Be Generous, Not Sentimental. Get Rich.
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
For International Teachers, this is the leaving time. I'm losing the entire 8th grade team that I've loved working with so much here at my school (they are seriously the best people I've ever worked with, and I'll miss them dearly). Goodbyes are being said, sloppy brunches and dinners and hugs and tears will swirl into the rushing waters of final days of the school year. Bags are being packed, shipments arranged and sorted and sent. It's that mingling of excitement and relief and loss that can stop us in our tracks as we go through that series of lasts: last month, last Monday, last lesson, last look.
But it's also an opportunity. An opportunity to take stock of our material possessions, and shed them like a snake from dusty skin. To realize that all the stuff we buy isn't central to our identities. To be generous to those who have less.
Shipping internationally is expensive! This site breaks it down all the way from packing, to storage, to customs, to the actual shipping, to the customs on the other end, to the unpacking. When I moved to Dubai from the US three years ago, I had 2 medium sized boxes and one large, wardrobe style box. The shipping itself only cost $300, but the customs on the Dubai end were over $1,200, which they hadn't told me about. For 3 boxes. That was more than the contents were worth.
This was my 6th international move. Every time it's a huge hassle, and it's usually costs more than any shipping allowance the schools give me. The only time it's been easy is when I've been able to get it down to suitcases that I can take on the plane, and just pay extra luggage costs. If you can pack up all your stuff into 2-4 suitcases, moving gets much easier, and your life gets much simpler.
In order to do that though, you have to give up your attachments to most of your stuff. DO NOT get attached to furniture (get a furnished apartment). DO NOT get large collections of books (they have Kindles and iPads now). DO NOT get a large art collection (it'll get damaged in the move). DO NOT collect tons of knick-knacks (this makes traveling cheaper). Pets make everything three times as complicated and expensive.
I know people now who are leaving Dubai with a full container load of stuff. It will cost them tens of thousands of dollars, door to door, to ship everything from electronics to couches to kitchen appliances. When I ask them why they're taking so much stuff, the answer I've gotten over and over again is, "I just can't give it up, we're attached to it". But it's that sentimental attachment that kills your finances and keeps you in other bad situations. And as Buddha said, attachment leads to suffering. Materialism also leads to suffering, and the sentimentality that drives materialism will eventually drive you to a bloated lifestyle that keeps you from financial independence.
After all, what is sentimentality except greed for the past?
I'm not the perfect, sentimentality-less robot, as shown by my shipping tales above. My apartment is full of my stuff, even though it's furnished. The older I get, the more I find nice things I want to keep, and the harder it gets to pare down to bare essentials. But that doesn't mean I buy those things or won't shed them quickly if I need to, because I do a couple things that make it easier to keep my possessions at a less overwhelming level.
1. Before I buy something, I ask myself if I'll be able to give it away when I leave. If I need it, that's fine, but if it's really expensive, I'll probably not buy it because it would feel like too much of a loss if I had to leave it behind. This has two positive effects. Firstly, I don't buy really expensive stuff. Secondly, I know that if I do have to leave, I will be ok with not being able to sell it and just giving it away. It keeps my sentimentality to manageable levels.
2. If I don't use something for a year, I get rid of it. Usually. This definitely keeps my apartment less cluttered.
This leads me to my final point about generosity. Some of the most rewarding experiences I've had overseas have been right before I leave, giving away the vast majority of my possessions. Usually it's to people who need it a lot more than I do, like these incredible women who live in Dubai for $50 a month. Where I've lived and worked, they've been all around, and your possessions can make a huge difference in their lives. I know that when I've given away my stuff, I've felt physically lighter, less burdened, not deprived.
It feels way better to give away your possessions than to pack them up, ship them, pay customs on them, and unpack them. It keeps your sentimentality at bay, and can help keep you on track to reach your financial goals. It's that time of year again, be generous.
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