by Gar Anthony Haywood

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.

11 thoughts on “IT’S (NOT) ALL IN THE BOX

  1. Jim Winter

    When I got married, we decided to move into my condo. It was big and roomy and besides, I got it in the divorce. It was my five-figure prize! (That I'm still paying for.)

    Then we realized we hated the commute, the neighborhood, and the school system. So back we went after two months. Fortunately, we hadn't unpacked everything, so moving back to my wife's place took very little effort.

  2. Sarah W

    Beautifully put, Gar.

    The last time we moved, all of us (my husband, me, my mother-in-law) threatened to push a couple boxes off the truck, just to see if anyone ever missed them. Naturally, we were looking at the others' stuff and not our own.

  3. Debbie

    I know this guy who, week after week, would stand in front of a group of people and say, "We need to practice radical generosity." He didn't want us to direct that charity his way, or to the organization with which he worked, but to those in need. He said we should not go out and try to earn more in order to do this but, and this IS radical, he said that we should live below our means. What?

    After a while, he convicted himself. He talked about his house, and he talked about his stuff. One day, he realized that the family needed more space. What for? Their stuff. So they packed. And packed. And they put the stuff in a truck. And they moved it all. Every last thing went to local charities. They then sold their house and…downsized! The extra money was used to pay off all debt but the mortgage, which was smaller. And the extra money, no longer spent servicing the debt, was donated each month to charities. This is a true story that I witnessed first hand. His name is BruxyCavey and he has inspired many. If you want to know how rich you are, here is a compairson chart which will show where you land on the Global Rich List:

  4. Gar Haywood

    Jim: The funny thing is, we almost NEVER unpack every box. One or two always stays sealed up, either because we've forgotten what's in them, or because we've discovered how little we really need what's in them. Which speaks to Sarah's point, which is one I would have touched on in my post had I not been so sleep-deprived when I wrote it, and that is how much we tend to acquire that we could so easily live without. And again, I think that is in part because we buy things not with our present needs in mind, but our needs (wants) in an idealized future yet to be realized.

  5. Lisa Alber

    The last time I moved, I spent dozens of hours going through every thing I owned. I was ruthless. Boxes and boxes of clothes and just–junk–went to Salvation Army and a local charity for women. I sold bigger items on Craig's List (more trouble than worth), and sold some artwork on consignment. I wondered if would miss all my stuff: I didn't. At all. In fact, when I unpacked in my new place, I got rid of more stuff. Liberating!

    However, like you mentioned: I threw away exactly zero writers notebooks and journals, old manuscripts and random notes. I stored them away, in their entirety, ruthlessness nowhere to be seen.

  6. Reine

    Hi Gar– beautiful metaphor for life, especially your greatest treasure "… downstairs, occupying three different beds in three different bedrooms."

    Since our daughter Jeanie died last month, I have been finding her hidden treasure everywhere in our house. I must admit that everything she wrote, or made, or loved has become a bit of treasure. I am trying not to enshrine her with false sainthood using her personal memorabilia. There she is, though, wherever I look. The other children are there too, but they're not in a box. We treasure them just as much, maybe a little more now. No, that is not it. We just don't want to tie them up with a pretty ribbon and put them away for later enjoyment. We want the impossible, to hold on to them without ceasing.

    Thank you, Gar.

  7. Susan Shea

    Oh, yes, Gar. I'm about to start the process myself and your description reminds me just how much I'm (not) going to enjoy it. Some of my stuff has moved with me more than once because you never know…

  8. PD Martin

    I've never moved as a family and don't look forward to that one little bit! We are looking at doing some major renovations here in a year or two, so the boxes will have to come out.

    I hope to cull – and I do expect it will be liberating! Having said that, we live in a two-bedroom unit so there simply isn't space to accumulate too much stuff! Blessing in disguise 🙂

    Hope you get your boxes unpacked (except for those few!). When I was a teenager we moved and then ten years later moved again…and we found unpacked boxes from the first move.

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