packing {and unpacking} boxes

The past few weeks, my life has smelled like cardboard and permanent marker. My ears have filled with the loud riiiiip of packing tape, the crinkle of bubble wrap and paper. My hands have gotten so practiced at unfolding and putting together boxes that I could sleepwalk and wake up in the middle of the living room, cardboard box before me, assembled and waiting to be filled.

I don’t think of myself as much of a consumer. I don’t really enjoy shopping, either in physical stores or online, and I hate waste. I try to use up what I have before I buy a replacement. For Christmas and birthdays, Allyn and I like to give each other experience gifts rather than material items.

And yet… as we were packing our entire life together into boxes, we kept looking at each other and asking the same question: How do we have so much stuff??

Our river of possessions seemed never-ending. Right after we signed the lease on our new place and had set our moving date, I began to pack. I was excited about our move and wanted to get a jump on things. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I severely underestimated how much work — how many boxes — it would take to get us out of our apartment and into our house. I began with the bookshelf and linen closet, packing up items we wouldn’t need for a few weeks. After a couple days, I was floored at the number of boxes that were already piled up around our living room. And I hadn’t even finished clearing out the entire bookshelf yet! It looked as if I had hardly packed anything.

When you are packing up to move, an amazing thing happens. You are forced to sort through the cobwebbed corners of your life — your junk drawer, the back of your closet, under your bed. You rediscover things you had completely forgotten about. You find things you thought you had lost. {My lonely sock now has a pair! My favorite strapless bra is back in rotation!} You need to go through every single item in your life and evaluate: is this something I need? Is this something I use? Is this something that, as Marie Kondo writes in her lovely book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, sparks joy?

Ordinarily, it might be easy to lie to yourself. To say, “Oh yes, I use that thing. Or I might use it. One day. Sometime. Maybe.” And to put it back inside the junk drawer, wedge it back under the bed, to wait for some indeterminate future that probably will never come. But when you are packing up to move, the stakes are higher. Each item takes up space in a box that you will lug out of this life and into the next. It is much easier to be honest with yourself. It is much easier to let things go.

Allyn and I try to make it a habit to let go of things in our normal routine. We keep a “to donate” bag in our closet and every other month or so, we fill it up and take it to Goodwill. If you had asked me before we began packing, I would have told you that I didn’t really have any items that I didn’t love and use on a regular basis.

And yet. Somehow, in the process of packing, I managed to fill up three paper grocery bags with clothing I realized I hadn’t worn in ages and likely would not wear again, plus a dozen kitchen items that we hardly ever use and will not miss. There were at least two-dozen books from our bookshelf that found themselves inside the library’s donation bin rather than inside our moving boxes. And even more stuff got recycled or thrown away — random bits and bobs that we couldn’t remember the purpose of, expired bottles in our medicine cabinet, papers that I’d saved for no reason I could now discern.

Packing up all of these boxes made me think of the metaphorical boxes in our lives, the ones that live inside ourselves. The ones we have been filling up, quietly and steadily, throughout our entire lives. Boxes of memories and ideas. Boxes of priorities and dreams. Boxes and boxes of beliefs — about ourselves and about others, about what we can and cannot do, about what we are capable of and what we are made of, about what we love and hate and need and fear.

How often do we sift through these boxes? How often do we examine all the things we have packed away inside ourselves? How often do we unwrap each thought or memory or belief, hold it up to the light, and ask ourselves if it is still serving us? If we want to pack it back up and carry it with us? Or if perhaps it might be time to let it go?

For many of us, I think the answer is never. Or rarely. Or perhaps once or twice, a long time ago.

I think far too often, we hold all of these heavy boxes inside ourselves without even thinking about them. We don’t even remember what is inside of them. And yet, their contents impact our lives so deeply. We feel tired or bored or frustrated or angry. We feel like we’re not good enough or worry that we’re never going to “measure up” or compare ourselves to the highlight reels of others and feel discouraged. We look to the outside for answers when really the answers have been inside of us all along, sealed in bubble-wrap, nestled against our hearts.

We need to be very careful about what we pack into those boxes. We need to be vigilant about what we hold in our most vulnerable places.

I’ve realized that this process isn’t just something to be done when I’m moving. Both for my material possessions, and for my inner thoughts and beliefs, this needs to be something I do routinely. Look around at my surroundings, study the items on my shelves and in my cabinets, and ask myself,

Is this something so valuable to me that I would pack up into one of my boxes and schlep it with me into the future?

If no, then I need to let it go. Not tomorrow, or next week, or sometime in the indeterminate future. But right now. There is no reason to carry that extra weight for any longer than necessary.

I’ve noticed a crazy thing when I ask this question in regards to my internal boxes. When my answer is no, and I let go of something that is limiting me, then I immediately feel lighter. Which makes sense. When I let go of something, my box is less heavy. So I feel lighter. Just like real-life boxes.

However, when I answer this question with a resounding YES — yes, this belief or memory or idea or thought-pattern is serving me, is nurturing me, is helping me show up in this life as my best self — and I pack it back up into my heart space, something miraculous happens. Yes, I am filling up my internal boxes, but I do not feel heavier at all. I feel lighter.


Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some free-writing:

  • When was the last time you moved? Were you surprised about anything you found when you were packing?
  • Unpack your heart space a little. What thoughts, beliefs, ideas do you find? Which ones are serving you? Which ones are not?
  • Looking around at your physical space, is there anything that does not “spark joy”? What do you think would happen if you let it go?

saturday upsides: reunited with my fam!

Happy Saturday, everyone! I am currently writing this late on Friday night from Mike’s parents’ house in the Chicago suburbs, but by the time you read this I will likely be in an airplane en route to Burbank, California, to be reunited with my family for the holidays!


I am SO excited to see them. I feel like my child-self on Christmas Eve, unable to fall asleep. I do love my life at Purdue, but it can be hard being so far away from my family. We have always been extremely close and though I do talk to them every day, as our time apart grows I find myself missing their physical presence more and more — I crave a hug from my mom; I want to see my brother’s mischievous-eyed smile; I really want to hear my dad’s laugh. I absolutely cannot wait to hug all of them in a matter of hours!


So my Saturday Upsides today, of course, is that I get to see my family. Their love and support is such a blessing in my life!

I was thinking today, as I scurried around town trying to get done what felt like the hundreds of little errands and tasks to complete in preparation for my trip, that traveling is like a lot of things in life: you have to put in a bunch of work to get to the reward. It made me think of one of my favorite quotes by John Wooden: “The journey is better than the inn.” Now, I’m not saying that waiting in line at the Post Office is better than the moment I step out into baggage claim and see my family’s smiling faces. But instead of letting stress get the best of me, I tried to appreciate the rituals of errands and packing and preparing for my trip back home as part of the journey itself. Switching up my mindset made my hectic day a whole lot more enjoyable!

What are the upsides of your lovely Saturday? Anyone else have de-stressing pre-travel tips to share?