A Life in Boxes

“An empty canvas is a living wonder… far lovelier than certain pictures”


This post is part of my moving story (moving house that is, not meaning emotionally moving!). While I’ve been jogging my memory and picking out snippets of our move to France, I have a very prominent image in my head. Cardboard boxes. Lots of them.

I left my mother’s home at 19 years of age, with a bed cover, sheets, pillows and lots of stuff!!!! My little (shared!) bedroom became very quickly packed to the brim. Ornaments, posters, family photos on the wall, incense burners, books, cds. I brought the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle. I was a bit grungy, hippy, alternative, whatever you want to call it (all of the above!) and so every semi-precious stone was precious to me. I thought having so much was normal and I progressed like this throughout my years in college. I had my first child very soon after I graduated and so I added all of the stuff that came with my beautiful bundle to my own stuff. I kept going like this and being the sentimental soul that I am, found the task of sorting through it all as something that couldn’t happen.

Myself and mon homme both like to cook and so we had duplicates of many things in the kitchen. Duplicates brought together as we could never decide on what to keep (or more importantly what not to keep). Whenever we moved house we brought it all with us.

A changing shape over the years (let’s say I have a few pounds to loose!) meant that I held onto clothes that would never really fit again- just in case.

My many trips to local thrift stores left me delighted and thrilled with my many little finds and trinkets. At one point I actually volunteered at a thrift shop one day a week (bad, bad idea for a hoarder!).

Now all of this is not to say that I was like one of those people you see on those tv programmes (you know the ones- “Help I can’t find my child from under all of these magazines”!!!) but a cull was always going to have to be done at some stage. I unfortunately left it until we were leaving Ireland for good (and it was only half done). We gave away a lot of our possessions. I sold books. Mon homme parted with all of his plants. We sold furniture, cookware, tools. All of this helped to fund our move. But we still had lots and lots of cardboard boxes- full.

The logistics of the move were a bit complicated at first. But once we had picked a date on the calendar to leave the house, and we factored in about a week to spend with my family before leaving, things started moving quickly. I booked the ferry we would take to France. I unwittingly booked it for the very last day that I could officially travel. I thought travel restrictions for a pregnant woman were the same for the water as for the air- evidently not! (advice- always check with your travel operator before you make the reservation if you are pregnant). So now we just had to figure out how we would get our cardboard boxes to France.

Mon homme knew a couple who were going to France with an empty van. They had to pick up furniture over there and were under pressure to move it from the the seller’s storage. So we proposed to go ahead to France with just the essentials in our car. We would organise to store their stuff in France (and take the pressure off them) and they would bring our things with them when they came to pick it up (and take the pressure off us). We would be staying with my partner’s Grandmother and Uncle in their home so we wouldn’t need our things straight away. A month or so would be fine to wait as we’d be house-hunting and scouting out the surrounding villages and towns. Mon homme actually owned a small house but we wouldn’t be able to live there for a year or two, so we would be looking for somewhere to rent in that area in the meantime.

So this transportation arrangement was win-win right? (ha ha ha ha ha) You’ve heard of Murphy’s law!

Things didn’t go according to plan needless to say (they generally don’t where I’m involved- all adds to the richness of the experiences in life- I have to tell myself that). The other couple ran into some unrelated problems beyond their control and… well… we had to be patient. That was ok for a few weeks after the initial month but… it rolled on a bit.

We moved into an apartment the night before (yes- the night before) our eldest girl started school, and two weeks before our youngest girl was born!! The whole apartment hunting and signing of the lease is a story for another day, but we had an apartment and couldn’t get the keys until 5pm the evening before la rentrée (first day of school after the holidays).

So there we were trying to get a home organised and a child settled before one of the biggest life-changing events of her life! And we had no stuff!!! We begged and borrowed (didn’t steal!) from friends and family to pull a home together. Everyone we knew was so generous and we had a band of friends who were brilliant for helping us get moved in. At 12.30 that night, the bed we were to sleep in was finally assembled. I literally fell into it- exhausted!

Now if you are setting up home in France, it is really easy to get your hands on things for the house. Between charity shops, brocante, house clear-out sales and hypermarkets, you can pretty much pick up everything and anything. So, while we were waiting on the contents of our home to arrive, we started picking up things here and there. When our things finally arrived (a whopping 6 months later and only half of the contents!) I was initially so delighted and excited. Not only was I looking forward to seeing my clothes (I had by then given birth so was sick to the teeth of my maternity clothes) but also it made the move seem more real and concrete. We would have our own items dotted around the apartment. This was to be home for now!

However, as I saw all of our boxes arrive, I started to feel really uneasy. “What on earth could be in all of them?” I wondered to myself. The long-awaited for cardboard boxes stayed stacked up like a siege wall in our bedroom for a long time! I had no energy to go through it all and found the task so daunting. I had no words to describe how I was feeling about the accumulation of a lifetime and the overwhelming urge to get rid of it all. We had been managing fine with the essentials before and I found that I was enjoying empty space. Our mantle-piece was often simply adorned with one vase full of hand-picked wild flowers, and it looked beautiful. Did I need anything else?

Before our things arrived mon homme and I asked ourselves what one thing would we be most happy to see? For him it was the hard drive with all of our digital photos on it. For me it was the baby book I had put together for our eldest. And my socks! We arrived in France in summer when I was wearing sandals all the time and now we had passed to winter. I’m very attached to my woolly socks!

I should have stuck with the idea that I would be really happy with just one or two things and the rest I could do without.

And then one day- distracting myself from all I should have been doing- I came upon a website dedicated to minimal living. And then I read another and another and another. Full of good tips and ideas to simplify. It felt like a breathe of fresh air and a new way of looking at things. For me this was a shift in my thinking and I’ve been trying to apply it to all areas of my life ever since. I often falter and I am by no means living in a white spacey airy home but I’m getting there!

Feel free to comment…
  • January 28, 2015, 1:42

    Lovely post, Carmel! Isn’t it amazing how moving makes you realise what’s really essential? I moved back to Cork from London recently and couldn’t believe how much stuff I’d accumulated. I love the idea of having a spacey, airy home. One day :)
    Grace | The Beauty of Everywhere recently posted…Farmers’ Markets in BrisbaneMy Profile

    • January 28, 2015, 2:35

      Thank you! Maybe we should all move house once every six months or so to keep our stuff under control!

  • February 21, 2015, 9:30

    So much stuff packed with care…and not to arrive for months… Do you remember the bedroom furniture fashioned out of nappy boxes … She is a creative little thing!!

    • February 23, 2015, 8:05

      I had actually forgotten about my makeshift shelves! They served their purpose quite well!

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