A life in boxes

by Jennifer on March 3, 2008

boxes.jpgIf you could see my house on this particular day, you would see rooms that are, for the most part, clean. The tables gleam with polish. The floors shine. Most of the surfaces we use daily are free of clutter. It was a mad, mad dash today to clear the way for the (beloved) cleaning service who comes every two weeks and, in under two hours, leaves my house looking like this. Look around, though–it won’t last more than a day or two. The clutter will creep back in. I’m beginning to think it sneaks in during the few hours I sleep each night, like a snowfall that doesn’t look so bad but surprises everyone with its staggering accumulation.

You would also see something else: stacks of boxes around the perimeter of our rooms. Tucked in corners and along walls. A few in the Girl’s room. More in ours. In the hallway, all the framed art leans against the wall, each piece protected with bubble wrap. The walls are bare of everything except two mirrors, which I only left in place because I feared they would break if I took them down before the moving truck arrives.

I would move the rest of these boxes to the garage, which already services an impressive hoard of boxes, but I don’t want to risk the effects of the oppressive temperatures that will arrive here within a few months. I hate to think what the heat would do to the books or the artwork. Besides, I’ve already given over enough of our things to the investigative nature of the scorpions that show themselves in our garage from time to time. The rest will stay inside, thank you very much.

Everything we need to get by is available to us. Pots and pans. Small appliances. Computers. Clothes. Toys (way too many, still, even with many of them packed away). A few books.

But all the things that made our house pretty and warm and comfortable, the things that decorated it, are sealed inside boxes. If I close my eyes, I can remember how it looked before, back when I wasn’t so embarrassed to have people over. When a friend could walk into my house and identify my taste in decorating with little more than a glance.

We’ve been living like this for a while now. Ready to go. On the edge of our seats. Waiting, all of us.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I am living my interior life in the same way. Waiting, and ready to go. But waiting. As though everything pretty or interesting is packed away, all that decorates my soul and makes it undeniably my own. Yes, I have what I need around me. My family, all of us healthy. Good, true friends. A house that is safe and in a good school district. Beautiful surroundings and roads that call out to me to drive them. Stirring, interesting books. A favorite cafe for breakfast or lunch, where they know me and my favorite table.

It’s a lot, and I know it. I do.

But. I’m a little lost. I long for the feeling of being settled, of having a home that serves as the center point of our lives. Remember using a compass in school? You would push the point of it into the paper and determine the radius you wanted and then draw a confident, perfect circle. And then a bigger one. And bigger yet.

That’s what I want. That center point. That home from where our lives will spread out. I want that for my children. The bigger dream is to have a home they will think of as the place they grew up. The place from which they leave and where they will return, until they make their own independent and (please, yes) vast lives.

Just as I want to unpack the boxes of knick-knacks and things that hang on the walls, I need to feel like my soul is wide open, all spread out before me, where I can see what I have. What remains after almost four decades, and what is new. I need to get in there and brush away the dust, or lift the creaky handle of a trunk that’s rusted over by fear. Who knows what I will find? Will it help me shake this paralyzing lack of confidence that has followed me (led me?) my whole life? I need to find, if I can, the parts of me that are intuitive and strong. The ideas that tell me, “Yes, this suits me,” or “Don’t forgot this. This is the most important thing I need to know.” This is your center point.

It’s all in there. Maybe with labels, or maybe not. I suppose I’m just as likely to find an unfinished song lyric tossed in the same box as that song from Hee Haw (yeah, you know it), just as I’m bound to find a piece of sea glass in the same box as a hand mixer, somewhere in the garage.

I hope to find it all. It’s there, waiting. I’m on the edge of my seat.


***Edited to say: A few of you asked where we’re moving and why we’re waiting. (I should say that we were supposed to have moved a few months back, but our plans changed just before we were to have left. I should have explained this detail.) I can’t give a certain answer on the where (though we have a few ideas), but we’re waiting because the kids are in school and the beginning of summer is a logical time to move. I first wrote about this here. Since then, the where of our move has varied. It’s nice to have a few options, but also maddening. I might take a poll soon. If only I could convince Mr. H to let the results be binding.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily March 4, 2008 at 3:24 am

It’s funny — I just wrote a similar post for later this week.


Slow Panic March 4, 2008 at 6:54 am

this is so good. you know i hope you find that center — that point to put the compass in — it’s inside you — not where the boxes end up. you find that first and everything else will fall in place.

(please repeat above to me during our next phone conversation– then tattoo it on my forehead)


Kelley March 4, 2008 at 7:00 am

Gah – I’ve been there. Your life suddenly loses that feeling of depth and permanence. Everything is temporary, including your moods, your ability to relax, your sense of self… I hope you find home soon.


suburbancorrespondent March 4, 2008 at 7:03 am

Did I miss the post where you talk about where you’re moving, and why? Or is it supposed to be a mystery?


a. beaverhausen March 4, 2008 at 7:42 am

This is a beautifully written and very thoughtful post.


Melissa March 4, 2008 at 10:21 am

You really capture that angst of pre-move. I don’t miss that stage one bit.


Sports Mama Tracy March 4, 2008 at 11:01 am

I loved this. It made me think of the house I grew up in, that my parents still live in.

It definitely was always the center point of our lives. And it will always be home, no matter how far away I am.


Brenda March 4, 2008 at 11:20 am

Slow Panic is right. The center is in you.

Although I can’t imagine (and don’t want to imagine) what it would be like to have all my things packed up for so long (therefore I probably have no insight whatsoever), you have to (forgive me) “bloom where you are planted.” Even if it’s just for now. Maybe it’s unwise to let things spread out too far right there when you know it’s all going to change soon, but there is nothing wrong with making your life all it can be no matter where you are and for how long you are there.

We have some friends that recently moved here. We knew them before, but not well, because they were here before–for 13 weeks. The husband’s job was to go from place to place–all over the country–for 13 weeks at a time and work. He is a nurse. They have FOUR KIDS AND LIVE IN AN RV. Can you imagine uprooting yourself every 13 weeks to move somewhere else? Again, I can’t, and I don’t want to imagine it for myself. (They youngest is 5, by the way.)

Obviously the children are home-schooled, but other than that, they integrate into wherever they are very well. The become involved in church and community programs, and then they move on. I’m sure it takes an unbelievable amount of courage to put so much of themselves into things, knowing that they’ll be gone soon, but that’s how they maintain normalcy in their life and are not isolated.

So when before I moved here, there was a 4-month period in which I had no idea if/when/where I was going to move. I didn’t like the unsettled feeling one bit, so I can in a small way relate to what you so eloquently said. But our transient friends have made me see more that life isn’t about where you live, or where you’re from, or how long you’ve been established anywhere. It’s what you make of it.

And please DO tattoo Slow Panic’s advice on her forehead, too! When I was reading it, I was thinking, “She should post this to her own website comments!” Excellent advice, and of course, much more succinct than some other commenter she and you both seem to be plagued with! (That’s ME in case any other commenter might think I’m referring to him/her.)


Tootsie Farklepants March 4, 2008 at 11:36 am

Now I have a sudden urge to rummage through the boxes in my garage.


we_be_toys March 4, 2008 at 11:47 am

God, I SO know what you mean! I hate that feeling of having your life packed up. And once you do get unpacked there will be things you can’t find, that, as minimal as they might seem, they’re an integral part of you.
I feel your pain, honey…here’s to it being over soon.


Mrs. Chili March 4, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Oh, how WELL I understand this need for a base. That is my wish for you.


HRH March 4, 2008 at 1:28 pm

I sincerely believe that boxes create unrest. I hope that when you finally settle a center will be created.


Angela March 4, 2008 at 1:45 pm

I lived like this for a very long time. Ironically, now that I have that center point, I find myself wishing I could go back again….


Catherine March 4, 2008 at 2:04 pm

Wow, this is beautiful. What a great way to “meet” you (I clicked over from a comment you left somewhere..)


cce March 4, 2008 at 2:21 pm

You indicate that your move is not immediate, so I gather you are a planner, suffering your life in boxes because you can’t stand the idea of being last minute about something as huge as relocating your family. Takes one to know one but I did end up opening each and every box at least once before we actually left, looking for something I just couldn’t do without for another minute. I kind of wished I was a procrastinator after having to reload and retape and revise everything.


ByJane March 4, 2008 at 4:16 pm

I, too, missed the post where you said where you’re going and why you’re waiting.

What one or several things that are in those boxes would make the center point for you right now? You need to get them out, as foolish as it might seem. Transitional periods are no time to mess around with that which grounds you, no matter what.


Jennifer March 4, 2008 at 5:05 pm

I can’t give a certain answer on the where (though we have a few ideas), but we’re waiting because the kids are in school and the beginning of summer is a logical time to move.

Jane, I think the things that will ground me are the acts of settling in and removing the stress of transition and impending change from our lives. We’ve lived with those things for a while now, and I’m just worn down from it. The end is in sight, I think. Just a few more months of school, and we’re on our way.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. As always, they are wise and insightful, and just what I need to hear.


Landon March 4, 2008 at 8:35 pm

I loved this post. It’s so you – but it’s also very human, very “everywoman.”


Sandy (Momisodes) March 4, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Goodness…what a great post. I can feel your longing and struggle in your words. I can relate in so many ways. We just moved into our first single family home a few weeks ago, and this is my 13th address (in 3 different states) in 6 years. Home and your “center” will always be within you. I hope you find a place that will make you feel centered within, and want to plants some roots for years to come….


the mama bird diaries March 4, 2008 at 10:21 pm

I, too, need things hung and in their proper place to feel settled and happy.

And this line… “I’m beginning to think it sneaks in during the few hours I sleep each night, like a snowfall that doesn’t look so bad but surprises everyone with its staggering accumulation.”… is brilliant. So true!


Kellan March 4, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Sometimes it takes years to truly believe you find a center of your life and some people never do, I would imagine. I hope you find yours and feel at peace – if you are determined to find it – you will – I believe that. I would imagine some sense of being centered will indeed surface once you are where you should be – in your new home.

Have a good Wednesday Jennifer – see you – Kellan


JCK March 4, 2008 at 11:05 pm

I believe you will know your center when you find it and it may surprise you. I hope that you find a physical home in a place that feels good, and that you can put down roots there. But, those other roots… Those roots to your center …are inside you, waiting.


anno March 5, 2008 at 10:39 am

After having moved more than 16 times in my life, I’m convinced that the things we choose to own and the way we choose to arrange them reflect deep personal values, lifelong habits, and something of our greater selves. No wonder that we feel cramped, constricted, or adrift when our lives are in boxes.

I love what JCK said, though, that those roots to your center… are inside you, waiting. I hope you get to put them down, and soon.

Beautiful post.


dragonfly March 5, 2008 at 1:34 pm

I live to move…okay, not really, but being a military family it’s just part of life. August 2006, while the Sergeant was still in Iraq, we found out we would be moving to Germany in January 2007. September 2006 I got pregnant with the Little Mister. We were trying (and hoping and praying!!) to get pregnant, but it was still quite a shock, and then to pack up and move to another country when I was plagued with morning-noon-and-night sickness…

But. Even with all the craziness, and never having roots, I know one thing: for me, home isn’t about place. It’s about the people I’m with. Home is with my husband and my son, and also back in Michigan with my family and in Kansas with my best friend. And if I hadn’t convinced myself of this…well, I think I’d probably go crazy. 🙂


Dana March 5, 2008 at 2:14 pm

What a beautiful post. I do hope you find your center point. The compass analogy was absolutely perfect. Best of luck!


Hatchet March 5, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Wow. Your first paragraph is identical to my experience with the cleaning services I have received. Right down to only lasting for two days.

And then you took off from there.

Fantastically written.

I clicked through on the More from BlogHer link. I’ll definitely be back.

I hope you find that center point, too. Leave a map. I’m looking for mine as well!


Suzanne March 5, 2008 at 4:32 pm

I identify with everything written. Almost.

We’ve got our new place chosen. While I’d like to wait until the end of the school year, that was not my decision to make.

Today, I realized that it’s family that makes a house a home. When it’s devoid of the creature comforts and all you have are the absolute necessities to eat, sleep and bathe, even a home seems barren.

Thanks for eloquently stating things that I’ve had difficulty putting into words.


Joy March 5, 2008 at 9:10 pm

What a lovely post- you put into words how I have been feeling lately, although I have not yet begun packing. We have moved six times in the last six years, and this summer will be seven. Hoping you find your center point soon!


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