Family Magazine

How to Unpack Four Tons of Stuff

By Sherwoods
Tuesday morning was hot.  Seeing as it's Tashkent in July, that wasn't surprising.  Every morning is hot in Tashkent when it's July.  Around 10:15 my doorbell rang.  It was the movers here with all my stuff - 8,000 pounds of it - sitting in their truck, waiting.  I wasn't sure whether to shout for joy or just start crying right there.
Unpacking is one enormous, giant, excruciatingly long, sorting process.  Packing is the process of un-sorting everything that you've carefully spent the previous two or three years finding the perfect place for and then strenuously enforcing that place for everyone in your house.  "No, the games go in the game cupboard, not in the bookshelf.  And go put your shoes away!!"  The hours and days I've spent arranging and re-arranging the things in my house for higher perfection are destroyed in a few short days when the movers pack it all up.
We usually have four or five movers who come.  Those four or five men sweep through the house like locusts, tearing down everything in their path.  Carefully sorted toy drawers are ripped from their places and unceremoniously dumped into waiting cardboard boxes, hopelessly mixing up food items with puzzle pieces with stuffed animals with Legos.  Long-items-used-on-the-stove utensil holders are emptied into boxes along with short-items-and-mixing-things, miscellaneous items, and jar lids.  Winter clothes are ruthlessly mixed in with summer clothes.  Baby clothes are dumped on top of high-heeled shoes which are thrown in on top of the contents of the nightstand.  Nothing is sacred in the drive to get everything boxed up, crated, and sent away to somewhere else.  Nobody cares as long as it goes in a box.
Recovery on the other end comes slowly.  First there is the unloading.  We had six wooden lift-vans, plywood and 2x4 crates that contain all the cardboard boxes.  Each lift-van has to be unloaded piece by piece, in an endless ant-trail stream of men walking past me as I tell them where each and every box, bin, and cardboard-wrapped mystery goes.  Most are labeled, but some cryptically.  What does "desk items" mean?  There isn't enough time to follow each box to its exact destination, so a few general areas are defined.  The kitchen, the living room, the basement, and the second floor landing soon each accumulate their own towering mound of boxes waiting to collapse on any child who wanders too close looking for the box with their favorite toy in it.
Next is unwrapping.  Once I told the movers I could unpack myself, and then I spent the next two weeks hauling my seven-month pregnant self in and out of boxes and unwrapping every single glass, plate, canning jar, knick-knack, picture frame, pencil, bed frame, mattress, toy, and bike in our shipment.  And that was only a 2,500 pound shipment.
The movers move through the house like a wave armed with box cutters as they unswaddle mystery cocoons that turn into diaper genies, treadmills, electric pianos, pictures, mirrors, bunk bed frames, and memory foam mattress toppers.  They wade through drifts of packing paper and tape, opening every single box (that gets real old after the fiftieth box you have to open yourself), and unpacking most of them.  As the drifts recede, leaving with the movers as they shift to the next room, there are piles of plates, glasses, games, toys, vases, book-ends, kitchen appliances, sleeping bags, school supplies, and mixing bowls.  Narrow trails mark the safe places to walk.
I always organize the kitchen first.  Everyone has their preference, but the kitchen is my workspace, and I can't sleep until everything has found its place.  This kitchen is smaller than our last kitchen, so I was worried that everything would fit in.  As the movers unpacked items, I raced around the kitchen, anxiously finding a place for everything.  Would there be enough room for the dishes in two shelves, or would I need three?  Is one cupboard enough for the random food that always needs a home?  Should the wraps go in that drawer or the washcloths?  Every place requires a decision and that decision is crucial.
After the kitchen is settled, the real work begins.  The movers are long gone by now and so all the work must be done by me and the children.  This is the first time I've had a number of useful children while unpacking and so I've invented a game called 'Mule Train.'  It goes like this: Mom gives you stuff to put in another location and you put it there.  You keep playing until Mom forgets about you and you can run off to play with your toys.  Each box that is labeled 'kitchen' inevitably has three or four things that don't go in the kitchen.  Things that used to go in the study now go downstairs in the storage closets.  Somehow the games ended up in the same box with Brandon's clothes.  Slowly each thing makes its way to the general location of its home in this house.
And last is organizing.  By this point I am so tired of making decisions that I can hardly make any useful choices.  But if I don't do it right, I will only have to return in six months when the general chaos of my medicine cupboard overwhelms me in the middle of an ordinary day and I can't do anything but set it to rights instead of my normal work. 
It is also during this stage that I discover all of the organization tools I'm missing.  We had shelves in where our extra toiletries were stored and now we have cupboards so that will take $75 worth of bins to fix.  There isn't enough space for the pots in the kitchen cupboards so now we need a peg board.  There is nowhere to store towels or pool toys in the pool house and so let's add $60 of towel hooks to the Target shopping cart.  I burn through money at a rate only equalled by consumables shopping.
This stage has a bonus feature called "Oh shoot! That didn't get packed up!" So far I've discovered that we no longer own ice bins, refrigerator magnets, the base to my ice cream freezer, a wooden desk chair, a console table, and two ottomans.  But, we did get the clock this time.  I always forget the clock. 
At the end of organizing there is always one last bin or box that defies categorization.  In it are things that have wildly differing purposes - drawer dividers that are too small or two large, plastic bags for clothes storage, a flute that I haven't played since Edwin was a baby, and a box of old photo albums from my youth.  That gets shoved into a deep, dark corer and is unearthed the next time we move.
And then one day, I am done and life begins its rhythms again.  I cook dinner every night, the children bathe on a regular schedule, the house is tidied daily, and everything has a place.  When I open the silverware drawer, there is only silverware.  When I want a new pen, I go to the pens bin.  The children don't have to ask me where their piano books are.  Brandon comes home to a functional house where all the stuff is hidden in its proper place. 
I find unpacking to be similar to traveling and childbirth.  When you are in the middle of the disaster nightmare, it seems that it will never end and your life has always and will always be filled with boxes or pain or airplanes.  But when it ends, you forget that it even happened.  There was this time when you were squeezing a baby out or flying for over twenty-four hours on two hours of sleep, or deciding the best possible place for the pastry blender, but it is a vague and distant memory, best not thought of.  You almost convince yourself that it wasn't really that bad.  And so it wasn't.  But when it happens again, all the memories come rushing back and you wonder how you could ever have forgotten something so terrible.
But still, you do it again anyway.  Because that's life. 
For now, I'm glad that I'm almost done unpacking, I don't have to fly for another year, and there aren't any baby-squeezings in my near future.  It's the simple things that make life wonderful.

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