Being the 9th in a miscellany of short posts to mark the 12 days of Christmas.
For those of us with the tidiness gene/impulse/obsession, this is a great time of year, when we can indulge in socially sanctioned tidying. Better yet, we get to call it ‘cleaning out’, with none of the pressure to actually clean that comes, say, with the entirely arbitrary and unreasonable ‘spring cleaning’ obligation.
As one calendar year ends and another begins, many of us take the opportunity to clean out financial files, happily shredding stale documents — bank statements, credit card bills, investment reports — that are still kicking around. Some of us clean out closets and drawers, eliminating the too big, the too small, the not-worn-in-the-last-year. Some clean out the fridge, returning it to normalcy after the excesses of the recent feasting season. And some clean out their computers, eliminating pictures that seemed like a good idea at the time, deleting old versions and obsolete documents, and updating email lists.
Of course, the New Year isn’t the right time for all tidying. In our climate, cleaning out the garage lends itself better to those lovely first days of spring, when we look for any excuse to spend time outdoors, well before the yard needs attention. And cleaning out the basement lends itself more readily to an imminent household move, in whatever season, when the thought of actually paying to relocate this stuff brings an entirely different perspective on its value.
For those of us who have reached, ahem, a certain age — in more ways than one — maybe we can use this cleaning-out kick-start as a reminder to clean out our mental spaces. Biases and prejudices might be chopped up into little bits, the better to prevent their identification in case anyone is going through our cast-offs. Grudges might be — if not disposed of entirely — at least shelved, preferably in a well-labelled box. Opinions might be moved from the fat folder marked ‘Certainly’ to the skinny one marked ‘Maybe’. Belief structures might be re-examined and pared down to the essentials.
In our materialistic and wealthy society, you hear a lot these days about how we all have too much ‘shit’. Maybe that goes for what’s between our ears as well.
You read my mind. Not 10 minutes ago I was thinking: I will clean out the fridge today. Two years ago I spent 5 months reading my 3,500 page journal & condensing it to 85 pages. Almost every January entry read: Began a wild tidy, or some such words. One year, John and I spent 300 hours — all day, every day for weeks — sorting every object in the studio/apartment. It was cathartic and dusty. We pitched 46 garbage bags of stuff. We liberated 2 shelves, one each.
One day near the end, John said, “You know when you’ve been cleaning too long when you find yourself cleaning the cleaning bucket.”
As for the mental clean-out, you make some very good points. But I try to do that regularly, throughout the year. (Like I keep my email files pruned.) How smug is that!?!
Barbara – Well, pretty smug! I’m a tidier by nature but sometimes wonder if I should be aiming to leave things for my survivors to clean out.
My mother has tidied her life’s possession down to the essentials by the time she died at 91. But, she did leave some things for my sister and I to find — all the many cards we had each sent her over the years. And, preserved in two plastic sleeves, were the letters I wrote to her and my father on Mother’s and Father’s Day, 10 years before. I read out the one I wrote to her at her funeral. She must have been so glad to receive it, getting thanks and appreciation from a rather wild daughter, after all those years.
After the service, a woman in her late 40s sighed and said to me, “I can only hope I will eventually get letters like the one you wrote YOUR mother.” (Her daughters are 18 and 22, both handfuls.)
Barbara – Yes, some things one doesn’t throw out. Cards & letters from kids rank high on that list. How wonderful to know that she valued your letter – we don’t always get that feedback in such an unambiguous way.
I have my own tidying ritual. At the end of each year, I try to list five good things about the past year, five things that make the year worthwhile. (Inevitably, I also list some of the lousy things about the previous year too.) The last few years, I’ve noticed that the two lists overlap much more than they used to. Indeed, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether an item or story belongs on the “good” list or the “bad” list. I think this is telling me that as I age, my life has fewer black/white issues; I see more shades of grey. Perhaps I flatter myself, but I think maybe I see around objects/concepts more than I used to, to recognize that every coin has another side.
One of Stuart MacLean’s (Vinyl Cafe) Dave & Morley stories had this ending.
“It will be all right in the end,” the woman assured young Sam.
Sam asked, “And what if it isn’t?”
The woman said, “Then it’s not the end.”
The trick is to see “good” and “bad” events as just “is-ness” right away. Maybe that’s what the Buddha giggles about and what wisdom is. It be what it be.
Barbara – Well, that Zen-like acceptance of “what is” is certainly one element of Eastern wisdom that we could aspire to in some degree at least.
Jim – As a rule, I didn’t watch Ally McBeal, but saw one or two episodes, including the one where John Cage says: If you think back, and replay your year – if it doesn’t bring you tears of joy or sadness, consider the year wasted. Maybe, as you age, the things that bring you tears of joy also carry an element of sadness. Or, as my husband says (usually when something awful has transpired): Nothing is all good or all bad. And darn him, he’s usually right.