Spring Cleaning

As the sun passed over the vernal equinox last week and many celebrated the start of a new year (Nowruz, to my Persian friends), I started to feel the optimism, hope and energy that strikes me every spring. Clearly, it was time to start cleaning house – literally and figuratively.

The clutter that had collected since last fall, before the dark, wet winter had mercilessly stolen my mojo, was first in line. I started with the kitchen cabinets, whose rear portions serve as a black hole, swallowing up overlooked dry and canned goods.

It’s hard to forget the lesson learned several years back, when I started overstocking items from an organic-foods chain. Carol and I had enrolled our preschoolers in a gymnastics class, and not being the sorts of moms who hover and advise instructors on their four-year-olds’ athletic prowess, we spent that hour shopping at a nearby specialty grocery store.

After enjoying “lunch” of the daily sample and free coffee, we would work our way through the aisles, advising each other on items that were popular with our respective families. The trouble was, I became a food “hoarder,” of sorts, as the cabinets started brimming with foods that we never would have time to consume.

And within a few months, the trouble started: pantry moths (the “Indian Meal Moth” variety) appeared. Apparently the downside of buying natural products is that they can contain eggs for such pests, and once one hatches, she can lay hundreds of eggs in your dry food – especially flour, whole grains, crackers, beans and nuts. Those eggs hatch, and the larvae feed on the crumbs and lay eggs in other food items.

To get rid of the problem, I had to toss out four grocery bags full of food, cleanse the cabinets with ammonia and insert traps supplied by an expensive exterminator. Now, I seal all of my dry food in Ziploc bags and Tupperware, and try not to keep unopened food for too long. So, last week I hunted packaged goods that were unused or close to expiring.

Then, it was on to the bathroom drawers and cabinets. It was hard for me to purge my stash of free lotion and perfume samples, untried beauty treatments and an assortment of “miracle creams” (at what point must I acknowledge that my well-earned crows feet and worry lines are here to stay?). The work had to be done, so I soldiered on.

The next victim was the bedroom closet, and I was ruthless, culling out clothes that I had ignored for years, or that hadn’t fit since I was childless. For instance, I sacrificed two of three similar black blazers, let go of several pairs of pants and discarded shoes that wouldn’t be fashionable again for decades.  Soon, I had a healthy load for the local thrift shop.

My husband, also a candidate for the “hoarders” show, took my lead, and attacked his side of the closet. A few hours later, he summoned me to survey the wreckage: eight pairs of faded blue jeans, six never-worn sweaters (lamb’s wool is too warm for our mild winters) and a stack of shirts, including the mock-turtleneck he bought on a 1990 ski trip to Tahoe.

Our oldest son was headed home for spring break, and, due to a “funds-management issue,” he planned to spend his vacation as an hourly worker for us. So, we knew the annual clean-up our yard so desperately needed would soon take place.

That left the mental spring cleaning, which is much more taxing.

I started thinking of how I spend my time, which activities fill my agenda, what social obligations keep me running and which people clutter my mind and drain my energy.

Coincidentally, Dr. Ed Hallowell, author of Crazy Busy: Outstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life, was in town for a few lectures last week. While, ironically, I was too crazy-busy to attend the talks, several of my Mean Mommy friends summarized his main ideas at last week’s book club meeting.

Among the major points from Dr. Hallowell, a former Harvard Medical School instructor and current therapist, author and lecturer, were steps for streamlining one’s life. In an excerpt from Crazy Busy, I noted that two points seemed particularly poignant:

Cancel: … if you get in the habit of canceling what doesn’t really matter, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how much more energy you have. Try to think of at least one activity, meeting, or event you can cancel right now.”

Cultivate: Cultivate your lilies and discard your leeches… What do you want to do more of? What do you want to do less of? Figure that out, then do it.”

I took a long look at my calendar and considered which activities I keep up just for the sake of obligation and routine, and which friends fill my time but drain my soul. I made a mental note of some potential changes; some leeches that needed excising.

Finally, I had to face my fixation with Facebook. How many of those 385 “friends” do I actually want to hear from on a regular basis? Sure, it’s fun to reconnect with old school and work pals, but once the thrill of sharing memories and old photos wears off, do I really need daily updates on their families and politics, or to drool over their vacation photos?

Over the next few weeks, I will be blocking posts from a few “friends” that I would otherwise have no contact with (I don’t have the heart to “unfriend” anyone).

So, as sunshine starts to replace Seattle’s stretch of dreary days, I’m starting to see things more clearly in my cabinets, closets and calendar. I hope your own spring cleaning proves equally effective.

-       Linda Williams Rorem, 26 March 2012

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