Monday, May 6, 2013

The Hounds of Hoarding

I wonder if this happens to every first term missionary?

Before ever arriving on the field, this really long list from soon to be colleagues arrives informing:
  • what is available and affordable in country;
  • what is available but expensive;
  • what is available in country but such a poor quality it might as well not be;
  • what is occasionally available under rare circumstances and when it is, it is super-expensive; and
  • what you'd better kiss goodbye for the next few years, OR figure out a way to bring it in your suitcases, OR beg and plead with friends who might be willing to mail you some of whatever it is - but only if feasible,of course, OR just be blessed enough to have friends take the initiative and surprise you with those little bits of home!
Treats received via the post!

Our first time out we brought all sorts of stuff; it literally felt like TONS - sunscreen, shoes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes, ranch seasoning packets, spices, baking soda, pens, pencils, sharpies, swimsuits, feminine supplies, M&Ms, chocolate chips, underwear, razors, sensitive ear earrings, hats for all the kids, sunglasses, adult and children's acetaminophen and ibuprofen, Sudafed, antihistamines, boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese, hairbrushes and all sorts of hair bands and doodads, bug repellent, blank CDs and cassettes for the studio...

The list could go on and on and on... I honestly cannot recall all that we felt was necessary that many years ago. So many things we were certain were so important if we wanted to make Niger feel just a little more like home.

We got here and I carefully stored away those treasures, figuring I'd need to diligently ration them, parceling them out bit by bit if they were going to last us for the next couple of years. And then, of course, some just had to be tucked away for those very special occasions. If you're an expat or international worker reading this, you know just what I mean: six M&Ms per person on Friday nights after pizza as the highlight desert for the week!

It really was a great plan!

Except I got busy, discovered the many unique treasures easily and only available here, and I mostly forgot what I was hoarding... until one of the kids (or the husband) remembered, uncovered, stumbled upon or in some other clandestine manner found a hidden and forbidden without permission treat - and then began the incessant hounding to consume said delices, immediately.

I'd either cave or find a better hiding place.

And time flew by. All of a sudden we were purchasing tickets and it was time to start cleaning out cupboards, packing and storing things for home assignment, and distributing or selling what I didn't want to pack or store. I discovered that I'd forgotten about a lot more stuff than I'd actually remembered was there.

Anyone else been there, done that? Do you recognize that sheepish, somewhat guilty feeling that steals in where you start looking through all the stuff you've been hoarding for just the right moment, find out you're out of right moments and there's still more left sitting around than you could possibly use in the normal every day of the next 8 weeks or so? Anyone else's family fussed at you for the package of M&Ms trapped in an ice pack in the bottom of the freezer - and the awful waste it will become if you don't manage to somehow rescue them without drowning them in the requisite thaw?

I sure hope I'm not the only one. I don't think I am, since I've heard many local expat friends joke about it on more than one occasion, and I've been to too many moving away slash leaving for home assignment sales littered with stashes of processed food from the States.

To prevent this from happening to me my family this time, about a month ago I emptied our chest freezer, defrosted, cleaned it really well and then we gave it to recently married Nigerien friends of ours as a part of their wedding gift. They hope to get a restaurant business started, so they were delighted! Not only that, but now the frozen, freezer burned cauliflower bag that had disintegrated, dumping its contents all over the freezer floor is already checked off that to-do list.

About two weeks ago, I started culling through my cupboards and pantry. As I make my menu plans these final weeks, I striving to use up at least a couple of items, including the remaining "treasure" stocks. I can't can't wait to teach my 7th grader (who's being home schooled this year) how to make a pumpkin roll with the last can of pumpkin from a package friends sent last fall. It will be a fun treat for us... and for the family after dinner some evening. 

This gives me time to identify those things that I know I'll use as well as those things that I'm pretty sure I won't use to set them aside for the upcoming moving out sales or give them to a friend I know hope will appreciate them.

We are a family of 10 and we often have company (think lots of teenagers) hanging around, sometimes staying for dinner. That means I tend to cook and buy in bulk. Now, however, I'm aiming more to buy just the amounts needed for each meal - 1 L bottles of oil instead of the 5 L, small cans of mayo and mustard instead of the jumbo ones. The pantry full of non-perishables that all expats are told to keep accessible and available, just in case something makes grocery shopping hazardous or impossible? We've pretty much eaten our way through our always-less-than-recommended-store.

Just last weekend, I went through our medicine cabinet... and I did pat myself on the back. Most of what's left I'll be taking with me as we travel, just in case someone has a headache or our daughter's allergy induced asthma starts acting up as we leave the dryness of this desert climate. As we do laundry, we pull out those clothes that don't look quite as faded by the line drying under the Sahara sun and stash those in suitcases. Most of the rest of our clothing will be given away.

I could keep on going with additional examples of how each couple of days, each weekend, I continue to direct my family through this gradual culling, but I'm pretty sure you get the picture. 

Frankly, it feels great - the confidence that we've stewarded our little treasures and delights well and that when we get to that final pack and our last few days in country, I won't be discovering anything forgotten... or have my family demanding that I seek therapy due to excessive hoarding.

This week, in fact, we're enjoying Craisins on our salads!

How do you keep from being hunted by those hounds of hoarding?

Do you feel this is a stewardship issue or not?

Can you share about a time in your life where a fear of inadequate provision for the future prevented you from thoroughly celebrating the moment?

Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field:


  1. You really made me laugh. What you describe is exactly what has been happening in our family. But I have learnt some over the years and try not to store special things for THE occasion that never comes. Just tonight we had some of that special Swiss cheese that we all love, may be to celebrate the seventeenth house we visited ... Anyway, in case you discover some of those wonderful treats at the last minute, I am sure my family will be happy to come up with a good reason to feast on it!
    Pack well, my friend, and may God be with you in the next step you are taking. Anne

    1. 17th house??? oouufff!

      Any treats hanging around we'll be sure and send your way. Glad to share a laugh today! :-)

  2. Richelle, your post cracked me up. I actually brought packets of Ranch dressing from America here once and when I made one, I discovered I didn't like it as the dressing I whisk together myself out of mayo, yogurt, and various spices. Then I was stuck with 10 packets of something I didn't even like!!!

    I only bring things like medicines, shoes, and electronic equipment we need. What I love when someone brings them is corn tortillas for making enchiladas, but other than that, I'm pretty much happy with Turkish delicacies here and happy with American delicacies back home.... Luckily for us, we can now buy craisins are our local market! :-)

    1. my hubby thinks ranch dressing is its own food group... so that is one of those things we always say folks can send out to make him a happy camper. i, personally, love the honey dijon dressing i can so easily make here. :-)

      each place is so different - cheese, non powdered milk, anything pork based, shoes that actually last for more than about 2 days, etc. - we can't get those so affordably here. so if someone is traveling or if there's room, we may bring some stuff. we also are only back once every 4-5 years, so... we do find, though, that the longer we live here, the less we crave those things and are willing to enjoy each places unique treats we have access to them. :-)

    2. Wow! Once every 4-5 years. I can only imagine. Pork I learned to do without--they call it "pig" here, which kind of takes away your appetite for it :-)--but shoes that last more than 2 days are big priorities for me too. We also buy shoes back home for sure. I also can't find pants here because all Turkish pants are size 8, skinny, skinny, skinny, and I just can't fit into them!!!

  3. This made me laugh because we all do it! For me, it's Peanut Butter Cups! Then suddenly I find that every volunteer team has brought Peanut Butter Cups and we have bags and bags of them that we really don't need to be eating! If someone is coming around Christmas or Easter we usually ask them to bring a honey glazed spiral ham because we definitely can't get that here! Shoes are a big one for us too. I think because everything is concrete the kids shoes wear out almost instantly. Our first trip back to the States we brought tons of stuff back with us. This summer we are going for two months and I really don't feel like there is anything I need to bring because I've adjusted to cooking here.

    1. oh.... pb cups. LOVE those! it can be a challenge to get anything chocolate here, in this heat. :-)