By Mari O’Grady
The first time I put all of my possessions into boxes was right before I left Washington, D.C. for a summer internship in London. I rented my room to a friend of a friend, and needed to make the space look inviting. I needed to make it look neat. At the very least, I needed to get my crap out of the spaces her crap would inhabit for the next two months.
I wandered around the room, picking up knickknacks and shoving them into boxes, layering everything on the left-hand side of my closet. Picture frames, sweaters, an embarrassing stuffed animal giraffe – all thrown together into the dark abyss behind the sliding door.
What was left in my room looked pleasantly blank. I marveled at how nice my bedspread was, lovingly smoothed over my mattress and tucked in at the corners. The parquet floor shined. And all it took was a myriad of boxes, stacked up and out of sight.
From that summer in 2008, up to this very moment, I have partially lived in boxes. No matter where I move, no matter how much I get rid of, there are boxes in my living space. It’s ironic, because halfway unpacking provides both a sense of cleanliness, and complete lack thereof. I get the satisfaction of a mostly neat space, but the boxes still lurk in the doorways. Rigid, cardboard corners contain what would otherwise be a full, but messy home. It’s tidy chaos.
My husband and I have lived in three apartments together, and we quickly discovered that partial unpacking is something we have in common. One of the memories I have from our first apartment together was his discovery of an old, large, plastic drawstring bag. It was full of outdated financial paperwork he was afraid to throw away. Paperwork and old college team gear are his weaknesses. Mine is clutter – the hand painted box from Argentina with dancers on the lid; the pretty picture frame I bought on sale. The makings of a home that live in our house.
Our boxes are a running topic of conversation. We wonder how we have so much stuff when we keep culling it down and no one is impulse shopping. We debate the merits of unpacking, but why bother if we’re just renting, and we don’t want to stay here long anyway? Then we’ll just need more boxes. It would be wasteful to throw out the ones that are so kindly holding our possessions within their walls.
One day it hit me. The boxes weren’t a testament to laziness, but rather a manifestation of where we are in our life together. Both of us would love to be homeowners, but we don’t have that yet. We have rentals on top of boxes, and neither of us likes putting holes in the walls of places we already know we’re leaving. Neither of us wants to settle in until we know the effort we will make will be worth it. And neither of us has that enviable design gene that allows our more stylish friends the ability to set up home wherever they live.
We often ask each other what would happen if we threw away all the boxes. The problem is, our home lives inside. We just have to find our permanent space to unpack them in – embarrassing stuffed animal giraffe included.
Mari is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty on Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.
Featured image via Unsplash