I don’t like boxes, or for that matter, packing paper. That brown corrugated cardboard reeks of leaving. In my parents’ house, there is a stack of broken down boxes, tucked away in the basement, ready and waiting for the next move, the next goodbye, the next state of being. That pile has been in every house I can remember, along with the full boxes, the boxes that aren’t a part of life in this house, but might be a part of life in the next, depending on what fits and the floor plan.
I’ve watched and I’ve learned that boxes take life and they “safely” hide it away for unknown lengths of time. I’ve wrapped up books and candles and glasses and picture frames so many times, perhaps to unpack them the next day or maybe to find them again over two years later. You’re never quite sure when it comes to moving boxes.
All of the boxes have had their impact on me—I’ve responded to the organized relocations of my childhood by becoming an adult who is a highly inefficient mover.
It started that first summer my family came to pack me up from college. My parents walked into the dorm room, took in the scene, and laughed with incredulous chuckles. There were no boxes. I had simply refused to obtain them. Instead, there were piles of semi-organized belongings strewn throughout the room. The curtains remained up, the rug unfurled, the coffee mugs were loosely stowed in an old shopping bag, still easily accessible. And by default, my systematic parents packed my bulging chaos into the car to drive home—a few suitcases, a couple of plastic bins and a whole lot of random college textbooks with not a single cardboard box in sight.
And the trend has continued. 3 years ago, they tried to warn my friend about what would await the 3 of them in Philadelphia for my cross-country return to Michigan. He had no idea what my definition of “completely packed” actually meant. During that move, my parents insisted we go buy cardboard boxes for at least some of the piles of chaos. I knew deep down the boxes were necessary, and still I hadn’t bought them.
That move, I could feel the anxiety rising inside of me as my living room was boxed away. In the kitchen, I fiercely insisted my painted flower teacup with the delicate blue flourishes stay out of the boxes. “No!” I said to offers to wrap things carefully up and out of sight. Then my mom began to ask me to choose which boxes would go upstairs in the family house to be accessible and which of my boxes would descend to the family basement until the next place I would live. The implied transience of it all made my heart palpitate a little more quickly. My eyes fought back tears the whole day.
I have a heart that fiercely aches for belonging. Each year I find myself amazed at how deep the longing goes; I haven’t found the end of it yet. My heart must come with roots like a tree—one planted long ago that drinks deeply from the storied earth where it rests. I seem to always want to nestle close to my surrounding people and place. I am learning that my heart bonds deeply, and therefore struggles to let go.
I wonder if I was made this way or if I have grown this way. Am I loyal by design or by dysfunction? Does my adopted philosophy of moving mean that I beautifully inhabit the fullness of life? Or is my choice reckless, causing bits of my heart to break off in transit? I don’t know.
I moved this last week. Though only 12 minutes away, it took a full week because, again, I moved without boxes. I’d get off from work, load up my car and make a trip to my new house, eager to determine right away where each piece belonged in the new space.
I loved the day I entered the house to discover that my new roommates had carved out space in the den for my writing desk…they had heard me talking about it and had anticipated the space it would hold, the space I would hold. A couple of days ago, I unloaded the very last few things from a box that I picked up from my parents’ basement. I am unpacked, finally emptied out of all of the boxes.
I feel the most fully inhabited I have felt in a very, very long time.
I can’t deny that my heart groans each time it is asked to leave or faces the pain of being left. And, it is only in leaving that we can ever hope to arrive. It is only in leaving that we find new perfect spaces to hold our writing desks.
And surely all of the leaving leads us to the place where we eventually belong.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 25 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called The Someday Writings, and someday, she may let those writings see the light of day. For now, she is honored to be a part of Red Tent Living.