Good Housekeeping, Part I: Letting Go

It’s spring again – a time that signals renewal, rebirth, a clearing of the air and space that one inhabits. Spring heralds a fresh start, so it seems fitting that those people who still adhere to the annual ritual choose this season to tackle spring cleaning.

It’s not much fun (not any, really) but when you’ve finished, you have a sense of accomplishment. It’s akin to a new beginning.

When I do it, I gather my cleaning supplies and put them on the table in the middle of everything, if I manufacture an excuse to sit down and pick up a book instead, to take a walk because the sun is finally out, or to lie down on the couch and watch that movie I recorded three months ago, I’m consumed with guilt, angered by my sloth, and still facing the same huge task. Sometimes I go down the slothful road anyway, but eventually I strengthen my resolve by quickly making the first move: I push the couch away from the wall, move the chair to the center

OYTAOL: February/Bedroom. Closet #1, emptied a...

OYTAOL: February/Bedroom. Closet #1, emptied and sorted (Photo credit: QueenieVonSugarpants)

of the room. I collect the stray pens, papers, books, photos, crossword puzzles, and jumble everything into a pile to be divided between “keep” and “pitch.”

To clean things right, you’ve got to get into the carpet fibers, wash every light-bulb, every window (inside and out, including the space between the glass and the screens), engage in a dust-every-knick-knack-every-door-knob effort that leaves a spic-and-span kind of clean both under and behind the things you avoid thinking about all year long.

Cleaning services and housekeepers don’t clean this thoroughly on a regular basis – or without charging more for doing so. Even then, well, who can be sure it’s all getting done the way you’d like unless you’re watching all the time? They’ll leave a book or two pulled out on the shelf to suggest all the books on all the shelves have been dusted. They haven’t. Nor the lampshades, nor the baseboards behind the doors. And forget about the dust bunnies under the bed. Top of the refrigerator? No. Behind the couch? Under the chair? Only as far as the vacuum might reach. A quick going-over the upholstered furniture using the attachment? Uh, uh. The decorative glass globes over the bathroom lights? Picture frames and mirrors? Occasionally, at best.  Chandeliers and overhead fans? Cobwebs in ceiling corners? Nope. Never, though they’ll turn the fans to high speed before they leave to make it look like they’ve cleaned them. The same goes for sculpted chair legs, the curves of bottles and vases, the tops and edges of cabinet doors, and the list goes on.

I know. I’m a compulsive, white-glove kind of checker (well, not always). Anyway, these “extras” are going to cost you, too. Big-time. Read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, if you don’t believe me. Ehrenreich said the book trick was only one of many tactics she was taught to use when she tried her hand at cleaning houses to see if it was possible to get by on poverty-level wages. It was enlightening, for me as well as her.

But who has time to waste cleaning that diligently when you can speed up the process doing just enough to get buy? Business, after all, is about maximizing profits. Even so, having someone else clean your house is a big help and gratitude is definitely in order.

It’s tough being a nit-picky perfectionist, but I’ve learned to let go and be grateful, though when Spring comes around, I prefer to tackle the big job of the year myself.

I find it hard to think clearly if I don’t eliminate distractions. Dirt, dust, clutter – they distract me. I can’t focus. And how can we grow in productive ways if we don’t keep only what’s needed and eliminate everything else?

Chaos and dust leave us enervated, unable to move. We feel paralyzed when we open the closet door. How often do we reminisce over decades’ worth of mementos we literally haven’t looked at in years? How long ago did we wear the clothes hanging in the far corner, swearing to go on a diet and get back into them one day? We keep tossing things we “might find a use for one day” into the abyss our closets have become – then shut the door. Out of sight – out of mind.

That’s how I got buried in my own closet.

Every time I promise to do something about the mass of stuff I’ve accrued, just the sight of it exhausts me. It’s too much to deal with, so I close the door. Later. I’ll do it later. And years later, I wonder how it got so out of hand.

Where do we start? Not the bedroom closet, that’s for sure. Not the kitchen either – oooh, all those cupboards, the pantry. No, that’s even worse. The basement’s not even on the program – I’m sure there are bugs down there. They may not be visible, but I know that’s where they are!

Maybe we should start this year’s cleaning by doing clearing our most valuable spaces: our hearts and minds. We’ve all got a lot of garbage packed in there, and it’s been taking up way too much space for way too long already.

But that’s so hard, isn’t it? Just thinking about unresolved family issues creates stress. Old angers and resentments begin to rise, and, again, we are weighed down by the negative clutter that has accumulated in that space and time. Who wants to deal with all that? Easier to slam the door shut and walk away instead.

Different doors but same problems, and they’ll still be waiting. None of the stuff in there is going to disappear on its own because you can’t see it behind that door.

Want some advice?

Clean out your closets. Improve your work and play spaces.

Dust away the cobwebs in the corners one never sees, rearrange the furniture one never moves. De-cluttering will make you feel better. Trust me, it will.

Then move on to those other doors that contain the worst of the lot because of their highly emotional component. Wipe away old grievances and petty slights, the hurt feelings and anger, the jealousy, the envy. Do the following:

1. Gather all this garbage into a pile.

2. Hold it over a deep, open pit.

3. Let go.

Replace negativity with generosity of spirit. Replant your garden using friendship and kindness and let these take root, but don’t limit their growth to the top couple of inches of the soil beneath your feet. Nothing good can grow there, nothing healthy, nothing of value that will last. Encourage these new roots to go deeper. Give them a firm foothold that will strengthen their foundation.

Good housekeeping begins with the air and space you inhabit. Clear it. But don’t neglect those rooms that need it most – giving the best of ourselves is where change like this begins.

Free yourself by letting go – you just have to dig yourself out of the closet first.

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