The Things I’ve Kept


What’s your answer to the following question –

If your house was on fire, what things would you save first?

In the ‘old days’, it was the box of photographs or photo albums, personal documents like birth certificate, marriage certificates and school records, and maybe something of sentimental value.

Now maybe it’s the smartphone, laptop or some other technological items that we ‘can’t live without’.

Of course, all those things were saved after you saved your family and pets, right?

Thankfully, I’ve never been a victim of a house fire, so I’m not sure how I would react. But I do know some of the things I would want to save first if it came to the worst case scenario.

We all have things that we don’t ever want to lose. 

I want to tell you about the two times in my life when I’ve left almost all my stuff behind.  They’re completely different stories, but they’re related.  Funnily enough, one story’s about going to Moscow and the other one is about leaving Moscow.

A full circle, I guess you could say.

Leaving Australia 2006

At the time I decided to leave my home town in Australia, Perth, to live and work as an English teacher in Moscow, I’d been living alone in a small studio apartment.

I had some furniture – a bed, some bookcases, a TV cabinet, a table and a few chairs. 

And I had ‘stuff’.  Kitchen stuff, photos, old toys from my childhood, photos in frames, and little ornaments on the shelf.  I also had a lot of books, and a lot of videos I’d taped French films onto (yes, it was back in 2006, and we still used VHS).

born in a car videos and books
Some of my books and videos (and cds)

My task was to reduce all of that stuff down to one suitcase and a carry-on bag.  The standard baggage restrictions applied to me, even though I was moving my whole life across the world.

I gave away most of my furniture to family.  That was the easy part.

I took two boxes of my precious books to a second hand book shop.  The woman told me that they don’t buy books, but she could give me credit to spend in her shop.  Considering I was moving away, I told her that if she didn’t mind, I’d just choose 4 or 5 books from her shelves, and she can keep what I had given her for nothing.  There were probably close to 70 books in those two boxes.

Then, I packed the rest of my stuff into boxes, and put them in my sister’s shed. Yes, this sister. 

And then I left with my excess-baggage suitcase for my new life in Moscow.

Back in Australia

I stayed in Moscow until May 2008, and sometime after that I found myself once again at my sister’s place in Australia for a few weeks.  Some of my time there was spent going through my boxes which were safely stored in her shed, and I threw out a few things that I decided I could live without.

I didn’t really have a fixed plan for the future, the only sure thing was that I wasn’t going to stay in Perth.  So most of my things went back into my sister’s shed.

Then I left Australia to go and live with Olivier in Paris for about a year.

Fast forward to 2009.  Olivier and I arrived in Perth together, to prepare for our Australian wedding.  And, while we were there, I decided to get all the things from my sister’s shed that I didn’t really need anymore, and go and sell them on Sunday morning at the local ‘Swap Meet’ (Trash ‘n’ Treasure/Secondhand Market/Flea Market). I figured that I’d lived without this stuff for a couple of years already, so I probably don’t need it. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Swap Meet

I wasn’t a stranger to this Swap Meet, I used to live in the area and had sold things there a couple of times, and I’d also been there often to pick up a bargain.

Our borrowed car was full of boxes of my old stuff.  Lots and lots of kitchen stuff, clothes, shoes, knick knacks, books, and other things that I can’t even remember.

We prepared some change, coins and small notes, for the day.

We prepared some food and drinks, because it lasts for some hours on Sunday morning and there are not a lot of shops around to get refreshments.

On the Saturday night before Swap Meet, the car was packed up, ready to go.

Sunday morning came, and we got up early, ready to start the day and make a little money from my old stuff.

It was still dark when we went to the car park where Swap Meet is held.

We arrived. The car park was full.  Every single parking space was already taken.  I drove around the whole car park.  There wasn’t one single place left for me. 

We were too late.  And it was only 6am.

There was nothing else to do but to turn back and go home to bed, for a few hours at least.

Charity Shop to the Rescue

And a bit later that day, with the car still full of my stuff, we drove through the streets looking for a charity shop that was open, so we could donate everything.  I didn’t want to put it all back into my sister’s shed!

And we found a place that was open, and the woman was thrilled to receive all these unexpected things for her charity shop.

born in a car donations charity shop

Although she didn’t show us much charity when Olivier saw a shirt that he liked and asked to buy it – she didn’t even give him a discount!

I still had all the French films on video, so I contacted the Alliance Francaise in Perth, and posted a notice on their community board, offering my videos to whoever wanted them.  There were a lot of videos, probably about 60 or 70.  A lovely woman soon contacted me and came around one afternoon to collect them.  She was passionate about France and was thrilled to get such a huge selection of French films.

By then, I’d gotten rid of a lot of what I had stored in my sister’s shed.  And I was off on another adventure – back to Moscow with Olivier!

Moscow Part 2

And so, later in 2009 Olivier and I headed to Moscow together, each with a suitcase weighing about 23kg, and hand luggage.

Over the years, for each visit back to France (Olivier) and Australia (me), we brought back to Moscow bits and pieces to make our lives a bit more ‘comfortable’.  Old photos, or sentimental objects that we didn’t really want to live without.

Ten years in Moscow together, and our flat was extremely full!  Especially since, as you may know, Olivier is a Spiderman fan and had quite an extensive collection of all things Spiderman.

Do you remember when I was sad about saying goodbye to my favourite cup?  And how I had decided to ‘get rid of stuff’ after my cup broke?  Well, I didn’t get rid of stuff.  I kept it all.

Then we decided that we would leave Russia. About 5 months before leaving, Olivier took some of his Spiderman collection to Paris and sold a few things.

Planning our Departure

Our planned departure date was 13th April, 2020.  In January and February we started to try to sell some of our stuff through ex-pat groups on Facebook and other ex-pat forums.

We sold a few things that way, but it was time-consuming and annoying because some people just like wasting your time without any intention of buying anything. I don’t have the patience for that.

Olivier asked his colleagues what they wanted from our flat – some furniture, vacuum cleaner, kitchen ware etc.  So we made a note of who wanted what and set a date in early April for them all to come and take what they had reserved. 

We thought we still had plenty of time. 

Our original plan was to leave Russia with one additional/extra suitcase containing things that we wanted to keep but not to take travelling with us, and we were going to leave these things with a friend in France (much the same as I left my things with my sister).

So, we were slowly and calmly deciding what to take, what to put in the bin (or next to the bin for someone to take if they wanted).

And we slowly started packing our suitcases with things we wanted to take that were not needed for our last weeks in Moscow.

The End

Then, well, you know what happened on 17th March.   So you know that we didn’t have time to really think about what we were taking and what we weren’t. 

We didn’t have the possibility of taking an extra suitcase of treasures to keep and store with a friend.

We manically packed what we could.  Difficult decisions had to be made.

Some of the things I didn’t keep.

– my favourite winter hat which I was looking forward to wearing again in some cold place one day.

– my piece of petrified wood given to me by students when I left their company.

– my favourite pair of jeans that I’d had since 2012 that I always feel good in but hadn’t fitted me for a year because I was two kilograms too heavy (they weren’t stretch!).

– bags and bags of clothes.

– my big French-English dictionary which had been in my possession since 2001. It weighed about a kilogram.

– my books, including my two all-time favourites.

And lots and lots of other things.

However, let’s get over the loss of these material things. Even if some of them can never be replaced, they were just things. 

Must Keep

But there were some things I just couldn’t part with.  Things that I knew I needed to be able to look at and hold from time to time.

born in a car frogs

Our wedding frogs – Olivier and I bought these in Kalgoorlie, Australia, in 2009 before we got married.  Olivier being French we just had to buy them.  We had them with us on our wedding day.  I dropped them a few months after we got married and both the heads broke off.  They’re now glued on.  I’ll keep these forever. 

Cheburashka – you read about him.  I love him. 

born in a car necklace

This necklace – my first boss in Moscow, Natalia, gave me this.  I don’t wear it often but I love it.  The stone’s from Russia’s Ural mountains (if I remember correctly what Natalia told me).  My first 2 years in Moscow were really special, and Natalia was a big part of that really special time.

born in a car perfume

Perfume – I didn’t bring this from Moscow, but I bought it duty free when we arrived at the airport when we were leaving.  It’s extravagant maybe, considering the circumstances, but I love wearing it.  (I used to wear Opium fragrance, I changed to this one a couple of years ago).

born in a car shoes

One pair of shoes and 2 pairs of sandals – I was in a panic and had already half packed my suitcase with Asia in mind.  I now only have these blue shoes for cold weather and all occasions!  Fortunately it’s going to start getting warmer soon (I hope).

born in a car wardrobe

A few dresses and blouses – this is the total of my hanging clothes now.  Who needs more?

Some pants and shorts – this is my collection of shorts and long pants.  You can see by the colours that there are some Asian style pants in there.  Not sure I’m going to look like a local here in Romania if I wear these.

T-shirts – about 6 or 7 t-shirts and singlet tops.

I also brought with me some old photos which I took back to Moscow the last time I was in Australia.  However, I left another bag of old photos with a friend in Moscow for safe keeping.  I didn’t think I had room for them in my suitcase, so I scanned those photos and left the originals behind. My plan is to get them back one day.

born in a car vegemite

My unopened jar of Vegemite (only Australians will understand this necessity).  I think the opened jar got put in the bin.

born in a car pillow case

I also kept this pillow case. Olivier bought this for me when I first lived in Moscow and he lived in Paris. He went to Amsterdam for a holiday and found this. He thought it suited me, because I was always saying I didn’t want to go to work!

And, of course, my laptop, some other things like notebooks, diary, pens, and bits and pieces.

And those, my friends, are all the things I’ve kept from my last 10 years spent in Moscow.

My whole life carried in one suitcase, one day-pack and a handbag.  Maximum 30 kilograms.

How would you manage if you had to reduce your possessions in a hurry.  What would you keep?  Would your choices be rational or emotional?  Let me know because I’m not sure I did a good job of it!

~ Cheryl

Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

26 thoughts on “The Things I’ve Kept”

  1. Amazing post, Cheryl! We left the States in 2009. We had just moved to Louisiana, when Tim decided to retire from the postal service. We decided to move to Ecuador and though we had just bought brand new furniture, we decided to sell everything and go with each of us carrying about 20kilos in our suitcases. We accumulated a little when we lived in Ecuador, such as some hand-painted dishes, but once again we sold out, when we decided to travel through Europe. I’ve never been one to get attached to things, but it will be a nice change of pace to make a home again and furnish it with things we love and things we find during our travels. I’m so glad you are enjoying a nice apartment. When this pandemic is over I hope you’ll be able to see a little of Romania before you leave for Asia. xx


    1. Thank you Christina! I love what you and Tim do, and I really hope that Olivier and I will be able to do the same when we get back the freedom to travel. I guess, eventually, I’d like to have just the suitcase with 20-23kg, and nothing else – nothing in my sister’s shed, nothing in France. Unlike you, I do get attached to things. I’m really sad to lose my winter hat – I loved it! I’m sure I’ll get over it. 🙂 But, in all honesty, I’m not sure I’d ever get the opportunity to wear it again, especially if it was stashed away in France with a friend. My new goal, if it’s not in my suitcase, I don’t need it. And, by the way, we’ve decided that Thailand and Vietnam are going to take a bit longer to ‘get back together’ for tourists after this, so we’re planning on going directly to Georgia when we can leave Romania (providing Georgia’s borders are open). It’s impossible to predict when, but that’s our plan. 🙂 x


  2. Cheryl I’m not one for amassing lots of possessions or clutter, but I could fill many a suitcase with the stuff I have around me. I’m sure I could narrow it down over time, but having to do it in a few days is mind blowing. You did well to get your apartment packed up, sorted and done in such a short time. I’m sure there will be times in the future when you miss an item, but when you choose to live a life of excitement I guess there are consequences and pay-offs. I’ll never know!!
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM ?


    1. Hi Leanne, yes, it was a big shock to have to whittle down everything we had in such a short time. I’m pretty sure I could have done it better if I’d been less emotional/shell-shocked, but what’s the possibility of that in such a situation? Absolutely, lots of positives, and lots of negatives, when you live a life like mine. My motto in life is – No Regrets. And I try really hard to make that a reality. 🙂 x


  3. What a huge thing it must be to pack up your life like that! You did very well by the looks of things although it must be difficult to have to leave things behind. All the best for your next move and take care. #mlstl


    1. Hi Debbie, well, if felt huge at the time! Right now, 3 weeks later, I’m feeling not too bad with the decisions I made regarding what I put in my suitcase. Anyway, I can’t go back and change it now! Very difficult to leave things behind. Thanks for you kind words. You take care too. 🙂 x


  4. It really is hard to narrow it down … we wouldn’t have much hand space if we left with the two dogs, my computer, and my wife jewellery. I just know years ago, when we had an unconverted garage, we stuffed some so-called important things in it when we decluttered the house to put it on view for sale — and found months later when sifting through it all, most of it wasn’t so vital after all! #MLSTL


    1. Hi Enda, yes, that’s just what I found with the things I left in my sister’s shed – after some time they lost all their ‘value’ and I was able to get rid of them! I guess as long as we’ve got a roof over our head and food in our stomach then we’re in a better position than a lot of other people in the world. Taking a couple of dogs in an urgent getaway would be pretty difficult! I’m a dog lover, I’d probably just stay put if I couldn’t take my best friend with me. 🙂 I think this is your first time commenting on Born in a Car – so thank you for stopping by and reading my blog, I do appreciate it! Hope to see you again. Enjoy the rest of your week. 🙂


  5. This is a challenging question, Cheryl, and unfortunately people do have to make decisions on what to keep. Sometimes, on short notice. I do have many sentimental items. Yes, on the smartphone and laptop. They have my life on them. Giving things away to family feels better. Not too final.

    I have never been to a swap meet. I might be too tempted to accumulate more stuff. I am sure your items went to good homes and were appreciated. The wedding frogs definitely made me smile. You did exceptionally well in your fast packing. I hear Romania is very beautiful, when you have a chance to explore again. Take care and stay safe!


    1. Hi Erica, yes, I think these days it’s always going to be smartphone and laptop first. I’d die if I lost my laptop (I probably wouldn’t really, but in my imagination it’s like that!). I’m really looking forward to seeing a bit more of Bucharest at least, and hope we’ll have time to get outside the capital and see some of the smaller towns and countryside. The people are lovely! Thanks for your visit to Born in a Car, hope to see you again! You too, take care! 🙂


  6. Oh gosh, that’s a hard question! We accumulate so much stuff and probably the most of it is actually just stuff that we don’t need but we think we do. Other than our technology pieces, definitely important papers along with pictures and videos and then of course a few sentimental items. Best of luck to you in your new adventure and life! Thanks so much for linking up with me at my #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 11, open April 1 to 26. All entries shared on social media if share buttons installed. I’d like to invite you to check out my other current link parties too!


    1. Hi Dee, yes, technology seems to be the number one choice! It’s really hard with sentimental items. I’ve let so much go that I had sentimental attachment to, that I realise it’s not the end of the world, which can make it easier. I’ve also given stuff to my daughter to keep – it will go to her when I die anyway, so she can have it now rather than stick it in a box somewhere in the world. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Nice to see you here! Take care. 🙂


  7. I’m impressed, Cheryl. If I had to grab one thing, it would probably be my iPhone, just so I could stay in contact with everyone. I don’t have a clue about anyone’s contact information without my phone. It also has my favorite pictures on it. I do have some mementos and special gifts that I hope to hang onto throughout my life, but the truth is if I lost everything, and kept my family, I think I would be okay with that. I’m just realizing that now as I type this, and it is a real comfort. Thank you for that gift.


    1. Hi Christie, you may know how much I resist using smartphones and technology – I even have all my contacts’ numbers hand-written on paper in case my old Nokia phone gets lost (of course it would probably never get stolen, that’s one good thing about old phones!). I’m often surprised when people say that they don’t have some of their photos anymore because they lost the phone that they were in. I take photos with a camera and then download them to the laptop, then back them up to a hard drive! I’m still using technology but I’m about 10 years behind everyone else in the world!

      After the losses I’ve experienced in my life, I learnt long ago that ‘things’ aren’t the most important part of our live, and we can live without them if we have to. It still hurts though, when you lose or give up something that held memories for you. But, yes, family is the most important, and I don’t know how I could manage all of this without my husband by my side. Take care, Christie, and I’m looking forward to reading more from you on your blog! 🙂 x


  8. Hi, Cheryl! This is a very touching story. When I was much younger, I moved very often when I was studying and working in different places. I was also faced with a choice of what to take and what to leave. Now, it’s hard to imagine leaving everything and leaving.


    1. Hi Alexey, I also moved a lot when I was younger, so I’ve said goodbye to a lot of my stuff over the years. I’m sure if you had to make a choice of what to take and what to leave you could do it. It’s hard at first, but when I look at what I have right now I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. The weather is good now, so I’m not even too sad about leaving my beautiful winter hat behind! I hope you’re well, it’s nice to hear from you. 🙂


      1. Yes. I am ok. I like the photo where you are staying in the winter hat before a train. You look like a russian woman. Realy, it is first that I’ve thought. So maybe when you’ll come back in Moscow you’ll buy better one. )))) Take care yourself.


      2. Hi Alexey, thanks for your kind words. 🙂 Yes, I loved that hat and the way it made me look Russian! I love your country and Russian people are wonderful to have as friends! I’d love to come back to Moscow and buy another hat, and maybe as you said a better one! I hope you’re well and life isn’t too difficult for you right now. Thanks for commenting. Stay well. 🙂


    1. Hi Jeanne, I still lie awake at night thinking of the things I should have brought with me but didn’t. But I have everything I need so there’s no point pining for anything else. I have my husband, that’s the main thing (yes, and hard drives and photos!). Thanks so much for reading my blog and commenting, it’s nice to see you here, and I hope to see you again. 🙂


  9. Oh my goodness so many times you have had to “downsize” would really want to be able to do what you have done but not sure I could let go of some stuff.


    1. Hi Kerrie, yes, downsizing is something I do from time to time! Never really thought I’d have just a suitcase though! I still think about some of my ‘stuff’ that I’ve let go of and feel something close to regret, but I realise that it’s just stuff and I’ll probably replace it with other stuff in the future (when I find somewhere to live!). Thanks for stopping by and commenting, nice to see you here. 🙂


  10. That’s a very tough question. I have no idea how I’d cope – I am amazed that you have! I often think that if I had to do the bushfire thing and just leave once I’d made sure that my family and dog were okay it would be my laptop and our passports that I’d take – only because of the identification issues if you have to get everything reissued. #teamlovinlife


    1. Hi Joanne, funny thing is that I have some days where I feel like I’ve coped like a star, and other days when I’m just down in the dumps missing my stuff. I know this rough road diminishes over time, but it’s still a bit hard right now. Oh yes, I dread the thought of losing my ID, especially living abroad, it would be an absolute nightmare! Thanks for stopping by and commenting, nice to see you here. 🙂


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