Unpacking a House to Home
The first few days are the hardest.
The transplanted mind, body and soul aren’t exactly sure where to begin this new life, in this place, which you might grow to love in the end; but right now… No love.
I have this overwhelming sense of newness and it doesn’t matter who I’m with, I’m trapped in this bubble of loneliness, feasting on inertia.
Inertia, from the Latin, iners: to be idle, sluggish. A principle of classical physics used to describe the motion of objects and how they are affected by applied forces.
In the end, the applied force that gets me up is of words – part admonishment, part encouragement ‘to get up and slay tasks’.
And so I begin the mountainous task, box by box. Some days, I don’t do more than make it out of bed, and other days, I can’t go to sleep; obsessed with emptying boxes out.
By day 5, 6 or 7, I’m showing ‘the’ signs, you know them… of intense cardboard box fatigue (cbf), fed up with the endless list of things that need fixing.
Are you familiar with cbf? Yes? No? Well, I am.
- intense dislike of some shades of brown, mostly on the paper spectrum
- eyes glazed over- when thoughts of ‘settling in’ come to mind
- zero room priority – that is, boxes unpacked in any room, any time, no order or preference
- occasional vegetation on the couch. Floor. Stairs.
I start with the easiest task – putting books on shelves. All the big stuff is set up – the movers have put all the beds back together, the couch is where it should be in the living room, the cooker in the kitchen. Everything has its spot. Except the contents of the 200+ boxes. Those must be touched by hand, mostly mine.
So, I ditch my initial plan of starting with the dining room; that fails, purely on the strength of almost every box being marked ‘fragile’ (like my heart).
So I choose books. And inside the boxes, I get a crash course on packing paper.
In these boxes, are two sorts: packing/ wrapping paper– soft, grey, and used to wrap everything wrappable in the manner of ‘pass-the-parcel’. As in… tightly. So tightly that all the joy you feel in seeing the movers take extreme care with your property when they wrap up your old house, evaporates when you come to this new place and you have hundreds of pass-the-parcel worthy packages, yet you’re at no party and you’re playing alone – no music, no song, no dance. Sigh; and stuffing paper – stiff, brown, filling hollows and capping packed boxes.
Outside the boxes, books in hand are when the magic happens.
I hold them, and memories flood. Old books I’ve read, stained with tears and laughter, their stories embroidered on my heart. I lift, feel, and thumb through them from cover to pages. I let myself get lost in some, remembering when. They remind me that they too are new here. Of the times when they were new there.
They are mixed – the old and new. The new books to read are countless – books by Paulo Coelho and Isabelle Allende, Eghosa Imasuen’s ‘Fine Boys’, Binyanvanga’s ‘Someday I’ll write about this place’. The old? Benjamin Zanders ‘The Art of Possibility, my notebooks full of ‘Morning pages’ from 2011, 2012 thanks to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Words that hold memories of Ghana – the first African country I visited and my feelings of moving back home, to Nigeria.
That night, I unpack books and more in two rooms. I go to bed at 5am, don’t hear my alarm when it goes off at 6.30am. I miss Dee’s driver who comes to pick up car keys at 7am. When I finally wake up, it is a touch warmer; it is beginning to feel like home.
The day after, I feel strong enough to tackle the difficult bits, downstairs.
I’m with Timi, my friend – godsend. She knows a thing or two about packing it appears, as she turned up on my doorsteps with food and kitchen tissues.
‘You have to have kitchen tissues, they help with everything.’
We begin the hunt for the microwave and kettle and then she asks
‘Didn’t they give you a list of which box had what in it?’
Oh. The Packing list.
It was Day 3 and I had forgotten that I had details of what boxes held what.
‘So that’s what it was for.’
We both smiled.
Sigh, blame it on the move :).
But I take it box by box and that soon becomes room by room. And while I unpack, I write. To channel it all.
I’ve learnt to flatten the boxes, because empty boxes can be stifling – making you feel like little has been accomplished.
It’s so weird – there are some boxes I instantly recognize – I know what’s in them from the label, and then there are others – a stack of them, I look at and wonder what’s in them. It makes me wonder what would happen if I never ever opened them. Do I even miss/ need/ want what’s in them?
The most important lesson for me has been that this is the perfect time to weed and let go of all you don’t need or want; to sort through the junk you didn’t get a chance to, before the movers came. The chance to pace yourself in spite of everyone urging you to ‘hurry, hurry’. A chance to sit and reflect.
After books come pictures and photos on the wall. I find it immensely soothing, hammer and concrete nails in hand, boring holes in walls, concrete. The walls instantly become home – smiles come at you, watercolours, pencil, charcoal, beads, they acknowledge you. Even if the rest of the ‘house’ takes a while to catch up.
And when you’re done with putting away some boxes, you’ll find you’re done with one room. At first. Then another, and another, and before you know it, it is all unboxed, undone, placed.
And yes, it’ll be months, years even, before you feel it ‘home’. One day you’ll wake up and you would have slept well the night before. You’ll wake up with a smile, tugging at your corners. You will saunter downstairs; Monday morning? Yes. But you’ll be happy. Relieved. Ready to take on the world.
You would have unpacked your house into a home.
7 Tips & Things For Unpacking A New House
- Patience, Courage, and Kindness, are welcome here.
- Have a table/utility knife to rip boxes open.
- Ignore people who come round and ask you what you’ve unpacked – how it looks like you’ve made little progress. Ignore them. They aren’t your place for/ of validation. Waste no breath explaining. Just walk on by. Walk. On. By.
- This is the perfect time to get rid of things. I repeat. I found it much easier while unpacking than when you’re packing up and afraid of being careless. This feels like an act of courage, wiping a slate clean and beginning anew.
- Don’t be tempted to find a jack of all trades handyman who does it all – from sorting out AC units to fitting gas cookers and the like. That is a journey to disaster. That someones’s able to handle air conditioner pipes, says nothing about them handling gas pipes. Beware.
- Find a friend. Or two, who can sit with you. Eat pizza. Cook you the best fried rice ever. With a dash of coconut milk, shrimps, and the most fragrant peppers of all time, yellow chilies. Let them be fresh eyes to talk through putting things in places you hadn’t thought of.
- Prepare yourself for the wonders of your new blank canvas. Decorating, and the opportunity to make pretty walls and floors and windows. Sigh. Interior designer extraordinaire for a minute. At least when I’m no longer broke and can afford to go shopping. LOL .
Yes, there’ll always be that one box, cardboard, carton, which never gets fully unpacked. A gentle reminder that these roots – young, budding, will one day grow old. Ready again, for an uprooting and replanting. Somewhere else.
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