Artifact Spotlight: The Trunk

History of the Trunk

One of the oldest and most universal pieces of furniture, the trunk (or chest) has a history going back thousands of years. Since the 18th dynasty in Ancient Egypt (c. 1539-1292 BCE), the trunk remained a staple for household storage and safekeeping up until recent decades (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011). From simple and plain, to grand and ornate, trunks have helped humanity keep and carry their history since ancient times. While we may not know the name of the person who crafted the first trunk, their invention spread across time and cultures like very few innovations have. From the deserts of Ancient Egypt, to the immigrant homes of North America, the trunk took quite its own journey through time to end up in our present day homes and museums.

Reflections on the Trunk

In our current times, we tend to turn to the lightweight, cheap and uniform cardboard boxes and plastic tubs for storing our belongings. While these containers certainly have their advantages, there is something so charming about a classic trunk that just can't be beat by its modern counterparts. There's something about the design, the feel and the smell of an old trunk that immediately takes us back to yesteryear, and declares to us, "I have a story. I've carried stories. I am a story."

I can remember being told in school that when immigrants came to the United States in the 19th century, many of them had to pack all of their belongings into a single trunk for the journey across the ocean. Imagine that - having only one trunk in which to pack up your past, your family's past, and move it to a new life. What sorts of things would you keep? What sorts of things would you leave behind? How much space would you leave for your fellow family members to also pack their belongings?

I've done quite a bit of moving myself in recent years, and despite trying over and over again to have less and less stuff to move, I still end up with a truckload of things to bring along with me to my new home. And I was never moving across the ocean! Ok, to be fair, given our modern standards, I don't think it would be viable for me to condense all that I own down to one trunk's worth of things. But perhaps there's still a life lesson to be found in the idea of condensing down that which we carry around with us in our lives - both literally and metaphorically.

In a more literal sense, there is something that feels good about clearing out the clutter in our lives. Not just for the sake of moving, but also for the sake of day-to-day, year-by-year living in a home. As the trunks of the past had various compartments inside them for certain objects, there's something that feels good about having "a place for everything and everything in its place" in our lives. As the immigrants also had to make sure to leave a bit of room for their loved ones, it's also part of healthy human life to make sure we leave room for our loved ones, too.

This also leads to a more metaphorical take on the lessons of the trunk, or the chest. When it comes to our loved ones - especially during our current age of crisis - do we leave room in our "chest," in our hearts, for our loved ones? In a time full of rage, fear, bitterness, anger and aggression, are we able to unpack such feelings, and try to make room for peace, courage, forgiveness, gentleness, patience, beauty and love? Are we able to let go of some of the baggage weighing us down unnecessarily? Like a well-made, sturdy trunk, life can feel quite heavy in itself. We all come with our own baggage. But will we let our baggage weigh us down, or can we move on to a new future?

Works Cited:

Encyclopædia Britannica. "Chest." Last modified November 21, 2011. Accessed September 4, 2020.

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