From my dad, I have inherited the ability to pack things really well. Every summer, he would pop the back of the station wagon (and later, minivan) and begin the slow process of cramming in the belongings of a wife and four daughters who would be traveling for a minimum of three weeks. My sister B, who also inherited this trait, recently confided that it had allowed her to become a master Tetris player.
For me, too, this skill has come in handy over the years:
I have no formal grocery experience, but I can bag like the best of them.
I have the belongings of a 2,000 square foot home but have arranged them neatly into 1,100 square feet.
I can fit two weeks worth of trash into our black bin, useful for those weeks when we forget to drag the can into the alley.
Last week, we had approximately 20 hours between getting an estimate on new carpet and having said carpet installed, which posed a time problem and also a slight geographical problem. We basically had to take the contents of three bedrooms and cram them into our living and dining areas, which are hardly spacious to begin with.
I rubbed my hands together, ready for the task. "Okay," I said to Will. "I think you need to let me take the lead on this one."
Will threw up his hands, conceding defeat before the battle began. (I obtained Will's permission to tell this story: When we moved into our first apartment, Will spent the day packing his belongings while I was at work. When I came over that evening, intending to load my car with his boxes, I found that he had packed all his clothes, books, CDs and bedding into one giant appliance box -- which was too large to fit into my car and too heavy to budge, even an inch.)
First, I took stock of the more troublesome items -- a six shelf bookcase with a few hundred books arranged alphabetically; three dressers; a massive CD unit, with CDs organized more or less chronologically; two desks; my beautiful cherry red file cabinet; a seldom-used treadmill and one bed that was too large to go down the hallway. Second, I formed a plan: If I had to live in a 400 square foot studio with all my current belongings, just how should they be arranged?
What followed was a furniture moving marathon too tedious to relate here, with the AC cranked up to counteract a 106-degree day. We worked in 20-minute shifts, stopping to guzzle Arnold Palmers and comfort our pets, who were increasingly freaked out. The result was that every available inch was stacked with something, and by the end of the day, there was just enough space on the couch for two humans, one beagle, and two cats.
The next day, I had to leave the house for a few hours to meet with the dean for a new teaching gig beginning this fall. I returned with Taco Bell (the perfect food for when your kitchen has disappeared) just as the carpet crew arrived.
In the meantime, Will, unbeknownst to me, had invited some neighbors over to pick plums from our burgeoning tree. Now, the plum tree is actually located outside, but for unexplained reasons, it turned out that at least one neighbor traipsed through our home and out the back door that day, past the reassembled furniture, the heap of clothes from the bottom racks of our closets and the dresser dumped in the middle of our kitchen, which happened to be where it fit best.
I gasped, learning this. "Through the house? You mean, someone was in here?"
Will grinned. "Don't worry. He said he liked what we had done with the place."
Paula Treick DeBoard