A lifetime boxed up

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo   |   20 May 2017   |   3:47 am

As I sifted through a life that fit in the back of a lorry packed in boxes, I realised this is what we leave behind – ticket stubs, post cards, letters, a dried rose year, a faded picture there…And yet more.

“Life is just things in boxes moving around. Just things in boxes until we check out in one” I had mused a few years back when clearing out some of the stuff I had kept logging around for most of my adult life – from one student house share to another until I moved in with my now husband.

I couldn’t help but mull this thought over again, out in Istanbul, this week, helping my mum move to a new house. This is the seventh time in the last 40 years, a total of 13 times in her lifetime – quite a bit more than the average person, eight times in a lifetime. We are hoping that this is her final house move returning to her house since 2004 after it was knocked down and rebuilt in the last 18 months as part of the large-scale urban transformation Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial capital, has been undergoing in the last five years – so much so that the whole city now looks like one giant building site with an apartment building knocked down or halfway built on every block.

A recent study of 2,000 homeowners in the UK revealed that they will move twice before they turn 18, before living in another three different houses during their twenties; the reasons for the move often going to university, moving in with a partner, relocating for work or simply outgrowing their old home.

Tracing my steps back to teenage years when we moved house twice, to a multitude of bedsits through my university years in London, and once in married life, I recall the nostalgia of sifting through the various accumulations – the mere proof that you have at some point been on this earth and left a trace.

Once again this week, as the furniture finds its final settlement after numerous attempts to find the nook or cranny that’s just right, the floors are mopped for the fifth time, and you settle down to unpack a life in boxes, I feel the same sense of nostalgia. Ticket stubs from that must-see movie in 1996, a cassette tape from 2003, the user manual of a Walkman that is long gone, the map of a country holidayed in back in 1985 that is no longer the same country, the flip phone which was ever so cool in the noughties, the classic English literature novels your professor gifted you at university, newspapers with pictures of your parents from the days they were young and glamourous…

As I sifted through a life that fit in the back of a lorry packed in boxes, I realised this is what we leave behind – ticket stubs, post cards, letters, a dried rose year, a faded picture there…And yet more. We touch people’s lives, for a second or for a lifetime. The way we take care of our belongings, cherish them, frowning at the very thought of casting aside of something of sentimental value, sometimes we forget to show the same care with the people that walked into our lives and build their homes, for a season or for life. All well and good, you have the stubs of that must-see movie of 1996, but when was the time you last spoke to the friend that you went with? What good is the keepsake you hold on to for dear life if we are so quick to cast away the people who made that keepsake worth keeping in the first place?

I had begun the year with the resolution that I would spend more time reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances and making time for more social time and somehow five months on, I have found myself not quite keeping to this. If there is anything I have learned this week, apart from the fact that I really don’t fancy moving another house anytime soon, is to cherish on to everyone and every experience that makes this life worth living – whether it comes with a ticket, or a map, or a keepsake ­– until we check out in a box.




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