Lately, the weather has been teasing us with peeks of sunny spring interspersed with storms fit for deep winter. The confusion caused me to succumb to spring fever early this year. Like my distant Scottish ancestors, who cleaned house on December 31st in preparation for the New Year, I started my spring cleaning in January. However, this term is misleading, as it implies that I clean my home every spring. I’m sorry to say my housecleaning follows a pattern similar to our current weather: erratic.
There are definite benefits to this negligent approach. Firstly, I save a lot of time for other, more enjoyable, activities by not cleaning every space regularly. Secondly, it allows long-forgotten treasures to be joyfully rediscovered. Thirdly, there is a true feeling of accomplishment when a teetering dust-encrusted stack of something has been restored to pristine order.
Also, I must clarify that I have not been cleaning continuously since January. I have been selectively scrubbing in fits and starts. I began with my closet, the smallest room in the house; there I discovered clothes I could once again wear, either because I had returned to a previous size or because they had been there so long they were again in style. Then a few days later I moved to my dresser, where I found some cozy fleece pants I hadn’t seen for years. I retrieved them from the illogical cavity at the back of the bureau frame, just in time for the next blizzard. However, in my tidying enthusiasm, I did make the mistake of throwing away the tattered shoes I wore for my wedding 21 years ago. A month later, I realized I needed them for a costume I was devising. Sadly, Marilyn Halvorson’s March editorial in the Bergen News arrived too late to save me from this error.
On the other hand, sometimes one must finally let go of things and send them away for recycling. Next, I focussed on a mound of recipe clippings I had piled in my office, after they had overflowed the kitchen shelf long ago. Following my mother’s example, since the beginning of my adolescence, I had been salvaging instructions for potentially wonderful meals. I’m not kidding, I found recipes from 1981 that, I confess, I had never made. I had at least seven separate pages for fruit galettes, which — being a fruit pie without the pie plate — doesn’t even require a written recipe anyway. Ironically, possessing this plethora of cooking how-tos for decades had failed to improve my abilities in the kitchen. Out they went.
I was warning my son of this family predisposition to hoarding, and used a particular set of books as an example. I triumphantly explained that I had finally realized I was never going to return to my study of French, and was pitching my French textbooks; they stretched all the way back through my university second language requirement (24 years ago), to my first class in Grade 5. I had also become the repository for all my sister’s (identical) books, my husband’s texts, and even my mother’s high school tome from the early 1960s. I was proudly proclaiming that even if I did decide to brush up my language skills in the future, I had no need for this shelf of books, since I could just get a “Learn to Speak French” cassette. At which point, my son rolled his eyes and informed me that mp3s had replace that outdated technology eons ago. Sigh. Well, at least those take up even less space.
The cleaning hasn’t just involved dreaded dusting and stressful sorting, but also polishing off projects. First on this list was getting my husband to create balsa wood dividers for a shadow box picture frame; it relieved his boredom for 15 minutes on a dreary Saturday and had been waiting 15 years to get done. Next was reupholstering the dining chairs; it took me about seven years to tackle this task, but in my defence it required inventive three-dimensional thinking, borrowed tools, and several days of intensive physical effort, and there were eight chairs to recover.
Now, spring has actually arrived and garage sale season is upon us. I’m polishing my armour and battling my pack-rat tendencies to avoid bringing more projects and discarded sparklies into the newly tidied house. I fight these natural proclivities by continuing to plug away at refreshing my home. Just like tidying up the yard after winter, clearing the debris in the cluttered corners can reveal unexpected treasures.
This article was originally printed in the Bergen News and is being reprinted with permission.