A day to open boxes

Boxing Day 2022 seemed a day to open boxes – not gift boxes from under the Christmas tree; rather those ubiquitous plastic storage boxes, you know the ones with lids that you buy from discount stores in misguided efforts to tidy your space or store things you think you want to keep.  

Recently, many such boxes were dislodged from their regular storage spaces in our house, when we made room for our eldest daughter and her partner to stay here part-time. Dusty and bulging with memories, they crowd around me. I feel panicky at the thought of going through them and perhaps throwing out the contents. The minimalist in me knows this is the sensible thing to do. Someone is going to have to sort through it sooner or later.

‘That’s great,’ my oldest daughter Justine says, when I tell her I am going to tackle the boxes.

‘That means Caitlin (her sister) and I won’t have to do it.’

Practically, I can’t argue with that. After all, one of the reasons I have so many boxes is because I helped clear out the life detritus from two family farms, my husbands’ parents’ houses some years ago and more recently, my childhood home. The stuff that I couldn’t bear to throw out then, is now sitting in some of these boxes: old books, mottled and yellowed and falling to bits, but inscribed with my favourite aunt’s or my mother’s name; tiny silver tongs from James’ English ancestors, cut crystal glass dishes, a cute honey pot that my Gran owned, lace-edged doilies crocheted by my Nona, table runners, etc, etc.

 The sentimentalist in me just wants to cling to this stuff, as well as my old school reports; the lists of names we were considering for our babies; our daughters’ kindy creations; their school and music awards; the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards; the beautiful birthday cards my friends and family have given me; copies of newspapers and publications I worked on decades ago.

Why have I kept it all? Is there a part of me that is terrified I will forget my history, my origins? Does this part think that if I throw it out, all these different facets of my life and my origin story will be obliterated and there will be nothing left of me?

‘I just don’t know what to do with all these copies of newspapers, journals and other stuff I worked on,’ I say to my sister at a family gathering. ‘I have boxes of it and I don’t know if I can throw them out.’

‘That’s because they prove you once existed in a different life,’ she says with conviction.  ‘It’s evidence that you once had that job, that profession and it meant something to you.’ She’s not long retired, for health reasons, from a long career in early childhood education and has recently discarded masses of teaching resources.

Her explanation resonates with me. Without our jobs, women, especially, become non-entities in our current society. I’ve had the past 10 years to adjust to my jobless status. It’s still raw for her.

My memoir writing coach recently described how she was sitting with and writing into the confusion of her mind as she focused on her current project after throwing out 100,000 words (who does that?). I don’t think I could bear to throw out 100,000 words!

‘Write into the confusion,’ she suggested. ‘See what happens. I find, every time I return to the page, things become a little clearer.’  

So, I am writing into the confusion, the panic of sorting through these boxes. Maybe if I photograph and write about their contents, I will be able to let them go. Maybe I will create a Memoir of Mementoes. Maybe that will be my next memoir.

(Header photo by Kadarius Seegars on Unsplash)

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