April 09, 2009

Find New Meaning in Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is a time to clean everything you own. It’s something that is traditionally done in spring so you can clean with the windows open and not breathe quite so much dust and fumes as you go along. But spring cleaning can mean much more than this.

Cleaning is work, but that’s not what makes some of us dread spring cleaning. It’s the idea of “everything you own” that makes spring cleaning difficult. You can’t clean everything you own without looking at everything you own — and that brings up a whole range of questions. Probably for most of the things you have, the last time you saw them was the last time you cleaned them, so why do you have them — do you have them just to clean them? Or, why do you have so little time to do the things you ought to be doing with them? How did it happen and what does it mean that you have so many things and so little time? Time is so short that few of us honestly clean everything we have every spring. If we do not have time to clean our things, what are the chances that we will ever find time to use them? Just thinking of questions such as these, you might well ask, “Can’t I just put it all off till next spring?” After all, life is busy enough without have to clean everything too.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed by life and it seems as if you always have to do more faster, it is a good idea to stop and ask where that feeling comes from. The surprising answer is that the feeling comes primarily from the arrangement of material possessions around you. Your own stuff is the main thing that makes life overwhelming! When you feel overwhelmed, you imagine yourself having to do an enormous list of things, but no one could possibly make you do so many things. Having too many things to do is not a state of the world you live in. Having too many things to do is, most of the time, the simple result of having too many things. The world does make it frightfully easy to accumulate more and more possessions, but if you do so, you will eventually feel overwhelmed.

And spring cleaning, believe it or not, holds the answer. As you are going through your possessions and cleaning them, you will also find, if you are looking for it, the direction of your life. This sounds like a big statement, but it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Whatever you want for your life is reflected, one way or another, in the things you own. And your emotional reactions to the things you have, as you go through them, point you toward the things you want the most in life.

You are not really happy to have all of the things you own. You find some things that, if you are honest, it would make your life simpler and sweeter if you did not have them. If you are like most people, you will eventually discover that this is more than half of your possessions. As you find these items in your spring cleaning, pull them out and set them aside. Go through them at the end of the day, and decide to give away or sell those that are valuable enough. Then throw the rest away. As soon as you throw these things away, life will seem a little less overwhelming, and this is not an illusion. With a few of your excess possessions gone, everything in life really is easier.

There are also, if you are paying attention, possessions that you really, really wish you could do more with. It pains you, perhaps, that another year has gone by and this item is still sitting in its box or on a shelf, neglected, unused. It represents a part of your life that somehow you keep putting off for another day. You want to hold on to it for an extra second just to be connected to it. Pick out ten or twenty of these items as you go along, and take them directly to a prominent place where you can look at them at the end of the day.

Look at these possessions, the items that represent the life you wish you had, a life that keeps getting postponed and forgotten, and ask yourself: what could your life be if you would only allow it to happen? Fall asleep thinking about these possessions, and about what you could be doing with your life.

The next morning, you will wake up with a clearer idea of what you want your life to be. You may not know exactly what you want to go and do, but you will have a more active sense of what you want to do more of and what you want to do less of in life. Look at your possessions again, and you will find that many of them represent the things you want to have less of. Take these possessions away too.

Doing this will not add much extra effort to your spring cleaning — it may even save you some work if you can throw some things away instead of cleaning them — but it allows you to use the spring cleaning process to refine your material possessions so that they are more in line with the direction of your life. By taking away some possessions that clash with what you want, while you put more of your attention on the possessions that best represent what you really want, you are letting your material possessions become a better expression of the meaning of your life. In other words, you are letting the meaning of your life take material form around you. And all it takes to accomplish this is to approach spring cleaning while holding in your mind the question I mentioned about the direction of your life. At the same time you find the dust and dirt, you can, in a sense, find the meaning of your life. And that added possibility gives the process of spring cleaning far more significance than just the task of cleaning.

I recommend clutter as the starting point for anyone seeking to improve or understand their lives. Read all about this in my book Fear of Nothing. If you try this approach and discover something meaningful or create an immediate change in your life, or if you have such a story from your past, please share it by clicking the Comments link below.


Marker said...

Wow -- that's it exactly! This is what I try to do every spring, but I've never seen anyone say how to approach it or why it matters quite this way. Great post! Have a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

This is the post that made me want to get hold of ur book. Thank you! for giving new hope :)