At first people were shy, sipping tea nervously and occasionally glancing at the cupboards. Then my sister, Louise, arrived. Without putting down her bag or saying hello, she headed for the spare room, determination on her face.
"I knew she’d be the competition!" cried my friend Rose, leaping off the sofa and darting in the same direction.
This is what happens when you open your home to friends, family and colleagues, telling them they can help themselves to everything within it. Moments later, Rose and Louise re-emerged with armfuls of clothes and pot plants, and matching triumphant gleams in their eyes.
'When it came to our possessions, drastic measures were called for'
Last month, my boyfriend and I moved to Myanmar [Burma] for two years for work, each taking a single suitcase. We couldn’t afford to keep our flat in London, so when it came to our possessions, drastic measures were called for.
Some of our stuff, like books and clothes, I could cope with giving away. But there was a list of things like precious paintings and my boyfriend’s childhood teddy bear that we couldn’t bring ourselves to let go. Those things we decided to offer up for long-term loan. It’s not recycling, nor evenfreecycling: we’re calling it ‘sharecycling’.
It was our tent that swung it for me. I made the decision as I thought about the pointlessness of putting stuff into storage for two dusty years. Instead, I imagined some of the people I loved hoisting our tent on to their backs and setting out into the countryside in the summer sunshine.
We were moving away, but this made it feel as though we would still, in a small way, be with our friends. And once we had planted this seed, the idea grew. The plants on the balcony. The board games. The chairs. The wicker bin in the spare room.
To shift it all, we had an open house, inviting everyone we knew to loot our belongings. We gave them cava so they would be giddy, and take more.
"This is just like supervised stealing!" said one friend, as she loaded books by the handful into a carrier bag. I became a saleswoman. I recommended novels, waved toys at babies, and brought out coats for people to try on. My parents are convinced I will never see any of it again.
Now I am sitting in a flat in Yangon as the last of the monsoon rains hurls down outside, turning the pavements into mud and sending the monks and street sellers huddling under doorways and umbrellas.
I feel very far away from London, and from my stuff. That list we made of the things we want back? I’m not sure how much we’ll consult it. So far, I haven’t missed any of my pictures, or that weird mouse purse I’ve had since I was seven. I’ve missed my family, my friends, and my city.
'I’m not ready to wander the world forever with just a laptop'
And our sharecycling plan ties us back to them. A friend took our tent to a festival. My sister’s husband, a farmer in Yorkshire, has given my boyfriend’s holdall a new lease of life as a farm bag. And my favourite picture, a cross-stitch strewn with choice four-letter words, now sits proudly on the walls of a pal in south London.
This is what makes me smile: the thought of all our bits and pieces in our friends’ lives, a physical reminder of our ties. Perhaps it’s a cop out, as if we have pressed pause on our London lives rather than stop, making the move easier.
It shows I’m not ready to wander the world forever with just a laptop. But perhaps when we do go back, we’ll be less concerned with what we have, and more with where we are going – and who with.