Relating "Outside the Box"
My wife and I are in the middle of shifting to Virginia. Long story short, COVID forced us to visualize adding a third child (my wife is due in September) to the already-hectic situation in our 2BR townhome in Dallas, and all of the prerequisites settles themselves famously over the past eight weeks.
So there I was today, wedging our belongings into cardboard boxes and fetching tape — any tape within eyesight — to secure the boxes enough for the movers to stow it away on the 17” space of shipping container we had purchased.
And then the thought hit me: these boxes will likely never be used again. How weird is that?
“Not weird, man. They’re moving boxes. They’re for moving. Get over it.”
But there’s more here (at least in my weird brain).
Moving is one of life’s inevitabilities. People — especially Millennials — move. We don’t just move geographically, but physically (all day) from one setting or scenario to another.
We move priorities.
We move jobs.
We move interests.
As we make these various moves, we decide (likely subconsciously and gradually) what to “box” and bring with us.
When we move to San Diego, we prioritize the bringing of bathing suits and light clothes.
When we pinky-swear to ourselves that we’re going to finally lose 10 pounds, we “donate” the habits that we know will distract and dissuade us from reach our new goal.
When we change jobs, we select what skills and project highlights we can draw from that prior experience and trash the rest, as the latter would simply be dead weight on our new adventure.
And if you’re anything like me, you enjoy this “tidying up.”
“Let’s take stock of what we have, and within it, what we need and don’t need. Let’s purge the unneeded and move forward with less weight, less baggage, and more room for the new and exciting and “so different.”
There’s energy in that, right?
I see that!
But, question for you, what stops us from doing this with our relationships also?
We all do it. I know I do. I think that it’s a fact of life.
Our generation has weird relationships with our boxes.
Okay, prior ones may have also, but can I speak for them? Let me be contemporary, come on.
With limited time and resources, and with the brain-programming we’ve received from social media that “more” (more friends, more followers, more likes, more views) is inherently better, we go for broke to fill our houses with boxes, but we rarely know what’s inside each of them. We don’t have the time — or care, honestly — to properly tend to them.
And so they become exchangeable, replaceable cogs in our lives. When we need them, we grab them. When we don’t, we don’t. When we care a bit, we shoot off a text. When they call, we either say “meh, let it ring, I’m super busy” or “I can talk for just a few — what’s up?”
So, there we are, garages stacked ceiling-high with boxes that we rarely know the components of but that somehow perceptibly add to the value of our lives...
While this oversimplified and highly-assuming assessment may apply to a large percentage of us (nobody is counting), I’ve seen “box owners” fall into a few stark categories as it pertains to the relationship between them, their boxes, and the items within them.
Some people hoard relationships.
Have you ever watched “Hoarders?” That show is sad as shit. My wife loves it (also sad).
These people simply can’t let go of their things. They can’t throw anything away. They have deep insecurities that, for whatever reason, lead them to place value on the material things in their homes and lives. Spoons. Stock pictures. Paper airplanes. Stale food. TV sets from 1968. You name it! Their “relationships” suffocate them in their homes — even challenge their physical health — but they cannot stand to see one small morsel thrown away.
Weird, right? Umm ... relatable.
Many of us do this in relationships. They cling to people. Their internal insecurities force them to attach tremendous value to others. These ”others,” insecure themselves, enjoy the affirmation, leading to suffocating, co-dependent, and health-threatening relationships that question both lines — that of the owner and that of the possessed.
These people never “Spring Clean” their relationships — they never take stock of who in their life is good for their growth, who is suffocating them, and who needs to “go.”
If you’re a friend to a Hoarder, you’ll be overlooked and/or trod on consistently yet lambasted the moment you seek freedom. Why? You’re being hoarded for someone else’s security.
These people never commit to anything, but land on (and in their minds, bless) everything.
Their insecurities lead them to be liked by everyone, but known — truly known — by no one. Their interactions with others consist of an intoxicating mix of flirtation, flattery, and humble-brags (as they must always be perceived as unattainably awesome).
They have tons of tiny little boxes — all perfectly gift-wrapped — littering their homes. They peek inside each time, but never enough to test the packaging, as that would fray the only image they’re willing to see — the surface.
These people feel that if they can just assemble enough sufficiently-allured onlookers to their life, then their own blemishes — ones they intently avoid — can stay safely concealed.
These are planners. Their “friends” are perfectly situated cogs building towards their ultimate vision, whether it be dominant career success, impenetrable power, lavish popularity, or the more foundational form of these: affirmation.
If you’re the right shade of blue, you’re perfect, and you’re celebrated. After all, your grooves and color will perfectly fit with the “other 12x36 blues” in the northeast corner of their life. Funny thing: as you get promoted, their association with you seems to strengthen also.
And if you don’t fit one of the color-coded stacks? Well, you’re not relevant to the grand mission, so step aside.
Now, before you put yourself in any one category (100% of you haven’t) or expressed relief that you’re not in any of them (100% of you have), explore my main message here:
We cannot view relationships as we do our possessions.
Obvious? I think not.
When is the last time you called someone that you can get NOTHING from and asked (really asked); “how are you doing?” Perhaps that box wouldn’t be gathering dust in your attic if you helped clean it up a bit.
When is the last time you spent more than 60 seconds reliving a past experience — good, bad, or absurd — and re-connecting with the person you experienced it with? Perhaps just to say; “remember that time we...man, that was crazy.” That box carries little space in your garage but is a part of you — do you really want to let it get trashed?
When was the last time you actually opened one of your beautifully-bowed “friendships” online? Perhaps there’s more depth there than you realize. Perhaps there’s gold inside that puts the carefully crafted exterior to shame.
Personal Reflection Time
I am just as, if not more, guilty of not doing these things.
In fact, there are old boxes in my life that I’ve neglected for too long. Big, huge boxes full of life and memory that I’ve avoided because they remind me of a more immature version of me, or a more entrepreneur-obsessed version of me, or whatever.
I need to get over that.
I need to take honest stock of my boxes — big and small, clean and dusted — and see what’s inside. After all, there may be bits of me in there that I’ve forgotten, underestimated, and written-off.
Some days I’m a Hoarder. Other days I’m a Stacker. Too many days of my life I’ve been a Butterfly. I haven’t tended to the relationships in my life properly, but I want to fight against my selfish, comfort-seeking nature to change that.
I want to keep people around me that make me better, but avoid getting too obsessed with that to serve and love others with intentionality and sincerity.
I want to protect the boxes I’ve been bestowed to care for (my kids), but I can’t shelter them from the harsh (and beautiful) realities of life — I can’t keep them stowed away for safety.
I want to appreciate the tidy, clean boxes assembled in my close proximity, but I don’t want us to grow too comfortable — I should be investing into the broadening and deepening of these core friendships.
When I die, I want the boxes of my life to shuffle up (I want to die old, okay...) and speak about what it was like to live with me. I hope to hear things like:
“Instead of throwing me aside or labeling me, Chad took the time to take a deeper look into what was inside me.”
“Chad threw me around when I was strong, but handled me with care when I was delicate.”
“Chad invited me in when I was ugly and rickety, but patched me up, encouraged me, and helped me build a stronger foundation.”
I’m certainly not there yet, but I want to strive to be.
Alright, now that I’ve gotten all transparent, let me ask you some questions:
 Which category — Hoarder, Butterfly, Stacker — most challenged you? (Don’t worry; you don’t have to say this out loud). Why do you think you approach relationships that way? Could it be related to how you felt as a child?
 What will the boxes in your life say about how you treated them at your funeral?
Let’s be better “owners” of our relationships.
Let’s challenge ourselves to stop looking at others like convenient fixtures, promising boosts, or sexy additions to our perceived circles of impact. Let’s be about more than that.
Going further, let’s stop looking at them like boxes — things we own and evaluate and donate — altogether. Let’s view them as other owners who we share boxes with.