This is What it Feels Like To Move Home

modesto“Are you sad, happy, excited, nervous?” That’s what every one of my friends would ask me in the weeks and days before I moved home to my Dad’s. I was anxious about it all coming together, about shipping my stuff and saving up enough money to get myself to where I needed to go. I was overwhelmed by the thought of selling all my stuff and moving from Denver, the place I spent two years building my life, back to California. My feelings about moving and leaving where nonexistent because of the most part I only had emotions around the logistics and everything else was superfluous.

Of course I knew that the emotions wold come. After 3 weeks of prep, 18 days of which I spent working and scraping together every dime, I knew that at some point I would stop and I would slowly and carefully fall apart. It made sense, this is was the biggest decision I had made in long time. It was supposed to be a reprieve from the constant worry I felt about falling behind in my career, the never ending parade of poor relationship choices and the all too real realties of trying to adult with very little money and bills stacking up faster than I could get the money back out. It was a logical and practical decision because with every passing month my dreams of traveling overseas and eventually going to grad school grew further and further away and honestly it was the only thing I could think of that could stop the bleeding.

Up until the day I got on the plane I was completely numb to what was going on. Maybe because I couldn’t believe it or maybe because I didn’t want to but from the moment I stepped off the plane my heart began to slowly sink.

I’d spent very little time in California post college. I had worked on a campaign in San Francisco proper in 2012 and before moving to Denver spent a whole summer in Sacramento with my Aunt and Uncle. But this time I was going to my Dad’s in Modesto, a place I frequently referred to as the Iowa of California. Contradictory to my hometown of Santa Cruz where I had grown up with my mother (who moved to San Antonio shortly after I finished college), Modesto where my father had lived for most of m life was surrounded by Central Vally farms and mostly smelled like horse manure. It was small and desolate with no real main attractions or things to do other than mini golf and the movies. My Dad has a big house in the suburbs next to the train tracks and but compared to my tiny apartment with a great view in Denver and the never ending amount of activities I was now accustomed too this place felt like prison.

Which is how I found myself quietly sobbing in a bedroom I hadn’t slept in since I was seventeen finally letting the waves of emotion pour over me. I was lost, I was alone, I had no one and while I knew it was a temporary (hopefully only 6-7 months) nothing about moving home felt ok. I was in an unfamiliar place with a parent I didn’t really know and the fact that I hadn’t been able to hack it on my own while friends of mine were getting married and having babies felt like I was being stabbed over and over again with my own shortcomings.

Now, to be clear, I know a lot of people move back home during their “quarter life crisis” in that I was not alone. It was going to save me money and provided me the reset button I wasn’t able to grab a hold of while I balanced the many many ballsI had in the air on my own. I didn’t resent the world that me and my twenty something year old friends had to grow accustom to. I didn’t blame the huge load of student debt I had accrued or the steadily rising cost of living in cities like Denver and Austin, and Seattle – places that were experiencing a resurgence due to a little gentrification and spurred millennial interest. I resented myself because what it really felt like to move home was failure.

I cried a lot that first week. I was lucky that a mutual friend of a friend was also stuck out here and a few weeks before I moved reached out to me and invited me to dinner once I settled in. I was happy that our first dinner turned into our first lunch and a few more dinners and while the potential for something more grew I was mostly excited to just have a friend. Yet, even with the unexpected addition of him I was still lonely and stuck in my head a good portion of the time contemplating whereI had gone wrong. On good days I was energized and determined to make the most out of it, looking for waitressing gigs and signing up to be a volunteer girl scout troop leader. I focused on my pending trip to South Africa at the end of the year and started figuring out the logistics for grad school. I held onto these ideals and ideas as strongly as I had hung onto anything before in my life. Through thick clouds of dust and the never ending stretch of manure I tried to keep the best possible outcome in the forefront of my mind, taking deep breathes throughout the day when it all became to much to bear.

Moving home was like being sent to your room after getting all C’s on your report card – the punishment being you were to sit in your room and think about your mediocrity. But unlike a child I tried not to sulk and held myself fully accountable while I studied and tried to do better.

All My Things In Boxes

IMG_4703The moment I decided I wanted to move home I automatically decided I was going to try to take everything I owned. The collection of stuff I had managed to acquire during my two years in Colorado was mind bottling and for obvious reason filled with furniture. When I first moved to Denver I had only my full sized bed, 4 bins, 2 boxes, and 2 suitcases. At the time I was only 23 and a frequent campaign staffer, which meant I was use to the unattached, living simply lifestyle.

When I had moved into my first apartment in Denver I lived like a 28 year bachelor – the bare minimum. I unpacked all my clothes and used my plastic bins for night stands. I didn’t put up any pictures (though I has some) and thumb tacked the dark curtains that I had dug out of a box, to my eastward facing apartment. My roommate was a Craigslist find and managed to purchase us a couch and a chair to furnish the small living room. I had a few bowls and a few plates that I managed to buy from was-mart, along with a crockpot I later became obsessed with; it was the setup for someone truly living on their own for the first time, and it is only now that I appreciate just how happy I was with so little.

Which is why, when I signed an 18 month lease for a even smaller little apartment in a neighborhood closer to the city from where I lived before, I was determined to accumulate some stuff. A table, a chair, a bedroom set and a TV made it feel like I lived there, a stark contrast to the apartment I previously had. Later pictures and frames all over the house added a essence of me and personal touch that made me always want people to come over just so they could marvel at my fanatic view and a fairly grown up apartment. I was adulating all over the place and as my love for cooking grew, so did a robust kitchen filled with gadgets and fancy dishes.

While my world started to change around me, my love for my apartment, and my attachment to my neighborhood and Denver as a whole gave me roots for the very first time. Friends came in and out of my life but I managed to hold onto a few, and those few made all the difference. When my best friend from college decided to move in with me I crossed my fingers it would out, as most women know, that living with a close friend can go from really good to really bad very quickly. We were lucky it was the former and her presence added an even more lived in feeling that made me warm inside.

Once I decided I was moving there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would just have to get a Uhaul and drive all my stuff. In order to get a smaller one I was willing to sacrifice most everything except my bedroom set and sofa. As logistic for that sort of move flushed out I amended my plan and decided that instead of driving a huge Uhaul I would store all my stuff and drive in a compact rental car with the main essentials. The idea of giving up anything more than that was emotionally distressing, not to mention very close to throwing money away since all my furniture combined was probably closer to the $2000 range over time. But everyone around me unanimously agreed that the best course of action was just to get rid of all the stuff and travel back the same way I had come – simply.

It took some convincing but in the end I decided to let go of all my stuff. The extra hundred bucks or so would be helpful for the move and the metaphorical and physical weight was somewhat lifted from my body. It also meant I had to pair down on stuff. Selling the main items was too hard and barely affected me but as I ran out of space in the few boxes I had to ship my heart started to sink. Sure, you can get “stuff” anywhere, but this stuff meant something to me. This stuff was what represented roots to me and watching it leave piece by piece made me keenly aware that I was cutting my roots and moving home.

The satisfaction I had with getting all my stuff into four boxes and 2 suitcases surprised me. This was it, this was all I had. I was going to start over and it would totally be fine. Yet arriving home I realized how lost I felt with out a lot of my things. I moved in my my old dresser and organized them drawer by drawer the way I had at home. The old dresser squeaked when I tugged out the draws and took forced effort to get back in,  something I wasn’t use to with my slick gliding drawers that slammed if I did anything more then slide it softly. The bare walls made me feel like I was living in a hotel room where the were things, but none of them mine.

The morning my things finally came felt like Christmas. While it had only been 5 days I instantly felt like a piece of me had finally arrived. I rushed to get the dishes out first and was slightly heartbroken when I learned almost 50% of my dishes had broken in the move despite my generous amount of tissue paper and bubble wrap. I ignored the sinking feeling in my chest because I could always buy new dishes, it was the “stuff” that mattered most. I  took the box up to my room and spent 5 minutes tearing it open, to excited to go look for scissors. I opened the box and immediately felt better. My bed side lamps were at the top, and I couldn’t wait to finally have ambient light instead of the bright ceiling light I wasn’t use to anymore. Picture frame with my favorite pictures in them and my glass mason jars were all there, just the way I had packed them. Journals and awards littered the bottom of the box and I lifted out one more item. It was a small travel journal I had never thrown away in the man years I moved around. By now it was slightly warped and covered in something sticky even though it was surrounded with plastic. I opened it and stared at the blank pages which, over time, had ironically more authentic. Water stains and browned pages made me think of pending trip to South Africa.

I wouldn’t be able to bring all the stuff there. At some point I was going to be without my boxes and yet I’d probably still be happy if not happier than I could ever be. I started to understand why this choice, the choice to start over, meant throwing away most of my stuff. I was unburdened, free, back at the place I had been at 23 – happy with nothing.