What I Learned From My Suitcase

The art of compact beauty

Bouquet 08 from The Art of Arranging Flowers

A few weeks ago, I spent an entire day photographing every item in my suitcase which has both literally and symbolically housed my life for the past three years. I began compiling it into a tongue-in-cheek catalogue as an ad for a nomadic lifestyle: “Pack light, the real baggage is inside!”

It’s easy to make light of but it turns out that this seemingly arbitrary exercise allowed me to distill a few things about life and creating.

  1. The internal story is often far more complicated than the external one. Always being on the move for example can look easy and exciting, often interpreted as an effortless way of life where the grass is always greener. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Perhaps more realistically: it both is and isn’t. Everybody is paying a price for something regardless of whether or not we can see it. Beauty, ecstasy — these can all be pretty expensive too. I want to remind myself to always look beyond what I can see; to afford everyone complexity and understanding and to remember that there’s a whole story out there even if I’m only privy to part of it.

  2. By living with the constraints of a suitcase, “capsuling” has become second nature, contextualising each item’s value within the limited space and weight. How does it work with its other components? Is it durable? Does it make me feel good? Which items best illustrate or bring out my essence? The same philosophy can broadly be applied to life too, demonstrating how the small things often signify the big things.

    We also adapt instinctively: if your framework doesn’t allow for clutter, you’ll find that you don’t need it. In this case (no pun intended), attempting to find a balance between joy, practicality and style. The nomadic years have forced me to be very intentional about what I purchase and in turn, what I’d like to produce. If the item isn’t something that would make the cut into my suitcase, I deem it unnecessary. The goal is to create longevity and meaning within context; to make things with love so that they can be loved well.

  3. The bouquet image I chose today emerged from the Japanese practice of ikebana: to arrange flowers in a way that extracts their inner qualities and also to express emotion. Cataloguing the images I created was an attempt to meditate on what it means to be “from” somewhere, about the accumulative consequences (or rewards) of staying versus leaving, of wondering when the right time is to lean into commitment. Is there ever one?

    Ikebana is an art that appreciates cultivation and the inherent beauty in something, seeking to magnify it. So is living well. It’s a reminder that yes, things get heavy and yes, it all matters. But we also need to enjoy the ride sometimes, to laugh, to pay attention, to coax something new out of what already exists.

New foundations

As the year draws closer to an end, I’ve been thinking about renewal — about passing on these items or trading them in for different ones that better represent who I am now and the beliefs I’d like to carry forward. I hope that they too might become symbolic of an evolving foundation and the new skin that will grow as a result of shedding the old one(s) because the relationship between internal and external matters: how we talk to and compose ourselves, the trappings we create.

I used to get into a panicked frenzy when I would lose an item: not because of the item itself but because of the fragmented existence it represents. It makes me question: What do we owe one another? Is a temporary presence more liberating or damaging? As time goes by, what does “experience” amount to? What does it mean to take advantage of being “young”?

The pandemic decimated the plans I had to invest in one particular place but as with most things, I trust that a new opportunity will emerge when I least expect it because there is no predestined path or incorrect choice: only adjustments, only shapeshifting. I remember in March saying to someone that we’d probably “lose” two years of our lives.

But even outside of our pandemic context, perhaps that has always been the challenge — to accept that our lives here and now are our “real lives” instead of waiting for this to be “over” or some future day on a checklist, to live our lives accordingly and wholeheartedly as best as we can. Savour this, get back up from that, let’s not ruin it. Time to unpack.

Figure 1. “Fragile Contents” from aforementioned suitcase

This week in “things”

🌼 Something I listened to — Reencuentros, a mix by John Gómez which provides a perfect soundtrack to your flow state or a well-deserved break! It immediately transports me to a golden period in time when I was living in Brazil.

🌷 Something I started working on — “Liminal Culture as Whole” is a new project exploring the purgatorial space between east and west and reframing it as a concrete space where melded cultures give birth to their own. We are actively looking for participants and collaborators so if you’re interested in a more meaningful conversation beyond terms like “third culture kid” or “Eurasian identity”, please reach out.

🌺 Something I read — Voices from the Valley: Tech Workers Talk About What They Do and How They Do It edited by Ben Tarnoff and Moira Weigel. I’ve been thinking about the relationships between platforms, people and culture and the role of the platforms in shaping this, particularly in relation to the value increase in curation, the broader shifts towards sustainable consumption and how Instagram is more aggressively a marketplace than ever. More soon.


I’m Emily Nabnian and Send Virtual Flowers is a weekly digital bouquet from me to you about that moment when the feeling strikes. It is an experiment in alternative modes of communication inspired by the things that touch me and perhaps you too. If someone came to mind while you were reading this, consider passing the bouquet along by sharing.