We used to live in a townhouse, one of those inventions designed to minimize housekeeping chores, mortgage payments and a tendency to accumulate more things than one needs to cross the Sahara in summer. We moved there because I liked the idea of no yard work, and we would be unburdened by conversations of "It's-Saturday-so-mow-the-lawn." I hate housework (it hates me too!), and we wanted a less complex life.
Smaller places do have a certain appeal...especially during the "It's Spring and that means let's-get-organized-around-here-and-throw-out-all-YOUR-stuff" mood that tends to permeate the months of March and April.
When you only have one closet, cleaning it takes a minimum of time. Opening the door starts the process, and if you are clever, you will stand with an open trash bag as you pry open the door. Always do this at 2:00 a.m. when the other nearby occupants in your townhome are asleep, or during those few quiet moments of solitude you get after announcing that Dairy Queen is having a twenty-minute-only-special, and you have (thoughtfully) placed the keys in the car.
Designed by some psychologist in an effort to help patients rid their psyches of old memories, useless information and general "clutter," spring cleaning has become an American phrase most often associated with grief. It is a painful process, this sifting and sorting of all the things that tell us (and the rest of the world) who we are or were.
There are as many ways to spring clean as there are homes and hearts and minds and spirits that need "adjusting" (a real psychological term thrown in just to remind you that I am a professional too!)
How many times have you been told "It's time to move on," or, "It's time to get back to normal," or, "You mean you haven't gotten rid of that yet?" (That can refer to a multitude of things such as his favorite pipe, her bathrobe that the dog attacked during one his "spells," or an odd assortment of baseball cards, used gum wrappers and dirty socks that were secreted under the bed, left behind for you to find and cry over.
How come everybody else knows when it is time for me to spring clean! How come everybody else knows when it is time for me to open that closet and sort through all those memories, trying to decide which ones to keep and which ones to pass on to the Salvation Army? How come everybody else knows when it is time for me to get back to living?
I am spring cleaning. I am sifting through the "stuff" that made up my loved one's life and I am learning to let go of a few things...slowly.
When we moved to a townhouse, we thought life wouldn't be so complicated. I wouldn't have to go out into the yard and remember how wonderful it was to enjoy the first spring flowers...with him. I don't want to cut the grass, because we loved playing in it, tickling our bare toes and laughing our way through spring into summer. We moved to a townhouse so we couldn't keep everything forever. It doesn't stay around anyway, so why have storage space? Why have cupboards that no longer need to hold cereal that turns the milk blue, or closets that no longer need to hold baseball shoes, bats and crumpled homework pages? Why have room for memories?
WHY? Because, I can't live without them! Spring is a time for spring cleaning, for sifting and sorting and re-reading and remembering. Spring is a time for things to go and things to stay. We just have to decide which ones do what. Spring is a time for renewal, when the earth begins to defrost after a harsh and bitter winter. It doesn't matter when your loved one died ; it does matter when you begin to let spring back into your life. It does matter when you open that closet and let the memories come out, along with the hurts and the hopes that you buried one day not so very long ago.
You never know what you are going to find when you start spring cleaning. You might discover treasures you had long forgotten, or the tax papers you needed, or the Easter egg no one found last year. You might find a few bits of joy lurking under the bed (we found dust bunnies). What fun to remember how that stuff got there or who might have been hiding under the bed when you were looking for volunteers for trash patrol!
Spring cleaning is a tradition that follows the footprints across your freshly waxed floor. I wish there were still footprints to clean up, but since there aren't, I'll just have to spend a few extra moments with this box of treasures I found. No time like the present to inspect the “stuff” in search of few "bits of joy."
When we lived in a townhouse, we thought that maybe, in a few years, we could stretch out into something a bit larger (and have a maid, too!). Maybe we would just start a little patch of grass out front, plant a seed or two in a clay pot on the patio, and live with what we have. Eventually, my house got larger, and my heart has grown, too!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darcie D. Sims, Ph.D., CHT, Ct, GMS, is a bereaved parent and child, a grief management specialist, a nationally certified thanatologist and pastoral bereavement specialist, and a licensed psychotherapist.
She is an internationally recognized speaker and she wrote regularly for Bereavement magazine for fifteen years. She has been writing for Grief Digest magazine since its first issue.