March 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning the Cobwebs

Late winter in Central Park

My mind has not been on writing much lately. My girls have been on spring break for a week now and there is another week to go. My eldest daughter spent her first week in New York City on a music appreciation trip with twelve other school mates during which she visited Lincoln Center, attended a concert of the London Philharmonic, toured Radio City Music Hall, Times Square and the NBC studios at Rockefeller Center, went to Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the 9-11 Memorial, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the musical instruments section. While she was there, my younger daughter kept track of her itinerary, and would often pipe up with, "Emma's getting ready to see Wicked at The Gershwin Theatre," or, "Emma's up the Empire State Building right now," or "Emma might be either at Staten Island or in Greenwich Village right now - they have a choice." Emma came home early Thursday morning and spent almost all that day entertaining us with stories of the group's adventures, and exhibiting signs of complete exhaustion. They had taken the red eye flights both ways, to and from Vancouver, and as might be obvious by the description above, did every touristy thing they could cram into their five day trip. She summed up her New York experience with, "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." She found she missed the general politeness of Canadians and home cooked meals after a few days.

Times Square on a Friday night

While Emma was away, I found that a little piece of me went with her, hoping and willing her to have a good time and praying her group would not encounter any bedbugs, which seem to have made an unfortunate comeback in the world of travel. However, the group stayed at a good hotel in Manhattan and one of their group, an experienced traveler, showed them how to inspect their beds properly for any critters. They found none and I felt better. Here at home, I was busy helping my violinist son mentally prepare for his auditions at the universities of his choice and filling my youngest daughter with vitamins and remedies to counter the cough she had again come down with; this winter has been a bit hard on her, like it has for so many of our acquaintance. With all of the above on my mind, I began the necessary task of spring cleaning our house. Spring cleaning and de-cluttering is proving to be a therapeutic exercise as I work toward my goal of having most of it done by Easter.

A long time ago, in a conversation with my always very busy sister, Monica, she told me she had developed a practice of cleaning out one area per day or two. That way, over time, she would get everything done without feeling overwhelmed with the idea of having to clean the whole house in one go. I decided to adopt her approach because, also being a busy person (who would rather do anything than clean), if I was going to get the job done well, I was going to have to do it a bit at a time. Rare is the day I can spend the entire time cleaning. Besides, my elbows get sore after a couple of hours' scrubbing and my lungs can only ingest so much dust. I also had a lot of paperwork and files to sort through and organize, so I tackled that job first. I found as I weeded out the old papers and kept only the important ones, making a folder for each new category, I began to feel my mind de-clutter, too, as if all the disparate items in my head had dropped into their proper place. I knew I would be able to easily locate what I needed now, and not have to shuffle through binders of thrown-together forms, lists, and printed out email communications, which is how a lot of my work is done. I tend to work intuitively. I am not disorganized in my mind, but even though I married a man who is hyper-German-organized and is an amazing example of order and efficiency to me, my files and binders do not often represent the fact.

I felt the same sense of mental de-cluttering when I pulled out our office desk in the corner of our living room. I cleaned everything, including the power cords, the walls, the carpet underneath. Just knowing my files on the shelves by the desk were in order, and the desk and everything about it was clean and orderly made me feel a great sense of satisfaction. Then I tackled the entryway of our house, getting the kids to go through their shoes, cleaning the shoe shelf, the coat closet, the throw-rugs, and scrubbing walls and the floor - which some bright person before us decided should be white lino with little green diamonds. The next victim of my spring cleaning attack will be the kitchen, and my kids have been conscripted for the event. We have a big kitchen which is what builders call 'a high traffic area', and once or twice a year we clean the insides and outsides of the drawers and cupboards and reorganize their contents. Of course, the appliances need to be cleaned, too, and more regularly, but we will tackle them as well, because the time has come again. We are also in the process of going through all our books, dusting them and their shelf homes, and weeding out ones we no longer value. I suppose I would not feel quite so much satisfaction with my spring cleaning if I did not let things build up in such a way as I tend to do. I am better at keeping our lives and important papers organized than I used to be - we have a box for medical receipts and a box for anything to do with our taxes, files for bills and important papers - but I am far from where I could be. I am not hard-wired to maintain a strict ' place for everything and everything in its place,' but I do enjoy the illusion of it, and the serene effect on my psyche for about a week after my annual spring cleaning.

I have long subscribed to the idea that "to everything there is a season." Spring and fall are the seasons to get my act together once more. Spring, because the increased sunshine highlights all the dust, dirt and clutter. Fall, because I will again be much inside the house and looking at the dust, dirt and clutter accumulated over the late spring and summer, and because my holiday from my volunteer work - and its paper trail -  is over. Spring, however, has a certain energy about it that emancipates the soul and makes it desire freshness and cleanliness - perhaps to reflect the renewed world outside my four walls and a desire to cast off the effects of the grey, gloomy grit of a west coast winter. Welcome Spring!


  1. Nice inspiring post. I am slowly tackling areas in the house too and finding lots of cobwebs. Easter, now thatvsoungd like a good goal.

    1. We finished the kitchen yesterday. Today, we get a bit of a break - I'm taking the girls for an outing. Have a good day, Mon!

  2. "Spring cleaning is a necessary task."

    Thank God there's no Winter cleaning, Summer cleaning or Autumn cleaning as well then. I can just about cope with cleaning when it's just the once a year. Easy to remember too when it fits in with 'bath time' so conveniently.




    Thanks for diverting me {away from the cleaning?} for a while with this. G has been to NY and raved about the place, while I've never been. I looked at the photo of Times Square and the night crowds and shuddered. I wouldn't want to do that for too long even though I would like to see it and am told I'd enjoy it.

    Seems like the family are well and thriving - despite the coughs of the young un - under your hand and are learning a strong work ethic too by the sound of it. You're scarily thorough. Probably you were a CSI in a previous incarnation or have some kind of OCD related condition!

    It may be Spring but here we're still in the grip of snow and all it brings with it. Much seems to come in off the sea and has an extra chill-factor attached. I watched newborn lambs tucking up alongside their mothers to get out of the sleet yesterday on the way home from work. Although the days are stretching the temperature stays firmly at the chilly end of the spectrum. Despite that, maybe just because we've passed through the door of Winter into Spring {officially at least}, there is a kind of optimism in the air.

    Or is it just the smell of an overworked vacuum cleaner?

    Cheers to you and yours.

  3. You Scots are known to be frugal, but that's taking things a bit too far!

    I'm not one for big crowds either, but I think I could handle it if I knew it was temporary. I chose those two contrasting photos from her collection because New York can be both, and if I could take a break from the crowds and enjoy the landscape of Central Park, that would make the experience all the more manageable for me.

    I'm only occasionally scarily thorough, but let's not dwell on my 'issues' for that could take a long day in itself. Suffice it to say, when I neglected the kitchen for too long we had a couple of insect infestations - grain weevils and then moths that get into the grains and make webs with it. Yuck. I would like to avoid these things if possible, because that really sends me up the wall...more issues, I know.

    I have heard about your arctic weather over there. We had some arctic weather for a couple of days, but the sun has just come out and my baby narcissus are looking brave. That's so sweet about the lambs...we have a lot of goats around here, but not too many sheep.

    Cheers to you and Gabrielle as well, Al. Nice to 'chat'.

  4. wife might hear and we will have to clean...haha...luckily i am not a hyper german organizer...smiles...actually there does come a point where i have to clean or i go crazy...but i can live with a little new york...which is an amazing much fun...cant wait to go back...

    1. I can certainly live with a little chaos, and things don't feel normal without a little chaos. However, I aim for things to be clean beneath the chaos. As my mother in law said on a visit, "Your house isn't dirty, just a bit messy."

  5. How fun for your daughter, a trip to the big apple! I've wanted to visit there, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to live there either.
    I've been spring cleaning too. I think it's just the increased energy that comes from longer, warmer, sunnier days. Like coming out of a hibernation of sorts.

    1. I do like hibernating...but there comes a time when I'm aching to be outside in the evening light, too.

  6. Ah ignore it. Soon enough the time of day when the light slants in at an angle that shows the muck will be well before you are reasonably caffeine perky to care. You don't sit at the breakfast scanning the room for cobwebs and scuff marks. And if you do you are a nut.
    Before I got Jess I found I was getting to be that type of man that cares about his house. It was spotless. Now not so much. Each year I wipe the walls in prep for painting.

    What age are your brood, I get confused and then think what the hell, you're sending a tween off to NYC on her own.

    Hard to credit it's Palm Sunday.

    1. I'm really quite good at ignoring it for extended lengths, which leads to the super-annual-cleaning spree. I know that houses with dogs are a different story. The hair alone makes a coating on everything fabric. My aunt is a very clean housekeeper, but I remember her wood floors very scratched by the dog's toenails. She didn't mind.
      My kids are nearly 20, 18, 16 (the one who went to NY with a teacher and an extra chaperone, btw) and 11.
      You paint your walls every year? Whatever for?

    2. I heat the house with a stove so I get dust ash and smoke no matter how careful one is. Ergo the need for a repaint. And as long as I don't get the perfection bit between the teeth I can do it relatively quickly. One year I got the black sable brushes out to do the trim.

    3. Ah. That makes sense.
      I know I've gone too far when I start cleaning things with toothbrushes ;)

  7. I've been decluttering and cleaning on an ongoing basis for years! Surprisingly, I can see a difference here and there. I am beginning to adopt the "mininalist" mentality; now just gotta convince my husband and children to feel the same.

    Your cleaning routine is organized and well-planned. I know it will be sucessful. I picked up some tips as I was reading. :)

    How nice that Emma got to see NY! She'll always remember it. By the way, do you now have to promise your younger daughter a trip on the same scale? :)

    Best wishes to your son with his auditions.

    1. I'm not sure I will ever be a minimalist - I like stuff. Admittedly, I have to keep up the momentum this week, which is hard to do with the kids back in school today. The bulk of it is done, though, which is most satisfying!
      My attitude towards these trips is 'one trip at a time!' We've got a few years yet.
      And thanks! They went well.

  8. My DD is also out in the world alone right now. Or I should say with a great big group of girls on a trip:) I feel as if a piece of my heart is missing. :) Glad to hear your babe is home safe and sound, and had an extrodinary trip!

  9. If only we had some sunshine to highlight the dirt I might feel a bit more inclined to clean. As it is, energy levels are rock bottom and the desire to spring clean is still dormant. I know in my head that I should be up and at it but my heart isn't in it.

    I hadn't heard about the prevalence of bed bugs but we are suffering terribly from clothes' moths.

    Good luck to your son for his auditions.

    1. I remember one winter I took all my wool sweaters down from the closet shelf, put on my favourite green one, and said, "What? Where did all these holes come from?" I lost four sweaters to moths. Ugh. Now I keep them in drawers made of cedar, which seems to work alright. Our district actually sprayed for gypsy moths last year because they were such a problem.
      I hope you get some sun soon! You know, I thought bedbugs were eradicated, but then a few years ago we started hearing a lot of news about infestations in dorms, apartment buildings, etc. I'm not sure how widespread they are, but we went from never hearing about them to hearing about them fairly often.
      Thanks very much!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!