I’m a great packer.
I’ve had a lot of practice, every time I move apartments. As a regular bus commuter and a seasoned traveler, I’m very portable. I have an almost Mary Poppins-level talent for backpack stuffing.
However, I’m a terrible unpacker.
This fall I moved to a new apartment, a two-bedroom. When I arrived, it was empty and unfurnished so I’ve had the opportunity to set it up how I want. I worked hard at it because I plan to be there a long time. I was especially proud of how my little kitchenette and living room were coming along, perfect for hosting. I was finally living light and being organized. It was like a fresh start!
However, the second bedroom- not in use as I didn’t have a roommate yet- had become a “staging area” for all my extra boxes. Half or more of my possessions, as it turns out, are “extra”. These boxes contain things that are not necessary, and yet they are not trash. There are boxes upon boxes of things like handbags that need repair, books I never read, binders of old sheet music, and random knickknacks tinged with nostalgia.
I had glanced through those boxes in the past, throwing away what was clearly trash and giving away the nicer things to Goodwill. I had vague plans to unpack and use all the “extras”, but I never did. I didn’t want to ruin the clean, crisp efficiency of my new apartment. More importantly, I could not derail the the capable, independent and organized person I was becoming. I closed the door on those extra boxes. I kept them where no one could see, but they continued to fester in the back of my mind.
Then- uh oh!- someone was coming to check out the space. I didn’t want them to look in their future room and see all my extra stuff! I was galvanized into action. I peeked in all the boxes as if expecting the items to suddenly become more useful. I looked around at my apartment, willing more shelf space to magically appear. In the end I just shunted half of the boxes into my bedroom and the other half into an empty corner of my living room.
It was a lot of work to carry all those boxes one by one across the apartment. It got me thinking, why on earth do I keep all this? How many other unnecessary things do I hold onto in my life- neatly packaged and shoved into corners where no one can see?
That night as I fell asleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I watched nervously from my bed as my cat climbed to the top of a high box stack, hoping it would not topple on me in the middle of the night. Holding on to these “extras” certainly could produce unintended consequences!
So many of these boxes hold things I might have thought I’d use at one time, but I didn’t. That hobby never took; that identity never stuck. Like holding onto clothes you no longer fit, you feel guilty enough to keep it but you never would wear it. Looking at it makes you feel icky.
At the same time, getting rid of this stuff feels scary. “What if I need it sometime?” “Wouldn’t tossing it be a waste?” I think, of these things that I have hardly touched for years. I guess it just feels nice to have the option of using them. It’s a sort of security blanket to cling to.
I can’t keep filling the corners of my life with stacks of boxes. I need to stop telling myself that hiding things away is the same as letting them go. The boxes in my apartment I know I can manage, but the boxes I’m stowing in my heart will take much longer to sort. It will be scary, it will be vulnerable, it will be messy. But afterwards it will be so much lighter, so much space for better things.