How is it possible that you can finish moving into a new place and still feel like you are in the middle of moving? Right now our apartment’s decorative theme is “cardboard chic”. Why unpack when you can have mystery boxes all around you? I get good exercise walking repeatedly around in circles looking for items I swore I saw yesterday in a box….

However, I am not so much interested in the act of unpacking as I am in the act that precedes it.

In the midst of sorting through clutter and wrapping fragile items in yesterday’s headlines, I cannot help but notice that the organized chaos around me takes on a more artistic form. I am not just preparing belongings for transport – I am creating  dioramas of my life in cardboard boxes.



I have moved on from the simple decorative shoe boxes of my elementary school years. Gone are the pastoral scenes of green hillsides and crystal streams (sorry cutout wallpaper swans). Now the boxes contain memories in miniature of the past eleven years.

One box seems to serve as a memorial to highschool awkwardness.  It is poorly labeled as it is still figuring its contents out. Yet it has distinct features. Its walls are covered in the jean fabric of the coveralls I used to hide in. Reflecting my wish not to be seen, the jean fabric is ill-fitting and its baggy folds obscure the box’s true shape. Old sheets of homework are folded into the shape of a desk and chair. No figures are present in the box- just a single picture of the friend I longed to have recognize me. His picture is framed by gold aluminum foil and is surrounded by plastic dollar store flowers. The above is a gaudy shrine and is painful to look at. Nevertheless it serves as a reminder of the earnest but ultimately misguided and deeply painful love I experienced in adolescence. This diorama is too honest to bring me any pleasure. I think that I will burn it and try to forget.

The following box is much easier on the eyes. It is a collegiate scene largely created out of old midterms and returned term papers. At the center of the diorama is a paper heart. It veins are fed by the blood red ink of the corrections and constructive comments written on my work. Beside it is a brain- one of those squishy stress balls that they give away for free on university club days. I cherish this box because it represents a period of my life where the interests of my mind and the needs of my heart aligned for the first time. It also features the liberal application of sliver glitter and who doesn’t like that?

The last box is special as I have spent eight years building this diorama.

It wasn’t even supposed to be created. After initial work on the project commenced, I took great pains to hide it. Hunched over like a possessed second grader, my arms formed a protective wall to block out all curious onlookers. There even was a period when I tried to deny its existence.

What exactly was I attempting to hide? Walls papered with movie tickets, restaurant napkins, and pictures/quotes from greeting cards that gradually increased in romantic sentiment. The silhouette of a young man with open arms. These things must not be seen by the general public, so I covered the scene with a lid and cut a pinhole.

I had intended to keep this one private. I had intended to keep it isolated- away from the other dioramas of my life. However, the box’s subject kindly requested more light. So I accommodated him by enlarging the viewing window. That worked for a while.  Contents exposed to the light of day, I slowly began to feel more confident of the diorama and my artistic ability. I began to cut away at the lid that covered this diorama until nothing was left. Once open for inspection, I found that the contents were good and not shameful.

However, it soon became apparent to me that this project was entirely too large to fit into one box -it would need to expand. It would be a longterm project. It would be extremely difficult to hide. I was faced with two choices: destroy it or commit to developing it.

I chose to keep crafting and I have many more beautiful dioramas to show for it.  Although I have had to share creative rights with my husband.

That is one fanciful way to explain why there are so many boxes in our apartment at present.

How about you? If your life was a diorama, what would it look like?