An Embarrassment of Clothing

When I arrived in Boulder, I carried with me one big duffle bag and two smaller carry-ons. I came home from the US with three large pieces of checked luggage filled mostly with clothing. That return baggage represents a growth of at least three times the amount of stuff I arrived with in Denver, way back in August. Plus, I sent another duffle bag home with Matt on his last visit to the US, and two boxes by US post.

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Printed photo (about the size of A4 letter paper) that I packed to bring home. 

I am not proud to admit that I packed an extra set of measuring spoons and some packets of spices; new sandals and old jeans; new-to-me blouses and pants. I packed up personal care products I didn’t really need; even some bath towels and a set of silverware my family used when I was a child. I managed a few small gifts for friends. My boxes held tax documents, photos, and cards, and more books I couldn’t bear to part with, after selling or giving away many from the stack I acquired while in the US for a mere nine months. If I could have justified the extra weight, I would have packed my cast-iron skillet.

On my arrival home in Stockholm, and after paying an embarrassing amount of money to ship my boxes and check my bags on my flights home, I had the unfortunate revelation that perhaps I should not have packed so much. I rediscovered closets and drawers and shelving units filled with my clothing. Containers of sweaters and other winter clothes pepper our tiny apartment; I have hanging bags and boxes of clothes stored down in the basement. I have stacks of shoes stuffed into the back of my bedroom closet, and more stored in the basement as well.

So much clothing! So many pairs of socks, underwear, bras… and now I own even more, after thinking I had to stock up on some of these basics back in Boulder. I thought I needed them! I arrived with so little, that getting a new winter coat was a necessity. I did laundry every week — not that I didn’t do that before, as Matt will attest of my habits, but I absolutely had to do it in Boulder in order to have clean underwear.

That is, of course, until I started accumulating.

The US, with its relatively cheap prices compared to Sweden, was too tempting. Too many stores, discount and otherwise. Too much stuff available to buy. I told myself I had been living on what had to be the bare minimum, and that I could use, say, a few more warm sweaters. I am so glad I stopped myself from buying more sandals and shoes — well, more than the pairs I bought when my self-control failed me and I succumbed to sales, discount clothing chains and used clothing shops.

What is this human need for the new? Why do we get bored with what we own? I have some weird theory about how we once made things to last, but also to be used up: the leather shoes that wore out after multiple repairs, the cloth that was carefully woven and used for carryalls, capes, coverlets — all multipurpose, and therefore used and used and used, made to wear out over a long time and then replaced. We like new patterns, new colors, new trinkets and adornments.

But we always have favorite things too. I am thinking of the travelers, the people who were nomads and carried their precious stone tools with them. Or of my forebears who came to the US, aboard ships crossing the Atlantic, carrying only their most precious, and perhaps most useful and most beloved possessions. And soon they, too, would be replacing and accumulating, as much as they could in those times — which was most likely comparatively little according to our modern-day consumerist standards, with all the cheap goods flooding in from China and elsewhere, clothing, electronics, or other items.

For me, unfortunately, I’d been living away from my stash of stuff for so long that I forgot what I had already accumulated, stored here in Stockholm. So I paid the extra price to pack up my three bags and take them back with me. The first thing I did as I unpacked at home was to start a box of things to give away. I had to do it, not only to get rid of clothes that no longer suit me or even fit (I have yet to tell you about what I allude to as my Freshman 15), but in order to be able to put away my new clothes that I had schlepped home with me.

I still can’t bear to part with some items — scarves given to me as gifts, t-shirts with weird sayings emblazoned on them, favorite sweaters with holes. And I am also pleased with some of the new things I brought home with me, some of which I hope will become new favorites — my innovative raincoat; my (ahem, Danish!) clogs I bought on sale at an outdoor retail outlet; my new blouse from the upscale used clothing store. But really, did I need more baseball caps? I should have bought more running clothes. And most annoying to me, I can’t believe I forgot about how cool it is here in Stockholm, even in summer. I should have bought more wool sweaters to bring home.

And while I didn’t need to bring the silverware, I am so happy to have it around and see its familiar, nostalgia-inducing shapes. I am happy to have the photos I printed of places that are now quite far away. And I hope I will someday read those (heavy, old-technology, tree-killing) books…

And please do not judge me, but I had a moment of overwhelming paralysis one of the first mornings I was back: I could not decide what to wear.

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