"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."
Although spring is still weeks away, I have taken on the task of cleaning and purging my house with a vengeance. It's no small feat when you've lived in the same 3-story house for over 19 years, and yet I'm thrilled by the possibility of lightening our load. My husband, while supportive, is not that interested in the actual process, which makes it easier in many ways. He tends to be a bit more sentimental about things than I am, and it's easier to shed the layers if I don't have someone wanting to just put it back on the shelf for a later date.
I've always loved the idea of deep cleaning your house every spring--airing out the mattresses, washing the windows, and cleaning out the kitchen cupboards. Passover has always been a great excuse to roll up one's sleeves and get rid of all of the chametz (crumbs). But I must admit, I haven't done it very thoroughly these past few years and now I have a desire to not only clean but to try and look honestly at our possessions and ask the question "is this really necessary or is it just collecting dust?" Part of this is probably a side effect of the empty nest. The house is quieter and I find I crave a sort of sparseness in my surroundings as well. Simplicity beckons to me on many levels, and I'm trying to answer that call as best I can.
I began this process at the beginning of February by tackling three drawers in my kitchen (Mr. Twain was right that breaking projects into small manageable tasks is definitely the way to get started). I had two bags for the placement of unwanted items--a garbage bag and a Goodwill bag. I was amazed (and slightly appalled) at how much junk could fill up three drawers. Some of it was useful (scissors, a flashlight, various types of tapes-I kept these), some of it was expired (Benadryl with an expiration date of 2005), some of it could be someone else's "treasure" (ie. never-used hand-warmers, a complete set of poker chips, four whisks, all shapes and sizes of different cookie cutters) and some of it was just garbage (dried out glue sticks, markers without caps, and a surprising number of beer bottle caps...). When I was done the drawers looked fantastic and I felt lighter. I was hooked and no room would be spared.
Since then I've tried to tackle something every weekend. Not only do I feel like I'm shedding possessions, it's also a trip down memory lane. When I tackled my office I felt like my life from the last 19 years was pulled out from desk drawers and bookshelves. I had all my graduate school papers and books on family literacy from the mid 1990's. I found my training manual from when I was a MotherRead/FatherRead Instructor, as well as a stash of brand new picture books from a grant I received, but didn't end up using completely. I found the manual I worked on when I ran Kol Shalom's Religious School. I found the prototype of a journal I created for a women's group a friend and I started over a decade ago. I found a stash of prayers and poems from a prayer group a friend started after 9-11. On and on it went. I kept some things, donated many others, and recycled and shredded papers from 19 years of my life. I felt a bit nostalgic as I reminisced about the past, yet renewed as I created space on shelves (and in my life).
Then I decided to assess our book situation. Books are trickier for me. We have many bookcases throughout the house, and so far I've only gone through one. But I have stacks of books that can't get into the shelves for lack of space. So I came up with a magic formula (at least for me). I ask myself a couple of questions. Do I think I will want to re-read it or reference it for some reason? Do I think my husband, daughter or son will want to read it at some future date? If the answer is yes, I keep the book. If it is no, it goes into a bag and I bring it to the local bookstore for consignment. It's been a win-win situation in that I now get credit at the bookstore (I've brought home four great books this last month). Although a true minimalist would say I'm defeating the purpose of spring-cleaning by bringing more into the house. I say I've emptied three brown paper bags of books to get four new books. Plus the hope is that the books I've taken in will find new owners who will be excited about their new purchases. It's a win-win situation. To me, books are what make a house a home; they are my guilty pleasure. I have five bookcases yet to tackle, so we'll see if I keep it up. I haven't even begun to look at all of our children's books. My guess is that many of them will go untouched and saved for the future.
I have weeks and weeks (probably months) of purging to do. There are some areas I'm not sure how to tackle (cd's and albums, endless sports trophies), but I'll save that for a future post. I find I love the freedom and scarceness that a clean space presents. I like finding new homes for things that we no longer use. I like really discerning if something is worth keeping for Jordan and Aviva, or if it would end up unwanted on a shelf in their future homes. Of course, I am reminded constantly of Matthew as I do this, which can be bittersweet. I wish I could put his artwork, books and other things in a box for his future use. Instead, I make sure that both Jordan and Aviva have their share of mementos from their brother. Those memories are too important to just throw away.
As I get older I find a lot of beauty in simplicity. When I take the time to make an honest appraisal of what I really use on a day-to-day basis, I see that it's not a lot. I've heard that getting rid of unnecessary things allows you to spend more time with the people you love and pursue those things that are important to you. Love is what's left when you let go of everything you don't need. For now, I'm content going through our house drawer-by-drawer, room-by-room. It remains to be seen what I'll uncover as I shred the layers. If you've gone through this process I'd love to hear how you've dealt with "spring cleaning."