If you’ve come to know me at all it won’t surprise you that I peddle as many romantic ideas about spring cleaning as I do about most things. It’s a trifecta of dopamine-inducing circumstances: the change of seasons, celebrating traditions, a clean house. I fantasize about conducting one of those ‘artificial moves’, vacating a room down to its cobwebs, scouring it from baseboard to crown molding utilizing various bristled implements, almost certainly an old toothbrush. Genuflecting, I sweat and scrub until finally my soul is as clean as the walls I’ve washed. By a religious experience I’m made pure. Gandhi and Martha Stewart.
In my fantasy a warm, light breeze wafts newly pressed panels of white cotton drapery. Sunlight streams through pristine glazing highlighting few lonely dust motes suspended above parallelograms of gleaming floor. The air is scented by a precise aromatic formula of equal parts cut grass, newborn-baby-smell, roses and sunshine. Each item that returns to the room does so because it’s beautiful, necessary and cherished. Heirloom quality. Nothing else is admitted nor exists. A robin flutters through an open window, perches on the iron headboard. She surveys the room, nods approvingly and, pulling the rumpled sheet taut, glides out the way she came in. Were I Meg Ryan and my life Sleepless in Seattle, Rosie O’Donell would’ve surely said, “That’s your problem, you don’t want to spring clean, you want to spring clean in a movie.” She’d also note I’ve more or less described a montage from Under the Tuscan Sun.
The reality, to which Sean will eagerly attest, is that I don’t enjoy deep cleaning and rarely do it. I much prefer straightening. I straighten every day in an attempt to maintain sanity. Sean, on the other hand, prefers to deep clean but only on Leap Day.
From the basement to the attic master bedroom our house is four levels. That’s alot of up and down. Like most homes the living room and kitchen are the hub. They exert the gravitational pull of a full-bodied planet, sucking objects to them as well as family members and pets. Items that don’t belong pile themselves in corners and on surfaces, sometimes strewn across the floor. Many beam with confidence acting as if they fit in while others cower beneath the coffee table, the sofa. Don’t think I don’t see you there. It’s something like 3 pairs of Sean’s reading glasses, 3 kids iPads, backpacks with the contents spilling out, 3 or 4 of my books, a multi-tool used to tighten a loose chair leg, a dinosaur, charging cords of varying length, colored pencils, Scout’s tennis ball; all of these plus their entourage. By 8pm the objects have become just as obstinate about returning up or downstairs as the children.
The most effective technique I’ve found in straightening is stacking. I make my stacks in places of transition. Items belonging on the second or third floor are stacked on the newel post of the ascending staircase. Items going to the basement are placed on the top step of the descending staircase. I live by this rule even if it means a drill or pliers alight the top step. All day long I’m stacking objects in these zones until they fill. In my head I imagine a model of our house in three dimensions the way a robber imagines a bank or Sean Connery imagined Alcatraz. I can envision where things need to go and the fastest route to get them there so as to avoid making unnecessary trips. If I’m going upstairs to write in my master bedroom this often means balancing a stack of toilet paper rolls, girls hair accessories, bills and small animal figures along with my writing notebook, phone and waterbottle. Each successive space I pass en route to my final destination lightens my load.
My affection for stacking is rooted in a love of clear surfaces. Loose homework pages on a kitchen counter, when stacked neatly to one side, elicit a sense of profound peace as they appear smaller, more orderly, intentional. Vertical is just plain better than horizontal. Perhaps this explains my fondness for pancakes. I should eat more club sandwiches, tostadas, harbor a greater appreciation of high rise buildings, parking garages, rock-paper-scissor. I should own a briefcase. My love of stacking is not limited to our house. I like to pre-bus our table at restaurants. This embarasses Sean but let’s be honest, I’m capable of so much worse.
Things make me anxious. The only act I enjoy more than stacking them is getting rid of them. Kids junk, junk mail, worn out clothes sure, but also surplus. What do I need with 250 paper plates? I only really needed 10. I pawn them off on gracious neighbors. I do this even when the surplus could be useful someday. Someday doesn’t currently exist and can’t be counted on. I take pleasure in having no excess as if we might pick up on any given day, load back into the Airstream and hit the road but we won’t - the Airstream, too, is gone. When the apocalypse arrives don’t come to my house. My canned food cupboard consists of 15oz of black beans to be consumed in tomorrow’s tacos and three cans of pumpkin puree I use as a home remedy to prevent Scout from dragging his butt across our floors. He won’t be sharing. In case of emergency you can reach us at Curt’s.
Lest you think I never clean, last week I did empty and scrub our refrigerator and in doing so noticed something peculiar. Sean doesn’t co-mingle his organic, grass-fed, free range meats with our lesser-pedigree family meats. Separation of the classes. And you think I’ve got issues.
PS. There’s a new item on the basement step this week, a kettlebell. I’m stepping up my exercise routine in preparation for King Kone season. Rules are meant to be broken.