I think a lot about boxes.
An unopened box is mysterious. Like a closed door in a novel, an unopened box is filled with promise and potential. The contents—good or bad—are unknown. Think about it. Unopened presents under the tree hold the magic of Christmas.
Afterwards, the boxes are just junk. Opened, their mystery vanishes. But the boxes linger.
That, my friends, is trouble.
Opened and empty boxes are dangerous. They are the leg-traps of household debris. That’s the ugly secret about boxes. Their very emptiness holds potential. The promise of the empty box is that it will be there when you need to mail or pack something.
And those are the boxes I think about a lot.
Take a sturdy box that held a dozen bottles of wine. (I have to admit, I have way too many of these empty wine boxes. Unfortunately, they once held $3 bottles of red wine from Whole Foods. A friend, upon tasting said wine, noted that “It’s as good as a $7 bottle.”) Anyway, an empty wine box, with its cardboard dividers, holds a dozen glasses, when the time comes to move.
Empty shoe boxes are particularly alluring. Good shoes come in well-made boxes in a slightly larger-than-standard size. They stack easily, giving the impression of organization. Nike boxes for men’s size 12 sneakers are not only sturdy (and a pleasing orange), they’re constructed like drawers. How handy is that? I have several, since Max hit size 12 in sixth grade.
Who throws away a USPS one-weight/one-price-postage box? Never mind that they’re free at the post-office. The fruit boxes from Harry and David are perfect for Christmas ornaments. And they have a foam cushion inside, to protect the fruit and, later, the ornaments. (Don’t get me started on packing materials or gift bags—those are related topics I’ll deal with later.)
Ponder this: The richest woman in China made her fortune—billions—collecting tons of used cardboard from America and Europe, shipping it to China, recycling it into new boxes which were then used to ship manufactured goods to America. And then the cycle began again. She is said to be richer than Oprah Winfrey!
“Other people saw scrap paper [and boxes] as garbage, but I saw [them] as a forest of trees,” said Zhang Yin, chairman of the Nine Dragons Paper Co. Does that not say something about the excess of boxes?
Beware the “good box”
Then there is the generic “good box.” I have several, in various sizes, in a dark corner of the basement. I’m betting you do, too. I used to do house cleanouts for the Miriam Switching Post and I never saw a house that didn’t have empty boxes—sometimes dozens—tucked away someplace. In fact, some of the boxes now in my basement came from those basements.
The problem with these so-called “good boxes” is that they are rarely as perfect as they promise. Whatever object I am trying to pack is inevitably just a little bit too big for any of the boxes in the basement.
Here’s another variation on the “good box.” The moving box. Since I have been planning to move for about 10 years now, I have a lot of potential moving boxes. Some of them are flattened and easily stored. Either I bought them for a previous move and saved them, or friends who moved gave them to me. Then there are the insidious other good moving boxes. Here’s a note on such a box that I recently found in my basement:
“Sue—I got 2 of these boxes & thought you might use one for packing. (Look inside—pretty cool for fragile items!) Forgive me if you do not need it & have to ditch it!”
I will not reveal this friend’s name, but note that telling phrase—“forgive me.” It reeks of guilt, doesn’t it? I’ll write later about other diabolical strategies for passing stuff off to friends under the guise of doing them a favor.
More bad news about boxes
Some boxes are even worse than empty boxes. They, too, masquerade as “good boxes.” These boxes contain stuff.
They are the boxes under my bed, in my closets and on shelves in the basement. Some of the stuff they hold is good stuff, I think– there are many boxes that have been packed for so long, I forget what’s in them. The worst contain unknown or unsorted stuff. Things I intended to take to Goodwill or put in a garage sale. Unsold items from my occasional forays into selling collectibles. These are not good boxes.
I have a bad habit, especially with paperwork, of letting it pile up on the dining room table. Eventually, I sort and discard. When I do, I end up with considerably reduced piles that are in much better order, ready for me to take whatever actions are needed.
Inevitably, though, something occurs—someone coming to dinner or I plan to refinish the dining room floor, whatever—that forces me to sweep those tidy piles into a box and put the box under the bed, in a closet or in the laundry basket.
Sometimes—not always, but often enough—I forget where those boxes are. Sometimes I forget they exist. Sometimes I tear at my hair and run screaming around the house because I know an important piece of paper is somewhere to be found, but I don’t know where that somewhere is. Sometimes I find the boxes months or even years later and all the stuff in them is outdated. This can be a strategy for getting rid of stuff, but it’s not one I highly recommend.
I came up with a creative way of making more space in Max’s bedroom, once he went to college. I took the bottom bunk out of his bedroom set, stapled fabric to the inside of the frame, so that it hides what is under the bed—which is now a greatly enlarged space. Yes, I used some of that space for the printer and a file cabinet, as I planned, to reduce visual clutter.
But when the time came to put the house on the market, I put a lot of stuff into boxes and put the boxes under the bed. Some of the boxes contain stuff that is sorted and labeled. There are quite a few that, well, that I just haven’t gotten around to sorting yet.
I should go to Max’s room right now and go through those boxes. Or I should deal immediately with the empty boxes in the basement. But you know, Christmas is coming. The house will need to be tidy and I’ll probably be sending some gifts…
365 Days of Letting Go: The Resale Evangelista is paring down possessions, one day at a time. Today she deleted a bunch of obsolete photo files from her laptop.