Unboxing My Office

Our house became a graveyard for boxes the way you fall in love…

…slowly, and then all at once.

Part of it was that when we moved in to a house provided by family, the owners hadn't finished moving out. It's been an awkward situation -- one we're grateful for, as we couldn't afford a house on our own -- but it has meant a lot of uncertainty about ownership of space and what we're responsible for, where things go, etc. So a lot of things didn't get unpacked, or weren't unpacked at the same time.

Then, a lot of my life happens by mail order. I'm not the only one in the house who gets stuff off the internet, but as the one who doesn't drive, the one who handles pet supplies, and the one who sometimes deals with anxiety by shopping, I get a lot of boxes coming from Amazon and Chewy and places elseweb.

Lately I've been getting a lot more packages from Amazon than I actually order. There's a phenomenon where if you find yourself on certain sellers' radars, they start using your name and address for fake orders. They shove whatever they have too much of, whatever is cheap or heavy or not selling, into a box and shove it out the door with a label on it that's connected to an Amazon order they then use with a phony username to create a "verified purchase" for a review to boost their seller rating.

It's the kind of thing that makes you stop and think about all the weird imbalances in our economy, where it can make sense for a company to take, say, a replacement headlight for a jeep and ship it to a stranger for free in order to game the algorithm on a website. It must be profitable or they wouldn't do it, but how many externalities are involved in the cost of manufacture, export, and transportation to make it cost-effective?

But I digress.

So we've got boxes. 

Our house is technically outside the city limits. You can go in any direction except straight up and possibly down and be in the city, but we're not part of it. No municipal waste service for us.

During the first several years that we lived here, our landlords kept on the arrangements they had for waste hauling that had worked for them. This was two guys with a pickup truck who came by once a week to pick up six kitchen sized trash bags (and only six, which prompted my own mother to ask in horror if that meant we were just not supposed to take the trash out at all one day) once a week, and a somewhat more formal waste management company picking up a single receptacle of recycling every other week.

We've since parted ways with both of those outfits and we now have weekly recycling pick-up, though still limited by contract to what fits inside a single wheeled bin. But during the time we had three adults, two of whom with a serious soda habit, trying to keep our recycling output at or below the level of half a bin a week, we had to sort of... manage... our output. So incoming boxes stacked up.

The thing about boxes is they're bulky. Even if you punch out the bottoms and flatten them they still have to be stuck somewhere. A house full of boxes is hard to keep uncluttered or clean. Living in a place that is cluttered and crowded has a psychological drain that makes everything feel harder and less rewarding.

So the boxes pile up.

Everything piles up.

We've got weekly recycling pick-up, as I mentioned, but we still have to manage our volume. And boxes have continued to come in. We've made progress, though. Beaten back the tide. Right now the worst of it is in my office and the hall outside. The theory is that I have an electric boxcutter in my office and so when I'm idly thinking, mulling over problems, watching the news, etc., I can sit here and break down boxes and thus slowly chip away at the backlog until we're current. Like Inbox Zero, but... Box Zero. Zero Boxes.

In practice? Man, there are some weeks when I can't bring myself to touch the box pile. This is the sort of thing that people with ADHD or depression are likely to understand immediately and intimately, and others are likely to think, "But the boxes are right there. You've got a box cutter. Why not just... cut boxes?"

I saw a comic on Twitter that explains it as being a matter of having a button to do things or not, which I think works well enough as a starting point:

For me, I guess it's more like when you're in a video game and it feels like there should be a thing you should be able to do but there's no item interaction available, unless and until you're standing in just the right spot, or looking the right way, or until something completely external to the situation has changed.

To me it feels like the boxes are part of the level environment, not entities in their own right. No interactions available.

There's more than one thing going on here. Some of it is cognitive, some psychological, some physiological. My chronically low dopamine levels have a lot to do with it - dopamine deprivation makes easy things seem difficult and difficult things seem impossible, and everything feel like it's not worth doing.

I'm sure as many of you read this you'll be bursting with advice on how to fix this, or expressions of sympathy, or an urge to shout "They're just boxes! Cut them up and get rid of them!" Please understand, this is neither woe-is-me self-pitying nor a request for advice nor a call for help. I'm processing what something in my life is like, which is helpful for me, and it might be interesting or useful to someone reading this.

The act of talking about this makes it easier for me to face. I wasn't thinking about the pile of boxes inches away from my right side when I sat down to start writing this., They were just a background texture. As I started writing I didn't feel like I was in a position to do anything about them. Now that I've talked my way through... I kind of do.

Which I guess just continues the video game metaphor. All the set pieces are there, but they're just set dressing until you've talked to somebody about them, exhausted the conversational options.

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