Once, several years back, I saw my secretary putting some boxes near the trash. I called out, “If you don’t want them, I’ll take them home.”
Instantly, one of my employees looked up and demanded, “Do you have a good use for those boxes?”
“Well, not really,” I said. “Do you need them? You can have them.”
“No, I don’t need them. I just want to know if you have a use for them.”
I was getting confused at this point. A use for them? “Well, not really. But I’m sure I’ll find a use for them. They’re very good boxes. They’re in excellent condition, and they have lids, and look, they’re specially reinforced in the corners.”
His face was starting to redden, purple even. “But do you already have a lot of boxes?” he asked.
“Well, yes. Yes, I do. But these are really good ones.”
Now there you have it. Yet further evidence that there are two kinds of people in the world: those that save boxes and those that don’t. Those that might collect a box for a specific reason, and those that collect the boxes and then look for the reasons.
Turns out this man’s wife was a box collector. He never knew it. He had spent years squeezing into and out of his car in the garage, skirting boxes jammed up on either side. One day, he knocked into a row and it toppled. Frantic that he had broken some family heirloom, he looked inside. Only to see more boxes, smaller ones. With boxes inside those. Boxes of boxes.
I love boxes. I love a good, clean box with a snug-fitting lid. A box just the right size for whatever contents. In order to manage that, though, you have to have an inventory of boxes. A variety of sizes, depths, and weights. You also need a warehouse, or at least a lot of room, and you need to share this room with another box-lover.
Otherwise, like the woman whose husband worked for me, you get interrogated every time you bring a new box home. Only boxes with reasons are welcome. “Something there is that does not love a box,” while some of us do. And maybe the beauty of the box is in itself, not in its contents.
I’m pretty sure it’s not the box, per se. I also save little jars. They were perfect when I needed to organize the tool room. My sister found the stash when she was making raspberry jam. But a few weeks later, when I made my first crabapple jelly, I exhausted the jar supply. To zero. Rock bottom. This had never happened before. My mother, upon hearing this, immediately put her own stash of little jars in the mail. She paid to ship them to Alaska lest I be jar-less.
My husband thinks this is bizarre behavior, but I understand it. My mother was most likely cleaning her house, probably couldn’t bear to throw away such perfectly fine little jars. But she could happily pass them on to a new and deserving home. Mine.
The problem is, I really can’t thank my mother too profusely. If I say something like, Mom, those jars really came in handy, we run a greater risk. We run the risk that she’ll never, ever be able to throw away another jar because somehow jars will come to symbolize her role as a parent in providing for her child. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but when my father died, I cleaned out the attic. We filled truckloads with foam packing material and stacks of shirt cardboard from dry cleaners. “Whoever knew he had that up there?” my mother asked.
Looking over the piles, I realized I should have known. Once, as a young girl, I asked my father for cardboard to paste paper dolls on. I remember the boxes that were sent to me in college, everything securely nestled in foam. If ever I had requested something or needed something in my life, my father collected it for the rest of his life.
So when you meet a box collector, don’t assume we’re just pack rats for no reason. We have a finer taste for the construction and fit of a good box, and we know a good box will always find a good use. And, if you’re someone we love, the highest and best use is having the perfect box for you.