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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Cleaning out the House

 This week I started cleaning out the house.  Cleaning out the house is one of the Dreaded Tasks of moving.  The State Department will pay to ship our stuff around the world, but they have a weight limit - 7200 pounds.  When I first joined, that sounded like a lot of weight, but now that I have seven kids that I homeschool and have collected treasures, it's not that much after all.

So this means that every time we move, we get to purge our stuff.  In theory, this is actually a good thing.  It's surprising the useless things that manage to unknowingly get hauled around for decades.  After we had been living in Tashkent for a year, I found a Babybug magazine from 2008.  In 2008 we lived in Utah, which meant that it had been moved from Utah to Maryland to Cairo to Belgium to Azerbaijan to Belgium to Tajikistan to Uzbekistan.  And I don't actually even like Babybug magazine.  So I do consider the requirement to purge to be a good thing because purging isn't something that I spontaneously do for fun.

But the actuality of cleaning out the house is another thing entirely.  It's amazing the number of places in your house that junk can collect in.  There are always those places in everyone's houses that become the dumping ground for stuff that you don't know what to do with.  Often it's the basement or that nook under the stairs or the back of the kids' closet.  We all have those places.  It's where the things that might have some use go to hide for a decade or so, waiting for their chance to be used just once so that their storage is justified.  It's also where all those unused electronics cords go.

Cleaning out the house means confronting all of those places and sorting through all the piles of potentially useful things and figuring out what things are actually useful and what things really haven't been worth keeping.  It requires the deep soul searching and consideration of what useful means and how often you actually have used a hacksaw in the past four years (answer: none) and if you can think of a situation in which you will buy/can buy a live Christmas tree when you also own a perfectly good fake one (the tree stand didn't make the cut).  It can become somewhat of a zen exercise where you consider the material world and our interaction with it and how those things can cumber your soul.  But it's usually just a huge pain.

Cleaning out the house also means sorting through bins and bins and bins of clothing and wondering if maybe your sanity is not worth saving money by reusing clothes and maybe each child should just get a new wardrobe of their own each year just so you don't have to store clothes in between children.  It's amazing how you can think that clothes are perfectly reasonable while children wear them, and then they look terrible once you take them out of storage for the next child.  I'm happy that we have purged multiple bins of clothes while here in Tashkent.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of just getting rid of clothes when William and Elizabeth grow out of them.  Someone else can enjoy them and I don't have to put them in a bin, waiting for the next child to grow into them.

We have also gotten rid of all of our baby things.  Gone are the car seat, strollers, crib, nursing pillow, bottles, baby bath tub, maternity clothes, blankets, towels, pump, washcloths, baby clothes, swing, rocking chair, changing table pad, diaper pails, cloth diapers, baby toys, and toddler beds.  I'm happiest about getting rid of all of the diapering accessories.  Although having a last baby is bittersweet, not having any more children in diapers ever again is completely awesome.

Last summer I did a preliminary purge, cleaning out all of the low-hanging fruit in preparation for a deep purge this summer.  And it has indeed been a deep purge.  I've cleaned out every single bin we own, going through things that haven't been examined since we joined the foreign service.  I found material from skirts I sewed in college, gift cards that Brandon was given before we were married, dictionaries for languages that neither Brandon nor I speak, and mini bread pans that I've never actually used.  It's freeing to get rid of those things, to realize that actually we don't need them.  And if suddenly we do in the future, we can just buy them.  We don't have to haul them around anymore.

I've given myself plenty of time for this purge, knowing that decision fatigue is a real thing.  I've done exhausting purges where I just don't care by the end.  The last quarter of the house is done in haste, figuring that I can sort it all out at the other end, and when the other end arrives, I can't fathom how all the random stuff got packed up and moved just so I could throw it away in our new home.  

I've paced myself, working for four or five hours a day - enough time to get into a good rhythm where my head is in the game and my whole existence has narrowed down to making crucial decisions.  But not so much time that I'm completely exhausted, brain buzzing with fatigue, and past caring about anything at all in life anymore.  It really hasn't been that bad, which has surprised me.

As the garbage bags pile up outside and the mound of treasures for my housekeeper grows, I grow increasingly satisfied with my moral purity.  Look how much stuff I've gotten rid of!  Think of how many pounds we've shed!  All of those things won't fill up our bins and shelves and closets anymore!  But, of course, the joke is on me as I cheerfully get rid of things that took so much time and money and energy to acquire.  I was just as happy to get those things as I now am to get rid of them.  

In about eight weeks, a team of movers will come and spread over the house like ants, boxing up everything in their path, encasing our entire life in cardboard and sealing it up with plastic tape.  Brandon and I will anxiously watch the stacks of boxes as they grow higher and higher, wondering what the day of judgement will bring.  Will we be under?  Was all of the purging enough?  Should we have gotten rid of more books?  Should we have kept the weights?  And if we pass we will breathe a sigh of relief for the next few years until we have to do it again.  And if we fail, the tab of expensive things we have to pay for this summer will grow even longer and I will know that all of my efforts were not quite enough.  

One day, we will retire and stop moving.  Our possessions will not be measured by pounds, only by what will can cram into our house.  When I buy something, I won't wonder how much it weighs and if it is worth spending our precious allowance on.  I will be able to own as many books as I have bookshelves for, and my furniture can be as heavy as I can afford for it to be.  I'm really looking forward to that day.  But for now, I'll just keep on purging.

Sunday, May 8, 2022


A few weeks ago, I was able to take Kathleen, Sophia, and Edwin to Khiva, the smallest of the Silk Road cities.  My aunt and uncle came out for their own Silk Road trip, so we decided to go with them for the first of the three stops.  We haven't taken any of the kids to any of the cities while we've been here, so when the older kids asked if they could go to Khiva, I thought that it would be fun to combine our visits and go together.

Khiva is in the western end of Uzbekistan, so we had to fly and then take a car from Urgench, the closest city with an airport.  Flying domestically with only three children who are all old enough to be completely reasonable was so much more enjoyable than our usual international monkey circuses.  The kids kept on saying, "Mom!  This is so easy with only three of us!  It's so quiet!  Nobody's whining!  We can all carry our own boarding passes!" 

We got into Khiva late Monday night and then spent all day Tuesday touring the small walled city.  There is a a lot of Khiva that is outside the walls, but most of the interesting sights are inside the walls.  Everyone has their favorite silk road city, and usually it's either Bukhara or Khiva.  Khiva is my favorite, so it was fun to come back with the kids and my aunt and uncle.

The entire walled city was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in the nineties, and it's easy to see why it got that designation.  The inside of the city is packed with madrassas, mosques, and old palaces.  There are so many madrassas that a good number of them stand empty, locked up because nobody knows what to do with them.  I'm not sure what was happening back in the nineteenth century in Khiva that made madrassas the popular thing to build, but I'm pretty sure I've never seen so many crammed in so close together anywhere else.  

The weather for the day was one of those perfect April days that makes being in Uzbekistan during the spring a delight.  It was clear and sunny and all of the trees were leafed out in the fresh, bright spring green of new growth that hasn't gotten tired and dusty from a long, hot summer.  

Foreign tourists were far outnumbered by school groups who had come to tour Khiva for field trips.  I've found that Uzbeks love visiting their silk road cities every bit as much, if not more, than everyone else.  My uncle had taken Russian back when he was in elementary school, so he enjoyed bringing out his few remembered words every time we got mobbed by school groups who wanted to know where we were from and if they could take a picture of us.  He loved it all, soaking in all of the cultural experiences he could cram in for their week-long visit.

Sophia spent the whole day trying to get to places that weren't strictly part of the allowed sections.  At one mausoleum dedicated to a fourteenth century wrestler-poet, she managed to find a stairway that led to the roof.  By the time I slipped past the minder and up the staircase myself, she and Edwin had managed to climb up the back of the entrance facade and were enjoying their view of the street far below.

In an empty madrassa, she found the small staircases embedded in the wall that led to the second story.  When she appealed the authority figure - me - we agreed that if the doors weren't actually wired shut, we could slip through one and explore the second story.  She found one that was open and so we did some furtive stair climbing and quietly crept around the second story, exploring empty rooms.  Luckily we didn't get caught and everyone enjoyed a shared adventure.  

We finished our day with a walk along the city walls before heading back to Tashkent while my aunt and uncle went on to Bukhara by train for more silk road adventuring.  It was fun to be able to travel with children who were interested in what we were seeing and enjoyable company to have along.  

As we were waiting for the (inevitably) late plane home, I realized that sometimes our mostly normal lives have little detours into the exotic.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, everyone had school like we always have school.  Everyone did their Russian classes, had piano lessons, did math lessons, and complete homework assignments, just like any other kids their age back in the US.  

But on Tuesday, we took a short little jaunt to a Silk Road city where we wandered around in the inside of a tenth century mosque, climbed down into a madrassa cistern, walked along the ancient city walls, and admired tile work in the seventeenth-century palace of a khan.  It's fun to have some awesome in the middle of regular life sometimes.