Here’s the thing about living out of a suitcase — packing’s a breeze.
There’s no need to stress about getting everything to fit, because your clothes are already in there. Hell, you don’t even need to fold them, you can just squish them together, throw a few dryer sheets on them to vanquish any smells, and call it a day.
Living out of a suitcase doesn’t mean that you are lazy or messy, although I am both of those things. There’s a certain kind of rhythm you develop. All the good clothes go in one suitcase; all the detritus in the other. A laundry basket serves an indispensable function — not only is it the item of choice when going to the laundromat (though incidentally, suitcases are an excellent option here too), but it also holds the essential daily items, the evolving rotation of jeans and sweaters and long-sleeved shirts that make up winter wear. Gym clothes go on top of the other suitcase, strewn there until they need to be washed.
I developed this system five years ago, after what had the potential to be a particularly traumatizing packing experience: Stuff all the offal of four years of college into two large suitcases that can fit on a train from Chicago to Michigan, and then into the trunk of a car headed to Omaha, because guess what kids, we’re moving! But it turned out to be a cinch, a breeze! All I had to do was fit everything I owned into these two suitcases and boom, I was done.
It was in that moment that I had what some might call an epiphany. Why unpack anything at all? What purpose does clothes-keeping furniture really serve anyway? Rather than waste time unfolding clothes and hanging them in closets or stuffing them in dressers, why not leave them there in your suitcase, on call for you in case you ever need to relocate? Dressers seemed like a luxury, a relic of a childhood in suburbia, and I was mobile, baby, both as a child and as a Super-On-Brand Millennial.
I moved a lot growing up. My father was the cause — as a doctor with a love for research, he took us from England, where I was born, to Gambia, back to England again, and then eventually to various unremarkable towns across the northeastern and midwestern United States. We never lived in one place for more than three years.
In Gambia, one of the houses we lived in — the best house — had a garden, a spacious courtyard, and a veranda. We had ottomans made out of dried calfskin, and we had a hutch. A hutch! A piece of furniture so luxurious, it enables you to keep other purely decorative items — fine china and snow globes — in its womb, all these pretty items united together in their utter lack of function.
When we settled in England, we rented a house that was completely furnished, down to the silverware used in the kitchen. (I would eye each fork and foggy glass with trepidation.) There was a painting that hung on the wall, one of those generically pretty landscapes of a sunrise over a desert. Guests would compliment the painting all the time and I felt compelled to tell them over and over again, “It’s not ours, we don’t own it!”
When you move a lot, a kind of automatic adaptability takes over. No bed; no problem. No hot running water; use a kettle. No dresser or closet of any kind; live out of a suitcase.
When we moved to America for good, my father was forced to do aspects of his medical training all over again, and suddenly we were strapped for money; my father working long hours as a resident in his mid-forties, my mother doing grueling physical labor as a certified nursing assistant. And we moved constantly, as my father completed each aspect of his training: fellowship in one place, residency in another. The furniture we had then was functional and compact. There was no room for sentimentality. We packed methodically; some boxes we never even bothered to open. The looming threat of relocation always seemed to linger in the back of my mind. Transiency is the hallmark of the immigrant, after all.
Two months ago, I bought a dresser. Several factors prompted this decision: 1) My parents are coming to New York, where I live with my twin sister, ostensibly for my sister’s law school graduation but really to spy on us and see how we are faring in this dirty, overpopulated city. 2) For the first time in my life, it feels like I have found a city (how unfortunately cliché that it happens to be New York) that I can see myself living in long term. The specter of moving, of packing (oh god), no longer seems like an imminent possibility. 3) The suitcase system, as convenient as it is, works best when both suitcases are flat on the floor, open, and covered in clothes. This adversely affected the amount of space I had to, say, walk in my room. In short, even a messy girl like me has her limits.
So, one evening on a whim, I bought a $160 dresser online from Target.
Several weeks ago, because I am sadly still quite lazy, I finally attempted to assemble the thing. And then, severely winded after carrying the 40-pound box midway up the stairs leading into my apartment, I accepted the fact that I couldn’t do it myself and paid an exorbitant amount of money to get somebody to do it for me. Aaron promised he’d come the following day at 12:30 p.m.
“I should warn you, my apartment is a mess,” I told him when he arrived.
“It’s all good; you just moved here,” Aaron said cheerfully. He was wrong, of course, but I didn’t try to correct him.
After much animated discussion between Aaron, my friend Ashley who had spent the night, and myself as to the nature of Drake’s music (Aaron is not a fan), working as a medic in the Navy (which Aaron did), and dating as young black people in New York (“it’s hard for everyone,” he told us) – the dresser was built.
“Where do you want me to move it?” Aaron asked when he was done. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” I told him. “My sister and I will figure out.”
Two days later, I half lifted, half dragged the dresser into my room. I began the onerous process of unpacking and in the process discovered some things I didn’t realize I still owned — a charger for a long-gone Dell laptop, a copy of a book about sexual purity from an aunt in Nigeria, and several CD-ROMs for Windows 95.
After inhaling copious amounts of dust (I’m not big on sweeping), I was finished. There was suddenly so much space. I could do a cartwheel if I wanted to (and if I knew how). There was a place for me to put my makeup and mail I didn’t want to open (on top of the dresser!).
It’s a strange, heady feeling, this use of a dresser. I’m still getting accustomed to it.
When people visit, I no longer hurriedly close my bedroom door in reflexive shame (I am, however, still overly reliant on my laundry basket). Now, I’m considering the possibility of other adult pursuits. Investing, perhaps? When I think about the future, the thought of moving doesn’t quite dredge up the same mixture of exhaustion and dread, and that’s a good thing, I think, for now. I mean, I might change my mind. Flightiness is another hallmark of my generation after all. ●
Tomi Obaro is a senior culture editor for BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Tomi Obaro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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