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Unpacking Boxes

By Kellie Purcill

“Yeah, G’day, it’s Barry here, the removalist. Look, we won’t be up your way next week after all – we’ll be there Friday afternoon, Saturday morning instead. That’s this week, love. See ya then!”

And that’s how my move – initially planned to stretch over three weeks – condensed into four days of madness.

I’m an old hand at moving. Early in my teens I stopped counting moves somewhere around the thirtieth address change. Yet even with the years of packing into boxes and moving trucks, I’m still surprised at how quickly my life can be bundled up and transplanted. I know how to pack my few, cherished ornaments amongst my books so they don’t get crushed, how to stack my dishes so they can survive a tumble, which items to save to the very last or pack together for immediate use when I arrive to wherever I will begin to call home. It’s reassuring to know that while my life can be parcelled into twenty-three boxes, my memories (and baggage) take up only the room in my head.

But where I move to isn’t home until certain items are unpacked, rearranged, identified. My sons’ bedrooms are organised first, and this time – in a joyous celebration – they were able to put the television and associated electronica together themselves. I leave my bookcase bare until the lounge room and kitchen are unpacked, then as a treat to myself lovingly pull out each of my papery friends from the cartons and arrange them just so – then I consider myself “home”.

Without fail, every time I begin a move or find myself thigh-deep in cardboard while unpacking, my thoughts turn to my great (times four) grandmother, who was sent sailing to Australia at the age of 16, an Irish Potato Famine orphan. She was given one box to hold her belongings, a box no longer, wider, deeper than the distance from my elbow to wrist. One box to carry from her home to the other side of the planet, one box to carry her few clothes, one box that carried her name and the air of Ireland trapped under its lid.

I don’t know what else she had in the wooden box. I’m hoping some good memories tucked in amongst the apron and dress, maybe a book, a stone or a leaf. I hope she had soft cloth to wipe her eyes, and I hope there was hope nestled in deep, ready for whatever the horizon revealed. I hope the box and the objects and dreams tucked inside it made where she lived, home.

When you move, what makes the new place home? If you could only pack a box as long, deep and wide as your elbow to wrist, what would you pack?



About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

14 thoughts on “Unpacking Boxes”

  1. I love that story of your grandmother. I have no idea how to answer your question, though. Even the irreplaceable things like journals and photos wouldn't fit. I have too much stuff. 😉

    Welcome to your new home. I hope this is the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in your life with your awesome boys.

  2. Yes, that is a good story about your grandmother.

    The thing that makes a place home to me isn't the stuff, but getting out on the street and placing myself on a map. If I know exactly where I am on the planet, I'm home, even if it's just for a few months.

    The books used to be the most important thing, but they became too difficult to keep moving. Now the hard drive with my scanned books is my most precious object. It would go in that little 1 cubic foot box (or maybe two of them, just in case). There would be room for a few Christmas ornaments and a nativity set and one or two real books, and I suppose that would about fill up my space. That's not much room.

    We've moved overseas several times with just our two suitcases each. It's funny how those suitcases look like so little to an American but so much to people where we live.

  3. What a lovely and thoughtful post this is.

    Inside of my box would be my first set of scriptures (the ones with all the marks and notes in them), along with my treasure box, where all the most treasured little notes and tokens from my children and husband are kept.


  4. It always surprises me how well I can do – on a mission or while traveling – with just a backpack or two suitcases worth of things. Yet I'm always so glad to get home, to a place where everything has a place. One of the things that makes me feel settled is having a kitchen. As much as I love the luxury of eating out while on vacation, there's something about being able to prepare my own meals that grounds me.

    I hope I never have to find out what I would miss most if my house burnt to the ground or I have to leave everything, but I know that one of the first things I would grab would be my photos.

  5. Going on missions has me realize how little we really need (materially). Our best treasures being testimony and love. I would choose to take my journal, Patriarchal blessing, scriptures, and a small pewter star with the word 'faith' on it that my mother gave me as we left for our Brasilian mission.

    I loved and fervently 2nd Amira's words:
    "It’s funny how those suitcases look like so little to an American but so much to people where we live."

  6. Twenty three boxes for three people moving their household goods to a new home? I'm impressed.

    I need to pass along more of my stuff.

  7. Well, at least it was dragged out for eternity, right? Meh. But seriously, 23 boxes is amazing. I officially need to purge.

    I would bring some simple things that mean a lot, a few pieces of jewelry, some favorite pictures of the family, make sure the boys had their blankies, that kind of thing. And identification. 🙂

    It's hard to fathom leaving everything behind, but I suppose it might be nice in some ways.

  8. "Removalist" is such a fancy word! Sounds like someone who should clean up dead bodies!

    I'm reading the best book right now called "The Tin Ticket". It's a non-fiction account of a woman who was forced to go from Glasgow to Tasmania in 1836. What an amazing yet sad story. It fills me with admiration for the ladies down under who had to go through that heartwrending experience of leaving loved ones and pasts behind.

  9. I never feel fully moved in until the kitchen is unpacked. And the books. I've moved a bunch of times in my life, and now I own a home and have no intentions of moving away. It's still funny to me when people will mention things like "of course, you probably won't still be here in 20 years." I certainly hope I am!

    I think I'd bring similar to things to what other people mentioned if I had to put everything precious in a small box. Some photos, my marked up scriptures, perhaps some journals.

  10. Michelle – thank you for the good wishes. I, too, can't imagine how one box would be enough!

    Amira – overseas to live with just suitcases? Wow! Thank you for the great perspective with the suitcases.

    Sue – I think I'd pack similar. I can't imagine having to pack clothes as well into that box.

    Melanie – kitchen and photos – I agree!

    Michelle L – Adventures seem so much grander when there are passports involved 😉

    Brenda – "Our best treasures being testimony and love." Something else I'm thankful I take with me, inside my head.

    Naomi – I threw out, donated and/or gave away HEAPS of stuff. "Stuff" can be lived without – "precious things" not so much.

    Tay – I packed the boys' baby blankets, and my baby blanket. Blankets are important!

    Jennie – I can promise no dead bodies were moved in the course of my removalist's duties! I haven't heard of that book, I'll have to look it up.

    FoxyJ – I daydream of living in one house for more than three years, and long to buy for my sons and I. Enjoy your new home, for many happy years to come!

  11. I never feel moved in until my bed is completely made up and my pillow is on my bed, with whatever book I'm reading beside the bed or on the bedside table.

    As for such a small box, I have way too many personal photos and momentos to fit into such a small box. One of the comments above made me think of all the personal treasures people lose in floods and fires every year, and how much we value our personal photos, birthday cards, letters, and precious mementos that mean so much to us and cannot be replaced or valued.

  12. I wonder how many boxes our "removalist" will find! Except it might be a while before I find out since the market is so slow and the season for selling is closing. I have known my husand wanted to move for about three years. So I've tried to get organized and purge. But I'm also sentimental and have way too much of my past hanging around in physical representations. I've improved a lot! I also have lots of sewing and art and wood supplies for when creativity might strike!

    I'm impressed with 23 boxes.

    I also remember the joy of less stuff when I was a missionary in Peru. My scriptures, a few sturdy pieces of clothing, and a couple photos of my family (especially of my sister's wedding that I missed) were all I needed!

    I love Flylady's definition of stuff: something that undermines family fun.

    Clutter robs us, but being surrounded by things we love is life-giving (one of those life paradoxes).


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