Spring Forward

I have always thought of myself as a bit of a cynic.  Believing that good things are coming my way doesn’t come naturally to me at all.  And even when good things really do happen, my first thought is usually, “This won’t last.”  So maybe that’s why I have a hard time recognizing what I’m feeling right now, and what I feel every year right about this time.  Because according to my calendar, Spring has finally arrived.  And there’s something about Spring that always makes me feel hopeful.

IMG_1203I don’t know if it’s longer days, or the budding trees and flowers, or waking up to the sounds of the birds chirping in my yard, or just the increasing warmth of the sun on my face.  But somewhere in all of nature’s reawakening, I feel my heart opening up to new possibilities and growth.  I am more willing to try new things, to tackle those “to do” projects that I’ve been avoiding all winter, and even to take a few risks that I would normally avoid.  Somehow the things that used to seem comfortingly familiar now feel unbearably routine, and I find myself longing for all things new.

And so I begin my usual routine of Spring cleaning. I begin with my house, cleaning and de-cluttering like a mad woman, and even redecorating a bit until every room feels fresh and new.  I go through my closet, pulling out the clothes and shoes I haven’t worn in years, even if they are still in good condition and were purchased at a bargain price.  And then I go shopping in search a few new items, making a point to at least try on styles I don’t usually wear.  I read books by new authors, strike up conversations with people I don’t know well, and when I go out to eat, I insist on trying a new restaurant.  Accepting new challenges, big or small, actually seems attractive.

For at least a few weeks, I find it easy to maintain my optimism and my passion for new things.  But as Spring turns to Summer my “spring fever” gradually wears off, and I find myself once again attracted to what is familiar and comforting in my life.  And in many ways, that’s a good thing, because I don’t want to live a life of constant change, and I certainly can’t afford a life of constantly buying new things.

But each year, a little bit of that “spring fever” experience sticks with me, and my horizons are broadened that much more.  Some new styles find their way into my closet; I discover a new favorite author, and sometimes I find myself with a new friend or two.  Some of the new doors I opened reveal new paths that carry me forward in unexpected ways.  And the best part is, I know that next year I’ll get to do it all over again.  Because, as we all know, hope springs eternal.

Spring Cleaning

I’m what you might call a “neat freak.”  I admit, I prefer my house when it’s sparkling clean and everything is exactly where it should be.  I like my wooden floors to shine; I like my kitchen counters free of clutter; I keep the spices on my spice rack alphabetized, and when I walk into my bathroom, all I want to smell is the air freshener.  Clutter annoys me, and I have basically declared unending war on household dirt and grime.  I have a dog in my house, which means that I use my vacuum cleaner about as often as I use my hair dryer.  So it is only natural that I spend a good deal of time each March doing my annual spring cleaning.

IMG_1203Spring cleaning means that windows must be washed, wooden furniture must be polished, and dust bunnies must be hunted down and destroyed.  My winter clothes are packed up in plastic bins, and my spring clothes are unpacked and stored neatly (sorted according to style, color and sleeve length) in my dresser or closet.  Daffodils are cut from my garden and arranged carefully in a vase on the mantel.  I fill several bags with donations for Good Will, and hit the local malls in hope of finding a couple of new spring outfits that both fit and flatter.  I’m rarely successful, but I still try.

For me, spring cleaning isn’t just about cleaning my house (I pretty much do that all year round), it’s also about getting rid of the stuff I don’t need anymore, and trying to replace it with things that I actually do need but don’t have.  It’s about streamlining my life, and trying to surround myself only with things that matter, meaning only things that are either necessary or that I love.  And it’s not just limited to my house.

There’s something about spring that makes me want to examine my life, and identify the areas that are going well and the areas that could stand a little (or a lot) of improvement.  Am I treating the people I love as well as they deserve to be treated?  Or am I nursing grudges, or using the busyness  of my life as an excuse not to spend time with them?  Am I seeing them clearly, for who they now are, or am I clinging to the image of the person I once knew, because that’s so much easier for me?

Am I taking risks and trying new things, or just staying in my familiar ruts and doing things “the way I’ve always done them?”  Do I have the will power to get rid of life-long habits that no longer serve any useful purpose, and too often get in the way of my health and happiness?  Do I have the courage to reach out to people who annoy me, anger me, or even frighten me and try to find some common ground?  Or am I content to just keep dividing the world into “them” and “us?”

Personal spring cleaning is so much harder than simply cleaning my house, but it’s also so much more necessary.  If I want to start living more fully, and if I want to realize my full potential (modest though it may be), I have to be willing to let go of the resentments, complacency, prejudice, and all those other bad habits that are cluttering up my life.  I have to make room for new relationships, healthy habits and all the beautiful things that can enrich my life if finally make them a priority.

I know that personal spring cleaning, just like conventional spring cleaning, is a process that takes both time and commitment.  But it seems to me that if I can manage to keep a clean house, I ought to at least be willing to try to live a clean life as well.

But I May Wear That Someday…..

IMG_0150I admit to being one those people who still believes in giving her house a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning each year.  I wash windows, paint baseboards, clean out junk drawers, etc., and then turn my attention to my closet.  Cleaning my closet means packing away my winter clothes, and then hauling the bins filled with my spring and summer clothes out of the basement to place in my closet and dresser.   As I do, I try to look at each piece of clothing and make sure it’s something I actually still want, and the clothes that don’t make the cut get placed in the donation bag.  In theory, it’s a rather efficient system designed to keep only the clothes that fit, are flattering, and that I actually intend to wear.  And the key words in that sentence are “in theory.”

Because the reality is that I have lots of clothes in my closet that I don’t need or particularly want.  It’s completely against my character, as in all other areas of my life, I have no problems getting rid of things.  I can fill a donation bag, or even a trash bag, in record time and without a second thought.  But for some reason, I’m still hanging onto that pink t-shirt I bought at the outlet mall four years ago, which I’ve worn exactly once.  I also still have the tank top I wore to a neighborhood reunion in 2005, and the sweater that I am wearing in the photo of my husband’s 43rd birthday dinner is still in my dresser.  My husband will be 60 this year.

It’s not that I have these clothes stashed away, where they can be “out of sight and out of mind.” (That’s how we managed to keep my husband’s green leisure suit for the first ten years of our marriage.  It was in a bag of his old clothes which he moved from house to house, but never actually opened.)  My closet is a bit small, so I store out-of-season clothes in bins and I actually go through them each spring and fall, and I do designate several items each time for the Goodwill.  Yet I still manage to keep far too many tops, sweaters and dresses that I don’t wear, or at least that I haven’t worn in the past decade.

Maybe the problem is that I didn’t have very many clothes during my teenage years, when I was very self-conscious about such things.  Or maybe it’s that I believe in reusing and recycling things whenever possible, as I am all too aware of the growing problem of too much trash in our local landfills.  But I have to remember that clothes can’t be kept forever, even if I am still wearing them.  I should have figured that out after the time I wore a pair of jeans to the point where they were so frayed that they ripped right up the back seam.  I didn’t know the rip was there until my son pointed it out at dinner time, and I had worn those jeans all day.

I just have to let go of the idea that I may actually want to wear that black velvet jacket to a party someday, or that I am going to look at a blouse that I haven’t worn in six years and suddenly think, “That’s exactly what I want to wear today!” It seems that my wardrobe is my personal and final hurdle in my goal to living a simplified and clutter-free existence. And it’s way past time to clean out that closet, once and for all.IMG_0148