The Beige Box – Open Heart Story

Story By Cynthia Lee De Boer

I sat in my tiny rental, drowning in a sea of beige and brown.  It was a dreary boring box. No frills, no fuss, just the basics and even those lacked enthusiasm.  I was living in a blank canvas someone else created.  Yet—this space mirrored me!

My life never really felt like my own.  As a small child, doctors and hospitals dictated it.  Then teachers, rules and friends made sure I fit in.  This was followed by a youthful, and abusive marriage ending in divorce.  The marriage left many scars, but it also resulted in a beautiful baby girl named Sarah.  She became the new ruler of my world and I cherished our time together.  Sarah was now grown, and out on her own.

My second relationship was also over.  Nine years of trying to juggle Sarah’s needs with Mike’s demands was miserable.  I was constantly caught in the middle, unable to please either of them.  Mike’s drug problems were even more difficult to face.  His threats, abuse, and instability were terrifying.  My survival skills enabled me to escape that life, and for the first time I was living alone.

My youth was gone; those years wildly ran into the past.  I was lost, or perhaps never found.  Who was Hanna and what did I really want?

My thoughts bounced from one side of the net to the other.  Common sense, one—Emotion, one.  Determination, one—Self-Doubt, one.  Ability, one—Fear, one.  They matched point for point in this maddening Ping-Pong game producing nothing but frustration.  Up till now, every day of my life was composed of overcoming challenges.  Not that I didn’t have joy in my life, but every moment of happiness was paid for three-fold by pain or sadness.  This pattern of life needed to end, but how?

By the time I was finished unpacking the truck, and deposited the boxes of my life against my barren apartment walls, I had more questions than answers.  I decided to write them down because anything I ever succeeded at began with lists.  This list proved to be quite a daunting read.

What do I like in regards to fashion, food, home furnishings, career choices Etc?

Why did I make the choices in my past?

Were they made from necessity, convenience, fear of confrontation, or pure laziness?

Would I make the same choices today?

What did I learn from my past?

What can I change in the future?

Can I forgive others for the mistakes and pain they caused me?

Can I forgive myself for my mistakes and the pain I have caused others?

What do I like about myself?

What do I want to change?

A harsh realization surfaced through those questions and many of them would take months, even years to answer.

The first question regarding likes and dislikes seemed easy enough until I estimated that ninety percent of the things I owned I didn’t like.  These were the make-due items, on-sale items, hand-me-down items, and items gifted or chosen for me by someone else.  More proof that I had given control of even the simplest of things in my life to someone else.  I allowed it!  I was responsible!

The next three days consisted of unpacking and re-boxing my belongings.  I would inspect every item deciding if it was to my liking.  If not, was it a necessity that would need to be replaced?  If so, I would decide if I had the funds to replace it?  The item would be placed on my shopping list and deposited in a donation box.  If funds weren’t immediately available, I would place it on a list titled “Future Purchases”, and the item would be used until another could be acquired.

This was a journey down memory lane.  Nearly all of my possessions were tied to an emotion or event.  Thankfully, most weren’t positive or negative but when I came across an emotionally charged item.  Something someone special gave me.  I would place it in a box labeled “Save for Next Week”, with the date.  By dating the box, I gave myself time to make a decision, and a deadline to complete the task.

The number of boxes and other belongings to be donated was amazing.  My original ninety percent estimation was accurate.  Within a week of completing the sorting process, my living room was clear of my unwanted possessions.  I felt wonderful donating to my favorite charities.  I also gave a few unique items to friends, and family members.

Even the emotionally charged things had been dispersed, either back to their original owners or to someone who could use and/or enjoy them.  This wasn’t easy, but most people understood.  I would reason that I no longer had the space, was changing my decorating style, or that someone else was better suited for, or really wanted the item.

My concern about how to fit a house full of things into a small apartment vanished with the boxes.  I felt an incredible weight lifted from me.  I discovered by ridding myself of unwanted possessions I was also removing unnecessary work, responsibility, and emotional ties from my life.  My apartment was still an empty shell but now I was the artist.

For the next few years I continued to tackle my list of questions, some are still ongoing tasks.  I wake up each day wondering what life has to offer, and not what challenges the day will hold.  Some people say I have become a new person.  This isn’t truly accurate.  I just gave myself permission to discover, and enjoy being the person I always was.

And it all began with a list in a tiny beige and brown box.

Author’s Note:  This “Slice of Life” was taken from my own.  We each create our own box, and to begin again, we simply need to start with a blank canvas.  This is the reason this painting by Elizabeth Blau means so much to me.  Visit her at:

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