Been a whole lotta cleaning going on this summer. Seems everyone I know is pitching, storing, trying to get a handle on their “stuff.” A child is leaving home (and leaving stuff behind); another is returning (with a whole new batch of stuff). And after two decades plus there is just too much stuff and somethinghastobedone NOW!
Spring cleaning and summer cleaning are completely different animals. Spring cleaning greets a new season, throws open windows to let in sunlight and fresh air still tinged with winter. Spring cleaning looks forward. It’s frenzied, carried upon the crest of pent-up energy.
Come the tail end of summer only the wasps are frenzied — still building their damn grey paper condos in the space between our storm windows. It’s too hot to climb tiptoe to reach that last speck of dust. Summer cleaning means retreating to the cool of the basement. It’s sitting on the floor, sifting through boxes and inhaling the mustiness and memory of old letters, baby clothes, and cards signed with paint-smeared handprints no bigger than a plum.
Must my husband save a two-foot high stack of Sports Illustrateds? Surely the players have all been traded or sentenced for drug possession or sidelined with hamstring injuries. Do I really need to hold on to my grandparents’ hardsided grey valise? It reeks of cigarette.
My mother and grandmother saved every letter I ever wrote to them and so I spend time with past selves, reliving my junior year abroad, first job jitters, homesickness at sleepaway camp. I open a sealed envelope and see the heavily scrolled border of the page within. A forgotten bearer bond! But no. The document is merely an appraisal for my mother’s Persian lamb coat, the coat that used to hang in the hall guest closet. My favorite hiding place because I could always count on finding a few quarters in the coat pockets.
Spring cleaning decisions are a cinch — toss, toss, toss. Who names a dust bunny or cries to keep it? But summer decisions are hard. My husband insists he will read these magazines. Who am I to deprive him of the pleasure of reading? I save my grandmother’s suitcase because every time I slide those metal latches and lift the lid I inhale the shadow of smoke exhaled by her very breath. I am five-six-seven-eight and with her once again. Spring cleaning heralds the start of a new year. Summer cleaning tells us time, so much time, has passed.
And so I sit and cull. Remember and toss. Save and savor. The garbage bags grow bigger. The boxes in which I save grow smaller. And then I come across two blue plastic spoons molded into the shape of airplanes. We bought them years ago in hopes of feeding grandchildren one day. I make a note so I do not forget where I put them. In a box. Tucked away for the future.
Just in case this has made you too wistful, click here for George Carlin’s classic take on stuff.