Obsessive Unpacking Disorder

I’m no longer suffering from Chronic Packing Syndrome. Nor am I betwixt and between two homes. I’ve landed safely on the other side.

But now I have a new affliction – Obsessive Unpacking Disorder. Not that I really have to rush through all 50 boxes. I’m not on a deadline the way I was packing.

I do have to unpack most of them, however, so that I can walk from one side of a room to another, and from one room to another without tripping and killing myself. I’ve been bumbling around for a week now and have the bruises to prove it.

UnpackingThe cats have already used up a few of their lives catapulting themselves from the box towers onto the fireplace mantle, unsteady bookcases and top shelves of closets. They’ve also risked my wrath running across the tops at three in the morning.

My one shy cat is a holdout. She has yet to venture out of the bedroom. I know how she feels, would like to stay in there myself, under the covers, and will all my possessions to put themselves away.

But if I’m ever to wear my beige bras again (forgot to keep one out), if I’m ever to wear more than one pair of shoes, if I’m ever to eat off real (not paper) plates again, using real (not plastic) silverware, in fact, if I’m ever going to prepare real (not takeout or microwave) food again – then I have to unpack boxes, boxes, and more boxes.Unpacking Zoe

I’m a pretty well-organized person, so most of my boxes are labeled by room with some clues as to what’s in them. But no matter how careful I was, it was so tempting to stuff things in at the last minute to fill spaces. Thus the tangle of bras end up mysteriously entwined with pots and pans or desk accessories. The walking shoes I added at the last minute to the box with the small bedside lamp, thinking I’d remember. Ha!

So I’ve become a bit obsessive, developing a disorder to help me feign some sense of order. Work in the morning (I carried my computer over by hand, so can’t make excuses), unpack in the afternoon, a few a day. Must meet my goal.

It’s like living in a maze that keeps changing. No sooner do I get used to navigating around a 5-foot stack in the bedroom when it’s gone and I trip on nothingness.

My bedroom scaredycat is finally poking her head into the hallway and I wave at her encouragingly from the living room, but of course she can’t see me over the boxes.

Unpacking Linda and Lily
Unpacking Linda and Lily

I feel disoriented outside too. My new home is only around the corner from my old one, but the right angle turn has thrown me off. When I go out the front door, do I turn left or right? Coming home, do I remember to stop at my door, or do I walk right on past? Yes, I do walk by, still on auto pilot to my old home. Do I forget that my car is now parked out back instead of downstairs in a garage? Yes, I do and so have to carry all my flattened cardboard boxes back around, up the long driveway, easier than the indoor maze. I stuff them all in my car and head for the recycle center, grateful I can now drive forward onto the street instead of backing out into traffic from my old garage. And I’m thrilled when I find the recycle center is quiet and empty and I can throw all the flattened boxes I’ve unpacked into the blue bin’s smiling, cavernous mouth.

Chronic Packing Syndrome

Most people think of moving as being one of life’s most stressful events – up there with death of a spouse, divorce, loss of a job or limb. But according to one of the official stress-ranking systems (Holmes and Rahe stress scale), moving is actually Number 32 on their list, after “Revision of personal habits” and “Trouble with boss.”

It doesn’t feel that way, now that I’m in the middle of moving! It feels like Number One (and I’ve survived death of family, jobs and marriages).

Why is moving so difficult? I think it’s because it turns our lives inside out and upside down. It’s mentally exhausting. It’s actually more work mentally than physically, although the physical work is bad enough.

Traveling can turn our lives upside down too, requiring constant vigilance, but we know all we have to do is pack our bag and get on a plane or a boat and be home to normal life soon.

With moving, we are packing our bag over and over again and we never seem to get everything in and there is no normal in sight. Our normal routine has been blown out of the water. And if we work, take care of family, exercise (not to mention eat, poop and shower), we know we still have to pack that bag into the wee hours.

Make lists that never end. No sooner do we cross off one item when two more appear. Call mover. Call carpet cleaner, call junk man. Pack all silver. Oops, forgot tarnished family heirlooms and old china. Call cable company. Pack DVD player. Oops, remember to draw diagram of connections before I yank out DVD player, router and modem. Call gas company. Remember to tell them neighbor shares meter so they don’t shut off her power. Order boxes, buy boxes, borrow boxes, drive down alleys and grab boxes in dumpsters. Buy packing tape and markers. Raid the free newspaper stands.Feline packing inspectors

And then the fun begins. Pack, pack, pack! I work into a rhythm. Need music. But I packed my stereo already! The physical work is not too bad. It’s the mental fatigue that sets in. It’s the decisions. Constant decisions.

Do I give away that old heirloom, or carry it with me yet again to loom in the back of a new cupboard? I have the perverse thought that I could bring a box of these family treasures to my sons. They might as well deal with them now as after I’m gone.

Do I sort through my files – business, household, taxes, medical – or just transfer the whole outdated mess to a file box? Do I give away books? I do manage to cull out a few. But what if I really do re-read all the Greek tragedies or Camus and Sartre (in French) or take up juicing again?

How about my grandmother’s cookbooks? Will I ever make Scottish mince again or have an English holiday party? Will I ever use my Spring-themed dishes, crystal glasses and shell napkin rings?

And who will ever read my 20 plus years of journals? Newspaper clips of old stories, frayed college papers and essays?

Feline packerAnd clothes, don’t get me started. Will I ever wear those dresses again I bought for my high school reunion and my son’s wedding (and I can, I haven’t gained weight)? Will I ever totter in the red heels or strappy sandals? Now that I work at home, my usual attire is jeans and a nice top. I could probably survive just fine whittling my closet space down by three quarters. But I don’t dare give away some outfits. Just in case.

I’ve moved many times in my life (at least 12 in 40 years) so I’m far from being a hoarder. I must make from six to ten trips a year to the Good Will, regularly discarding items. I store very little and actually park my car in my garage.

So it’s amazing and appalling to me, when faced with going through it all, how much I do have. And how much work it will take to decide to let it go.

It’s tempting to give it all away and move into a studio.

And maybe that’s what I’ll do. Next time.

While packing my books, I came across this treasure from E.B.White and I’m taking him with me:

For some weeks now I have been engaged in dispersing the contents of this apartment, trying to persuade hundreds of inanimate objects to scatter and leave me alone. It is not a simple matter. I am impressed by the reluctance of one’s worldly goods to go out again into the world. During September, I kept hoping that some morning, as if by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like the outgoing tide, leaving me standing silent on a bare beach. But this did not happen. My wife and I diligently sorted and discarded things from day to day, and packed other objects for the movers, but a six-room apartment holds as much paraphernalia as an aircraft carrier. You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely take real ingenuity and great staying power.

“Good-Bye to Forty-Eighth Street,” 1957, Essays of E. B. White