Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Cleaning . . .

I am trying to break up. With my past lives.

I am feeling the pressure to trade them in for a more mature, less cluttered one. I am, after all chronically ill, for Pete’s sake – I am expected to be a walking advertisement for one preparing to move into the final phase of a life well-lived. Especially in the material things department.

Except, that over the years I have grown crazily attached to the concept of being prepared. I have tried paring down my stuff in the past – once living the frugal life prescribed by Mother Earth News and the various publications of the Rodale Press. I did, I did – but I just ended up gathering even more paraphernalia, partly because I needed it in order to live “the simple life”, and partly because on the extremely rare occasion I threw anything away, I would find that it would suddenly take on critical importance. It would morph into a life saving tool – a scrap of information clipped from a magazine/a stub of a candle that could be remolded/buttons clipped from shirts turned cleaning rags/a paper written for some college course.

As a result, I once vowed to never, ever get rid of anything again – which means every spare space of our home is filled with things stored for some future imagined use.

Now that spring is approaching, I’m bracing myself for separation anxiety as I take on the formidable task of dunging out. And to be frank, I am also feeling quite breathless at the prospect of having clean, clutter free spaces in our home. For some reason these imagined orderly spaces are beginning to symbolize some soul cleansing quest I envision myself embarking on.

Not that my soul necessarily needs refining – but you get to a certain point in life and you wake up one morning with the realization that all the stuff you have amassed is just that – stuff.

Like a collection of golf balls each discovered while diving in locations throughout the Great Lakes and Caribbean. Do you think The Container Store has a suitable stylish box designed for life experience artifacts such as these? One that will let me sort them by type, color and location found?

I love The Container Store. What’s not to love about a store that advertises they offer “an exceptional and eclectic mix of products devoted to helping people simplify their lives”. A slogan that definitely has appeal for a reformed Earth Motherer like myself – who admittedly can’t shake a desire to simplify life despite being born with defective “clean genes”.

Peg Bracken, well known author of The I Hate to Housekeep Book, has clumped housekeepers into three types: spotless (won’t stop), spotful (won’t start), and random. I fall in to the random group – my heart is in the right place, but when it comes to housekeeping, I’d rather be doing nearly anything else, and generally am. Which explains my own personal invention for oven cleaning – simply let the run-overs bake on high until charcoaled and then vacuum.

But back to the dunging out dilemma – how do you know what can be eliminated and what should be saved for prosperity? Thoreau claims, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” But as I sort through the details of my life I, like Bracken and her housekeepers, have discovered there are three distinct categories: the obvious toss outs, the sentimental saves and those things that fall in the DMZ. You know, that no-man’s land of accumulated things – like golf balls found diving. You have no idea how or why you started collecting them. They will never serve any purpose in preparing you for life’s unexpected moments. But they sure do bring back a flood of memories as you attempt to toss the whole kit-and-caboodle into the trash.

And so here I sit, with the detritus of my life piled around me and I am reminded of what Stanley Kunitz once wrote, “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Golf balls definitely fall into the litter category – even if The Container Store can come up with a solution for stylishly storing them!

It’s not our things that change, it is we who change in relationship to them.

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