Take a moment and imagine the last time you moved to a new place. It could have been to a new city, a new house, a new desk, or all of the above. If you’re like me, you waited until the last minute to pack your belongings, because let’s face it, packing is the worst. I even coined a term for this—procrastipacking. As much as I have moved, you’d think I would have gotten the hang of it by now.
If you count the moves I made during my four years of college, then I have moved ten times in the last eight years. As a young adult, staying in one place for more than a year is a foreign concept to me. I have become accustomed to boxes, for better or worse. They have become fixtures in my life, always waiting patiently for my next move.
There is a story behind every box, and behind every object in that box. Boxes often present themselves in times of transition. They signify important milestones in your life, whether or not those milestones are desired. In certain cases, we might welcome the sight of boxes, while in others, we may cringe at the very thought of them.
Boxes appear when your dad gets a new job and announces at dinner one evening that your family will be moving to a different state. They appear when your mom refuses to throw away a single piece of artwork you’ve ever created, no matter how simplistic it may be.
Boxes appear on birthdays and holidays, wrapped in colorful paper and delivered with smiles, reminding you that you’re another year older and hopefully wiser.
Boxes appear when you receive your college acceptance letter. They appear once again at the end of the year, and again, if you’re like me, most of them tend to stay packed even when you return home for the summers.
Boxes show up when you’re going through a tough time and your dear friend opens her home to you. They show up on your first day of a new job and on the day you clean out your desk. They show up when relationships take steps forwards or backwards. They show up with hellos and goodbyes, with possibilities and memories, with hope and regret. Boxes show up at the most vulnerable times in our lives, when we are unsure of what the future holds, and we are forced to sort through our past, one belonging at a time.
About a year ago, I found myself at my parents’ house in Asheville. I was standing in a room filled with boxes stacked taller than I am. I sorted through them one by one, and I had to confront various reminders of my past, in a disorienting, out-of-sequence fashion—like being forced to choose scenes from your favorite movie and watch them at random.
In one box, I found my collection of retro aluminum lunchboxes. (Yeah, I was pretty cool in high school… No big deal). I saved a couple of these and donated the rest. The next box contained my collection of Disney movies on VHS. I saved Beauty and the Beast, my favorite one, and bid farewell to the others.
I soon found that long-lost box of clothes from college, although upon opening it, I realized that my fashion taste has evolved since then—thank goodness. The sole survivor from this box was my pair of black low-top Chuck Taylors.
In the next box, I found cheerleading uniforms, track jerseys, and show choir dresses from high school. The following box contained journals filled with poems and stories that I felt compelled to burn upon re-reading. About ten of the boxes were filled with books, because let’s face it, some things never change.
I think you get the idea. I was faced with tangible reminders of past versions of myself. After moving so many times, I’ve gotten better at letting material things go.
I did, however, save the select few items. I like to think that there is still a part of me who wears scuffed up converse, reads Harry Potter, and brings a sandwich to work in an aluminum lunchbox.
Although I keep the belongings that are truly special to me, with every move, I find myself getting rid of more and more things. Like most people, I don’t realize how much stuff I actually have until I start packing.
Upon further reflection, I’ve realized that this really isn’t so different from any act of self-improvement. Boxes don’t necessarily have to be made out of cardboard.
We are all faced with metaphorical boxes each and every day. To a certain extent, we live compartmentalized lives out of necessity. In one box, so to speak, we have our family life, in another we have our professional life and responsibilities, in another we have various circles of friends, in another we have our romantic life, and in another we have our hobbies and pastimes.
We have boxes of childhood memories and dreams, boxes of embarrassing moments and shameful actions, boxes of awards and accomplishments, and boxes of passions and to-do lists, some of which are collecting dust.
Most of us have that one box in the back of our closet that we really don’t ever care to open again, and yet we keep carrying it around with us every time we move.
Sorting through these boxes can be overwhelming, but it must be done. Each and every day is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, but we often need a push in that direction. We need to stop procrastipacking.
The great thing about a major change or disruption in your life is that it forces you to reflect upon what really matters, to sort through your past memories and experiences, to select what you like and discard what you don’t, to move forward unencumbered and ready to embrace the unknown—all the while becoming a better version of yourself.
As troublesome as they may be, I really owe a lot to all the boxes I’ve moved in my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.