FRÅN DEN LILLA STUGAN: A box marked “SAVE!”

by Chrissy Larson

In early August I was told I needed to find a new place to live. I took the news with poise, but I cannot lie – I was pretty sad. Life in the little urban cabin (stuga) has enveloped me and helped define me for the last three and a half years. I started to talk to people in the neighborhood about my need to move, and low and behold, I ended up putting down a deposit on a rental home owned by a man who lives a block away. It was a good fit. We decided on October first. “Great!” I thought to myself, “That gives me almost two months to get things in order.”

However, my August schedule was busy, and I realized that the process of sorting and packing would have to wait until after the summer. September rolled in quickly. Suddenly, I began to see the reality that the move was less than two weeks away, and I had barely thought about moving. I hadn’t reserved a U-Haul truck, nor had I talked to a single person about helping me move. Essentially, I had two evenings, one full weekend, and four more evenings of a busy work week to accomplish everything. Generally, I work well under pressure, but when I thought about the task before me, I was overwhelmed.

“This wouldn’t feel so intense if I could just… get… started…,” I lamented. But I just could not start. I knew that this would mean passing up social events to fight with cardboard and packing tape and spatial constraints. I knew I would be falling into bed each night with a sore back and tired knees. I knew I would be hot and sweaty, exhausted, and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of STUFF I own.

Finally, when I couldn’t take the guilt any more, I walked out to the garage and grabbed a box, and began making stacks of my shirts, sweaters, and sweatshirts. Piles to keep of things I like and actually wear. And one pile of things for Goodwill.

And with that – I started.

Every time I move, I inevitably end up touching just about everything I own. Moving, packing, and sorting becomes the medium though which I process what is worth keeping, what is useful to someone else, what could be recycled, and what is simply garbage. For me, moving is highly emotional – I run into old letters and thesis articles and pictures drawn for me by four year olds. I end up packing all the bibs from the running races I’ve done, but as I do so, I read where I wrote the date and my finish time, and I imagine re-running these races and visualize the people I ran with. I begin sorting old medications and I remember the time I was so sick for an entire week in the house on Woodward Street. And there’s the pile of Clinique mascara and eye shadow that my mom always saves for me. I come across that stack of photos from the camp I used to work at, the framed pictures from my cousin who’s an artist on Martha’s Vineyard and the old flannel sheets from when I lived in Duluth. There’s a box of dishes in the garage I haven’t used in six years. There’s an old set of walkie talkies I’ve been looking for for two years! There’s my grandma’s socks, packed in a Ziploc bag so they will hold the smell of her perfume.

Moving is a holistic, stirring, and spiritual place for me. Mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and physically I touch, and am often touched by, everything I own. Some boxes are purely memories. I relive each one and think about the people who have come through my life. Some of the newer items get put into boxes and labeled with care. These are the things I have been saving but have had no reason to organize them until now. I think about the kids who wrote me the postcards from Montana and the thank you notes for birthday presents. I remember that I still have books borrowed from friends, and I make a mental note to read and return them after I move.

Some boxes, though, by sight alone, I know are sacred. They are still packed neatly from the last move, or possibly the move before that. I can’t remember exactly what is inside, but I know that it was something that defines me – something worth holding on to. And so I do.

There’s something about moving for me that feels both like initiation and completion. I feel both brave and reflective – starting out on something new while simultaneously putting some of life to rest, for better or worse. Touching these objects allows me to flood my head with the people and faces and experiences that have shaped me. Through the action of physical touch, I am present. Unafraid as I piece together the past, apprehensive as I think about the future, the act of reflection helps me make use of the love and grace I’ve come to know through the experience of life to think, hope, and dream about the future. And then… in the next minute I am present to the realization that very little of it will actually happen the way I am thinking about it.

It’s how God created us, right? To have this impressive mind with the ability to discern and reflect, to ponder and suppose. And yet, we are human – bumping into a world full of unpredictability. We are a very smart species living in a world of motion and emotion and trying to make sense of it all, and we are the only ones attempting to do so.

With just a day or two to spare, I finished packing those last boxes, and threw the final pile of stuff into the back seat of my car and drove the two miles to the new house. Even then, there are a few forgotten items remaining the next day, when I showed back up to clean the house for the last time.

We are malleable people – ever evolving into a more complete version of ourselves. We are usually caught worrying about issues that never arose, and then we are changed mostly by the things we never expected. And as much as we try not to, we accumulate these tangible reminders that we have changed over time. We have done things we never thought we could. We have felt love in ways we did not think possible. A few times, we have even been forced to let go of the things most meaningful to us.

Each time I move, I get so tired. I am thankful for my short vacation into childhood and high school and college and the many stages of adulthood. But even more so, I am thankful for those few boxes that just get passed through without contemplation – the ones that I know and recognize – the ones that have traveled the farthest. The contents are foggy at this point, but the box is familiar. The actual contents are somewhat irrelevant, because at some point, I believed in whatever is in there enough to write “SAVE” on the outside.

And at this point, merely believing that the meaning exists, is enough.

Chrissy Larson is an Early Childhood Environmental Educator for Portland Parks and Recreation in Portland, Ore. Chrissy writes from her little urban stuga (cabin) in Portland.

See all articles by Chrissy Larson