There used to be a box in the next room, in the closet, that’s traveled with me across four states. I packed it in a little cabin in Montana where the weather had warped the wood and blew right in through the walls. There was grit in the bottom from the desert of southern California, the tip of a pine needle stuck in the packing tape that it must’ve picked up in northern California, the mummified remains of an insect that probably wandered its way into the trap in Colorado. The flaps on the top were sealed shut with many layers of packing tape, because once that box was packed I never unpacked it, not once, although I’d moved house in that period no less than eight times. (I’m an over-achiever.) It was just paperwork in there, and it was nothing I wanted to deal with, so with each moving of house I’d open that box up, throw in the latest batch of paperwork I didn’t particularly want to deal with, seal it back up again, and then find a new space for it in the bottom of a new closet.
I finally took care of that box a few nights ago. I was lying in bed, completely unable to sleep, thinking about a bank account. These are the things you think about, when you’re me, at early o’clock when there’s nothing you can do about them. You lay in the dark with your heart pounding for no reason, thinking about all the things you need to get done, all the things that are stressing you out, all the things you’re probably failing to deal with… all the things like that box, in the closet, in the next room over. You lay there thinking about the bank account you failed to close years ago, worrying that the bank has found excuses to pile on fees until your $3 balance is an astronomical negative number, thinking you’ll probably have to pay them to get the account closed at last, worrying over the fact that you don’t even know the account number anymore. You think there might be a letter with your account number, maybe, sitting in that box. You’ve been thinking that for months.
It was so early, and I was so tired, and there was no way I was going to sleep, so I rolled out of bed, pulled that box out of the closet, took a pair of scissors to that thick-layered packing tape, and started pulling out the things inside.
There was nothing at all in that box that I needed to be stressed out about.
There was nothing with that bank account number I was looking for. (I finally wound up just calling the bank, asking them to look me up by my social, and according to them I don’t have an account there anymore at all. I’m not entirely convinced by this news.) There was nothing particularly intimidating, either, even though I’d frowned and worried and eyed that box suspiciously for so long. There was some outdated paperwork I didn’t need to keep, so I spent some quality time with the document shredder. There was some junk mail I’d never opened. There were horse magazines and some pieces of projects I’d long since finished or abandoned. And there were postcards that had also traveled with me across four states, that I’d had pinned for awhile to the walls of that little cabin in Montana, to remind myself that I wasn’t alone. There was an RCMP postcard made of real wood, sent by a friend in Canada that I’d bitterly regretted gradually losing touch with, and it still smelled like cedar. There was a card sent from my best friend when she’d lived in Japan. There was a long-ago doodle on the back of an envelope, like a petroglyph left over from another life.
I spent an hour re-reading those postcards and letters, because I still need to be reminded sometimes. I should’ve unpacked that box a long time ago… it was full of gifts I needed to re-deliver to myself, and weight I needed to stop carrying.
Last night I was walking the dog through a crisp autumn evening, listening to a live recording of The Swell Season on my MP3 player, and in a short introduction to their song “Drown Out,” Glen Hansard said into my ear, “Re-look at what it is you’re feeling guilty about, and if it’s not actually worth carrying, fucking shed it.”
I’ve often taken pride in my ability to travel light, but sometimes it’s the smallest boxes that are the heaviest. So here’s my advice to you: put those burdens down. Open them up. You might find something inside that makes you feel a little lighter, or you might realize that the burdens you carried a year ago don’t need to keep hanging around your neck. Some weights just aren’t worth carrying: fucking shed it.