An annual ritual serves up life lessons
By Dawn McDowell
Somewhere between the sight of the last bit of melted snow and the budding of my front yard trees, I get this urge to set aside a specific block of time for spring cleaning.
As quirky as this sounds, I get an ever-so-slight tingle when I think about how great I'll feel after I've spent a few weekends riffling through piles of papers and checking the expiration dates on all of the Seven Sea's bottles in the fridge. I even anticipate reveling in joy when I finally find that long lost earring behind the couch that only gets moved once a year. Reorganizing my life and getting rid of the old really gives me a sense of accomplishment and - I'll admit it - maybe even a bit of a body rush. But that doesn't mean the process is always easy.
As a child, I pulled my well-worn toys from the closet and had to make the difficult decision of what to keep and what to chuck. When you're seven, this can be a pretty tough choice. After all, you never know when a doll that was crammed in the corner might come in handy at your next tea party.
Today, my stomach wrenches when I think of the things I tossed which are now prized collectibles. Do you remember your Deluxe Dream Kitchen? Or the original Betsy Wetsey? Or, my favorite, Robbie the Robot? If I had kept even a fraction of my assortment of toys, I'd be well on my way to an earlier retirement.
In my teen years, spring cleaning was a preparation for adulthood. "Tossing" became a matter of parting with the things that reminded me of my youth and keeping things that would not hamper me from moving forward. I struggled with doing away with items that had given me comfort to make space for new, improved "grown up" toys.
Spring cleaning in my 20s and 30s meant eliminating the things that welcomed me into adulthood. As I became able to afford new and improved versions, I tossed the old with nary a backward glance. After all, when was the last time you heard the ring of a rotary phone? Or cranked up that 8-track player? Or plugged in that black and white 13-inch TV? All right, so maybe newer is better, but remember lava lamps? Target stocked them for Christmas this past year!
As I move into my mid-life years, my springtime cleaning chores are of a more personal nature. While I still "collect " and "throw out," my focal point encompasses more than the material realm. Now, instead of "things," I look at myself and my life and its meaning. I concentrate on what makes me happy, on my career, on my relationships, on my family. I struggle with which ones to keep, which ones to toss, which ones to change. I see the passing of friends and give thought to just where I will be this time next year. Clutter becomes less attractive, accumulation less important and what, in the past, I may have taken for granted, now becomes much more cherished.
My early years taught me much. The exercise of looking in my closets and deciding what to keep and what to throw away was fertile ground for being able to figure out what is and isn't important to me now.
So, this spring, when you see a seven-year-old struggling with which toy to let go and which to hold onto, let her make the final decision. Keep in mind she's in spring training -- for the later game of life!