Life in Boxes
“Just like we were never here,” I mused as I stood in the empty living room. I bit my lip, trying to hold back the nostalgic tears that were predictably on their way.
All of our family’s firsts took place in this cozy bungalow on Jefferson Rd, but evidence of them had disappeared into the boxes that were now stacked in a cold concrete storage unit and shoved into closets in our temporary bedrooms.
The decision and almost year-long process of moving out of our home created a seismic shift in my family’s universe. It forced us to part with a good portion of our material possessions as we asked, “Do we really need this? Why on earth did I save this? Can someone else use this? When will I ever look at this again?”
The sentimental sap that I am saved every picture taken, note passed, and journal entry written for almost 40 years. I spent an evening reacquainting myself with these items that had been packed away in boxes, gathering dust and yellowing for over a decade. As I sipped on a stout and reminisced, digging through old photos, shaking my head at my rambunctious youth, a faded letter fell into my lap. I recognized the return address immediately as I had received countless letters, notes, and cards from Merrimac in Dayton: Uncle Jack.
My uncle passed away recently and my hands shook unfolding the now fragile paper. Carefully written in his distinct penmanship was his congratulations on earning academic honors. The letter was dated 1986, second grade. I snapped a picture and sent it off to his widow, my Aunt Elaine and his youngest brother, my dad. If there was ever evidence of the incredible brand of the purposeful, meaningful life my uncle lived, and what a steady supportive undercurrent he was in mine, this was exhibit A.
While purging so many of our material possessions lightened both the emotional and physical burden of moving, holding on to the memories that I carefully repacked into their boxes, has kept me grounded. It’s important to let go and move forward, but also critical to remember how we got there in the first place.
Letters my little sisters and I wrote to each other when I moved to Bowling Green for college reflected my role as caregiver and leader, but also how integral their support and love has always been to my success. My sisters haven’t always followed the trail I painstakingly forged, which often left me perplexed, but their independence taught me humility and how to let go, lessons crucial to parenting my children as they will undoubtedly ignore my perfectly laid out plans and find their own way forward.
My partially filled-out baby books and discarded scrapbook supplies are reminders that some to-do items will become obsolete once they’re pushed aside. Some tasks can’t wait because the memories fade much more quickly than we realize.
I flipped through old photos of joyful times with friends, some lost, some left purposefully behind, and others who I’m confident will be a steady presence into old age. My friendships over the years have both buoyed and sunk me emotionally. My emotional evolution has shrunk my list of trusted friends, and while I still mourn these losses, the wise advice of my oldest and dearest friend Becky to “Keep your circle small,” rings true.
And then there was my collection of ceramic masks. What on earth was I thinking indulging in this creepy 80’s trend? Seriously, what does one do with over 20 painted oddities? Throughout my adolescence, I collected these eyesores, intent on adding new additions to my powder blue bedroom walls. I saw this hobby as sophisticated and deep. Oh my.
As I dug into this box, my nostalgic tears lapsed into fits of belly giggles, the laughter that can only come from the humble self-realization of how ridiculous we are. Can I sell these things to some other poor preteen trying to find a meaningful hobby? Maybe someone has a collection of porcelain dolls that they will pair nicely with?
All the silly aside, I’m fairly certain that some of my children’s future hobbies will make about as much sense as those goofy masks made to my mother. Perhaps I should keep one or two masks to remind me that sometimes being a good parent means going along without judgement. They’ll figure it out.
After packing and sorting, purging and holding on, my family’s entire material life was packed away neatly (only because Peter did most of the packing). We kept the necessities out for our stay at Pete’s parents’ house and we are now officially on hold.
Our daily lives keep moving forward, of course. The kids go to school and adults work. Practices and games keep us busy; our routine has been adjusted, but it’s still there. My mother and father in-law are graciously sharing their home and we’re trying our best not to be too much of a disruption. My saint of a mother is keeping our 11 year-old, high anxiety Malinois Shepherd, Lola, and we visit her as often as we can.
Still, though, there’s a feeling of treading water. A sense that we can’t quite move on until we can finally unpack all of those boxes.
Our house is in the final stages of construction. Each day is like Christmas: cabinets, trim, paint, counter tops. Even watching the sewer lines being dug was a celebration. I never in a million, bazillion years would have thought Pete and I would end up building a home. It’s something my childhood roots would never let me fathom.
Still, here we are through a series of circumstances, some imagination, and a leap of faith, building our forever home.
Each day, each new development, our house on the hill our builder as dubbed Mt. Herrera, moves closer to becoming a home. I’m starting to imagine family dinners, gatherings with friends, my kids arguing through their adjoining bathroom, and sitting on my porch overlooking the park, beverage in hand of course.
Still, though, for now, our reality is boxes. When we unpack them, we’ll do another purge, and reminisce once more. Then we’ll pack away the memories, put the boxes in the basement, and move forward, scents of fresh paint and cut lumber reminding us of our fresh start.
Throughout this process, I’ve vacillated between cautious excitement and apprehension, partly because I’m not convinced I deserve all of these nice things, but mostly because I question why I even want them. I adored our old home-am I being ungrateful, materialistic? Was selling our first home a rejection of our old life or a reaction to the emotional strife we endured over the past few years? Is this the right decision for our family? What lessons are we teaching our children?
I am not anywhere close to answering these questions, but I do know that Peter and I made a decision together and we’re moving forward as a family. We aren’t moving far, just ½ mile from our old home, but our world feels light years away from where we began 12 years ago.
My relationship to change has always been complicated; as much as I like to think of myself as brave and progressive, there’s a little old lady living somewhere in my psyche that’s always nagging me to stay put.
Our old home is sold and we’re definitely not staying with Pete’s parents forever, although the chicken enchiladas and fresh tortillas are a nice perk. Our new home is under construction on top of Mt. Herrera and we’ll move the boxes in with our memories, but there will be plenty of space to make new ones on our own terms.
Until then, though, we’re learning that our life is far more than what’s in those boxes. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how easily we can function without the majority of our stuff. The lessons in our newest family adventure are layered and will take time to unpack, but one that’s come most quickly into focus is the freedom that comes with simplicity, minimalism, and pragmatic examination of how we determine what is truly valuable.
I’ve vowed to live a clutter-free life and avoid accumulating unnecessary material possessions. I’d love to leave the emotional baggage behind has well and move forward with a less obstructed perspective.Still, though, just as Pete doubts I’ll remain uncluttered for long, emotional clarity is an elusive goal.
I’m just hoping I’ll have the patience, humor, and support endure the continuous process of evaluation and progress to live a life beyond the boxes.