20130402 – Thinking about Boxes

My son and I found ourselves talking about creative things the other day, things like graphic design, logos, business cards, and business names. And then he said something that caught me by surprise. He said, “I don’t like the term ‘thinking out of the box’.” “Hmmm,” I said, “Why not?” Well, sometimes you have to work with certain constraints, particularly in graphic design. Business cards have limited space, images can’t be too large or too small, certain specific information must be included. It becomes more of a challenge and you’re forced to be even more creative given the limits imposed. So in creative endeavors, a box can be a good thing.

Boxes are good for other things too. I keep a box, actually what they call a banker’s box, to store things of sentimental value from my past, things my wife and children have given me, letters, cards I particularly enjoyed, small knickknacks that really don’t need to be on display, but that I like looking at from time to time. I limit myself to one box, a memory box if you will, so that my memorabilia don’t clutter up the house. I think my memory box is a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m also a packrat of the first order. I have several boxes of tax returns, the oldest of which dates back to 1966, my very first return. I also have boxes of magazines that I might like to reread, and boxes of computer parts that I might re-use (not!). I have boxes containing items of unknown origin from my desks at prior jobs. There are boxes of old business records from thirteen years ago. There are more boxes of electrical parts and plumbing parts and wiring parts and painting supplies and tools and scrap wood and camping supplies and beach toys and, well you get the idea. Most of these boxes are not good things, they are clutter, they are stuff, they are stressors in my life and I don’t really need them.

I’m a big fan of fellow blogger extraordinaire Glenn Morrissette. He writes “To simplify … the pursuit of happiness through simple living on the open road.” He bagged apartment living in LA, sold or discarded almost everything he owned except a few clothes, basic living supplies, and tools of his trade, and began living in a 19 foot motorhome. After 16 months he upgraded to a 21 footer because it had a better layout but still allowed him to stealth camp on city streets. He’s now decided the current home is way too big, so he is rebuilding a Vanagon to his own specs and will downsize to that ‘home’ fulltime in a few months. I guess he’s gotten rid of a little clutter! But he’ll be able to live virtually anywhere by turning the key and pointing in a new direction. That’s a little too much simplification for me.

On the flip side, my wife and I have been cleaning out her folks’ condo since her Dad passed away last year, and her Mom moved to assisted living in January. The condo had always looked nice and relatively uncluttered but oh what surprises those closets and storage nooks held! Dad must have had a hundred pairs of socks and nearly as many pairs of slacks. We donated over six dozen golf shirts to Goodwill and at least a dozen coats and jackets. I have five nearly complete sets of golf clubs in the garage, and I’ve already donated three dozen assorted clubs. We found over $175 of coins squirreled away throughout the house, and nearly two dozen golf caps and hats tucked away in various places.

Mom’s clothing situation is almost as daunting. Plus she has four sets of china and a collection of blue glass pieces that numbers over 50 as well as drawers of photographs and cards that need to be sorted and identified. The bathroom, four dozen rolls of toilet tissue. The kitchen, spice containers that were so old they were selling on eBay for five dollars a tin.

I’m realizing that I don’t want my kids to go through this when my wife and I are gone. The time to simplify is now; not to Glenn’s extreme, but as he often points out, to the extent appropriate for us and our own choices about how to live our lives.

Lest you think I’m getting off track, let’s get back to boxes. I think Glenn lives in a box, but he’s unencumbered by it and it actually gives him freedom. Mom and Dad lived in a box and it seems like it constrained them as much as their age and health did. And I’ve been living in a box too, one that my wife has been bugging me for years to dump out and recycle. I think the flaps have been pulled back and I’m beginning to see the light.

A few months ago I visited my primary care physician for a checkup.  I tend to be a little anal about my health, always checking weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. And I ask a lot of questions. Not sure if my doc was getting exasperated with me but after we talked he had this to say, “Terry, everything you can control and manage is controlled; so the best advice I can give you is go live your life.”

I pondered that comment and realized that I had put a box around my life, based on perceptions about my health and what I thought the limits should be. I was worrying so much about my health troubles that I was letting those concerns unnecessarily constrain how I chose to live. This was not a good box, not even a healthy box.

So the lesson in this post is you really need to be picky about your boxes. Keep the good ones and get rid of the ones that just clutter up and confine your life. In fact I suspect there’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

I guess my wife is right (she usually is). I’ve got a lot of boxes to empty and recycle. It’s about time to go live my life, and put a few more experiences in the memory box.

Committing to living outside the box … Terry

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