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On The Fly: Spring Cleaning Your Life

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"To every thing, there is a season; and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Biblical and Byrds apologies duly noted, I'm deeply immersed in the season of my spring cleaning.

I clean when I'm angry. I clean when I'm anxious. I clean when I'm upset with the kids, my husband, or the fact that I missed the start of Nordstrom's half-yearly sale and the dress I wanted is sold out in my size. I clean a lot, but it isn't until I do what is typically called "spring cleaning," that I start to feel better.

Spring cleaning, for me, is an act of purging. I throw away the clutter of my life and drop it off at Goodwill where it can be repurposed into someone else's clutter. I also learn something about myself every spring when I clean. Here's what I learned this year:

** I don't need objects to spark memories.
When we sold our furnished vacation home last summer, I insisted on keeping all the art work. Since we occasionally rented out the place and never really kept anything of value there, I am taking some liberties when I describe what hung on the walls as "art work." It was stuff I got from the bargain bins when we bought the place many years earlier.

I kept it because I wanted a way to remember all the good family times we had there. I remember the time we were snowed in by a blizzard and had to snowshoe to the grocery store two miles away. I especially remember coming home with our backpacks filled with food and the freezing snow blowing sideways in our faces. I remember summer visits where we hiked the back country for 10 exhausting miles with our dog who was so tired after that she literally fell asleep with her head in her food dish -- and I remember that I was too tired to stand up and take her photo with her nose emerged in kibble.

I remember bringing family friends up with us and cooking up a storm in the kitchen, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, a new job offer. I remember weekends where we had so many friends and kids with us that we ran out of floor space for their sleeping bags and a few of the younger ones moved outside to sleep under the stars. I remember how bear noises got them running back inside faster than I'd ever seen a kid move.

Our kids are older now and have busy schedules and social lives of their own. The drive -- five hours each way -- had begun to feel more arduous. With one eye on looming college tuitions and another on our own retirements, it made sense to sell the vacation home that we were using less and less frequently. And so we did -- and I miss it.

The art work that I insisted we take with us has been stacked in my garage since we sold the place. I have to step over the framed prints and boxes of knick-knacks every time I go down there. This spring cleaning, I took photos of it all and loaded up the car with what I know I will never use again.

Eras end and we move on to new adventures. It's a good thing.

** Not every paper that comes home from school needs to be kept.
I know a woman with six kids. I am trying to multiply by three the number of boxes I have of school book reports, dioramas, Ancient Greek newspapers and ancestor dolls from my two and it made my brain hurt.

I finally asked her what she keeps and was inspired by her answer. "Pretty much nothing," she said.

I know the sweet joy of stumbling upon my daughter's first handmade Mother's Day card, but I also know that her second grade book report in the form of a movie poster doesn't pull the same emotional punch. We want our kids to know that we are proud of them, that their school work is important and that we value the effort they put into their projects. To toss them in the garbage the minute they come home would send the wrong message. But at some point, you reach critical mass.

My daughter pointed out that I can remember her effort by saving her report cards -- and that she would one day like to show them to her own kids. The movie poster book report? "Look Mom," she said, "I misspelled 'caterpillar.'"

** Not everything of my parents must be saved for my children.
Both my parents, as well as the aunt who helped raise me, have passed on. When my father moved to an assisted living home after my mother's death, I went through the painful process of dispensing of his accumulated belongings. I went through that same process again when my aunt died.

It helped me understand how hoarders are born: I couldn't bear to part with a single scrap of paper they had touched. For years, I even held on to the mail that came to my aunt's house on the day she died, right down to the CVS circular.

Saying goodbye to our pasts is never easy, but with time, what we need to help us stay connected to those we have loved and lost does does get simpler. My parents' photo albums and a pair of candlesticks that my grandmother carried to America sewn into the lining of her skirt are all I have kept and they will go to my children.

Possessions aren't memories. I can think of no better way to honor those who raised me than to behave honorably and show kindness to others. I don't need a box of old table linens to help me do that.

** That I really will never wear a size 14 or a 6 again.
I have been a yo-yo dieter my whole life, losing and regaining the same 25 pounds. Even while I am doing a victory dance around the empty Jenny Craig food boxes, I have been reluctant to give away my "fat clothes" because I know it's just a matter of months until I'll need them again. And as for those size 6s? What can I say besides I'm an optimist?

This year, all the 14s and 6s went into the Goodwill bag. I am determined to never wear the 14s again and the 6s represent an unrealistic goal. I am a contented size 10 with some potential moments of being a size 8.

I proved to myself for the first time this year that I was capable of stopping my weight (re)gain mid-mouthful. Instead of regaining all 25 pounds and bouncing off that ceiling, I hit my ceiling and took action when I put back on 10 pounds. It made the dieting so much easier. I did it once and I know if I have to, I can do it again. Into the bag went the size 14s. No point in being prepared for failure, is there?

As for the size 6s, I accept that I enjoy food too much. I'm not in high school anymore and my metabolism just isn't going to suddenly discover a fifth gear. I would rather have a few bites of cake for dessert than to constantly mourn the food I long for.

And besides, ridding my closet of all those old clothes made room for the dress that I hope Nordstrom will restock.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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