I think part of me thought that this time would be less complicated, less tiring. I’ve done this move three times now, and I know this place and bits of how it works. It has been less complicated in some ways and surprisingly easy to slip back into life. But in other ways I’ve had more to do, and because last time I arrived soon before the summer holidays, it was an easier ramp up to being busy even though the future was a totally blank slate. This time has been more like jumping straight into the icy water before knowing where the bank is. And it hasn’t been less exhausting, but at least I know from experience that it’s better to just let myself be exhausted, take time where I need it and not stress out about not getting enough done fast enough. No one else is breathing down my neck, so there’s no point in wrenching my own head around to breathe down it either.
So this week I did some laundry, did some cooking, got my internet set up. Got some stuff done at work. Got a few bags of my things back from a friend who had been keeping them for me in the attic. Going through that stuff that I hadn’t seen in seven months (though it felt like a lifetime) really got me thinking.
Why do I have all this stuff? I think this every time I have to move… why does it seem like I have so much stuff? Why does it take so many things to function in this society? Isn’t there a simpler way?
It feels a little weird, like each thing represents a different part of my life, a whole disjointed string of memories of places and people. The teal teapot from Indiska, the first real domestic item I bought here for my old apartment and which I used to make a pot of tea every night before bed. Inevitably I fell asleep before I got the last cup, so I would put the teapot on the windowsill and drink the last cup, cold, in the morning. The pastry mat and my notebooks from Ohio, memories of cooking with family and of spending long weeks in college working to figure out what kind of research I wanted to do, cutting the monotony and stress with baking. Two autumns ago rolling out pie crusts made with beef tallow in place of butter (it’s the best way, trust me!), rendered off from cheap cuts from the market hall butcher I used to make stew, and filled with valkea kuulas apples foraged from a kind colleague’s backyard orchard. White figure skates from a secondhand sports shop I used to re-teach myself to ice skate (badly), the black pumps (a size too big) I wore to a friend’s engagement party at the East India Club in London, feeling very posh. Aprons that were gifts from my mom and my cousins, the Haisuli towel I bought in Stockmann just a few weeks after I arrived in Helsinki for the first time. It traveled to a summer cabin in Heinola two years ago in July and has started to fade from being laid out on the beach last summer the day I went swimming with a friend and got badly sunburned from just a few hours outside. The furry socks with reindeer print I bought at an overpriced souvenir shop the very first time I visited Helsinki, wandering around the city in February with some new friends, a meter of snow on the ground and my light English boots unable to handle the cold, stopping for coffee whenever our toes went numb. The laundry bag I bought because the print reminded me of Delft blue, the matching mug from a Douwe Egberts at Christmas in Den Haag and the cheese knife with the porcelain Delft blue handle. The battered, ripped and stained rolled-up paper print of the Monet Impression, Sunrise I’ve had hanging in my room since college. It has long been my favorite painting, mostly because I connect so well with Monet, but also so that wherever I am, I have a little impression of the sea with me. A coffee mug that was a gift from an estranged friend, and one from an ex-lover. My baroque oboe I brought with me, its mauve brocade fabric case a familiar sight, a small Chinese silk box holding staples and a little wooden box holding reeds, repurposed from its original use as a delivery system for two adorable chocolate mice from Burdick’s in Cambridge. Both gifts.
More even than bits of my life, these things are all memories. And now they’re mixing and mingling with my new things; new apartment, new layout. New brown and white chevron pillow, new Jamie Oliver granite mortar and pestle set, new cream-colored porcelain Anno jars with chic little wooden lids, one currently filled with chocolate covered espresso beans and the other with paper receipts. It’s a weird combination of many years of old me, many chapters, many different versions of me, mixing with the potential me, the future me. The new things fill the places that used to be filled by old things, youthful things, borrowed things, things acquired of necessity and things that were left behind. The new things represent the ideal me, the me that happens in a vacuum, when I have free rein to design my life as I see fit.
It’s not really a vacuum, but it feels that way because of the tunnel-vision we have about life, able to see patterns in the past but not the future, knowing we’ll change but not really knowing how yet. And as I’m watching the old things that I’ve kept organically merging with the new things, gradually settling into places where they fit, it’s starting to feel like it makes sense. One day at a time.