Essay : Spring cleaning
It must be spring. How do I know? Some days I'm not so sure, given the ever changeable weather over the last few weeks. But nature keeps offering signs of proof, and hope. The daffodils are up in our yard, and some have bloomed. The bird song is vibrant in the mornings now when I fill my feeder. I can see the geese are pairing up. My dogs are starting to shed, literally throwing off the winter. But the biggest tip-off to the season change is that I feel buried in stuff, and I want to get rid of all of it. The urge for spring cleaning is upon me.
A few days ago, I was content to settle in by the fire at night and not give my surroundings more than a passing glance. Not so anymore. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and it's not a pretty picture. What I see is a whole mass of accumulation. Junk. An embarrassing orgy of waste and clutter. I want to back a pick-up to the front door of our house and start shoveling.
Where did those stacks of unread New Yorkers come from? What about the piles of papers that I guess I should keep but I have no place to put? How long has the dining room table been buried and off limits? When did we get an infestation of flour moths? This place, sweet as it is, seems dingy.
This morning, instead of sitting down to write, I found myself madly throwing things away. With the vacuum in one hand and paper towels in the other, I cleaned with a vengeance. There is a dense accumulation of dust and animal fur to which I've been somehow oblivious. Has it really been long enough for this much crud to accumulate on the window sills? It has. Have the Christmas ornaments not made it to the attic yet? They haven't. Is there any space to walk in my daughter's room? There isn't. I shut the door. That's her business, but scary. Everywhere I look there is something to be dealt with, put away, cleaned, thought about. It is overwhelming.
After a morning's work, the upstairs hall is now cluttered with bags of books for the library, bags of stuff for a possible yard sale, and there are at least 50 pounds of who knows what outside in a big garbage can. It's satisfying, but the problem is, this is just one room's worth.
The call to spring cleaning is strong, but the true challenge is persistence. There's so much to do. I worry I'll get used to walking around these piles the same way I stopped noticing the box of Christmas ornaments. I hope I can keep shedding, keep whittling away at the burden of stuff.
What I really want is to have less and accumulate less. Why is this such a challenge? I remake this commitment to less every year, and I hope I'm improving. Still a visit to the bathroom shows me not one but several deodorants, not one but three tubes of toothpaste, even three hair brushes. I know which room I'll tackle tomorrow.
Already it's easier to write about it than to lug the bags to the car and drive them over to the Thrift Shop, or put them into the garage, another horror spot. The pull of the outside is strong. I'm about to slip my coat on, call the dogs, and head out. I'll try to limit my accumulations to some mud, a few shells, or perhaps a heart rock. Maybe I'll give them a tender, appreciative look and leave them right where they are.
Laura Wainwright is a frequent contributor to The Times.