Unpacking ‘Unpacking’

What’s In This Box… Another Box? What?

It’s very easy to sympathize with the immediate problems of having completed your move. However, there is a period between “just after having moved in” and “just before you give up on unpacking and put everything else in storage,” a period often referred to as The Reconstruction. Much like the post-Civil War period of the same name, it is not talked about by non-history buffs, but it is an essential period in any move, and deserves some discussion to help demystify this confusing and troublesome aspect of moving.

It bears repeating that the entire process of moving can be summarized thusly: Take your life, and all the material things in it, put it all in disorganized and unlabeled boxes that are falling apart, transport them quite a ways from your current home, then put them all into a building that is yours only in name. It cannot be stressed enough how uncanny this new place is, in an entirely strange environment, full of things that you are pretty sure are yours, but is entirely confusing and out of place. This is what you are contending with during The Reconstruction.

While this is both good and bad, moving is essentially like pushing the Reset Button on your life. All of the routines that you have are now obstructed, but are still ingrained in you during The Reconstruction. The things you reach for automatically are no longer there, and relocating them will take longer than it ever did at your previous home. Usually, necessity helps speed along certain processes. The bathroom is the first thing to come together, followed by the bedroom, kitchen, and living room. But even this state of affairs is skeletal at best, with many of the lesser used items only making their way to their final destinations weeks (or, in some cases, months) into The Reconstruction.

The weirdest part of this process is coming to terms with the fact that you have to start everything over. The place where your pots and pans went before doesn’t exist, and try as you might to replicate it, eventually you have to make an entirely new place for them, and come to terms with that. While this does not seem like much, having to go through that with everything that you brought with you is a little terrifying, and as you open each new box, a sinking sensation begins to develop.  Suddenly, everything you own is adrift, and you are left to make sense of where it goes, and what must be done with it. Very quickly, to avoid having this feeling intensify, unpacking stops once the most important things are unboxed.

Not only are you confronted with the need to address the importance of everything you own, but moving puts into sharp relief all the things you have been living without previously. It isn’t until you have to install shelves before you realize that you’ve been living without a Phillips Head screwdriver for the last few years. The first thing we put together in our new home was a list of all the things we didn’t have but now needed, and as we began the process of unpacking, it was very clear that we would be missing a lot of things during The Reconstruction.

My philosophy toward dealing with situations like this is to create safe spaces that feel “moved in” and hide all the work that you still need to contend with. The first night we were in The Southernmost Outpost, I pushed everything into the Kitchen & downstairs bedrooms, and set up the living room as best we could so it seemed “livable.” (There was a couch, the coffee table, a shelf, a portable turntable, and a box of records, and that was it.) My thinking was that I wanted at least one space that I could go to that didn’t overwhelm me the amount of unpacking still ahead of me.

Most of our belongings went into the two bedrooms downstairs, and the large dining room that we now have, but this began to wear on us, too. The bathroom was next, but there was so much in the kitchen that needed to be dealt with that this sat undisturbed for quite some time. Finally, in a fit of frustration, I moved everything from the kitchen to the bedrooms, and set up the rest of the kitchen. A couple weeks after that, the upstairs bedroom came together, too.

Sadly, this is as far as we’ve been able to get with unpacking, mostly because of another aspect of The Reconstruction that is also rarely talked about: Life Goes On, no matter how much you still have to do. You still have to go to work, cook dinner, buy groceries, take out the trash, clean the kitchen, attend all the parties and stuff that you’ve been invited to, return your e-mail, and essentially live your life the way you would normally. In addition to having the gargantuan task of unpacking everything else that is still ahead of you. Periodically, I look at the piles of unpacked boxes, and feel a sense of dread. It represents work that I cannot avoid, and must be done.

But when?

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