My little car was parked in the driveway with its doors flung open and the back seats folded flat. I looked it over and frowned. How on earth was everything going to fit?
I was preparing to drive home at the end of my second year of university, vacating a house I had shared with five friends. This was back in my pre-minimalism days so there was a lot to pack - heaps of clothes, piles of books, plastic boxes full of random things, a few torn posters, a guitar, a TV and Playstation.
I even had a set of dining chairs and a small coffee table to bring home, since our landlord’s definition of “furnished” turned out to be fairly loose. Sure, the house had a dining table, but there hadn’t been any chairs to go with it. And getting a room with a chest of drawers that actually opened and closed was like winning the lottery.
At one point during our tenancy we met the landlord’s parents. They popped over to see how we were settling in, and they asked if there were any problems with the house. I mentioned, as delicately as I could, that there was a bathtub in the garden, which probably needed dealing with. The mother gave me a confused look and asked, “Well, what’s wrong with it?” This response was typical of her family’s approach to leasing property.
Along with my uni stuff and the extra furniture, I decided this would be the perfect time to cart a load of camping gear from one end of England to the other. Needless to say, the car was quite full:
I made it home and rushed inside to fetch my father, confident that he would appreciate my packing skills. He came outside and walked around the car, hands held behind his back, peering through the windows.
After a few minutes he turned to me with a smile and shook my hand. It was the first and only time he ever shook my hand in congratulation, which makes me think he was quite proud.
I did, after all, learn the art of boot-packing from my father. I watched him pack the car for years, often before drives to France for our summer holidays. He would pack items one at a time in a deliberate order, always testing multiple angles and removing other bags if things weren’t going smoothly. Anything that was put in the boot without his permission would be silently returned to the hallway.
As the only son, I was occasionally included in the packing process. “Henry, could you put this suitcase in the car,” my dad would say, and then he’d come out five minutes later to inspect my work, often adjusting the suitcase a few inches to the left or turning it upside down for reasons unknown to me at the time.
Looking back, it’s clear that my father was training me. I was the unwitting apprentice being taught how to pack a boot to his lofty standards, and that handshake, years later, marked my graduation.
My packing skills went from strength to strength after that, and it wasn’t long before people started to notice my talent. They would ask me to pack their supermarket shopping into the car for them, or I would be mysteriously invited over for tea the day before friends were setting off on road trips or camping holidays.
There’d be a pile of suitcases next to the front door when I arrived. The host would ask, far too casually, if I would mind popping the bags in the car whilst they brewed the tea. “The car’s open,” they would call after me. And so, with my years of training to guide me, I would arrange their luggage in a neat stack in the boot, as if slotting Tetris blocks into place.
I don’t pack boots very often these days. I ditched my wheels a few years ago and now do my best to avoid other people’s cars too. But packing is a transferable skill, so whether I’m decluttering a basement or helping my mum to move house, there’s always a job for Tetris Boy to do.