickets from San Juan to Tortola. I was transported back to a sleepless night in less than salubrious airports, but reminded that sometimes even seemingly impossible connections can be made.
I kept a map of Necker Island – as it was before it was hit by last September’s hurricane. I kept a Nepalese trekking permit – such a hassle to obtain at the time, but a physical reminder of the awe-inspiring trek I’d done through the Annapurna Conservation Area. I kept the more ornate museum tickets, and metro tickets from Moscow and Athens. And of course I keep the notebooks, or sometimes just notes, scribbled on odd bits of paper. Sometimes they are the notes of strangers, who’ve methodically written out their list of recommendations.
There’s no money in the world that can take you back to the places you’ve been, at the time you were there. And in an increasingly digital world, there are fewer and fewer physical reminders of where we've been. So before you chuck all that stuff out, put it in a box and keep it for a while. You’ll be amazed, when you do open it, how much it means.