To me, the first day of spring always signals the official start of the spring-cleaning season. It's the national thumbs up to the population at large (not just the neat-freak group, of which I am a proud card-carrying member) to clean out their files, organize their closets, and straighten up the storage room. Ladies and gentlemen, start your vacuum cleaners!
I usually begin my spring cleaning with something seemingly innocuous such as my pencil cup. A few deep breaths, some wrist exercises (four turns to the left, four to the right), and I am good to go.
With laserlike focus I test each pencil, pen, and highlighter to see if they still have what it takes to remain a tenant in my pencil cup. Parker ballpoint pen, ink running a bit spotty – you're history! Red Sharpie looking pale and weak – it's over. Faded yellow highlighter, I see you hiding behind the Bic Matic Grip pencil – into the trash you go.
I show no mercy as I diligently ready my pencil cup for the season ahead. It will be a lean, mean desktop machine, ready to write pithy and powerful prose, sign cashable checks, and doodle during boring conference calls.
Juiced up and brimming with clean-pencil-cup energy, I stride confidently to my clothes closet for what I assume will be a mere touch-up. Wrong! Glancing inside, I cannot believe that my wardrobe is in this much disarray – again.
I pick up a pair of black pants lying crumpled at my feet entangled with my running shoes and a small gold evening bag. "Do you like living like this?" I chastise them.
Even worse, several shirts have managed to migrate (on their own, it seems to me) from the dormant fall-winter closet down the hall to my active spring-summer closet.
"All right," I tell myself, "don't panic. Just start pairing up socks and putting them back where they belong, and no one will get hurt." After two hours of sorting and sifting, my clothes closet is at last certified spring-clean.
Having confronted my wardrobe and won, I joyously ride the energy wave to the pièce de résistance of all spring-cleaning projects – the garage. Changing into a faded blue work shirt, I fling open the door and scream, "Oh, this is going to be more difficult than I thought!"
My garage is an Ellis Island where the orphans of my stuff wait to clear immigration and enter into the country at large. Heaped in one pile are 35 blank canvases (seriously, I counted them) from baby-step 8-by-10s up to ambitious 24-by-30s, all purchased in a flurry of creative exuberance at a "buy one, get one for a penny" sale last July. They are staying. I neatly arrange them by size and shape so that when inspiration does strike, they are ready to be picked up and painted.
As I move in a clockwise direction, my eyes rest on a posse of cardboard boxes huddled conspiratorially together. Some big, some little, rectangles and squares, both brown and brightly colored. I eye them suspiciously and inquire, "What have you been doing in here?" They seem to give one another knowing sidelong glances. Whatever it is, I'm sure they've been up to no good. One by one I flatten the self-satisfied smirks off their cardboard faces, stack, and throw them into the trunk of my car. The recycling center is their inevitable end.
At last I come to the group that truly touches my heart – clothes rejected by the consignment shop in winter, told to come back and try again in spring. They have waited patiently, and the moment has arrived, at least for some of them.
Putting sentiment aside, I decide what fate will befall which garment. Some are stuffed unceremoniously into a large plastic bag and dropped off at the local Goodwill. The more fortunate are hung on hangers and chauffeured to the consignment shop, to be adopted by a label-loving, yet thrifty shopper.
The cherry on top of my spring-cleaning sundae involves gathering up any remaining stray stuff – books, CDs, household items – placing them in well-labeled boxes, and stacking them unobtrusively in the now-roomy garage.
With a sigh of satisfaction, I step back and survey the fruits of this year's spring-cleaning labor – I am at last a lean, mean, organized machine.
This feeling lasts for all of three weeks. Little by little the stuff of the universe finds its way into my life: the 1950s-vintage rhinestone pin I saw at a garage sale and simply had to have; the adorable little black dress that whispered, "Take me home. I'm stylish and 50 percent off"; the Costco 50-pack special of ballpoint pens.
As I settle these newly acquired treasures into appropriate closets and cupboards, I conclude that we clean freaks are fighting a losing battle. It seems to be a law of nature that the organized shall become disorganized, and the empty turn to full.
Truth be told, I like it that way. Just as artists create their world with paint and canvas, I shape the story of my life in part through this process of choosing what I keep and what I toss out. I even get a little shiver up my spine as I contemplate the joy of getting ready this June for the next big cleaning event – the summer garage sale. Ladies and gentlemen, start your sorting.