Posts Tagged ‘empty boxes’

We Still Have The Same Problem. But Now We Have It For A Different Reason.

Shoe-boxes are a major cause of cognitive dissonance for me. For years, I have held two parallel and perfectly opposing beliefs. Belief one: shoe-boxes are infinitely useful and can be used for all manner of amazing craft projects, ranging from the simple insertion of the soft toy du jour into the bottom and the confident statement, “Look! Now Pink Piggy has a bed!” to the feel-good manufacture of gift boxes for children in other countries. Belief two: shoe-boxes are BOXES and therefore should be disposed of at the earliest opportunity.

Not in my house. Also, not my house.

If Walt Whitman can contain multitudes, then so can I. I can throw away every shoe-box that comes into my house as soon as I lay eyes on it, and also sincerely lament the absence of shoe-boxes whenever a craft project comes along that requires one, and not once see the connection between Throwing All The Shoe-boxes Away, and Never Having A Shoe-box When We Need One.

But it’s only recently dawned on me that shoe-boxes have an entirely separate function, independent of any craft-based upcycling opportunities.

Apparently, you can never have enough pictures of cats in a blog post.

I’m not 100% sure why it took me so long to realise this, but I’m going to go ahead and blame my childhood. (I’ve always wanted to blame my childhood.) Like most kids of my generation, when I was growing up, shoes were a limited resource. You had school shoes, and trainers, and if you were fantastically posh or rich then you had party shoes, and that was pretty much it. At any given moment, if you weren’t actually in your shoes, you soon would be. Maximum period between wears was generally about forty-eight hours.

Also (and I’ll admit this part isn’t unique to just my generation), when you’re a kid, your feet grow. There is no real point in preserving your shoes. You’re going to grow out of them. And then they are going to be thrown away. “Getting the wear” is practically a childhood commandment.

And you thought they smelled bad on the outside.

Then you grow up. And your feet stop growing. (More or less. We’ll ignore that weird non-reversible size-larger thing that happens to your feet – and sometimes even your whole, entire body – during your first pregnancy.) And your shoe-occasions multiply. And you have disposable income. And you discover the ludicrous thrill of buying shoes purely for their utter, utter beauty, even though there’s no possible chance you’ll ever be able to actually walk anywhere in them. And before you know it, you’ve got a whole damn collection.

And if you (well, okay, me) are stupid enough to say to your husband one day, “You know, I just don’t know why men think all women are obsessed with shoes”, he will lead you to the hallway and show you why men think all women, even you (okay, me again), are obsessed with shoes.

Not actual game-play footage.

Decades later than the average, it has finally dawned on me that, while shoes have many fine properties, they do not tessellate well. Also, they like to sleep in heaps, like puppies. Left to themselves, they will form a vast shoe mountain in which the shoes you actually want to wear will be carefully shielded at the very bottom by all the other shoes you own, and will also have been separated for their own safety.

But if you keep them in their boxes, all these problems disappear. They stay in neatly-ordered pairs. They do not get crushed out of shape by the weight of all the other shoes on top of them. Instead of lying in a promiscuous heap in the middle of the hall, they can be tidied away into virtually any space you care to name. In short, shoe-boxes are absolutely brilliant for storing your shoes in.

Sadly, this discovery of mine hasn’t improved things for my children. We have moved from a state of having-no-shoe-boxes-for-crafting-because-mummy-threw-them-all-away, to having-no-shoe-boxes-because-mummy-needs-them-to-keep-her-shoes-in. But I’ve learned something useful and interesting, and that’s always important, I think.

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In Which I Prove In At Least Two Ways That Even A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day

I absolutely guarantee we are going to have a row about this later

I confidently predict that responses to this post will divide entirely along gender lines. There, I said it.

Thing is, I like to think of myself as someone who, most of the time, avoids gender stereotyping. This is because gender-based assumptions are, in the words of one of my tutors at university, “essentialist bullshit”. Most of the time, I am a paid-up subscriber to the theory that it’s ridiculous and damaging to make value judgments about people’s opinions, responses and views based solely on outdated cultural notions ascribed to their biological sex.


So, onwards. You’re looking at a picture of a cardboard box. As you may be able to see, this cardboard box once contained an electronic gadget. Note the important word in this sentence: “once”. This is now an empty box. Furthermore, this box has been empty for at least a year. The gadget it once contained is stored somewhere else. From memory, this gadget has its own little protective case, purchased as a separate item. Said protective case has been specially designed to snugly yet carefully encase this gadget, shielding it from the outside world.

Do you see what I’m saying here? This box – this box you are staring at – is entirely redundant. It contains absolutely nothing of value. Its purpose was to provide a safe yet stackable means of transport for the gadget on its journey from factory to home. This journey is now complete. While we sometimes keep cardboard boxes for the kids to make sculptures that have to live on the mantelpiece for the next year, that never happens to these boxes. Craft with these boxes is Not Allowed.

The box you are looking at, therefore, has no function whatsoever. It is literally doing nothing other than take up space.

And yet somehow it’s still in the frickin’ house!!!!!

If it was just this box and no others, I would probably sigh, and let it go. After all, I have a lot of face-creams, and several pairs of shoes that get worn about once every two years. Unfortunately, this box is just the tip of the iceberg – as long as you’re willing to allow the iceberg metaphor to accommodate excessive amounts of cardboard. Whenever a new gadget comes into our home – and this happens a lot – it automatically occupies at least twice the amount of space it actually needs, because we always seem to end up keeping the box as well.

The jury will please note that I said “at least twice the amount of space”. Modern packaging being what it is, this frequently ends up being much more than twice the amount of space. The box you’re now looking at  takes up, at a conservative estimate, approximately eight times as much room as the gadget it once contained. We have a reasonably big house, but it ain’t the Tardis. There are four of us living here, and we really only have room to compulsively hoard one class of object each. My son dreams about plastic action figures from  TV series; my daughter has no upper limit for the number of cuddly toys she can welcome into her heart; I have never, in my life, sent a book to a charity shop. My husband likes gadgets. The  gadgets I can live with. The boxes, not so much.
So what I like to do is this. I let things build up to what I think of as the “Box Event Horizon” – the point at which I become convinced that, if I don’t do something about the box problem, the very fabric of reality will buckle and collapse under the weight of all that cardboard. Then I wait until my husband is out for the evening. I tidy the kids away into their beds; I kiss them goodnight; and  then I roll up my sleeves and fetch several industrial-strength black bin-liners. And I purge our house of every single cardboard box I come across. I tear them to pieces with my hands and viciously crush them into the bin-liners, before forcing them into the outside bin. Then I put something really damp and horrible, like the sawdust out of the guinea-pigs’ cage, on top of them – just in case Anyone was thinking of trying to resurrect them.

If you’re a woman reading this, I’m pretty sure you are now nodding vigorously and saying something along the lines of, “I hear you, sister!” If you’re a man reading this, you’re probably disgusted by this irrefutable evidence that Women Just Don’t Get It. If you scroll down to the comments section, you may well find that my husband’s been there before you, and posted an eloquent and well-planned defence of his box-hoarding tendencies for you to passionately agree with. What can I tell you? Sometimes, Essentialist Bullshit turns out to be the truth.

With that in mind, it’s probably not surprising that the very next thing that happens after a Box Purge is that we will have a row. There aren’t many things that upset us enough to really make us snarl at each other like wild animals, but cardboard boxes are one of them. During this row, one or more of the following defences for cardboard-box-hoarding will be offered;

1. The gadget may stop working during its guarantee period. If this happens, it will need to be sent back in its original packaging.
2. At some point in the future, we may move house, and the boxes will be needed to pack the gadgets in.
3. The gadget may at some point be traded in or re-gifted to someone else. If this happens, the box will be re-used.
4. (Usually a desperate rear-guard action) The bin is now full of cardboard, leaving no room for the real rubbish, and this is all my fault for throwing the boxes out.

Thing is, Number One sounds rational, but doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Some of the boxes I have thrown away belong to gadgets which are three generations out of date. One of the very first boxes I threw away was for our VHS video-recorder. Seriously! I’m not convinced we even still have that video-recorder. But we sure as hell still had the box it came in.

Number Two has actually been proven to be false. The last time we moved house, the movers brought their own boxes, and their own packing stuff. Furthermore, the only thing that got broken – literally the only thing – was an ornament that had been packed by us, in case the movers broke it during the packing process.

Number Three has never, to my knowledge, actually happened. We have recycled a few mobile phones, but – as we all know – the recycling company send you a padded envelope. This envelope is designed to hold the phone. Not the box it came in. Just the phone. If there are recycling companies for MP3 players, please let me know; we may be able to do business.

And Number Four…well, this mostly interests me for what it says about the gulf between our thought-processes on this one. I feel the phrase “real rubbish” is especially revealing.

So there; I win this argument, now and forever, and all about it what it is. There is no need for these cardboard boxes to stay in the house for more than a couple of months, and I am allowed to carry on throwing them away. Hoorah.

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