How cleaning out the house is a metaphor for life

Posted on April 13, 2016


cleaning out the house

As I spend a lot of time over at my Mom’s house, cleaning it out, I have had a lot of time to reflect upon life.

I thought it would be very sad to be cleaning out my childhood home, but it has been rather uplifting. It’s cathartic in a way. Here are some lessons that I have learned about life:

1. The past is the past.

Yes, we are products of our past; we can’t change that. But, the past doesn’t have to define us. As I was taking a journey through my life, I re-lived several phases:

* Learning the alphabet. Yes, Mom kept my school papers from 1st grade.
* Worrying about college. Looking back over my college essays, did I really do all those school activities?
* Being on my own for the first time in Washington, D.C. I fondly remember how excited I was to get my first credit card. It was from the store, “Talbots.”
* Living in New York. Quickly glancing back over canceled checks from that era, I spent a lot of money on periodicals like the Wall St. Journal and Business Week.
* Planning a wedding. Looking back over my appointment book for the year before we got married. Gosh, there were a lot of things to do!
* Buying a house. My, the paperwork involved.

2. Face your fears.

I was afraid to go over to the house, thinking I would be too sad. I find it strangely comforting to be over there. It’s as though I am saying good bye to my past and getting ready to embark on a new adventure in my life.

3. Break down a BIG task into many smaller ones.

Okay, so this sounds very simple and straightforward. But I never really realized how potent this could be until I started cleaning out the house. I vowed to do a little bit every day, and I would tackle one room and one task at a time. This has worked out very well. One day, I might be shredding papers from the den. The next day I might be cleaning out the kitchen cabinets to figure out what goes to the swap shop.

I will tackle Mom’s clothes last. This will be the hardest.

4. Reward yourself.

I get to the house around 10:30 am. Before I get started, I sit where Mom used to sit, by the large picture window. I enjoy a cup of coffee and read the paper, just like Mom and I used to do. This puts me in the right frame of mind to tackle the tasks ahead.

5. Admire your work.

After a long day spent cleaning, I always do a final walk through to admire my work. This gives me incentive to come back the next day and do it again.

6. Ask for help.

I was at a total loss as to how to get rid of the furniture. Well, thanks to several wonderful neighbors, I now have the names of several “house clean-out” businesses and also local charities. Removing the furniture will be the last step.

7. There is life without computers.

It’s been quite freeing actually not to be tied to a computer all day. It’s good to be up and moving around and getting things done. When I get home at the end of the day, I quickly check my emails and that’s it. I have been sleeping wonderfully too!

8. Shoveling snow does not mix well with root canals.

What? Where did this come from? Yes, we had a surprise snow storm on Monday. I also had a root canal on that same Monday. So I had to shovel some snow at my parents’ house. Normally, I don’t mind shoveling snow. This is not a good combination; my mouth was very painful when I was done. I will have to remember that for future reference.

9. Do not attempt to recycle shredded paper on a windy day.

Um, let’s just say that none of the little shreds ended up in the recycle bin; they were all scattered about the parking lot. This reminded me of a ticker tape parade thrown in honor of a winning sports team.

What insights have you had lately as you go about mundane tasks?

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