Approaching the three-year mark of our Canadian posting it seems I’ve reached an impasse; I’m feeling lost and directionless. We’re applying to have our visa extended but have no solid plans beyond whatever extra time we’re granted.
CUTTING OUT THE CLUTTER
Three years of living in limbo has been both liberating and hard. We’ve pared our life down to bare essentials. No phone and TV means fewer meaningless distractions and a greater appreciation of and closer bond with my family. Life with no curtains has been interesting – on the upside our rooms get lots of natural light. I often think of my dishwasher back home and how, as a family of five, we’d really reap the benefits of it now, but given the choice by our landlords of a new dishwasher or washing machine, I went with the latter – grey never has and never will be the new white.
With our shipping manifest a permanent fixture in the back of my mind, learning to forgo non-essentials like “things for the house” or the latest gadget fad has shown me an alternative to mindless consumerism and how refreshing it is just to step back from it and say “No thanks – I’m out.” It was two years before we gave in and bought a lawnmower, finally retiring the push mower we got when someone left it out for garbage removal.
But before you picture me as a beacon of Zen living, you need to know there’s one area I’ve really struggled with. Following the wrench from our newly renovated house in Southeast England to pursue this Canadian post, the yearning for a home that’s my own never left, and has remained my biggest obstacle to happiness.
A PLACE TO CALL YOUR OWN
I only have to go to someone else’s house and hear their plans for the deck, or whatever home improvement project they’re currently working on and I feel hollow inside. We designed and oversaw our entire renovation, right down to the switches, sockets and which way the doors hung, so routine housework and general maintenance became a labor of love, like caring for your own child. It’s a stark contrast to our current rental situation where housework is just a chore, the surrounding walls are no longer a source of aesthetic pleasure (quite the opposite!) and any alterations or improvements are not mine to make.
It’s frustrating – I understand the futility of attachment to material things, especially as an expat, but I have to admit that, as far as a living space is concerned, the need to put my stamp on my surroundings is a big part of who I am.
So what do I do? Am I the only expat who wants it all: the excitement of travel and new horizons AND a place to call home?
“THROW OFF THE BOWLINES”
A couple of weeks ago I was surprised to discover the disappointment I felt when a posting to the Middle East failed to materialize. It’s not that I don’t enjoy living in Canada; I do. I realized I’d welcomed the idea because it was a distraction from what’s missing in my life here, and what better distraction than the crazy expat rollercoaster of transplanting ourselves into another country? Perhaps that’s why so many people become serial expats. I wrote a long time ago about Living with Less and about the dream-home I left behind to embrace new opportunities overseas. To those of you who remember them it might seem like I’m going back over old ground, but these recent events showed me the home issue is still one I struggle with.
Life as an expat teaches you a lot about yourself, it’s given me many insights into my understanding of Belonging and Identity – perhaps my dilemma comes from a more personal place.
I’ve proved to myself I can “throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I’ve never, for one minute, regretted entering expat life, but something keeps coming back to me: a wise man once said, “The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” I can’t hope for anything at the moment because the future is a blank canvas and that’s what I’m finding hard.
So I’m throwing open this question to the expat community: How do you balance the temporary expat existence with the need for permanence in your life? Did you have similar struggles? How did you come to terms with them? Throw me a bone here, leave a comment and tell me, do I just need to get over myself?