It’s that time of year again. My muscles ache from spending hours curled up on a couch under a blanket, and the crush of the walls that have kept warm for the last several months becomes stifling. The inanimate occupants of my house seemed to have multiplied and I long to escape from the stacks, piles, and heaps of stuff. It is time to spring clean.
In the past this urge over took me once a year and I would make a day of it, finishing by dinner and relaxing in a sparkling clean abode. Now that the actual animate occupants of my house have multiplied, I chip away at the tasks in chunks over the course of a month. I clean the refrigerator one day, a drawer the next. Some days I am too tired and only have the energy to clean out my Netflix queue after the children have fallen asleep. Other days I sneak away while my husband entertains them and spend hours delving into the depths of a closet, hoping to emerge in a cleaner, more organized Narnia.
I am not a meticulous housekeeper, but I enjoy the spring clean. I find journals I kept in high school and college, and listen to a younger me talk about crushes I once had on boys who are now men, who work in auto shops and travel the globe. I find scraps of fabric from projects I have finished – baby quilts, Christmas stockings. Under the couch cushions there are wrappers from snacks we haven’t purchased in months, and hats that my sons have long since outgrown. There are lost toys that will be treasured once again, and missing socks whose partner I bid adieu to months before. I find text books whose content I can’t remember, yet hold onto, perhaps in case anyone ever telephones me with an urgent question about non-Western perceptions of infectious diseases, or perhaps because I want to remember that I once read them. I find dresses I haven’t worn in years, originally purchased because they bared little cleavage, and shelved because they did not permit nurslings easy access my breasts. I wonder if they are even in style anymore, or if the slacks I wore when I went to work would even fit the body of a mother.
There are some things I know I will not find. I will not find one of the earrings my husband gave to me on the first Christmas we spent together, although each time we travel, I will search every corner of the suitcase I know I left it in. I will not find the journal that I kept on my summer abroad, detailing adventures I knew I wanted to remember, tucking souvenirs behind the cover. I have not seen it in the last six moves I have made, but I haven’t stopped looking. I know I will not find the object to ever be as important as the memory, and find myself saying goodbye to once cherished mementos that have now morphed into nothing more than dust collectors. I will not find out what would have happened if I had broken up with my college boyfriend and dated one of those crushes I journaled about instead. Nor will I find what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten sick when I was 24, or if I hadn’t have quit my job after my second son was born. I will not find out what would have happened if I had not had the courage to step on an airplane and move away from everything I new and loved to embark on a new adventure. I don’t think I want to.
Each year, I take the different versions of me that I have lived down from the shelves and dust them off, one by one. I retire the ones that I have long since outgrown, and save some versions for the future, in case I decide to head that direction once again. I take inventory of my house, of my life. It will not last – drawers will become cluttered once again and a muddy pile of shoes will grow at the bottom of the closet once more. And I will wonder once again what I am doing and who do I want to be. I have been a student, an employee, a mother, a writer, a baker, a believer, someone who has dreamed of adventure, of family, of love. My life may have changed, but I have not.