Unpacking the boxes

The first weeks back in your home country after living overseas are chaotic. Just like going on a new assignment in the first place. You may need to live with someone else for a while until you find somewhere permanent. Maybe you need to wait for your tenants to move out of your house. Perhaps you need to get work done to make your house properly habitable. You may be in temporary housing. Your boxes haven’t arrived yet. People tell you that you just need to settle, find a base – but what hope is there of unpacking the boxes if you don’t have them, let alone have anywhere to put them?

unpacking the boxes

It’s difficult to feel settled when you are very much in the midst of physical transition.  You get on with it because that’s what you have to do. You know you’ve done it before, so surely you can do it again. In many ways though, you just need to get through this phase in order to come to the place where you can feel more settled. A place where you can get out more because you’ve done the hard work of making a home. Where you feel freer to engage outside that space once again.

Emotional or Physical?

Of course, emotional transition is going on at the same time, and the physical side is a good metaphor for what’s going on beneath the surface. Things are all over the place inside, you’re not really at home with yourself. You don’t know where everything is going to go. Or whether it will get back in one piece (e.g. the resolve you had about continuing to be a certain way when you came home). Whether the things that you boxed up will in fact be useful for your new life.

One of the joys of coming back is finding the things you left behind in boxes. But when you take a look at them, some bring you joy and memories, whilst others seem out of place in your new destination.  Sometimes you wonder why on earth you kept certain things at all. They are at odds with who you are now. Emotionally it is similar – except the boxes left behind are like the expectations our families / friends have of us, based on who we were when we left. Some are comfortably familiar, and others just don’t fit anymore.

Unpacking impacts your emotional re-entry

The impact of the physical on the emotional is well-known. And it is very true in re-entry. If your physical space is in limbo, it is very hard to settle emotionally. It is important to accept that fact, and realise it will take time. And do what you can with your physical environment. Even if you are only going to be somewhere a few weeks, it is worth unpacking as much as possible. It helps you to feel you have arrived. And when you do finally reach the accommodation which will be permanent (for now!), try to make it home as soon as you can. Unpack the boxes, make it your place.

A number of my clients, seeking to move on through their re-entry, find (even several months in) that sorting something in their physical world makes a big difference emotionally. Unpacking a box completely; putting up that bookcase; or sorting out those photos. These physical things have an emotional impact and help you feel internally more settled.

Don’t neglect sorting your physical environment because you are “too busy.” What could you sort out today, or in the next week, to help you feel more settled? Which “boxes” do you now need to unpack?

20th September 2017


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