Please welcome today’s guest writer, Rae Gernant. Rae graduated from Calvin in 2018 with a major in English secondary education and minors in ESL and Spanish. She currently teaches ELA in San Jose, California, and is always in the mood for a lavender latte, a trip to the farmer’s market, or a conversation about fantasy books.

When I moved home for the summer after graduation, I had a difficult time fitting my graduated self back into my childhood room. Part of this had to do with the number of shoeboxes I had, because I have never recycled a shoebox within at least two years of buying the shoes. In fact, there are shoes I’ve thrown away before I threw away the box in which they came.

Seeing how frustrated I was that I had no room for everything I brought back from college, my mom came into my room offering to help. She walked up to my closet and started pulling apart the Jenga tower of boxes I had formed over the years. As she removed them, we opened lids to find that about three in every four were empty, and the remaining boxes were neatly packed with objects of great value to me when I was twelve. (Objects such as my broken Volkswagen alarm clock, a handheld solitaire game, and a Kirby keychain from a McDonald’s happy meal.)

After my mom and I broke down the empty boxes, I quickly pulled from the piles of my college stuff to fill the newly-empty space. “What’s that?” my mom asked. “It’s my bag of bags,” I replied, and I immediately felt like Steffie from White Noise talking possessively about her dirt in the bathtub.

Whenever I deep-cleaned my room, I took those shoeboxes out of my closet and felt a rush of nostalgia as I looked to the tightly-packed inside. Evidently, every time I went through these boxes, I was satisfied to believe that the things I used to value I still valued, so the boxes always made their way back into the closet.

The longer I stared at the clothes I left behind in my closet, the more I liked them, and the longer I stared at the empty boxes, the more I tried to think of ways to fill them. But as soon as I filled my closet with the beautiful things I brought home with me, I understood why I had left those old clothes behind in the first place.

I realized I spend a lot of time thinking about who I used to be, or who I wanted to be, and I forget to think about who I became. I’ve crowded my life with empty boxes by comparing myself to other people and holding on to the idea that maybe one day I will be able to “fill the box” of what they have that I don’t. For example, it seems like all my friends run, and every time I think about that, I just stare into an empty box. I should fill that, I think. But then the box remains empty, and every time I come back to it, it only serves to remind me that I am still not a runner. And the longer I think about the empty boxes—how much my friends run, or all the books he’s reading, or the prestigious internship she got—the less I am looking at the boxes I have filled.

Moving on requires me to look at everything together and focus on who I have become. Looking at all the boxes—new and old—I see where I failed to trust myself. The old boxes show me that despite making the choice to leave certain things behind, I never took the step to truly rid myself of them; I held on as though I could move forward in a decision while not fully committing, in case I was wrong. But I need to trust myself, and I need to let go of old dreams and old ways of thinking.

I’ve been holding on to my empty and junk-filled boxes thinking that I’ll use them someday, but I’m moving soon and I can’t take them with me. I cannot think of all I used to want to be and all I think I could have done. Instead, I need to focus on the boxes filled with beautiful, useful, and joyful things that I can—and want to—make time for, and I won’t make the mistake of leaving the remaining boxes behind. This time, I’m going to get rid of them.

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