Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 15, 2003

Forget spring cleaning

Although the traditional time for most people to sweep through their homes organizing and cleaning like nesting birds is in the spring, for me it has always been around the start of a new year.

Something about the approaching task of tossing the old calendar puts me in the mind to sort through closets, dresser and file drawers and garage to find things to donate, discard and organize.

Right on schedule, just before 2003 was upon us, I felt the call to clean.

Now, despite having two parents whose homes could pass the strictest white-glove test, I’m not terribly persnickety about pristine cleanliness. Don’t get the wrong idea, I like to have things put away, prefer long uncluttered expanses of kitchen countertop, and observe all the rules of safe food handling.

On the other hand, I have a growing family and a self-described pack-rat husband. I’m mindful of comedian Phyllis Diller’s sage, and dare I say, poetic, words: “Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” It’s helpful that I know how to ignore a cobweb and a child’s messy bedroom. I don’t obsess about the dust bunnies lurking in places I can’t see.

Nevertheless, the new year was nearing and I began my sorting binge in the mater bedroom. I’m pretty ruthless about this, and I think my natural tendency in this regard has been reinforced by nearly 15 years of marriage to a man who is loath toss anything.

In the closet I attacked a large box full of negatives and the prints from them that were deemed not good enough to frame or place in a photo album. You know these pictures: your darling angel has devil-red eyes, or you look psychotic because the shutter caught you with your eyes half-closed.

Why did I keep these photographic rejects at all? Beats me. So, in my cleaning frenzy, I saved all the negatives but tossed all the prints. The treadmill we bought in Ohio, moved to California, but used primarily to hold clothes headed to the dry cleaner? It’s at the Morgan Hill Goodwill store, ready to help folks with more willpower than me keep their New Year’s resolutions.

Our 1996 move to California, where winter is really a false spring that turns the hills green in late December, also strengthens my New Year’s cleaning habit. The fact that the garden is due for attention at that time just spurs me on. The long-dead tomato plants are now out of the raised beds, joining the vibrantly healthy weeds I pulled at the same time in the compost bin. The basil and parsley plants – amazingly not dead, just beleaguered – have been cut back, along with the rose and raspberry canes and butterfly bushes.

One raised bed is now planted with snow peas, and as soon as I find the right carrot seeds, the other will be turned and planted as well. To this Midwest girl used to freezing temperatures and rock-hard soil in December and January, there’s nothing like a fresh start in the garden for the new year.

The refrigerator is next on my list. If my motivation continues, I might even approach the kids about sorting through their rooms to find toys they no longer use to donate to Goodwill.

And, of course, tax season is upon us, so I’ll have to pay attention to our files. My desk is currently littered with school photos, outdated files that have no home, newspapers, and old calendars with art I can’t bear to part with. OK, so I’m not completely free of the pack-rat gene.

Until my desk is spic-and-span, I’ll ponder author Laurence J. Peter’s musing: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?”


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