If you’re like me, you have available to you a quick and easy way of increasing your living space by quite a bit. It’s this: throw away all those boxes.
Almost everything you buy nowadays contains instructions to save the box in which it came. Money-back guarantees, they are quick to inform us, are valid if and only if a returned item includes all the original packaging. Warranties tell us that they will be honored only if the product is returned for repair or replacement in its original box (some even offer to sell a replacement box, usually for $40 or so). So we, well some of us — well, I — carefully save the packaging until I am certain that I’ll keep whatever it is or until the warranty period has expired.
But who keeps track of when this is? Who keeps a calendar that has marked the magic date upon which the packaging for a particular item can be discarded? I certainly don’t.
When I lived in a far-too-big house back east, there was plenty of room for the accumulation of boxes. It presented no problem and, when time came to move here, having them was an aid in packing (even though a lot of boxes are much, much larger than the goods they contain — those little plastic bags full of air take up space). This served as what the social scientists call an “enabler” to me. It underlined the wisdom of keeping every box anything ever came in.
As a result, a big room downstairs, ever so gradually, became full of boxes. I would have to move boxes if I needed to get to the actual useful items behind them, which invariably led to their being restacked precariously. There was danger of a packing materials avalanche, possibly with my lifeless remains found later beneath a mountain of corrugated cardboard. This would have violated one of my few rules of life: it is good, when one passes this vale of tears, to die heroically. It is okay to pass in the fashion most of us do, at a ripe old age. But it is never acceptable to check out in circumstances that would cause one’s obituary to inspire laughter. This is why I do not build experimental gliders in the barn, then climb atop the roof to try them out, no matter how strong the urge to do so might become.
The box situation in the utility room had gotten so bad that it was remarked upon by visitors. “What are you planning to do with all these boxes?” is actually a polite way of saying, “You are barking mad, and here is all the proof necessary to get you committed.” But that was not the case at all. I was saving them in case I needed them.
Still, it was getting out of hand. This point was accented when I discovered I was saving packing material for items I no longer had.
So one evening last week I undertook to reduce the box inventory. This was not as easy as it might sound.
That IBM laptop computer box is so perfectly designed, I thought as I began. It would be a crime to throw it away. What if I need to send the machine in for repair? The notion was mitigated by my remembering that IBM has been out of the notebook computer business for a few years and though I believe I still have the machine in question I’m not quite sure where it is. And the box was no good for anything else, because it had computer-shaped foam packing glued in place. I bade it a sad farewell, considering the long years it had accompanied me to my various residences.
Just as meat packers are surely a little saddened by the first few beasts they dispatch enroute to their transformation into healthful and delicious meat but quickly get over it, I found that it became easier and easier to get rid of the boxes. My keep/discard criteria became sterner and sterner. The ones I kept because they would certainly be useful for shipping other items at, say, Christmas and on birthdays got their taped seams cut so that they would fold flat. Tape is cheap, boxes are not — if you don’t believe me, stop by a store that sells them and check out the prices. High rates can be charged because when we really need a box we are desperate.
(Here’s an idea for community-minded persons or groups: How about a cooperative box exchange, a place where we can take our used boxes and where we can go to get, for a small fee, boxes when we need them? This could be built on a per-use or a membership model. This would work in any town or city.)
After many hours the box situation was under control. The pile of discards had been smashed down and packed so that they could easily be taken away. The ones I was saving were now efficiently compact. It was astounding how much space I had acquired.
There is now probably room for a pool table. That might be a good idea, except that I cannot afford a pool table.
Also, it’s possible that pool tables come in boxes.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.