ColumnThe masochism of spring cleaning.
Was it Ma Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie lore who invented spring cleaning?
My own mother kept a very clean house, or rather, we helped her keep a very clean house, especially when winter turned to spring. Suddenly it was all about gutters and polishing pieces of wall-sized wood furniture I didn’t even know we had.
Begging off on the grounds of homework, I festered in private as I read whole paragraphs about the joyous seasonal beating of rugs and gay shaking of springtime sheets over the bubbling banks of Plum Creek beside the little cave or cavern or whatever the hell it was. That Ma, so seasonally attuned. The delusional bonnet.
And so I should have known better than to embark on a virginal spring clean this year. A great fan of stowing Laffy Taffy wrappers in the My Little Pony castle turret as a girl because they fit, I might have guessed I’m not the best candidate for seasonal rebirth. My mother was helpless in the face of my bedroom’s Lego and Nancy Drew chaos, eventually washing her hands of her unwashed nine-year-old and commanding my father to step in.
Dad introduced me to the half-pint’s version of the spreadsheet: a large white chart with gold stars awarded for snugly made beds and cleanly shelved toys. The first week went well and Dad was awash in the heady stew of his disciplinary success.
By week two I was negotiating for concessions (how could the cereal bowl under the bed count against the gold star when I forgot it was there?). My mother would shake her head as she passed by yet another heated scene of The Stray Sock Was an Inside Job and make predictions about my future in politics.
By week three, I came to the obvious realization that gold stars were stupid. Luck rewarded me as ever in the form of siblings, for my little brother had taken to digging custom-shaped “lakes” in the backyard about this time, and I returned undisturbed to my nest of gum wrapper sagebrush and drifts of expiring socks.
Arriving fashionably late to the spring cleaning party last week, I had high hopes of transformation which were quickly abandoned. But at least I’m aware, and that’s the real victory. I’m owning my shit, including all the shit I own.
It began with my closet. Once I really took a look, I was horrified at the disorganized, overfilled storage containers – cracked! plastic! unmatched! – and the corner of designer heels gathering dust like grosgrain skeletons. Out of the closet it all came and soon half my apartment was a textile Appalachia of handbags, shoes, boots and bathing suits. I posted about a tote and jeans I could part with to friends on Facebook, clothing swap plans were made, and before I knew it I had myself a new pair of jeans with clutches and a laptop bag on the way. Success, any way you look at it.
Twirling in front of the mirror in my new jeans, I realized how much the mirror needed repainting. So I hopped to with a new black high-gloss, only to realize halfway through that for one thing, painting always takes longer than you think and, further more, how oppressively dingy and un-springlike my fireplace mantle is and also how have I been living in this place with its unacceptable wall smudges in at least four locations below ankle level? Casting my eyes to such lows was my next mistake: the floors. A shameful sea of scratches, hiding in plain sight all dreary winter.
Couldn’t I just buy a house plant and bring out a new throw pillow or two?
Momentarily deflated, I fled from my disaster which had the day before been an adorable city studio to buy a birdhouse because birds are lovely and chirp, and I’m sure the landlord won’t mind them hanging out on the fire escape for a while. While I was at it, I bought new drapery rods since brass isn’t really a very “clean” color.
Then I called my hair stylist, who is also an artist and professional upholsterer, about recovering the occasional chair, which was looking frayed. And the drapes: what fresh hell is this? Sagging. Completely sagging. And the bedskirt, which isn’t there but wouldn’t one look gorgeous? Lena of the scissors has no idea the spring cleaning carnage she has enabled. I did manage to stop myself when I ventured the word “bolster” with a straight face.
Digging up my drill, painter’s tape and tape measure, I knit my brows in further riot: why was there gift wrap and a birthday card from an ex in this box of handygirl tools? And so apart came the storage cabinets and my heart. What a mess.
Spring cleaning: the Russian nesting doll of chores.
Last year, when I moved into this same apartment during a hectic week, I quickly shoved everything into drawers and closets just to have some space. Not one to abide clutter, after a few weeks, I pulled it all out to organize and arrange my new digs properly. The rooms became fjords of questionable navigability, cardboard cliffs of swaying boxes covered in the sorts of things you hate having around but feel like you might need someday: cables to electronics you’re not even sure you still own, diplomas, wrist guards.
I sent a picture of my “progress” to a friend, who texted: “Congrats! Your place will look so awesome.”
“…When you’re done next year!”
Such an apt observation would rightly be called domestic delusion at any time of the year other than Spring Cleaning, when instead it is packaged and sold as a perfect happy Martha cake covered in twig-woven icing bedecked with fondant woodland ribbons that say things like Connection to Life and Personal Renewal but actually makes you fat and gives you a migraine headache.
And here I was just getting over the holidays.
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Image: Shereen M