Cleaning Up

There is something about cleaning–washing dishes, folding warm clothes straight from the dryer, or vacuuming a rug–that has a cleansing effect in more than one way. If you’re frustrated, angry, or just not at your best, put on your headphones and sweep, soak, and scrub until the negative feelings dissipate. And if that’s not enough, there’s something even more cathartic about getting rid of old stuff. Decluttering your spaces. Clearing out your life. Putting things back together without the mess.

Ask anyone who knows me–I’ve spent at least one third of my life, so far, cleaning my room. (And probably just as much time complaining about cleaning my room.) I don’t particularly like the act of cleaning itself in most cases, so I put things off as long as possible. When I was younger, there was always some mess taking over my bedroom. If I wanted to go somewhere or hang out with my friends, I had to clean first. Sometimes that entailed picking up dirty laundry or putting away clean laundry, and other times it meant I had to clear a path from my bed to the door. But then I always spent so much time going through all of the piles of boxes and papers and trinkets that I wouldn’t get around to doing what I wanted in the first place.

I used to sort things into three piles: yes, no, and maybe. The no pile was further split into two parts–things I would throw out and things I would donate–but it was often pretty small. The yes pile was much larger than it should have been, especially because I am too sentimental for my own good and always kept 99% of the maybe pile as well.

I could never get rid of old stuffed animals because I didn’t want to abandon them. I keep clothes I have long outgrown and old school notes and things I have not used in months–just in case I ever need them again. I hold on to letters from friends, favorite childhood toys, cards from twenty-something years of birthdays and holidays, the first surfboard keychain I ever had, my old portable CD player, the ticket stub from the movie I saw on my first date. There’s also my ever-expanding collection of books and a closet that is somehow always too small.

There has never been enough space for everything I want to keep. Once one thing falls out of place, my room quickly spirals into a horrible tornado-y mess. Even to this day, the actual cleaning takes forever because I am such a methodical cleaner. I work on one section at a time, dusting, wiping down, vacuuming, and organizing everything meticulously before I can move on.

Aside from a few major closet purges and trying to keep a clear path from my door to my bed, there hasn’t been much real room-cleaning in a couple of years. There was always something more important, or more exciting, to be done. But I came to a point in the last couple of years where I grew to dislike being surrounded by so much stuff all the time. (And having to clean said stuff.) While I will always enjoy holding on to mementos and keepsakes for nostalgia’s sake, I don’t actually need three large under-bed storage bins full of them. If it no longer serves a functional purpose or if it has no significant sentimental value, then it’s just taking up space. With all of this in mind, I have made some changes to my cleaning process.

The maybe pile no longer exists.

It’s either yes or no right from the start, or I’ll never get rid of all of the in between things.

When I want to keep something, I have to ask myself (usually more than once), “Okay, but do you really, really, really need it?” before it is officially spared from the garbage or the donation pile.

I am currently about a third of the way through a major clean and I feel much better already. My clothes have been put away properly. The drawers are organized precisely. All of my sunglasses are in one place and my scarves are hung neatly behind the door. I can even see the floor! There is still a lot of clearing and sorting ahead of me, but I’m making room for more important things.

There will never be enough space to keep everything. There will always be too much and not enough. Things, pictures, stories, memories, people. You have to decide what is worth your time and space.

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