cardboard recycling

Here’s a pointer about how I made our farmhouse’s basement level mud room 50% larger without a building project.

In the United Kingdom and some other countries that were once part of the British Empire, Dec. 6 is observed as “Boxing Day.” Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen it designated on certain calendars and wondered what it’s all about. Do they hold sparring matches in a boxing ring?

Through a visit to Wikipedia, I learned that Boxing Day happens to coincide with the Feast of Saint Stephen, which dates to the early Christian era. Alms boxes in churches were used to collect offerings to aid the poor, and Saint Stephen’s Day was the designated date to open these alms boxes and distribute their contents to the needy. In more recent times, there arose the European tradition of giving money to the poor or persons in service positions on Dec. 26, to observe the Feast of Saint Stephen. Nowadays, however, Boxing Day is more of just a bank holiday that extends the Christmas break for an extra day.

In my case, Un-boxing Day, unfortunately, did not have a designated date to be celebrated and it wasn’t a particularly fun observance for Dennis and me. It so happened that December 13 was unofficially declared Un-boxing Day at our farm. No pugilism was involved. Our Un-boxing Day was devoted to the long overdue task of discarding an over-accumulation of cardboard cartons, which were starting to infringe on our usable mud room space.

We celebrated by carving up an astounding volume of cardboard boxes that had piled up over the past year, when we had been doing more online ordering, which in return, had brought too great an abundance of delivery cartons into our possession. At first, we nested the smaller boxes into the larger ones, but after a point, things sort of got out of control, resulting in a jumble of assorted sized boxes balancing precariously one on top of the other. Sometimes it felt like we were unsuccessfully playing the game of Jenga, as we’d try to extract one carton from the stack and an avalanche would result.

I worked in property management for many years, and sometimes those old instincts would kick in. Following an unfortunate structure fire in one of the properties my agency had managed, I could hear a long ago-firefighter preaching about “fuel load” in a townhouse that had cardboard and other flammables stored too close to the furnace. Those conditions had contributed to a fire that displaced a family from its home. I sure didn’t want that happening at our farmhouse.

Thus, after several false starts and cancellations, the day finally came that the cardboard had to go. I’m embarrassed to say that, in the end, our Un-boxing Day motivation derived not as much from fire safety concerns, as from the need move our freshly hewn Christmas tree inside and knowing we would not be able to navigate through the carton collection.

I also had a flashback to the days when the maintenance director’s office at work used to be across the hallway from mine. He received all the necessary parts and entered them into inventory. He also developed an overabundance of boxes, which he would stack on top of a filing cabinet in case he needed to return something to the manufacturer. We jokingly called it his ‘box farm,” since it was always growing.

My Un-boxing Day mission was to flatten each box so that it would fit through the slot at our county’s cardboard recycling collection bin. My weapon of choice on Unboxing Day was a utility knife, better known as a box cutter. It worked great cutting through the tape holding some boxes together, however, if those boxes had some pieces that were glued together, those had to be pulled apart manually. Between the sharp blade of the box cutting knife and the effort required to detach glued flaps, it was surely not a manicure-friendly day. Not that my hands were well-manicured to start with, but my unpolished nails soon had pieces broken out of them and a torn cuticle or two, while the occasional unintended contact with the utility knife left a little nick here and there on my hands.

I turned on some Christmas music to make the chore seem more pleasant, but even that didn’t provide much cheer to the occasion. There’s just nothing festive about Un-boxing Day.

Dennis had parked our dump truck in the driveway and helped transfer the flattened cartons from the mud room to the bed of the truck. What had initially been such a big stack of boxes looked a lot less formidable after being deconstructed. In fact, I even briefly toyed with the idea of making our trip to the recycling center more worthwhile by rounding up more cardboard from the upstairs of the barn and our home’s dreaded “middle cellar”—a windowless place with an eerie, uninviting look. Fortunately, we decided to save those cardboard contributions for another day.

We topped off our load with shopping bags full of old newspapers and magazines, then pulled a tarp across it all and headed for the recycling center. It only took us five minutes to cover the 2.7 miles to our destination. And by the time another 10 minutes passed, we had off-loaded all of our cargo into the appropriate bins and headed back to our farm with an empty dump truck and a feeling of satisfaction.

The real celebration of Un-boxing Day took place when we walked back into our mud room and saw how much bigger it looked without the stacks of boxes and old newspapers. We then rejoiced at the clear path for putting our Christmas tree into place in the adjacent man cave, as well as starting 2022 box-free.

Wishing all a happy, healthy new year!

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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