Three weeks ago, the family and I moved into a new home. We’d been renting a place in Alhambra until we could find a house both within our budget and big enough to accommodate our ever-expanding need for space, and we finally lucked into a four-bedroom, single-story mid-century number in Glassell Park that fits the bill. It was a great blessing. The new joint needs a lot of work, God knows, and most of the heavy lifting has already been done, but there’s still a hell of a lot of sweat equity left to invest to make it our “home” — starting with unpacking all these @!*#%!*@ boxes we’ve vacuum-packed our lives into. Boxes just like this one:
If you’ve ever made a similar move yourself, you know what I’m talking about. First you spend weeks stuffing and taping everything you own into cartons three sizes too small, and then you spend weeks yanking it all out again in a different place, always thinking along the way:
“What the hell is this?“
“So that’s where that damn thing went!”
“Why in the world do I own one of these?“
“I’ve got absolutely no use for this, and I probably never will — but as soon as I toss it, I’ll find a use for it, so I’d better hold onto it.”
You learn a lot about yourself as you take this item-by-item inventory of your earthly existence, and one of the most fascinating is all the things you’ve accumulated not with the intent of using it in this life — the one you’re actually living — but in the life you hope to have someday. Clothes you plan to fit into; brochures for exotic cars you intend to own; toys you’re going to play with just as soon as you’re making enough money to slow down a little. Some of this stuff is as new as the day you acquired it; it comes in packages that have never been opened, inside plastic bags that are still sealed air-tight.
These possessions are pieces of a dream you can’t let go of. Giving them away or selling them off at your next yard sale would be a form of surrender, an admission that time has run out on the future you’ve always thought would be yours.
So when the time comes to change addresses, you stick these things in a box, rather than leave them behind, and then you find a place for them in your new home — the closet, the garage, the attic — when the box gets opened again. If it gets opened again.
Some things go into boxes that stay sealed forever.
Of course, as I’m a writer, most of my moving boxes are filled with ideas. Fragments of stories yet to be written, dogeared notebooks brimming with single-line plot synopses and half-formed character profiles. Throw this stuff away? Are you nuts? There’s a bestseller in there somewhere, I know there is, and one day I’m going to find it.
Ultimately, for all our mindless attachment to them, it’s not the things inside the boxes that really count. It’s the things we can’t box up: the people we love, the memories of good times past, the hope that tomorrow will only bring more of the same.
As I write this, late at night in my new office upstairs, I see boxes all around me; numbered and labeled, every one filled with odd bits and pieces of this poor man’s treasure. But what I value most isn’t in any of these boxes, nor anywhere here in this room. They’re downstairs, occupying three different beds in three different bedrooms.
And that’s what makes this home.