Do you love putting your Christmas decorations away? I do, even though there’s always at least one item I find after everything is boxed up and put away. The first item I found this year was the plastic sprig of mistletoe hanging from the kitchen fan pull chain. Totally fake yet festive. I’d like to think all those kisses under it were real, though. I know my doggie liked the extra attention.
It’s joyous to decorate the house, inside and out, for Christmas. So many memories are unleashed just by unwrapping and handling the ornaments, the little Nativity crèche scenes, the lights, the stockings, the Santas. We get cards from family and friends, baked goodies and all kinds of treats from generous neighbors, and we eat and drink with abandon, swept up in that holiday spirit. And as warm and comforting as all of it really is, I am so ready to pack it in come New Year’s Day. Or sooner. The decorations just start to get stale and in the way; their nostalgia no longer charms. My sister’s birthday is January 8, and my mother liked to leave all the decorations in place till then. My sister didn’t care for it, and I can see why. Who wants Christmas impinging on your birthday? No one. And taking down the decorations, with the attendant whining, cursing and schlepping of boxes to the attic or basement, is no way to celebrate your new year.
Yes, the tidy and shipshape house feels fabulous once everything is packed up. No neat freak here, I assure you. I did marry one, though, and I’m so grateful to him for de-cluttering me. Moseying along that slow road toward Pack Rat City, I was hanging on to magazines I’d never read, mail I’d never open, newspapers I’d never finish, boxes I’d never use for shipping. Getting rid of all that weight and guilt was liberating. He likes a neat, clean house and environs, almost to a fault. “Blame my mother, ” he laughs. Um, “blame”? You mean, “thank,” right? Truth be told, his strive for neatness can get a little crazy, like the time he balked at moving our oversized coffee table to the garage one Christmas when we had a full house of family in town – he didn’t want a crowded garage. So we all sashayed around the table, sofa and Christmas tree for a few days. His patience grew thin with the trappings of babyhood, too. Walkers and playpens and a Fisher-Price kitchen crowded the living room; the Cozy Coupe, tricycles and scooters took over the yard. And that high chair! Perhaps the most offensive of all. Empty most of the day and always in the way with its spindly legs and carpet of crumbs underneath. Thank goodness the children finally learned to sit up at the table so we could banish that blight. Plus we eventually got a dog and never really needed to sweep the floor ever again. I’m still a lousy housekeeper and sometimes feel bad about ignoring the daily mess but hubby assures me he didn’t marry me for my housekeeping skills. And we both laugh.
As for the children and their cleanliness issues, let’s just say these teens are a work in progress. They can vacuum and sweep, and clean the kitchen and bathrooms pretty well, and they’ve learned to do it all with only the slightest hint of annoyance and umbrage anymore. Progress! They do a decent job picking up after themselves (with constant reminders), but their bedrooms are horrendous. It took a Herculean effort and some savvy sales talk, but they successfully cleaned out their overstuffed drawers of clothes that no longer fit, filling several bags to donate to Goodwill. As for actually placing their laundered clothes in those now-empty drawers, well, they’re still hampered. Wait, is that where that word comes from? I’ve learned to turn a blind eye and just close their bedroom doors. I’m a broken record as I encourage them to clear the floor, hang up towels, do their laundry before they’re completely out of clean clothes – yet apparently these are outrageous notions. Take, for example, cleaning up for the cleaning ladies. I recognize the blank stares they give me; I used to think my mother was nuts when she told us to do this. I now tell my cleaning crew (the ones I hired, not the ones I’m raising) when they get here to do the best they can and work around the mess. It’s probably a good thing I don’t understand what they’re saying when they go upstairs.
Cleanliness is as cleanliness does. While I have trained myself to cull and purge the familiar trappings, especially the paper detritus of mail, work and school, it can be challenging to stay ahead of the game. It’s a personal, intimate relationship, much more interdependent than I ever realized. If I am feeling overwhelmed, the mess is overwhelming. Mental and emotional clutter incapacitates me and although I see the mail, the dishes, the laundry, the shoes, I’m paralyzed and unable to tackle it until I figure out how to tackle my mind’s clutter. Even after resolving my internal issues, I rarely feel like cleaning what has now become a pigsty. Hubby to the rescue. Or, as I like to call them, the Miracle Magical Marriage-Saving Cleaning Ladies.
Digging in and cleaning the whole house myself is a sure sign I’m facing a deadline for work (or hosting a party the next day). Procrastination is the single most effective tool I have in my arsenal, and a clean house is just one of the payouts. Sparkling car windows and mirrors, a reorganized linen closet, a shiny clean fridge and freezer: the upside of avoidance. And by the way, have you ever tried those space-saving bags where you suck all the life, I mean, air, out with the vacuum? Nothing short of miraculous, though they do morph into freakishly heavy plastic bricks. Easy enough to toss into the dark recesses of a closet, of course. But eventually you have to ask yourself, now what was I doing? Oh yes, I’ve been meaning to finish this column for weeks but kept avoiding it. And guess what? We now have a repurposed main floor after I moved a bunch of furniture around, transposing our dining, living and family rooms. I cleaned out a storage cabinet, cleared off surfaces and threw out a big bag of extraneous junk. Feels great. Now I just need to put all these Santa hats I found, along with that plastic mistletoe and extra tree bulbs, back in storage with the Christmas stuff. Till next year, adieu.
Do you have some effective cleaning strategies? Do share!