We set a new record. From the day we got the moving van until the day we finished moving in, two weeks elapsed. The fastest I've ever done it before was three weeks. This is a great argument in favor of minimalism! Anyone who has ever lived amongst boxes for a prolonged period, unable to find important things like, say, the forks, knows how annoying it is. It's such a relief to be able to relax on your own couch, looking around and not seeing any boxes to unpack. Normal and boring can be so satisfying. It's quite common, though, for most people to have boxes that never get unpacked at all. In that case, living with boxes becomes the new normal.
Why can't we unpack any faster?
We probably could have pushed through and finished our place in four or five days. By 'finished,' I mean that all the pictures are hung on the walls and everything has its own designated spot. All the boxes have been given away or recycled. All the packing material is gone. The staging area of pens and tape dispensers and razor knives has been redistributed and put away. Anyone coming over for the first time wouldn't know that someone had just moved in.
Experience has shown that it's better to live in the new place for at least a week before installing hooks or extra towel rods or that sort of thing. It can take a bit of time to figure out the best placement for the furniture, and that means the pictures have to wait. There's a brief buffer period where the place shifts from "just moved in" to "living in a mess." That feeling of messiness is the feeling of settling in, developing a comfort level and an intuitive sense of where everything works the best.
Or, it can just stay messy forever...?
After the first big push of our move-in weekend, we elected not to do very much on weekdays. We needed a break. It also gave time for the parts that take more mental bandwidth. It's really obvious how to unpack certain things, but others take more creativity and System 2 planning. For instance, the area under our kitchen sink is configured in such a way that it was really challenging to find space for everything I wanted to put under there. That was the only thing I did about moving in on that particular day. It sounds dumb when I put it like that, but kitchen real estate is really valuable. Getting it right can make the difference between a functional kitchen or a dysfunctional kitchen. If people aren't comfortable cooking most nights of the week, if there are almost always dirty dishes in and around the sink, if the fridge almost always has spoiled food in it, then something is wrong. A system isn't working right and the house is the boss of the people. Living with a dysfunctional kitchen is expensive and it causes a lot of arguments. This is why I put in so much thoughtful planning when we first move in - so that we can get back to living and cooking and eating and enjoying life the way we prefer it.
The kitchen is the heart of the house, and that's what I always unpack first. It's a good sign that it's working well when I find myself cooking more elaborate meals. A tiny kitchen can be nice, because you can reach almost everything simply by turning back and forth! The secret is to get rid of absolutely anything in order to maintain clear countertops. I have a two-foot-square countertop in this kitchen that has nothing stored on it, and it's just big enough to cook anything I like. Two square feet isn't very much, but it's more than almost every cook manages to keep clear.
The next most important area is the bathroom. This is the second most likely area of the house to cause arguments, because it's the area that relates to getting places on time. It's also the second most difficult area to keep clean. A dank, moldy bathroom filled with funky towels and damp laundry all over the floor is just a sad, scary kind of a place to start your day. A countertop covered with bottles and stuff makes it hard for everyone to get ready. Inevitably something is going to get knocked into the toilet. I am obsessive about keeping my bathroom countertop clear, even more than in the kitchen. When you have the smallest possible bathroom, with basically no counter and a minuscule medicine cabinet, then choices have to be made. Almost everything gets stored in the linen closet or the bedroom instead. Otherwise, it just gets cut out of our lives. How many lotions and potions and bottles and jars does one household need?
I realized that I am giving the bedroom short shrift. That's because the bed is literally the first thing we set up in a new place, and then we're done. We figure out which direction the head will be; we set up the frame; we drop the box springs into place; we drag the mattress on top. We make the bed in five minutes, the same way we do every time. Then we realize we haven't made enough room to plug in the lamp, and the outlet is always blocked by the mattress, and we have to drag it askew and deal with that. The blanket chest goes at the foot of the bed, the extra blankets go in it, the two small dressers get walked into place, and we're done with the entire room in maybe half an hour. Unpacking all our clothes takes maybe another half an hour. It's really not a big deal, although it would be if we had more stuff, I guess.
That's what it all comes down to. The more stuff you have, the longer it takes to unpack. The greater the proportion of non-essentials, the easier it is to leave them taped inside boxes. When you don't have much, and almost all of it is necessary to a functional home, then it tends to get unpacked quickly. What are we going to do without for a month: towels? Kitchen knives? The dog bed? I know from experience that what most people have in those perennially packed boxes consists of extraneous stuff like books, old school papers, junk mail, ornaments, toys, memorabilia, and gift bags with the tags still on them. Some people will take the big step of just walking those boxes out to the trash and dumping them, without even bothering to look inside, because they finally realize that if they've lived without it for that long, then they really don't need it. I think a better rationale is that the house is functioning fine, we're surrounded by everything we need, and we're enjoying living so comfortably that anything else is just extra.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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