Tuesday, March 29, 2011

...And still more boxes

In sorting through literally every last item we own over the past month as we prepare for a household move, I inevitably became disabused of my illusion that we as a family are good about not storehousing our possessions.

I believed we lived lighter than most people we know, and the truth is we probably do. We don’t keep tons of books around; we read them and pass them along. We keep only the very best examples of the kids’ artwork and schoolwork. We cycle through knickknacks and similar gift items fairly rapidly: we try them out, and if they don’t work for us, on they go. If we do like them, we find the right place for them.

But now that the packing is about 90% done, I’m flabbergasted by how much there still was to sort through.

What’s wrong with this picture? I kept asking myself. How can one family be so materially rooted, for lack of a better expression? If our house was consumed by a fire, earthquake or tsunami, heaven forbid, what of this would I actually miss?

Next to our bed is a large packing carton that I have been filling with the personal items that I keep closest at hand, right in our bedroom. So far it contains my jewelry, photo albums, chargers to the electronics I use most often, my camera, pens, a flashlight, a knit wrap that my mother-in-law made for me, my Kindle. I want to think that that box, along with my laptop, my running shoes and the items in my purse, comprise the full extent of what I consider absolutely vital. I want to think that if I had to, I could happily move on to our next home with just that box and no additional personal items.

But it would be hard to cook with no cookware, and it would be discouraging to decorate for the holidays absent our twenty-year collection of holiday ornaments. And it simply wouldn’t make sense from the perspective of conserving resources to have to replace items I already own such as office supplies, dishes and the kids’ favorite toys. Those are all in other boxes.

I started the packing process with a slightly supercilious attitude. Visitors to our home often comment on how tidy it always is; we always respond it’s just because we don’t keep a lot of Stuff, capital “S,” around. But I’m afraid I stand corrected. When I look at the boxes all over the house, awaiting the moving trucks, I don’t think we’ve succeeded much at all in trying to live lightly.

We’ll soon find out just what we really need, though. Rick and I agreed that rather than start a marathon unpacking endeavor when we get to our new home, we’ll unpack things only as we want them. That way we’ll soon know what we really use and what we don’t, as we see what remains in boxes after a week, a month, a year. And then maybe we can make decisions about living with even less Stuff. Because right now, it feels overwhelming, but somehow our lives absorb it all. That is, until we try to box it and move it, and then we need to take stock of why there’s so much of it.

I’m certain the box next to the bed doesn’t contain the full extent of material items I really care about, but I’d like to think it does. I don’t know exactly how to cut back on our physical inventory right now. But it will surely be useful to find out what we end up unpacking from all the other boxes, and when.

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