When did my life become so full of stuff? It did not happen in a day, week, or year. Like Midlife, it snuck up on me.
In order to rent out our house, we had to deal with it all. We emptied out closets, drawers, and cabinets. Two garage sales soon followed. What didn’t sell, we donated. Then we went back in for more emptying.
Some of this felt great. It was liberating to see how nice, clean and fresh the house looked. There was a brightness and energy that had been smothered under all that clutter.
Some of this purging was really difficult. Without realizing it, I had developed strong emotional attachments to a lot of our possessions. Getting rid of them meant dealing with what they really meant to me or if they were tethering me to my past.
After moving out, we lived in an Airbnb for four weeks before leaving for Spain. I was still working and the kids were in school, so we needed the work-and-school stuff with us. Gonzalo left for Spain to look for housing and start his master’s degree program. I was tasked with sorting and deciding what to take with us and what to leave behind. Unfortunately, with everything else going on, I procrastinated.
That proved to be an expensive mistake.
The day before our road trip to Chicago O’Hare, I made another suitcase purchase at Wal-Mart. That brought the suitcase count to 7 + 3 backpacks + 3 carry-ons + a dog carrier.
The trumpet, accordion, and two clarinets took up a lot of space and we needed more room for our clothing and shoes. Sure, we could have gone shopping upon arrival in Valencia, but that would have added another layer of stress (and money). We might as well take what we already have.
The next day, we were not on the road by Noon, as planned. We were still struggling to sort and pack, and our luggage was over the weight limit. I grabbed a tall garbage bag and stuffed it full of items that had to stay behind in our basement storage area.
By late afternoon, we were out of time for another trip back to our house, so I left the garbage bag with some friends on the way out of town. “I’ll deal with it when we get back,” I said. I also handed off 3-4 bags of grocery items. I didn’t want to waste food.
This was after gifting bottles of shampoo, hand lotion, coffee, condiments, etc. to our Airbnb host and her guests. I had also squeezed in a final Costco run to return recently purchased items I had intended to take with us. There was simply no room.
I was shedding “stuff” everywhere I went. To move forward, I had to let it go.
We finally headed for Des Moines, where we planned to spend the night. I had rented a minivan to carry the three of us, 2 pets and all that luggage. I usually drive a Prius so the minivan felt like a semi-truck to me. The physical and emotional weight of the last few months and lack of sleep was catching up with me, so I made a detour to The Roasterie for a latte on the way out of town.
We finally made it Des Moines and checked into La Quinta, unloaded the luggage and hauled it up to the hotel room. I re-evaluated the carnage and reminded my daughters of the weight limit on the carry-ons and backpacks. I soon realized (shocker) that we were still overweight.
We each had a 2-suitcase limit – 50 pounds per suitcase – for checked bags. I had bought a large and a medium suitcase for each of us. The large suitcases were right at the 50-pound limit. Stuffed to the gills, the medium suitcases each weighed only 35 pounds.
Why didn’t I buy all large suitcases instead? Because I was thinking about how we could stack the small carry-ons and medium suitcases inside the larger ones for storage in a small European apartment. Good thinking, but en route to Chicago, we needed more space!
I called the airline from the hotel room late that night and was on hold for a long time, tired and grouchy. When they finally answered, I told them that I had purchased another suitcase before leaving Kansas, for a total of seven. I then learned that the extra suitcase would cost $200 because we hadn’t paid in advance. What?! So if I buy another suitcase because we’re still overweight, it will be another $200? Yep.
Four hundred dollars! We just quit our jobs and will have many months ahead of us with no income. What can I do?
I slept on it and awoke in problem-solving mode the next morning. Let’s box up 50 pounds worth of stuff and mail it to my parents in Omaha. That will take us down from two extra suitcases to one. I went to the front desk at the hotel and asked for empty printer paper boxes. They didn’t have any, so I drove to a nearby HyVee supermarket and asked for a free apple box in the produce section. Success!
Back at the hotel room, I went online for a shipping estimate. Good grief! It will cost over $200 to truck 50 pounds 2 hours down the road to Mom and Dad. Surely there are better options, but I didn’t have time to figure it out. We had a plane to catch.
I made a Target run for another $80 suitcase (in addition to the $80 Wal-Mart suitcase I had already purchased in Kansas). We will pay the $400 for the 2 extra suitcases on TAP Airlines.
More crap = more headache = more expense. This isn’t hard math. All-in, the excess baggage fiasco cost almost $600. Gonzalo’s gonna blow his stack.
I justify this fiscal and organizational failure by reminding myself that there are 4 musical instruments packed and they take up a lot of space. I also remember, through a twilight-zone-like haze, my mental state at the time. I was exhausted. Gonzalo is the supply chief. He is ruthless about packing, weighing and purging. I was on detail duty handling a million other things before we left Kansas and he was in Spain. I was not as hands-on with teenager inventory management as I should have been.
Also worth mentioning is the Costco coffee run. My Colombian husband considers it a national emergency to live without good coffee. After 2 weeks of drinking a gritty, bitter, ink-like substance they call coffee in Spain, he had requested that I bring good coffee from the US. Being a nice wife, I had dutifully made a Costco run and purchased 4 large bags of black gold to make him happy. Did that contribute to the $600 excess baggage fiasco? Yep. That’s some pretty expensive arabica.
Oh, and I forgot about the yellow teddy bear. Daughter # 1 insisted on bringing the big yellow teddy bear that sat on her rocking chair when she was a baby. “But it won’t fit!” I protested.
She was determined that it would and left space (somehow) in her carry-on. Daughter # 2 sat on the suitcase lid to smoosh it down, while Daughter # 1 wrestled with the zipper to close it. Teddy made it to Spain but looks like a Teddy panini. If you are the parent of teenage girls, you understand the drama of which I speak.
I had one frazzled nerve left and it had to get us to Chicago O’Hare.
While loading the mini-van (again), all 60 inches in height of me had to wrestle 11 suitcases of various sizes, 3 backpacks, and a two-pet carrier.
In the process of trying to pull a large suitcase all the way into the van, I reached over a seat, gave a hard pull, and the suitcase wheels locked. It didn’t budge. I, however, body-slammed my right pec and shoulder into the headrest. Ouch. That took 2 weeks of pain, suffering, hot packs, rest, and ibuprofen to deal with.
Have I mentioned that we have too much stuff and that the excess creates suffering? Yes, I believe that is the theme here. Excess baggage creates suffering. I am discussing my luggage, but of course, the allegory goes much deeper. I will unpack that on sabbatical over a nice paella on the beach.
Miraculously, almost five hours later, we arrived at O’Hare on time. It took another burst of adrenaline, slow, deep breathing, and centering prayer to get me through my traffic anxiety in big cities. Remind me never to drive in Chicago. Ever. Again.
We paid for 2 luggage carts and made 2 trips from the rental car garage down to the shuttle pick-up area.
Then we loaded everything onto the shuttle.
Then we unloaded it all at the terminal.
We found two more carts, loaded those up, and made two trips through a crowded terminal and up the elevator to International Departures. We finally handed everything off at the check-in desk. What a relief!
It was time to say bye-bye to the doggies. I had screwed the cage lid on but didn’t know I also needed zip ties. Apparently, dogs have been known to escape their carriers and go for a jog on the tarmac. Airlines prefer that not happen, so they provided zip ties.
After passing through security and boarding the plane, we settled in for the flight to Lisbon, Portugal. In Lisbon, we would make a quick plane change and take a one-hour 15-minute flight to Madrid. In roughly 10 hours, we should be landing in Madrid where Gonzalo will be waiting. He has already pitched a fit over the $600 luggage snafu and upgraded his rental vehicle to a cargo van.
This was the plan anyway, but of course, things didn’t go as planned. The flight from Chicago to Lisbon was delayed for one hour. As a result, we missed our connecting flight to Madrid and had to wait 9 hours for the next flight that had room for us and the dogs.
We hadn’t planned on a lengthy layover, so I went into another sleep-deprived round of problem-solving. We had to jump through various hoops to collect the dogs for a walk and a potty break. I also managed to locate the veterinarian for the European Union document review and approval. Thankfully, the microchips, rabies shots, final vet visit, and trip to Topeka had paid off and our paperwork was in good order. Several hours later, we gave our fur babies some extra love and sent them back into the cargo hold. We hopped another plane and were quickly in Madrid.
Once we arrived in Madrid, we deboarded the plane and followed the signs to Baggage Claim. It seemed like a long walk. A really long walk. It was. We ended up in another terminal and had to go back. So much for my Spanish language skills.
Gonzalo, who had been waiting for us outside of Baggage Claim, simultaneously hugged us and vented about us getting lost in the airport.
Airport Security would not let him enter the baggage claim area, so I went back in with our daughters. More carts, more luggage. Here we go again. Time to do another count: Eleven suitcases, 3 backpacks, and a pet carrier. Fifteen. Add in four humans and two canines. Twenty-one. All accounted for.
As luck would have it, the cargo van was parked near the other terminal we had just left. We hiked all the way back with multiple carts piled high.
It would be the wee hours of the morning before making it to our apartment near Valencia, but we were together, excess baggage and all. Thanks be to God!