Over the past three years of college, my interests, social habits, and living arrangements have frequently changed. The boxes I use, however, have always remained the same.
Cardboard boxes are designed to be a disposable container – once you’ve put a thing into it and taken the thing out again, it has no more purpose. Yet the men of the Capps family don’t seem to trust this characteristic of the box. My father and grandfather are both compulsive box-keepers; my grandfather primarily out of dementia and my father largely because he has a lot of oddly shaped technological doodads in his office which will be a pain to pack without boxes if ever we move, hence why he keeps the boxes they came in. For as long as I can remember, our garage has been a treasure trove of empty cardboard boxes (and sporadically used exercise equipment).
As a child, this was tantalizing for me, because avid Calvin and Hobbes readership had taught me that there was nothing no more fun than an empty box to play in. I had this idea that an empty box would be a vessel with which I could let my imagination run wild – I could pretend it was a spaceship, or a car, or… Well, come on, this is me we’re talking about; probably just a spaceship. However, my family didn’t buy a lot of things that warranted boxes big enough for me to play in, and whenever we did, Dad would set the box aside in the garage for safekeeping. Those boxes, I was told, were not to be played in under any circumstances, because if I damaged them, then we wouldn’t be able to pack things in them on the glorious day that we finally moved out of Salem.
It was sort of a boxes, boxes everywhere, but not a one to play in situation for me. Sometimes, I would just sit around pretending I had a cardboard box to play in, and would then pretend that I was pretending that the pretend box was a spaceship.
I did not have a lot of friends at that age.
Incidentally, last year my mother inadvertently started a grease fire in our garage thanks entirely to a faulty grease trap on our barbecue. To her credit, she also discovered the fire about 45 minutes after it started and was able to put it out before it did any serious damage. However, smoke had tinged the garage and everything in it with the smell of burned fat and misery, and we were forced to hire a professional cleaning service to remove the smell and throw away basically everything that the smoke had poisoned, which included many of Dad’s prized computer boxes. This night went down in history as The Night Mom Burned Down The Garage (and I can’t stress enough that this wasn’t her fault), and it still dominates conversations to this day. “We have to make do with this printer, Truman.” Dad will say. “We lost the box on The Night Mom Burned Down The Garage. We can’t return it now.”
This impression that boxes are a resource to be treasured has followed me to college, where, after six moves to and from school, I am still using the same set of boxes that my father tearfully entrusted to me when I prepared to come to school freshman year. There’s a big box with ‘MAYFLOWER’ printed on the side, a relic from our family’s move from Longview to Salem in 1995, which has traditionally been the home for my clothes, and a family of smaller repurposed Hammermill paper boxes to store desk trinkets and office supplies, along with two mid-sized boxes for kitchen items and DVDs and video game systems. They were intended to be used once and then cast aside into an alleyway for a hobo to take a dump in, yet they remain in diligent service, getting stuffed full of things, trucked down the I-5 corridor to Eugene, flattened and tucked away in my closet, and then reassembled a few months later to repeat the process in reverse.
I packed up my boxes early this year because I’ll be spending the coming term in England (more on that on Wednesday), and in the process noticed some of the wear and tear on these boxes of mine.
And I asked myself, Why do I keep using the same boxes? It’s not like they’re made out of gold. You can get boxes anywhere. There’s no reason to have this assumption that boxes are rare, or that these boxes of yours are intrinsically better than all other boxes.
Part of it is tradition, which, I will admit I’m kind of a stickler for. Every year I pack these same boxes, and while I pack them, I listen to ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel. This year, I also listened to ‘Rocketman’ by Elton John as I packed, and the combination of spacefaring imagery and a room full of cardboard boxes nearly brought me to tears as I imagined myself standing amidst a fleet of pretend spaceships.
I’d say the main reason, though, is that keeping the same boxes limits my consumption, as if to say, You can only have enough things to fill these boxes. If you get more things, you have to get rid of some other things. You can have exactly seven boxes’ worth of things. That is how many things you can have.
If I were to get even one new box that was bigger, it would throw off my Balance of Things, and then I’d have too much stuff. The boxes, along with constant moving, keep me from buying more stuff than I need – because I’ve been just fine with the amount of stuff that I have for the past three years. It’s basically me versus capitalism.
If the boxes were actually spaceships, though, I could have as much stuff as I wanted, and I could take it with me on wild interstellar adventures.
Truman Capps initially had a really different vision for the direction of this update, but then he started reminiscing about boxes.