Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series examining the most disappointing invention since The Clapper that promises to make our lives easier, but instead ends up stealing our lives right out from under us: Spring Cleaning.
Spring cleaning has always seemed like an oxymoron to me. The weather warms up, and people (read: The Association of Professional Organizers) get this sudden urge to purge. But, honestly, why are we so eager to get rid of everything that once had such a large place in our lives – and our hearts?
MORE JUICE AFTER THE JUMP…
It’s a good thing that my father never knew about this group. He would have been one of their first targets for “conversion.” He was the original pack rat and quite proud of it. He saved everything. Scratched records. Old lightbulbs. Foreign coins from his international adventures in the army. Bottle caps. College textbooks (he had a whole shelf of them in his office). T-shirts from old concerts. Old parts from my wheelchair that “might” be usable later.
He could probably have fit his entire life on display at the Smithsonian.
And whenever my mother went on one of her cleaning sprees (in my family, spring cleaning was a year-round, usually weekly event), I’d inevitably hear my father rustling through the two or three garbage bags my mother had designated as trash. Now, there wasn’t any sound basis for said labeling of trash. My mother said it was trash, so we all accepted it as the gospel. If she said it was trash, you just didn’t question it. End of story.
Eventually, he’d emptied the bag of half its contents, proclaiming, “You can’t throw this out.”
I knew a story would soon follow. Every time, I was right. And of course, he could recall, with alarming clarity, the vivid story behind each treasured item. This wasn’t just stuff. It was stuff. It was people, dates, events – the markers of his (and, as I’d realized later, our) life.
Yet it was still considered trash to my mother, and an argument, albeit a comical one, would ensue. Sometimes the event could last up to an hour (the larger the item, the longer the battle of words lasted), in a haze of the same old, rehashed argument I’d heard since I was four years old.
All through elementary school, I half thought this was the sort of arguments my classmates’ parents had when my classmates would talk about their parents fighting or getting divorced. Those lightbulbs must have been a hot-button issue for many families, apparently.
“What are you doing,” my mother would yell from the kitchen. She could hear the sound of rustling garbage bags like dogs can hear the sound of a can opener.
“Oh, nothing,” my father would casually reply, as his head dropped deeper and deeper into the black hole of the black garbage bag.
“What are you doing now,” my mother would say – a bit louder this time – after 10 more minutes had passed and the sounds had increased from a rustle to a sound resembling a thunderstorm as my father wrestled with the oversized bag.
And that’s when my mother just couldn’t take it anymore. She’d march over to my father and begin scolding him like Supernanny. Eventually, she’d persuade my father that we really didn’t need that book from 1975 or a used lightbulb.
Or so she thought.
When we cleaned out his office one May morning after he died, we found years’ worth of supposed “garbage” my mother thought he’d thrown out. We just had to chuckle.
They say it’s only a matter of time before we become our parents. I’ve always known this and have tried to prepare myself accordingly. Yet I still found myself in a state of complete and utter shock when, not too long ago, I uttered almost the exact phrase my father could have (and probably should have) patented as his mantra – his very own catch-phrase. I could just see it plastered on backpacks and lunch boxes all across the nation.
My mother and I were in the heated competition of our nightly Yahtzee game. She shook the dice, and out of nowhere, declared: “We need to get this table refinished. Just look at all the scratches the dice have made.”
“No, you can’t do that,” I protested.
Those scratches weren’t just from a jolly game. They were a symbol of our healing journey, the journey we took separately and together. Yahtzee played a big part in that journey and in our healing after my father died. I wanted those scratches there forever. I wanted them to serve as a visible reminder to us – a reminder of where we have been and how far we’ve come. I wanted to run my fingers ever-so-delicately and gently over those scratches, following the zigzag patterns they make on the table top, and commit all those feelings, all those emotion and yes, all those allegations of cheating (those rumors just won’t die for some reason) to memory. Something tells me that my dad would never, ever throw out such a table.
In those spurts and sprints of Spring Cleaning, don’t let you need for clean take precious items that mark your life to the roadside dumpster or even Good Will.
Think of that lightbulb in the landfill. Don’t let it die in vain. It – and the objects that tell the stories of our lives – doesn’t deserve that end.
Take that, Spring Cleaning.