04 July 2007

Purging The Junk

Life gets busy. Stuff collects. And, in a neighborhood where real estate is worth $300 a square foot, simply letting junk eat up your floor space isn't an ideal proposition either. So, from time to time, one has to purge the junk. In the past couple of weeks, faced with an accumulation so great we needed the help of a family friend to pierce through it, we've dug out and done it.

The collected donation bags are enough to fill our car. Our contribution to the dumpster has been comparable. Out go the infant bath toys and less popular infant level books that our elementary school children no longer play with (my eldest is now reading Charlotte's Web). Out go the clothes that no longer fit -- like my 13 year old tuxedo, which I'd have to lose a fifth of my body weight to wear again. Winter clothes have been banished to storage for the season. Books we rarely read have been reassigned to my study from bedrooms and living rooms. I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to use the dated 100 volume legal encyclopedia neatly arranged on shelves on my garage and rid myself of them. The children conceded some of their broken outdoor toys. A broken DVD player became fodder for young inventors at camp. We finally decided that our entry rug was no longer capable of being cleaned adequately. The many years of maintenance receipts that once filled my glove compartment have been relocated to a file in a file cabinet in my study. The emerging jungle of weeds in the backyard has been eradicated once again,

We've not only thrown out junk, but also looked at the patterns in our lives that have caused it to accumulate. As children get older, we need to be conscious of what no longer matters to them, as well as what they need now. We haven't set aside enough time for slightly bigger household projects. We don't have a regular process to evaluate which of our kitchen implements, clothes, books, toys and other possessions we still need. We don't have places for everything. We don't have agreed legitimate locations to do certain activities. We don't even have a settled place to charge our cell phones. We aren't always aware of what we already have in storage when we buy new things.

The process is not over. Is it ever? The more substantial infant items, a crib, strollers, a high chair, need to be sold. It will probably take me several more serious rounds of effort before I can muster the gumption to dispose of the better share of my dozens of bankers boxes and file drawers full of marginal files that I probably no longer need to keep -- my more interesting law school class notes, out of date financial records, and boxes of newspaper clippings that would have made good blog posts had the medium been invented then. Even some of my collected books can probably be culled for the collective good of a library sale. I loved reading the full set of Kate Elliot's seven volume fantasy series in hard back (and needed to the books to refer back to while I was reading it); but I honestly can't claim that I will ever read that saga again.

But, if you meaningfully participate in the process of removing the unnecessary things from your life, it is cleansing. There is more room and less clutter at home and in the car. A random grab into a dresser drawer is now more likely to produce something appropriate to wear that actually fits. Rearranged furniture has provided us with fresh perspectives, and a reassignment of the children's places to sit at the dining room table has made a dent in dinner time fighting.

More deeply, junk purging has focused our attention on how we parent. Must we concede the entire house to the children as a fragile free zone, or can we meaningfully expect them to refrain from engaging in activities that are prone to breaking things now? Is the cost of imposing the rule worth the benefits of forcing the children to put away one project before they start another? Can we expect our children to be good at cleaning up until we establish a place for them to put each item? How are we going to establish better routines to get homework done next year, when there is more of it, than we did last year? Where can we keep library books, so that we won't lose them? If we want them to keep food out of their bedrooms, do we need to make appropriate snacks easier for them to get at in the kitchen themselves, or harder?

Spring is a lousy time for spring cleaning. Everyone is busy. Parties abound. Uncertain weather makes it hard to put clothes in storage. It is too nice outside to waste the day indoors straightening up and cleaning. And, school projects which will soon come to an end have to remain front and center.

In modern Colorado, the time for spring cleaning is the summer. The winter clothes are definitely out of season. Parties grow infrequent as vacationers make them hard to schedule. The children have time on their hands, and even the pace at the office seems to slow. Last year's school things can be put away. On the hot, languid days, nothing is a rush, so there is time to contemplate arrangements that will work. Casual summer clothing is perfect for cleaning in. And, the swamp cooler keeps indoors a more attractive place than outdoors. The start of the year is an arbitrary thing which different cultures have assigned to different times. Once, in the West, it began in the spring. Now, we follow commercial culture and start after the Christmas rush in January. But, for my druthers, the Jewish calendar, which starts the year in the early autumn, almost in tune with the academic calendar, has it right.

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