Unpacking unpacking: A reflection on coming home to warm white walls

Ruby Cline

I went home this weekend. Well, home-ish. Sure, I was back between the walls I grew up tracing my hand across, but now they were a slightly different shade of white and no fingers were to trace across them in any circumstance. My mother had decided it was of paramount importance that the walls take on an indistinguishably warmer tone. My things were piled into the centre of the room, my year ten planner hooked by my sixth form lanyard onto a box of my nine-year-old-self’s ultimate favourite skirts.

I expected to spend my time at home chatting to my brothers about who they hate in Sixth Form and who is the best footballer in Year Seven. I expected to steal a scarf from my mum and accidentally wear my dad’s socks. I expected to sleep in my own bed, in the room I left in September. Some of these expectations came true. Don’t you worry, I have learnt unbelievable gossip about what’s going on in Year Seven. And you may be lucky enough to see me sauntering around Sidge in my newly acquired accessories, mother approved. But I did not sleep in my own bed. It had Stuff on it – a bit like stuff, except capitalised because it felt like a threat, which required a proper noun. All the things I had tucked away between the ages of eleven and nineteen took pride of place across my duvet, winking at me as I walked past. I slept in the living room. No curtains, by the way – and all that Stuff on my bed wasn’t any more pleasant when I returned to it at 6am, once I’d been awoken by the light. I spent my next day at home wrestling the props of my life’s Acts Two through roughly Four into bags and boxes. It felt like I was taking part in my own personal deconstruction.

“It felt like I was taking part in my own personal deconstruction.”

I was grateful. Really, I was. It was the kind of reflection I have never had before, and perhaps never would have had the courage to take part in without the forcing hand of my mother’s insistence that my room would look nicer with a green feature wall. Sorting through the books and jewellery and gifts and cards and elements of love I had collected for the better part of a decade meant facing up to the fact that some of the objects, the values I had etched into my walls and shoved into corners of bookshelves, were not those that bring me worth – or even more painfully to recognise, potentially never had.

In London, my sorting was literal. On the train back to Cambridge I wondered why it felt incomplete.

“I felt shaken in both the cities I currently call home.”

When I came back to Cambridge this year, it felt a little bit like everything I knew and loved and loathed from the city had all been piled into a box. A box not unlike the ones which now hold the contents of my room’s bookshelves. Some cosmic hand had taken that box sometime between last year and this one and vigorously shaken it, poured the contents out onto my second year room’s cork floor, and left me to pick up the pieces. I found that the relationships and values I had cradled so preciously in first year had been strewn amongst those I had discarded with little thought. Some of my most carefully maintained priorities had seemingly smashed in the process. This term has involved picking not only up but out certain pieces, with a new perspective on what is most valuable to me. Luckily, very little has broken. I have put work in to repair signs of wear and tear. Some chips and cracks had existed long before the shake-up, which I had simply never noticed. Other valuables simply needed a brushing off and to be mindfully placed back onto the front pages of my priority list. Some new bits and bobs have appeared, which I have welcomed with open arms. A few have quickly become my most valued trinkets. Of that which did crack, I had to decide what was worth glueing back together.

My Cambridge re-sorting has been far less literal than the heart-wrenching realisation that my collection of free magazine nail polish had smashed (creating the most rancid-smelling concoction of quasi-battery-acid that could ever be amassed in one Bag For Life). But the metaphorical effect was the same. I felt shaken in both the cities I currently call home. I saw the work I still had to do. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

Feature image credit: Not Sorry Art

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