Huge family Christmas Eve gatherings. Jumping off the pillars of the concrete front porch and running around. Playing double dutch with my cousins and aunts in the driveway. These are things I remember loving about my grandmother’s house as a little girl. So, how did it end up that my mother could get me to act right by threatening to send me over there?
My grandmother’s house was also the land of roaches, overcrowded
with people (especially kids and even as a kid I didn’t really “do” kids) and it was always junky. Oh, and if I spent the night, I’d usually sleep in the bed with my grandmother and she was notorious for belching and farting—loudly…and often. No. I was not always eager to live or hangout at my grandmother’s house and being away from my own quiet home sometimes felt like a punishment.
Funny thing is, I soon started to realize that my mother was, indeed, my grandmother’s child. My mom’s longtime boyfriend would tease my
mom that she couldn’t resist a flat surface. Anyplace in our house with a flat surface never stayed clear for long. My mother—the Queen of Knick-Knacks!
The microwave had random plates on top.
The old school floor model television acquired candy dishes, photo frames and a small stereo.
The top of the toilet had little porcelain figurines.
Chair seats were good for clothes and boxes, not so much for sitting.
No matter how small the surface, she could find something to put on it.
My mother could re-arrange entire rooms by herself, but she wasn’t big on routine cleaning. We did a lot of “straightening up.” “Straightening
up” is the generic, store brand version of cleaning. You attempt to put things in their proper place and give the appearance of order, but nothing ever really gets clean. It’s a temporary fix for a much larger issue.
Since the time I was a pre-teen, I was primarily responsible for doing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. It started out being fun. I’d have my portable radio going and I felt like I was doing what grownups do. As I
grew older, I began to clean out of resentment and contempt.
“Uggh! Why can’t she ever just put stuff back!...I JUST cleaned the kitchen! How is it a mess already?!...Why does she save EVERYTHING?!?”
The frustration and contempt went both ways because eventually my mother made it known she didn’t like me cleaning. I LOVED throwing things away!
We bumped heads quite a bit over my cleaning practices. My mother had no shame about going in the garbage behind me to see what I threw away, and retrieving the things she wanted. It was crazy to me. Who needs a sock that hasn’t seen its mate in over 10 years? Who keeps and washes their plastic forks and spoons? She didn’t even like when I threw away things that were completely mine. Eventually, my mother’s house became like my grandmother’s and as an adult I didn’t like to visit often.
As I came into my own awareness about some things and how our outside life is a direct reflection of our inside life, I couldn’t just sit in her mess like it was normal. Well, maybe it was her normal, but that didn’t mean it had to be my normal. I know my mother grew up in a different time; I know she lost a lot of people and things in her life; I know after my parents separated we never had much money. I know there are probably a million explainations of why she held on to things so tightly. I just couldn’t keep trying to clean up after somebody wasn’t ready to clean house, literally and figuratively.
I remember when my mother was in and out of hospitals and rehabs following her brain surgery in late 2009. I used those months as a prime
opportunity to clean and purge her tiny apartment in the seniors building where she lived. Truly God worked a miracle because not only could she speak, walk and write again by the time she came home, her memory was like an elephant’s! She started asking me where I had moved things to and what I threw away because she knew I threw stuff away. My family came a few times to help clean, but we never could get it together. There was always a reason why something was worth keeping.
I couldn’t understand how my mother could live in disorder, but now I’m forced to. These days I’m dealing with the realization that I’m my mother’s child. Maybe the omen of junkiness is hereditary. I’ve watched my cute and cozy studio apartment transform into an overstuffed walk-in closet with windows. There are no clear flat surfaces, including the floor and bed. Clothes, shoes and books are spilling out of the closets. Some days, I come home and look around just wondering, “How did it get like this?” “How do I live in this every day?”
I’m trying to trace back to when I started to lose a handle on things. For me, I know it’s bigger than just putting the clothes on hangers and putting things in their proper place. I want to get to the bottom of my
fascination with allowing things to accumulate (another form of procrastination, perhaps?) and why I make it difficult to do the things that need to be done. It’s not hard to wash dishes, to put the cap back on the toothpaste, to hang clothes when they’re not being worn, but I find a way to make simple actions hard.
I am not alone, apparently. Last week, I was going through my e-mail and while reading one of my DailyOm messages, I saw a link for a course called, “Clear Your Home, Clear Your Life.” In this 28-day online course
(based on her book, Your Spacious Self: Clear Your Clutter and Discover Who You Are), writer and clearing guru Stephanie Bennett Vogt introduces tiny, practical shifts in thinking and journaling exercises that little by little should help folks like me get the ‘chi’ moving and begin to clear the space in their home and life.
Is it absolutely pathetic that someone needs a book or a class on how to clean? Maybe just a little. But, after being nine days in, I think she offers some good food for thought. I don’t have to get myself all overwhelmed trying to overhaul this place in one shot. I can do something as simple as sweeping the kitchen, putting my keys in the same spot every day or repeating the affirmation “I choose ease.”
The reality could be that this space is honestly too small for me. I don’t have a lot of stuff, but maybe I require more space than what I
thought I did a year ago. Is it really about the money I’m saving? Truth be told, I'm cashing out on vegetarian food, extracurricular activities and books, so really, what am I saving? My dream home is a loft. You can't stuff loft aura into a studio, maaan! Do I need to give some of my beloved books away? Lord knows I need to slow down on ordering books from Amazon just about every week. Maybe I just need to develop and stick to a cleaning routine. I’ve never really had one before; it was just something I did when I felt like it, and even then I was usually only “straightening up”. Maybe I just need a professional!
Whatever the case, I want to have a clear mind and a clear body and I want my outer life to reflect those things. I am cleaning house, in
all senses of the phrase. A little help never hurt nobody.