I live a life of two halves and I love each both the same. Because my sailor works away I regularly have periods of time alone. I have come to embrace these times as an opportunity for reflection, solitude and creativity. It would have been so very easy to flip those feelings to fear, loneliness and boredom. But I am a survivor and an optimist, I seize each day and I always have a plan.
This alone time I have decided to spring clean. This has arisen from procrastination, because I have a book to finish and paintings to prepare for an exhibition, the need is there for order before I can really get my teeth into those projects. And to be honest things really have become a bit disordered here. We’ve been busy. Expecting this process to be a chore I have approached it with resistance. It’s not that I don't keep the house clean, it’s not as if I’m not constantly and ineffectively moving stuff about, it’s not as if I don’t moan a hell of a lot about how much of my precious time is taken up with clearing up other peoples mess. We have been building now for ten years and we aren't quite finished. I think a part of me has been holding out for a completed house, the dust and debris of a building site making any cleaning a thankless task.
I have allotted a morning to each room. My reward is to spend the afternoon doing what ever I want: work permitting, writing, painting, gardening and lesson planning. So I began at the top. Heading to the attic I was met with the realisation of a hoarding habit that I have been in denial about. The chaotic pile from years of shoving stuff out of the way that has become a bit of a habit. The attic was clogged.
Jung wrote about a house that might appear in a dream and the symbolism that held as to the state of the dreamer’s psyche. If the attic represented my head then I was holding on to a lot of pointless memories and useless clutter: I was faced with a stack of presents from a very generous relative that I will never have in my home but I feel like an utter ingrate for even contemplating getting rid of; two huge boxes of photos sitting heavily in my path to clarity that I can't look at because nostalgia is a killer for me; three computer towers, what do you do with them? Don’t they hold all our personal details in the motherboard? There was a kit bag crammed with old paper work, once again, am I supposed to keep this? Do other people save every bank statement from 1997 onwards? I had enough travelling bags to share with a party of menopausal globetrotters on a round the world ticket. This menopausal globetrotter isn't going anywhere. There was a temptation to shut the trap door and climb on down. I dealt with it though. I made piles for the tip, the boot sale, the charity shop and one for keeping and thereby making use of. By the end of the morning the attic was clear, the Christmas decorations stored tidily next to my faithful backpack and I could actually walk around. As I turned to leave my eye caught a phrase that my husband has scratched into the wet render when we were building our attic: “Time is nothing, money is nothing, love is all”. God I love that man for etching that, in French into the fabric of our French home. I teared up at the memory of my old dad because that is what he would always say, in a toast, when he had had a few too many pints of Bridport Bitter. With that in my head, I planned the next stage.
I am still in the process a week or so later. I’m not even downstairs yet. I am really into this, it is absorbing and exhausting and it is giving me so much. Far from being a chore I am waking up in the morning, a bit achey, ready for my next voyage of personal and practical discovery.
There is another reason why this process has been met with resistance. I hadn't realised this until I was washing the toilet brush.. a superfluous task that even I was questioning as I decided to throw it away and reward myself with a fresh one. Tucked away in my past is a destructive relationship with housework. This manifested when I was experiencing severe post-natal depression. In the whirl of hormones, loss of myself and lack of support the only thing that anchored me was cleaning. And then I couldn't stop cleaning, I couldn't stop trying to make things orderly. I became obsessed with hoovering, a navy blue carpet and a white cat didn't help. I alphabetised the books and CDs and became panicked about germs. The crunch came when I refused an invite to take the children to a beach picnic because I was going to wash the front door that day. I can remember the paralysing anxiety that came with a strong taste of metallic saliva as I went into a frenzy of washing floors and walls and every surface. I was saved by therapy and someone padlocking the vacuum cleaner into a cupboard and taking the key. Since then I have resisted cleaning too much, wary of it as a symptom of a pathology I don’t ever want to repeat. This time however its a wholly positive experience. There are no beautiful babies being sidelined and, fortunately, I no longer have a fractured sense of myself. There are grand babies on the way though, I want to prepare a welcoming space here for them.
I hadn’t planned for this spring clean to offer me healing but it has done that. As I handle every single object in my home, weighing it up - useful? ornamental? meaningful? against useless? loaded? ugly? or simply has had its day, I am feeling lighter. The letting go is the tough bit. It takes courage to put a pair of trainers, long discarded here by my long left home son into the charity bag when I have cherished them because he chose a pair of bright red and yellow shiny clown shoes all on his own and my heart bursts at that. It takes a hard heart to put a wooden stand my dad made me for my transistor radio in 1978 in the bin. Actually, I can't do that one, it came straight out, there must be some thing I can use it for. I tried standing my iPad in it, but it doesn't work.
The positives are endless and it was while washing the curtains made from a sari bought in Jodhpur that it struck me how important it is to step back and celebrate who I am and where I’ve been. I tend to hide my light so without grandstanding my achievements I have afforded the physical memories some tender loving care and placed them to remind myself that I have lived an amazing life. I have filled the walls with the photographs that make me smile, put them in beautiful frames that have been waiting for too long in a box. I have polished the brass, found pots for plants and arranged my shelves like an art installation. I have found precious things I thought I had lost and interesting things I didn't even know I had. I made a folder for each and every moment from the children’s growing up years, including Pearl’s unforgettable song “Listen to Me My Deary Cat Listen to Me My Dear”. I had always Fantasised about being a minimalist in one of those narratives I have about myself in my library of “when I grow up” stories. What a loss that would be. This week I have really come to terms with the fact that a minimalist is not who I am, not who I have ever been and so unlikely to be who I will become. I have fabulous things, they are full of stories and they reflect a life lived well.
Everywhere is smelling fresh, there is a gleam, a sparkle, I know where things are, I want to use those gadgets, eat from those plates, drink from those china cups.
Ten years ago we embarked on building our dream home, now is the time to realise just what that means, all I had intended to do was tidy up a bit.
This morning I made a gratitude list of the things I am enjoying as I sweep my long handled feather duster over the lampshades and create a cleaning basket that will sustain me to next spring. I sincerely do recommend that you find the time to build this into your busy life.
These are my words: