I’m absolutely a maximalist, though this often means I have practically nothing practical with me. Take, for example, the things I packed when I moved to London after graduate school:
- A 32-year-old stuffed bunny named Thumper (who, unsurprisingly, is missing a nose), which my father gave my mother before I was born, delighted because I kicked like the rabbit in Bambi did.
- A couple of photographs of my namesake, whom we grandkids called Mame. My favorite shows her at seven or eight in Varna, Bulgaria, with her mother, brother, and - as my great-grandmother labeled them - a Bulgarian, a Russian, and an Albanian. She identified herself and her children as “Internationalists” - as they had come to Bulgaria only recently, via California and Rhodesia.
- A collection of tiny stones and shells, collected by me mostly from beaches in London, Brooklyn, Queens, Joshua Tree, Venice Beach, Texas, North Carolina, and Guernsey, and by my loved ones in uncountably more places.
- Silver sugar spoons collected by my other grandmother while she made a Grand Tour between World War 2 and the Korean War, at which point she was called home by her worried father. They were an engagement gift. I remember her unrolling them from a lace handkerchief at a Pennsylvania Chinese restaurant when she presented them to us.
- Two of four golden tea cups and saucers given to my husband and me for our wedding
- A framed photograph of my sister and me at Easter when we’re five and three - I appear to be strangling her with enthusiasm. The frame is broken so I have to wrap it in all of my scarves before wedging it in the suitcase.
- Many white pillow cases
My mother - who has actually lived in thirty places so far - always tells me, no matter where I go, to bring something special to make it feel like home. I’ve taken her advice rather seriously, and sort of believe that if it looks and feels like home, it is. Household necessities come second, or last. That’s not to say I don't overpack. But in the past couple of decades of traveling and moving I’ve come to the obvious conclusion that tiny things just take up less space.
Here are a couple of pictures of my current (tiny) mantlepiece - these things are basically what I unpacked first when I arrived at this flat in London. The painted shell is from a trip to Lydia’s family’s home in South Carolina one summer. It instantly recalls to me our adventures, the heat's humidity, and the warm ocean water we rushed out of at dusk, fearing sharks. The ceramic octopus has no special meaning, but I bought it at a tiny shop in Carroll Gardens before I left Brooklyn, and I can’t believe I haven’t broken it in moving from Brooklyn to LA to Austin to Edinburgh to London. And then, of course, we have Thumper. Don't mind my goth Mexican skull necklace...