Unpacking past memories

Stacks of boxes languishing in my garage thanks to ‘unpacking fatigue’


You may have noticed that recently I’ve not referenced my dad’s columns so much. I am finding that I am able to compose my columns without his help, unlike the early days, when I would read the columns he had written forty years ago and use them to inspire mine. It was a lovely way of keeping a connection with my dad, and I felt like he was holding my hand as I found my feet in the first few years of writing the Countryman’s Daughter column.

This week, however, when I came to sit down, I didn’t have any clue about what I was going to write, and decided that I would go back to my previous habit of reading Dad’s piece from the corresponding week in 1982 and see if something in it would inspired me.

So all I needed was to dig out the column. And that’s where I encountered a problem. Where was the column? It was then that I remembered it was among a big pile of unpacked boxes that are still sitting in the garage waiting for attention after my recent house move. And I have no idea which box it is in. 

I went into the garage to see if any of the labelling on the boxes would give me a clue. But they didn’t, and they were piled up in such a way that it was impossible to see what was written on the lower boxes.

Why do we collect so much stuff that when it comes to moving house we always get a number of boxes that remain unpacked? Their contents are not deemed sufficiently useful to warrant priority treatment, so there they sit for months, or even years, until we forget they exist at all. While preparing to move this time I found several unpacked boxes languishing in the shed from the last time I moved nine years ago. You’d be forgiven for thinking that after nine years I’d realise that it was time to do the sensible thing and get rid of them. But no. I brought them with me to this house, no doubt to stay unpacked until my next move.

I am naturally a bit of a hoarder and hang on to things that have sentimental value, even if they never see the light of day. What will ultimately happen to them, who knows, but I work on the theory that when I’m dead, it will no longer be my problem, it will be my children’s (thankfully they don’t read my column).

The reason we leave boxes unpacked is a result of ‘unpacking fatigue’, brought about by weeks of packing and unpacking. We just cannot face yet another box. Over the process of the move, we have to make endless decisions about what to keep, what to ditch and what to donate to charity at both the packing and unpacking stages that we just can’t face having to keep on making those decisions. So we leave a few boxes for another day. And that day never comes.

The contents of those boxes are often items of sentimental value, which we find the most difficult to throw away. In my case, it is things like my dad’s folders containing his columns, or whole bundles of letters that I have kept from my parents, siblings and best friend from when I was on a gap year at age 18. I can’t bear to throw them away, even though I know they are not being kept in the best conditions to look after them. Boxes are designed to protect items in transit, rather than to preserve them, and so it is not the best idea to leave precious stuff locked in cardboard for the long term as it will be susceptible to damage from damp, bugs or rodents.

To make a move less overwhelming, experts suggest using a priority labelling system, so as well as writing what is in the box, where it came from and where it is to go in the new house, you label it with a letter. ‘A’ would stand for ‘unpack first’, B for ‘unpack second’ and ‘C’ for ‘unpack last’. It means you can stage the process so that it feels easier to manage.

I’m hoping it will be a long time before I have to put it to the test. 

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 2nd December and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 30th  November 2022

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