There is an expression, “spring cleaning,” which describes an activity of which I have heard tell, but have never undertaken myself. I clean whenever I have time and inspiration, which is rarely. Usually it’s just the superficial act of clearing papers off the floor, reshelving books, wiping food smears off the table. Sometimes, when I get really ambitious, I wipe dusty surfaces, or vacuum, or bang crumbs out of the toaster. I have lived in my current house almost fourteen years and have washed the windows exactly once.
But at some point within the past couple of years, I developed the urge to clean out my living space. By which I mean: own less stuff. Over my lifetime, I have accumulated without ever questioning: Do I still need this? Do I still want this? Which was how I came to have files full of old electric bills, insurance forms from policies I no longer hold, socks whose partners escaped into the wild long ago, books I would never reread, etc., etc., etc.
And so I began a slow decluttering process which has extended into this spring and will probably still be underway next spring. I have always been slow to let go of things, difficult to persuade that I will not at some point need my fourth-grade report card, my eyeglasses from two prescriptions ago, or pants that I might fit into again if I lost twenty pounds. Maybe I will start wearing pantyhose again; maybe I will finally read that classic book I should’ve read but have never felt like reading; maybe these little jars will come in handy. Aside from the “might need it someday” roadblock, I have had to fight the “but so-and-so gave it to me” and “but nobody else wants it and it’s too good to throw away” obstacles.
I’ve noticed a new willingness in myself to let go of things I previously “needed” to keep. Part of the reason is that I’ve lived long enough to realize how much of this stuff I haven’t needed so far. It’s also satisfying to organizing the remaining items in a way that allows me to see all of them at a glance. It makes me realize that I do have enough pairs of black socks; that we will never need to buy pencils again even if we live to be three hundred and six; and that we should use up our four rolls of Scotch tape before buying any more. I found two books I had been looking for and thought I might have lost. I am discovering the restful atmosphere that comes from having an empty tabletop here and there, of having shelves with some space on them. I’ve also brought out things I had hiding in storage for years and have made use of them. I've put up pictures and a poster that were in my closet. And this effort is also making me more mindful of what I bring into the house now; I think twice or thrice before buying new stuff.
I’ve made vast inroads on clothes, linens, and the medicine cabinet. I’ve made good progress on my bookshelves. But I’ve barely begun to dent my collection of paperwork and mementoes, so my
“spring cleaning” will continue for a while yet. It has already given me some breathing room, though, and even inspired a piece of writing that I’ve been working on.I feel as if I'm making room for newness, because I can't fit anything new in my life if all the space is still stuffed full of the past.