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The world needs some good boxes

“What are you doing with those boxes in the dining room?” was Dear Richard’s question last weekend.

Every Sunday night, Richard drags a big, black, trash bag through the house. When he is finished, he has emptied all the wastebaskets into the one bag for easy hauling to the end of the driveway. Last Sunday he had to wait.

I was sorting, condensing and packing away all the detritus from Christmas. Every year this leads to facing up to one of my Yankee tendencies: I have trouble parting with boxes.

No, I’m not a hoarder. It’s just that you never know when you’re going to need a good box. I know we can’t set aside a whole box-storing corner in the garage, but we do need to have a few boxes at the ready. Good boxes. Frankly, it’s been a struggle since mail order catalogues began shipping in plastic bags.

My family lives in Massachusetts, Maryland and California, and some close friends are scattered around the east coast. When birthdays, Christmas or special occasions arise, I send gifts to these distant loved ones. Now, you can mail a t-shirt or socks in a plastic bag; maybe even potholders or a stuffed elf for the Christmas tree. But a hand-painted mug needs a smallish, square box, with room for padding. A book needs a flattish box. Cookie tins need medium boxes and an antique family quilt needs a large. Where would I acquire a good shipping box without my stash in the garage? I suppose there really are people who pay for boxes, but don’t count me in.

If a box arrives on my doorstep somewhat broken or just too flimsy to reuse, out it goes. But a good box? New, on arrival to me, with an easily peeled label? Ah now, that’s a satisfying save. That’s almost as much fun as finding a five-dollar bill on the sidewalk.

Richard’s comment when he saw the piles along the dining room wall was, “We don’t have that kind of room in the garage.” I told him I had to sort them by condition and size.

I kept the bubble wrap and added all the tissue and packing slips to his bag. I actually threw out more boxes than I kept, culling the jumble to just nine. The biggest box was on the bottom, the other eight all nested inside. It was ridiculously satisfying.

“See, it’s a good-sized stack but it only takes up the size of the biggest box. Right?” He grumbled a bit, but he got it. And I got nine good boxes.

I think my love affair with boxes began early. My mother saved boxes. Come Christmas time, she turned every possible container into gift packages when boxes were scarce. Because I inherited her scrounging ability, my son received his first wristwatch gift-wrapped in a paper towel tube. The same year, my daughter unstapled a decorated airline barf bag to discover her newest mittens. Those substitutes can make for fun guessing games, but you can’t put boots or a garden ornament in a gift bag. You need a box. A good box.

I actually spent an entire year living out of boxes. When my late husband, Tom, was heading for graduate school, we moved from San Diego to Cambridge, Mass. We had spent our first year of married life in a mostly furnished, little house. All our clothes and “stuff” were packed in many, many boxes. Soon after we arrived at our Cambridge fourth-floor walk-up, the apartment filled rapidly with blue United Van Lines boxes. Within a few days, two of the boxes became end tables, two became nightstands and ten transformed into a wall of stacked cubicles containing shirts, sweaters, bed linens, slacks, towels, underwear, pajamas, pillows for the hide-a-bed, socks, shoes, tablecloths and wedding gifts. It was a challenge to keep it neat, but a quick glance displayed our entire inventory.

At the beginning of the second year, we bought a king-size bedroom set with a triple bureau, chest of drawers, and an armoire. I gratefully banished the boxes to the dumpster, but not before tearing off one side panel for the logo reference. We painted the bedroom United Van Lines blue. I knew a good box even then.

My stack of nine nested boxes hasn’t made it to the garage yet. We have to reorganize a few other piles and stacks and … we’ll stow them by Valentine’s Day.

Come to think of it, I might need one or two before then. You need a really good box to ship heart-shaped presents.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their bi-polar Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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