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Is it just me, and my daughter, or are all women into containers? Perhaps we relate to them because we are vessels ourselves in an obvious earthy and physical way. I love pitchers, vases, little boxes, baskets, serving bowls and desks with cubbyholes. Maybe it’s a ‘nesting thing’: the satisfied feeling of putting things in the perfect place. Jewelry in a cabinet’s little drawers, a diary key in a tiny porcelain box, hot muffins in a napkin-lined basket. Containers needn’t be aesthetically pleasing to please me, though. I must sing the praises of a container, which delights me by its sheer functionality: the plastic milk crate.
I recently went into a frenzy most women will recognize by the term ‘overhaul overdrive’. For a solid week, I tackled piles of books, toys, clothes and miscellany. My weapon of choice in this battle against clutter? The milk crate. It started as a back-to-school sale and grew into a crusade. The fleeting thought, “Wow, half price on those milk crates!” became a campaign of order. I only had to overcome the embarrassment of asking for help taking two dozen of the unwieldy things out to the car. As I paraded out leading a train of stock boys with six-crate carts full, I planned my strategy.
Out with the closet full of books stacked inaccessibly; in with neatly packed crates in five-high columns. Out with toys run amok; in with subsets in crates, so manageable and rotatable. Out with clothes of all sizes being outgrown while waiting to be discovered; in with cheery red and purple crates neatly sorted by size. Milk crates of outgoing junk moving from room to room; crates of trash hauled handily out to the dumpster; new bookshelves made of crates stacked sideways; and crates doubling as hanging file holders for the overflow of paperwork. Is it any wonder I went back for more?
The eye rolling of the teenaged clerk didn’t ruffle my composure as I requested help with another two dozen. My home was in that curious state of intense disorder that only global overhaul can produce, and I was determined to subdue the chaos. I resisted the urge to wait until dark, and boldly unloaded another van full of crates right in front of neighbors in broad daylight. Crates for sheet music; crates for videos; crates for fabric scraps; crates for cleaning supplies. Finally, order restored, crates at work in every nook and cranny, and energy spent, I rested.
Amazed by the grace of finding a fit and humble container for the task at hand, my thoughts turned heavenward in gratitude. Since then, each glimpse of a milk crate around the house is a cue to pray that my home will be a fit vessel for a community of love and my heart a receptacle formed to receive its King. I am reminded that God uses the foolish things of this world to make known His wisdom, and the humble vessel set apart for His presence to restore order to the world.
This article first appeared in Canticle magazine. Since then, we have moved and most of these crates have disappeared, mysteriously. So have several of the kids, most of the clothes, lots of the books, all of the toys and all the videos. Fabric scraps have been moved into clear shoeboxes and now reside in big vacuum bags in a room we wonder why we call “the sewing room”. I have real file drawers now, and all that paperwork is neatly stored next to many, many new files full of new writing projects in progress. Cleaning supplies? Oh, that’s a good one! I gave up all that cleaning ages ago and now mostly just take off my glasses to make it all look better in a flash.