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What to leave behind

Posted in Life & Love

VogueThe idea was to write a post about relocating, starting over in middle age. Between sofagirl and I, combined, we have moved to different countries 6 times and I had been thinking how it would feel to make such a move just about now, at this age. I have lived in California for 20 years, 18 of which in LA. Sue has been back in South Africa for nearly a decade.

Many people, as they get closer to slowing down or retire, start pondering downsizing, traveling the world, or just moving altogether: in the US, Florida if you live on the East Coast, maybe Mexico if you are in the West. In Italy, many pensioners have figured out that relocating to the Canary Islands stretches their savings a lot further.

Confronting a move in the latter part of our lives becomes also a reckoning of how we have used our time, an exercise in tackling possessions and disposing of them, often not in a Marie Kondo’s type of way. I was thinking about what would persuade me to start again far from the connections I made over the years and what is lost and gained by such a move. I asked Susan Roberts, the writer behind Susan’s Musings, who recently moved from South Africa to Australia to be closer to her sister, about the mechanics, both emotional and practical of such a move.

Susan was extremely generous in her answers.

The hardest was leaving my friends, the easy camaraderie with people who have known me for years and accept me the way I am. Working in theatre, you share a special bond with people and I knew I wouldn’t be able to work in theatre in Australia. Most of my friends are my theatre friends, and it was very hard to picture life without them.
 
I knew that I wouldn’t see most of them again, and even if I go back to visit, it’ll never be the same. It never is, even when I’ve gone back to cities in South Africa where I used to work. It’s always fun picking up with old friends, but the circumstances have changed and can never be repeated. I knew it was the end of an era and I wasn’t sure how it would feel once the truth of that hit me.”

While reading her words, I considered that making a transition is a right of passage of middle age, whether we physically move or not. We take stock: of where we go from here, of what is important, of where our family is. Moving to a new locale, whether spurred by the vicinity of relatives, a new love, or just a need to get away from what is old and true, can be a way to start afresh, to reconfigure the time we still have ahead of us, of trying new paradigms. But, whether we add the stress and exhilaration of a physical move to such a transitional period, those mechanisms are already at play in our mind – even we if we are planning to stay in the same house we have inhabited for the last 30 years.

Banana sellerKnowing who we finally are and what to do with such consciousness are thorny issues. But, flipping the coin and looking at if from another angle, it is also an incredible opportunity for shedding unwanted baggage, relationships that don’t work, concentrating on what does. The field of action is narrower but more focussed.

Starting anew on fresh shores is not for anyone but, should it be something you are contemplating, Susan has some sage advice on the practicality of it.

Two years before my move, I began going through things and getting rid of excess clutter.
 
Of course it didn’t all go according to plan, but at least some of it did. When I got the green light, I planned every detail of my final six months in South Africa and worked it like a project, with deadlines and countdowns for everything, and I stuck to them. I had a whiteboard year planner on my wall, which became my blueprint. I also kept a daily To Do list with a weekly check-in on my computer.
 
I also stayed at my job until the night before I got on the plane. In retrospect, I think that kept me sane because it was the one area of my life over which I had some control, and it gave me a physical break from the sorting and packing six days out of seven.

When I arrived in Australia all I wanted to do was eat and sleep, and that’s all I did for weeks. I didn’t get back to writing my novel until I’d been here nearly three months. I pottered around doing the housework and playing with my cats – they both settled in quicker than I did!
 Unlike moves I made between cities in my 20s and 30s, where I always went somewhere because of a particular job, this move was because of family, and there is no likelihood of a job because I’m not allowed to work until my permanent visa is processed. For the first time in my life I am not identified by what my job is, but by who I am aside from any job, and it’s taken me a while to adjust my attitude to that.”

And that is the crux for many of us: we find ourselves in middle age wanting or needing to redefine ourselves, to separate from what defined us for so many years, be it a career, a marriage or motherhood. It can be daunting. But it also opens us up to possibilities. And, sometimes, to new worlds.

Top image from Vogue 

Banana seller courtesy of Donatella B.

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17 Comments

  1. Relocation can feel very refreshing! Sometimes we just need to make a big change in order to feel inspired and energetic again. This is at least in my case! Thanks for sharing!

    March 23, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I agree. Given the chance, a change of scenery, habits and even climate can re-energize – without losing track of the fact that our internal baggage travels wherever we go.

      March 23, 2016
      |Reply
  2. I think this is the sort of blog post that will resonate with a lot of people. Having lived in two continents so far, I’m pondering moving to your neck of the woods this time, for the sake of a better quality of life. If a decade ago I’d have considered moving just with the bare necessities and go for an adventure, now I wonder if I’ll like it in the long run, whether I’ll adapt, will my relationship be bettered with it?

    If you had the choice – would you go back to living in Italy? Or is LA definitely your home?

    March 10, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      The short answer is no, I would not move back. For many reasons, both practical and emotional. To some extent, it would feel like taking a step back. I love Italy, I was fortunate to grow up in a lovely place, under good circumstances, wanting for nothing and being afforded many opportunities. But I did leave for a very specific reason (besides a sense of adventure) I couldn’t quite put into eloquent words at the time. It took me living abroad for quite a long time to formulate it in a nutshell: Italy was stifling. The lack of growth opportunities, the innate corruption, the general slowness, the chucking it down to “this is how things are done”, the basic nepotism, the selfish attitude of most Italians, so used to fend for themselves, they have lost all semblance of civic duty: some things have changed but not enough.
      Every country has problems – yours too – and America is not immune. But the States still retains a sense of “can do”, of letting people be who they want to be that I still value. I am glad I was born and raised in Europe but I couldn’t have reinvented myself and explored unexpected avenues had I stayed. What the States afforded me made me feel as if I found my home. If you ever decide to explore decamping over here, I would be happy to answer any practical questions.

      March 10, 2016
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      • That’s a really great reply, Claudia. What you say about Italy is definitely what I feel about Portugal, so I’m happy I left that country – I’m just not sure about the US for now… But you do raise great points, the Can Do attitude is something we’re often lacking here in Europe. Food for thought, definitely! Thanks ?

        March 11, 2016
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  3. Jennifer Talbot
    Jennifer Talbot

    Downsizing to a smaller home in your mature years, when you can only take essential and important stuff, is quite a daunting but cathartic process. Things that you craved, saved for and acquired when you had a burgeoning career and growing income loose importance and disposing of them is really traumatic, especially when the value you placed on them is drastically different to the pittance some one else is prepared to pay for them. Treasured items that belonged to your beloved mother or grandmother need to be passed down to the next generation and your role as keeper of the family heirlooms sadly passes. All that is left is the core you and it is revealing and affirming to find out what and who you really are. Jennifer

    March 8, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Jennifer, that is so beautifully put. A life can be summed up or, at least, guessed at, by objects left behind. I always try non attachment when it comes to material possessions but some objects end up defining moments, and memories. When I leave this house, and I will have to take stock of what to give up, I know it will be an emotional time. It can be scary to be naked and be just who you are. If necessary.

      March 9, 2016
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  4. Thank you, Campari Girl – you’ve made such sense out of my ramblings! I’m very interested to read all the comments here and see that we’re not the only ones.

    March 8, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Clearly not. I love to see how people reinvent themselves. I actually think we are the first generation that is not scared to reinvent ourselves. Even if some of it is dictated by economic factors.

      March 8, 2016
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  5. Reinvention/relocation is something I did and it is like a tonic – recommended for ‘everyone’ in sensible doses at a milestone age.

    March 8, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Would you care to share?

      March 8, 2016
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      • During my 65th summer I sold my law practice, stopped using my surname, and we left the City for a remote and beautiful provincial town where we were unknown, except by our son who led the way 10 years prior; to learn to read again for pleasure and to teach myself italian from scratch. It has been a tonic but the dose was free and self-administered, unlike the fix craved by the people fleeing Assad and perhaps, in November, those who might seek to escape the increasing mob hysteria in a democracy that has forgotten the Hitler and Mussolini rallies of the 1930’s.

        March 8, 2016
        |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      It sounds well deserved. And, for the record, I have faith in my adopted country that I will not have to make alternative living plans. At least not on account of Trump. Please remind me in November if it turns out I was wildly mistaken.

      March 9, 2016
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  6. Having moved several times and having lived on 3 continents, I am a huge believer in starting anew. It is a great way to have no clutter in your life, memories are easy to transport but not items.

    March 8, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I am a firm believer of letting go of material possessions and what better way than moving? Possibly far where they can’t follow you…

      March 8, 2016
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  7. You must be psychic…I should bookmark this post since lately I’ve been toying with the idea of a self reinvention/relocation. ღ

    March 8, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      If you do go ahead, I hope you and Sam will blog about it.

      March 8, 2016
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