I moved out of my apartment in Austin this past weekend, and not without some sadness. My roommates and I lived a fairly cozy sheltered life. We’d baked hundreds of enchiladas and lasagnas and cakes—mountains of cakes. We spent hours sprawled out in the living room watching Netflix or playing videogames (more often than not, watching someone else play video games, and offering elaborate commentary)—this apartment also marks the first time I really ever played on an Xbox. In classic me-fashion, I’m a latecomer to the game.
I settled into our apartment in a way I never had in the dorms. I started thinking of it as home— so much so that I routinely told my dad on the way back to the Greyhound station that I’d call him “when I got home.” I didn’t even notice it as first. It was a very subtle and quick acclimation. It makes me sad in the same way that going back to Houston does, and walking through a house that you used to live in but knowing you eventually have to go somewhere else.
But school years and leases end, and it was time to spread out. We scouted out a little four-bedroom house on the east side of campus. Home for a year, and then back to thinking about moving and furniture and boxes. So many boxes.
A trend I can’t shake
My family tends to accumulate stuff on a large scale. We moved from our first house to our current house and never quite finished moving in. The garage is still full of boxes of books and 80s relics shoved none-too-carefully out of the way so there’s room to walk around— but barely enough. We gather and gather, replace, but never quite discard. I don’t know whether it’s out of nostalgia or just an implied foolishness at throwing out something you paid money for and which still, at face value, has a purpose. I’m just as guilty. My crimes are toys, clothes, and books, all of which (the latter being a unique case) I tend to grow out of and can’t really part with. Being in college messes with that. You can only fit so much in a dorm room. I learned that the hard way. So there’s not much you can convince yourself you need past the sheets, shower shoes (which I highly recommend), and microwave food (which I don’t) that you’re supposed to bring. The by-rule is that you can bring anything that fits in the back of a truck or a van. No more, no less.
Dorms teach you how to be a temporary resident; you can only really pretend that you have some claim to your room—that it’s any expression of how you want to live. But we invested a lot into our apartment—a lot in very relative terms, because of course, I’m describing the purchases of poor college students with poorer taste. We had art, some of it handmade and some of it ordered from a poster website so we could eat dinner (and also slave away at homework) below Gustav Klimt and van Gogh. It helped that we had a beautiful concert harp sitting by the table. An illusion perfected.
Come time to pack away our little home, I kept uncovering doodles we’d taped onto each other’s doors, books, and homework assignments. I couldn’t keep these. I had five boxes and a few plastic organizers, and a whole year’s worth of furniture and artifacts to fill them with. I had to choose. The food went first. Old vegetables, half-empty cans of jam. Things I couldn’t feel bad about tossing, although living in Austin has created this enormous sense of guilt in me when I throw away something I could probably recycle. #2 plastics, #6s, glass, aluminum—all of it went into bags and all of those went into the dumpster, with few exceptions. My apartment only started “recycling” a few months ago. Before then, we’d take our carefully-sorted boxes and bags to campus or a few centers set up near us. Even now, there are two small trash cans in the alley that are for “recycling.” Paper and metal, but not glass. It’s a shame.
Weight and burdens
Towards the end, we started throwing things away wholesale. The furniture had already been moved and stored, along with boxes filled with boxes filled with things I’d thrown in haphazardly out of haste. Small appliances, a vacuum that decided that instead of cleaning the carpet, it would catch on fire, containers, the free water bottles that accumulate after a few years of college event-shopping, and a disheveled boxspring that it took me a year to get rid of, having found out twenty minutes too late for my dad to drive back and take it home with him that it didn’t fit my bed frame—are now moldering in a landfill somewhere. My enormous, disgusting cross to bear.
In the scheme of things, this is a very first-world problem. I’m not an eco-activist. I’m not even that ecoconcious, or a thousand other eco-prefixed things that I don’t have a vested interest in. I do my part, but not a lot more. Ease of use, quality, effectiveness, and value play much bigger roles in what I do and what I buy. But the weight of all the bags I dragged downstairs, all the boxes I filled up and tossed out, stays with me. My worst offense? A full bottle of bleach, unopened. How does someone even discard that, especially in the span of a day and a half also filled with cleaning, packing, and organizing—not to mention the little human necessities of food and sleep? Short of taking it back to Dallas where it would be unused and hidden behind boxes of dryer sheets and lightbulbs, we didn’t have any other options. Out of all the things we got rid of, the bottle of bleach stays with me. PETA would probably be delighted if dead dolphins and tiny baby seals trapped in plastic bags start showing up in my nightmares. But PETA’s full of dicks anyway.
But moving and moving and moving is tiring. So is packing and unpacking, taping and tearing, loading up and unloading the few things that keep you comfortable no matter where you are. I’m a little past vanloads at this point, so there’s a bit more work involved in the way of moving crews and reluctant siblings. I’m reminded more than ever that I need a driver’s license and probably some sort of big rig to port all of my things around in. And I took the easy route—I whittled what I owned (or what we shared) down to five boxes and a handful of errata. Everything else was carried downstairs, bags and bags at a time until we ran out of bags. I’m just hoping the long-term cost of the easy route isn’t my peace of mind. Or dead sea mammals.