Becky Neiman | Essays

Taking Things Seriously XIII


When I was sixteen or seventeen, I had a huge argument with my father. For me, that fight was a turning point in our relationship; for him, though, it was just one of a series of disagreements with his nagging daughters. I had been clearing out the clutter that had been accumulating in our home since the untimely death of my mother years before. But then I discovered that my father — a renowned professor of archeology, history, and theology at Boston College — was trash-picking those very items and bringing them back inside.

I remember holding up an empty cheese-food box and arguing passionately against the item, saying it had no purpose. But my father wouldn't back down. He insisted that "Velveeta boxes are good boxes, well-made, and you can keep things in them." At that moment, I realized that if I couldn't even win the Velveeta box argument, then the arguments over the used typewriter cartridges, the orange juice container tops, and the bags of bags of bags — not to mention the rubber bands, napkins, little soaps, and twist-ties — were futile.

Flash-forward to twenty years later: I am helping my now-retired father unpack his belongings following his move to Los Angeles. I open a crate and sitting on top of its contents is a Velveeta box whose purchase-by date reads "1982." My father had used it to store cord. Twenty years and three thousand miles: He won.

This short essay is excerpted from Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance, a book by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes in which they and other writers discuss the importance of objects in their lives. This is the thirteenth and final essay in a series to appear on Design Observer.

Posted in: Media

Comments [5]

My wife and I took on the task of cleaning out My Mom's garage when she was on vacation. We literally took 3.5 tons of junk to the dump. I tossed everything from, yes, old Velveeta boxes to a coupon for the grand opening of Godfather's Pizza from the early eighties. When she returned she was half grateful and half enraged and she quickly created a list of the "important things" she could no longer find, yet hadn't seen in decades.

Thankfully, the coupon wasn't on the list.

It seems that, for many, the relationship inverses and the child becomes the parent when the parent becomes older. In my Mother's later stage of life I find that I must continue to give her the freedom to make her own decisions and live with the outcome. It is this simple freedom to choose what we find important, what we take seriously, that defines our individual humanity.
James D. Nesbitt

Ha! When I was a kid Velveeta cheese made great trout bait.

My wife and I are throwing out stuff every week either in the trash or to Goodwill. It's a realization we've faced and begun to execute.
Andy Sujdak

must be a sign of age - your story is so familiar - we found hundres of empty boxes in my stepmothers house - 30 yrs worth! plus rolled up baggies in rubberbands, twist ties and flattened empty butter boxes stacked neatly in the fridge - no food, just empty boxes and baggies
JUST COOL design blog

My mother would always criticize me for collecting the most obscure things like metal bits, nails, tools, boxes, newspapers, etc. Admitedly when I was young my closet (and my room) was a huge stockpile of random things (usually categorized). But as I grew up I began to realize that my behaviour was directly influenced by my mother, who does the exact same thing. :)

this is kinda funny.

I store my birthday candles and some old cake deco things like
flags and miniature plastic tacky football goal posts in an old
fashioned Quaker oats box. Old fashioned modifying box, not
oats. It's the kind that has no metal, and the lid and sides were
made of sturdy cardboard. It also has a couple recipes on it. I
suppose it's a bit of history, too because that Quaker reminds me
of Colonel Sanders getting so many facelifts in logos over the
years. So it is also a momento to my try at being a designer, a
cook, remembering birthdays without writing them down in a
book, and being sturdy and old fashioned. Sometimes quick and
mushy and sometimes just rolled and more kernelly.

I'm not as bad as my sister yet, who saves everything! But she
saved something for me for 30 years and found it in minutes. I
am indebted to her for her kindness in such.

Jobs | July 17