May 22, 2006

Spring cleaning

I'm a binge cleaner. I can be casual about the day-to-day messiness of a crowded house, but clutter eventually drives me crazy. So about twice each year, I go through the house and pile everything I can find into bags to take to the Rescue Mission or to put into the trash. The easiest way to clean this house is to make sure we have very little stuff in it.

When my kids were little, I would do this in the middle of the night. I knew if I let them help, they would cling to every battered toy, suddenly deciding it was something fun to play with, their favorite toy in fact, and how could their mean mother even think of getting rid of it? Maybe I should have done this chore with them, and taught them how to sort through their stuff, but I have not the patience. So I would wait until they were all asleep, pile anything unnecessary into bags, and put it out in the car to be dropped off the next day.

My boys are plenty old enough now to clean their room themselves, but their standards are far lower than mine. Considerably lower. Not even close to mine. And over the winter, they had somehow accumulated a bunch of junk. So last week, when they were at school, I got a bunch of trash bags and went through all the stuff in their room, even emptying out the closets. I found games no one will ever play, binders full of school papers no one will ever look at again, broken toys, hundreds of miscellanous lego pieces, and way too many stuffed animals. I found enough dirty white socks to fill a laundry basket. I went through it all ruthlessly, getting rid of almost everything in the room, leaving only stuff that the boys actually use and With-a-Why’s favorite stuffed animals.

I was in a miserable mood last week, and I have to say that a bad mood helps tremendously for this kind of cleaning. Any kind of tendency to feel sentimental about stuffed animals or old toys disappears when I am in a pissy mood. I pile stuff into bags with great energy. "We don't need this. This is just crap. I can't stand the clutter."

Before my bad mood could evaporate, I used that angry energy to clean the whole upstairs of the house. Then I drove to the Rescue Mission and dumped out the contents of my car before I could change my mind about any of it. And somehow, that made me feel better.

35 comments:

Ianqui said...

Would you mind coming over and sweeping up Super G's battered old Commodore 64 under the cover of night? We really could use your brutal lack of sentimentality in our place.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I do this, too. I keep giving toys to the neighbors; my kids are then so, so surprised to find that X has the same toy! And oh, how fun it is now!

EmmaNadine said...

I am like you. Being in a bad mood is a great motivator to clean. I figured that out when I discovered myself scrubbing the bathroom ceiling at the end of a bad day. The other motivator to clean is to have something important that I need to be doing but don't want to do. My house is always cleanest when I should be studying for exams or writing a paper. Or, now that I am teaching, grading.

peripateticpolarbear said...

Did your boys even notice?

kathy a said...

i'm admittedly pretty bad about throwing stuff out. i'm famous at my former job, for recycling at least 8 jumbo bins of paper when i got ready to leave. [that was the stuff too good to put in recycle directly, at the time i received it.]

every so often around the old homestead, we round up tons of stuff for goodwill. we could even get the kids to help, when they were younger.

when my son was gone for a while, his junk went away -- and ditto for daughter's big trip last summer. alas, there is a lot left to throw out.

we are pretty thrilled that there will be electronic recycling in out town, in just over 2 weeks. we have old monitors stashed under tables, ancient computer parts stuffed in closets. at least some of it will go away with no regrets.

kathy a said...

did i mention that my college notes are still in the garage? one of these days, the recycling center and goodwill truck are going to really see some business!

KathyR said...

"...but I have not the patience."

Boy, howdy, that's me. I do not have the will to frogmarch my kid through the efficient cleaning steps. He does his half-assed job whenever I yell at him and I do a massive overhaul of his disgusting space once or twice a year, if I can stand it.

betty said...

I clean the same way you do - and an immediate trip to Goodwill or whatever it is always makes me feel refreshed and unburdbened.

But I'm with peripateticpolarbear - did your boys notice? I struggled with this alot since my Dad is a compulsive cleaner in a bad way. He used to "clean" my homework up if he thought it was messy. As a result I became over protective of my room and belongings I thought were "mine". Of course now I don't know what all those things were, but at the time I'd have been mighty upset if Dad cleaned my room. Maybe I was just a brat though....hard to tell!

Rev Dr Mom said...

I need to do that, too, espcecially the Kid's room which is an absolute pit. But my bad mood has not been very motivating, sad to say.

DaniGirl said...

I *so* need to learn how to do this. I have just enough of my European grandparents' need to avoid waste by saving every scrap for some un-named future project, every broken toy for a fix that never comes, and every piece of paper for future reference that never happens.

Help!

jo(e) said...

Oh, now that my boys are older, I warned them that I was going to clean, and asked if there was anything they wanted saved. And I did pile on the kitchen table anything I wasn't sure about ... and made them go through it when they came home. But for the most part, they are fine with me getting rid of stuff. None of my kids are really pack rats any more. With exception of their musical instruments and snowboard equipment, most of their worldly possessions could fit into a couple of duffle bags.

When I asked the boys "Doesn't your room look so much better now?" the response I got was: "Uh, yeah, I guess."

jo(e) said...

Ianqui: Next time a bad mood strikes, I'll head over to your place.

landismom said...

You've captured my cleaning method perfectly! Although at this point, I generally will make my daughter go through her toy box twice a year to get rid of things--and she is pretty good about it, including handing things down to her little brother. There's nothing like a clean sweep to make you feel better!

Laura said...

I'm a binge cleaner too. And it's also done when I'm feeling low or angry. My house is quite clean right now.:)

When I was younger, I would wash dishes by hand when I was in a bad mood. My dad has this same tendancy, so whenever he saw me cleaning, he'd ask, "What's wrong?"

Now there's a stack of magazines and books in the bathroom I've been meaning to tackle . . .

kermitthefrog said...

I was worried until I read your comment that you ask your kids before you throw out anything psychologically valuable -- one of my mom's strongest memories from childhood was returning home one day to find the favorite stuffed bear (? mammal of some sort) had been discarded...

I completely agree with the grumpiness-motivated cleaning, though!

Kate said...

Ahhh... that really is the best way to get rid of a bad mood. Use the energy to fuel a cleanup and simplify! You've got the right idea jo(e).

Sarah Sometimes said...

Unfortunately my bad moods lead me to lie on the couch and feel sorry for myself, not clean. I always feel jealous of people who wish they were less compulsive about cleaning. At least if I had that compulsion, I would have an orderly space to live in. There is so much disorder in my apartment at this very moment that I do not know where to start. But your post has inspired me!

sheepish said...

I have this great mental image of you creeping through a dark house like some kind of reverse tooth faith, gathering all the toys and cackling softly to yourself. You do cackle, don't you? I don't really picture you as a cackler, but for the sake of my mention image, maybe just a couple of half-hearted cackles?

Kathryn said...

OK, OK...I agree. Its really time I went and blitzed DarlingDaughter's room. I'll just sort out some music, then head upstairs...The study can wait!

jo(e) said...

Sheepish: Maybe I should work on developing an evil cackle. I think it could come in handy.

jo(e) said...

I should say too that my kids are all given the choice of cleaning themselves. My oldest chooses to go through her own stuff, and she does a good job with it, so I have not touched her room since she was a little kid. (I couldn't possibly go through her clothes, for instance, and figure out what to get rid of.) But the other three are blind to the clutter and are willing to let me do it.

zelda1 said...

Before I came back to school, I was so anal about my house, that even my canned goods were organized into groups by the letter and then the size of the can. Never did I ever let things get out of hand, but now, there are piles of piles of stuff, good stuff, research stuff. But at the end of the semester, I file, throw away, or store into rubbermaid containers the things that don't go on my cheap book shelves. But, like you, I get that twice a year cleaning bug and when I do, nothing is sacred. My husband's favorite shorts, the ones he wore in Hi, the ones he wore in Australia, the ones that are six sizes too small, I threw them out last time. Next, his sailing magazines.

Krista said...

I get into those moods too, but sometimes it doesn't work, but you put that piece together. I should do it when I am in a bad mood. I can dejunk like a champ but finding a worthy cause to donate it to here in Germany is a challenge. I want to know others can benefit from the stuff--especially the good stuff, but I can't know that so sometime I chicken out with the dump.

Claire said...

This is so like me. I have purged rooms in fits of anger and/or glumness many times. I can't take what I call the "visual chaos". After the time 2 years ago when I did it when both girls were away, Younger Daughter has cleaned her own room for fear of the "wrath of Mom". Older Daughter, I think, just lets it pile up knowing that one day when her back is turned, it will be miraculously purged.

cloudscome said...

I hate clutter too and I am always clearing junk away in the main spaces of my house. But Buster's room is a no-fly zone. We just keep the door shut. We had a huge fight last year when I insisted he clean it before our exchange student came from Germany. Most of the time it is not worth the bother. I respect his junk, I mean space, and I am not doing his dirty work for him. But he has to get it cleared out before he leaves for college in 3 months.

Piece of Work said...

I LOVE taking bags of stuff to the Good Will. It realy makes me happy to get all that crap out of my house.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I'm more of a PMS-cleaner. I know when the Crimson Permanent Assurance is about to sail when I find myself armed with trash bags, calmly telling the kids (in my best controlled/uncontrolled voice) to go downstairs and don't come up til Mom tells you to.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Oh, how I needed to see this at this moment, while taking a blogging break after spending TWO HOURS sorting through my son's "art studio" -- a toy box filled with artworks, shredded bits of paper, odd boxes, half-used sticker sheets, and preschool projects. If he had his way, LG would hang onto every scrap of paper that has ever passed his way.

I am feeling a little guilty, though. Am I a bad mother for throwing out the projects that were so tangled up in masking tape that they could never be used again?

RageyOne said...

Cleaning helps to cleanse my soul at times, so I do understand your thoughts.

Do you kids ever realize things are missing after you gone on your cleaning binge? (forgive me if you've already answered - I didn't read everyone else's comments)

halloweenlover said...

Ha! I need you to come help me too, Jo(e)!!! My house is a disaster, and I'm a total packrat. It is terrible.

Thanks for the sweet note on my blog! You described the feeling so well. Overwhelmed, ecstatic, stunned, disbelieving, and so so so happy! And lucky, I feel really really lucky too.

turtlebella said...

I wish I had an ounce of this kind of impulse. I am terribly sentimental about everything. Other occupant of my house is same and so we keep random magazines, old books, old and broken phones (I blame this one on my family, growing up we had a dead phone cabinet so my dad could switch parts in and out of working and dead phones at will), my beloved stuffed animals from when I was three, our favorite sleeping tshirts with large holes... It's only going to get worse when children arrive. So perhaps I should have a personality transplant and become a cleaning type. HA. Or maybe, jo(e), you could just creep over in the middle of the night to our house! I promise not to attack you with a baseball bat because a) we don't have a bat and b) I sleep way to deeply to ever hear an intruder.

jo(e) said...

RageyOne: Well, the kids notice that the house is emptier, but so far my record is pretty good. No kid has ever missed something specific that I've gotten rid of. I am pretty good at knowing what stuff they actually use and what stuff can be tossed.

Phantom: Oh, if you could see how many art projects I've tossed over the years, you wouldn't feel bad at all. Wait until your kids hit about junior high and take art in school and start bringing home ridulously big projects ....

Halloweenlover: I am so happy for you! You are going to be a wonderful mother.

Hey, I've figured out a great summer job. I could get paid to sneak into people's houses in the middle of the night and throw stuff away.

jo(e) said...

Oh, and Mona, you are right. PMS energy can really help spur a cleaning binge ....

Kai said...

Sounds like you pull a reverse Santa Claus!!

I'm not a "bad mood" cleaner, but an insomnia cleaner. Can't sleep, clean the bathtub! I have the cleanest apartment in NYC!

purple_kangaroo said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels that way.