Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Spring signifies the renewal of many things: the beauty of well-maintained yards, the softness of blossoming fruit trees, and the chirping of newly populated nests. Along with the sunshine and tulips, however, Spring also delivers to each of us the opportunity to look at our homes and ponder that age-old question: “Where did all this crap come from?”

I’m talking about Spring Cleaning: the time of year Mother Nature reminds us to take out a scrub brush and make everything in our home as fresh and new as it is outside. I personally find great satisfaction in certain Spring Cleaning duties. Have you ever used a toothbrush to clean the moldings that run along the base of your walls? It’s instant gratification! There is no waiting to experience “clean,” because you enjoy how great it looks as you go along.

That is, of course, until your joyous scooting across the carpet is interrupted by the presence of “a pile.” You know what I mean by “piles,” right? My piles usually consist of show programs, holiday cards, pictures, sheet music, and (if I’m lucky) pay stubs. It’s basically my life…in a pile.

I’m not sure whether it’s poetic or sad how little time is required for these piles to form in my home. Don’t get me wrong; they’re always born out of the best intentions. For example, I might wake one day and feel a burning desire to clean out my car. So, I take an old grocery bag down to my trusty Cavalier and throw away any garbage that might be laying around in it. Then I gather up any non-junk, take it inside, and set it next to my bed, or on the counter, or next to the table, or some place conspicuous, so that if I actually need something from this pile o’ life, it will readily be available.

Then, somehow, the pile just starts growing…like a fungus! I might empty out my audition bag and put the contents in the pile. Or, I might need to use a binder that has an old script in it, so I take out the script and put it in the pile. Or, I get a credit card bill in the mail, which I actually pay online, but I still need to receive it in the mail as proof of my California residency. Pile it!

OK, now that I think about it, I’m not really describing a fungus. Fungi grow in dark corners by themselves, and that is not the case here. I alone am responsible for making the piles grow. So it’s only fair that when I have had enough of a pile, I am also the one who must break it down. I begin by going through its contents. I ask myself the hard questions. “What things do I want to keep?” “What things do I need to keep?” “If I move tomorrow, would it be worth it to load this into my car?”

Before I know it, the piles are gone, and I notice things, like the forgotten texture of my carpet and the sudden reappearance of my nightstand.

And yet, as miraculous as those discoveries sound, imagine the kinds of things we would find if we sorted through the “other” piles scattered around our lives. These piles aren’t found on top of the microwave or next to the couch. In fact you may not see them at all. But they are there. With all that life gives us to sort through, how could they not?

It makes sense that as we go through life, making choices and forming our lives, we begin to create piles from what we gather along the way. Neither good nor bad, their contents are like a build-up from the residue life leaves behind. And unlike the physical version, these piles are far more personal than memorabilia and pay stubs. They are the most telling representation of our truest selves.

The older I get, and the more I see, the more empowered I feel towards what I own on the inside. That includes what I think, what I remember, and what I spend my energy pondering and feeling. I think that, every now and then, we all need to do a little Spring Cleaning. Not in a regretful way, and not in an ignorant way. But I think we can afford to sift through the piles in our minds and ask ourselves the hard questions. “What do I want to keep?” “What do I need to keep?” “If I go tomorrow, would it be worth it to take it with me?”

There’s power in cleaning. Sometimes it requires you to get down on your knees and scrub until the grime is gone. Sometimes you have to notice the before and after to stay motivated. And sometimes, you just have to let go.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent essay on Spring cleaning. I've been thinking about this very topic too since we recently moved and most my stuff is in storage. It's amazing how well I get along without it.

    Recently I watched Up In The Air, and the main character, Ryan, uses an analogy about backpacks - what we put in them etc. Really made me pause and think about what I'm lugging around, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

    Love your thoughts, Jeff. Miss ya -