Life Outside The Box

I’ve been reading this book entitled The Things That Matter, written by interior designer Nate Berkus. I’m finding it fascinating, funny, and in some parts, quite moving. This is not a “how to” book of home design, there are no rules or tips to follow. Instead, it’s all about the things we own that make up who we are.

So many out there say that we aren’t our things, that things shouldn’t matter, and maybe on some level that’s true. We could probably all stand to pare down a bit. But what Nate talks about in his book is also true: some things, maybe not all things, but some important things that we amass over our lifetime tell our stories.

As a blurb about the book says, “they reflect the places we’ve been and the people we’ve loved along the way…” A favorite book with an inscription from a friend in the opening page, a ticket stub from a concert, a cherished teacup that was once part of a great-grandmother’s set brought all the way to North America from Europe during World War II, a pillow from your childhood that goes with you no matter how many times you move and is the first thing you make sure to unpack. Whatever the cherished item, in putting together a real home for ourselves we should take the things that matter most to us and find a way to highlight them rather than box them away for ‘someday.’


What This Means To Me

What he talks about in this book has resonated with me because I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the past year or two. About “stuff.” More specifically, MY stuff, and how for the past 6 years it’s been boxed up and stored away.

When I got laid off from my job, I tried very hard to find a new one, but there came a time when I realized it was taking longer than planned and I could no longer afford to live in my apartment. So I boxed up all my things and moved in with my grandmother and two aunts who shared a home together.

When I made the choice to go back to school, I knew that meant staying with my relatives for several years, and I am so lucky that they were willing to give me that option. But it also meant keeping my stuff in storage for all that time.

It didn’t seem to be that big a deal at first. After all, I’d already been out of work for a couple years by that point, and the main focus was on applying anywhere for almost anything I could, and then the focus became all about homework and learning new skills and attaining a new degree. Keeping my head down and focusing almost completely on school became my life for three and a half years. There was nothing else.

But as I neared the end of my schooling, I lifted my head up from the books and found myself daydreaming of a new job in my new field, and with that a new place of my own to live in and work and play. I began to want it very much.

That really isn’t the surprise. It’s in our nature from the beginning, as kids turning to adulthood, that we seek independence. I like having my own space, I need it. There’s peace in that for me.

What’s surprising to me is the connection between me and my stuff. Most of it is just that: stuff. It’s kitchen stuff and bathroom stuff and bedroom stuff, all those necessities, odds and ends. It’s merely the inconsequential tools that I’ve used to live my daily life over the years. No big deal.

But as Nate discusses in his book, there are things that matter, that mean something to us, that make us smile or remember or reach out to touch them as soon as we see them. Those things shouldn’t be boxed away; instead, they should be placed where we can see and enjoy them.

Which brings me back to the point I’m trying to make.

When I moved in with my relatives, I couldn’t take much of anything. There simply wouldn’t be room. And there were too many boxes — there came a point when I could no longer remember what was in what box, so I couldn’t even dig out what I wanted, if I needed it. Those things were all stacked up and shoved away.

That’s the point. For the past six years, almost anything that might hold that special sort of value to me has been boxed up. As a result, I’ve felt boxed up. I feel like some of the things that remind me of who I am are missing right now, locked away, and that makes an impact more than I thought it would.

In the past 6 months since I finished school, I’ve felt such a yearning for something “more,” and I know that’s related to how boxed up I’ve been feeling.

It’s tough for me to say that, because in a way it makes me feel like I’m somehow being disrespectful to the relatives who have housed me for these past years. I am so grateful to them for that shelter and care. It’s not gone unnoticed by me that were it not for my family’s help during this time, life could have taken a much more difficult path. I can see so easily how people who lose their jobs end up homeless. It could have been me.

Without support from my aunts, my grandmother, my parents, and my siblings, it would have been me.

At the same time, philosophically speaking, I believe there is more to life than just work and daily routine. There needs to be, or who are we, really? What makes us more than drones?

It’s our stuff. Our life experiences, memories, interests and passions. And if mine have been boxed up for 6 years, is it any wonder that I feel like I’m itching to break out? Like I can’t be myself when I’m not really in my own home, surrounded by the stuff that equals my experiences, memories and passions. Like metaphorically (and in some ways emotionally) I’ve spent 6 years stored away and now it is beyond time that I open back up.

I really want that.

And I’m really close to reaching that point.

I’ll have to watch my budget but I finally feel secure enough in my new job to take the plunge and move out on my own again. In fact, I’ve been searching for an apartment for several months now, but nothing’s been available. The housing market has been tough, so everything’s booked up. Which has been a bit torturous for me, feeling more than ready to unpack myself but stuck waiting on the whims of someone else moving out of an apartment.

However, this past week I got a call that a tenant that had been in the process of buying a house has finally given ‘final notice’ and will likely move out by the end of August, which means if all goes well I could end up in a place of my own by mid to late September.

I’m still waiting to hear back for certain, but… I’m hopeful. And a little bit excited.



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