If you have lived any sort of length of time on this big blue planet, you’ve probably had a long, slow goodbye. Heck, if you’ve ever had to pull a Bandaid off, you’ll get this. Let’s say you’re stuck in a painful relationship or a job that doesn’t fit, or you’re watching a loved one fade away from illness. On the one hand, you want Time to take it slow, to linger a bit so that you can find the last moments of joy that can be salvaged from the damage: that last squeeze of your father’s hand, that last kind note from a student, that last sad kiss- the one that tastes of salt from the tears mingling on your lips. But that slow goodbye hurts. It extends the pain and lets the mind sit and fester in anxiety and sadness so that you start wishing you could speed the process a bit. I am in that place right now, convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that my time has come to move on (not from my darling husband by the way. Him I will never leave). But I can’t! I have to wait. So what am I doing to cheer the days? Cleaning! Yes, that’s right. I clean when I am stressed. By clean, I do not just mean I dust and vacuum. I throw stuff out. I put stuff in boxes and I write what’s in the boxes on the outside so that I can find stuff later and I put the boxes away into storage. Storage used to mean the attic, but I cleaned that out as well. Today I am going to clean the garage and put all boxes into beautiful stacks and start organizing for a garage sale. I have been known to throw actual furniture away in these great purges. When Trav and I were evicted from our college apartment, I threw enough stuff away to furnish an efficiency rental.
You can actually gauge my anxiety level by opening my closets. The cleaner and emptier they are, the more worried I am. Nothing is safe in these purges except my scrapbooks, my costumes, my quilt, my Jody Bove glass, and my wedding dress. My children fear these purges, as they should. I stand at their doorways, fingers itching to take in a huge Hefty Cinch Sack, some cardboard boxes and Sharpies to alleviate all clutter. My office is almost bare now, posters have been taken down and all but the most essential books have been packed and the car is being loaded daily with boxes heading home (to the garage).
I am also using things up: all the little bottles of lotion and shampoo, all the cleaning products, all the groceries. My cupboards and drawers are clearing out to make packing easier. My wardrobe is almost nonexistent because I am not replacing worn out things.
I am not sure exactly what is going on in my head. I wish I could rip the Bandaid off. I wish I could just say goodbye and head off into the sunset. I know it would be healthier for me. It’s tough to linger. But that discomfort is alleviated by sparkling, empty cabinets and closets and drawers, surfaces emptied of knick knacks, and walls nearly bare of pictures and art. Maybe I am learning that what is really important isn’t stuff. Or maybe I am just imposing order where I can, since I believe so little is beyond my control right now. Maybe both.
A man named David Hobson said, “I enjoy the cleaning up – something about the getting of things in order for winter – making the garden secure – a battening down of hatches perhaps… It just feels right.”
Maybe that’s what’s going on. I am battening down my hatches and making my figurative garden- the little family I have tended all these years- secure.
I know where this impulse comes from. I grew up in what could nicely be called a mess. I was the girl who got made fun of at school for the dirty clothes and the smelly body, who left her friends at the corner on the walk hone from school so that they would not see the overgrown lawn, who learned by the age of ten that the only thing she could really do anything about was her own bedroom. Amidst chaos, I retreated to my private space and imposed order. You could have eaten off my bedroom floor.
I know that things will get better, that the new opportunities will present themselves. Until then, I will flit through my house dusting, packing, purging, labeling, and scrubbing. Honestly, it would be a great time for you to come visit!
Beware, though, I may hand you some packing bubbles or a bottle of Windex, so wear your grubbies! I’ll have wine in the fridge and I’ll be sure to leave enough glasses unpacked.
Gotta go- my garage is calling my name.