Here’s what my life’s come down to lately: figuring out the best way to stuff an oversized plastic horse into a packing box. It’s more difficult than I anticipated. No matter how I position it, the head or a hoof or the tail keeps poking out. The other night I stood there glumly regarding this equine nemesis, having just repositioned it for the 35th time. Then I pulled it out of the box and sat it in the middle of the floor.
My daughter walked in. “I’ve been looking all over for that horse!” she said, as she picked it up and left the room. Perhaps that was for the best. In the end, I’ll probably just toss it into the storage unit in my driveway and make the kids carry it into our new house.
We’re moving next week. Anybody who has ever attempted to relocate a young family, even across the street, knows that you spend 30 minutes yelling at the kids for every 15 you spend re-packing a horse.
And yet it hasn’t been all bad. Moving does give you a chance to take inventory of everything you’ve accumulated, stare in disbelief at how out of control it is and then try, however hastily, to make some sense of it.
Perhaps it’s just my innate love of navel-gazing or a way to procrastinate before chasing mice out of the shed or, most likely, my rapidly approaching 40th birthday, but I’ve been taking a personal inventory as well. It’s not the kind where you list your strengths on one side and weaknesses on the other and then exclaim, “The hell with this! Somebody get me a beer!” Rather, it’s an inventory of experience – the ones I’ve had, those I haven’t had and the ones I still want or need to have.
And it turns out that you can apply essentially the same rules for packing up a house.
- Start now: You’re not going to get ready to leave your house in one afternoon, and you’re not going to conduct a worthwhile review of your life in that time either. If you’re serious about digging into where you’ve been, it’s going to take a while. Progress will be measured in months, not minutes.
- Expect a mess: Six weeks ago, I started Phase One of the big pack-up – clearing out the attic. At first, and by that I mean an entire weekend, it mostly involved moving boxes from one side of the room to the other and tripping over everything in between. Similarly, there’s one thing you can be sure of when you start assessing your experiences. You’ll wish you hadn’t had a lot of them. Which is why you…
- Don’t overload yourself: I knew a guy who wasn’t even 50 and walked with a cane. Why? Because he was moving one time and dropped his own TV on his foot. We should learn from this. When you take a personal inventory, break it down into small chunks. Start with childhood and spend some time there. Skip through the middle school years as fast as possible. Don’t slow down till you’re out of high school. Then just let things gel for a while.
- Don’t keep everything: Of course you can’t throw away an experience like you trashed your Spin Doctors T-shirts from the 1990s. But not all experiences are equal , and the ones that come to mind first aren’t always the most important ones. I spent many years, for instance, fuming about some injustices in high school. In a case like that, it’s better to just move on.
- Label your work: When I told one colleague I was moving, she simply said, “Here’s my only piece of advice: Label your boxes.” She had not done this when she moved. Suffice it to say, the unpacking process did not go smoothly. So my personal experience inventory features two big bins. One side is labeled “Assets.” On the other is “Gaps.” These two buckets are running about equal now.
But it’s still not clear which one will hold the giant plastic horse.