Stranger in a Strange Land: Spring Cleaning

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spring Cleaning

An April shower turns on and washes away the grainy sediment of a winter gone by. As suddenly as it starts, it stops, leaving the ground glistening with the misty lilac scent of renewal. Slowly, the sun yawns as it stretches from its cumulous pillow, casting filtered rays towards the earth and sending shadow puppets dancing across lawns. The sky transforms into a cobalt blue and the pavement becomes a mirror, blinding you with reflected light. Your groggy eyes adjust and through a post-hibernation squint you see the emerald blades of grass emerging from dust. A muddy sand lot, with its chain-link backstop broken down from years of intercepting strikes and the field’s trench-like baselines collecting the morning dew, is populated by a flock of fat robins feasting on suicidal earthworms. The robins scatter as neighborhood kids gather for the season’s first pow-wow, skidding to a stop and uprooting clumps of grass in the hallowed out handlebars of their silver BMX bikes. Around Asbury’s Althaus Wetlands the cattails begin to rust, the pussy willows start to fluff and a mother duck sets sail with six protégés giving her a mischievous chase. Everywhere, windows become screens, lawn mowers whirl, and people emerge from suddenly crowded garages. They take a deep breath and exhale the staleness of winter, becoming relaxed, refreshed and renewed by the spirit of Spring.

From the hazy confines of my basement’s storage room, my wife and I emerge from the piles of mildew-perfumed clothing, paperbacks that infest your fingernails with an invisible layer of dust, and a plethora of miscellaneous items that must grow through the dirt filled cracks of the cement floor. We carefully feel our way up the stairs, our line of vision obstructed by collapsing cardboard boxes and mislabeled Rubbermaid containers. At the top we head straight to the garage, dump the burdens of our materialistic ways, and return to the basement for more. Possessed by our own need for renewal, the spirit of Spring, we spend the weekend cleaning out our house and preparing for our crap… I mean garage sale.

I am amazed by the vast amounts of junk Kara and I have saved up in the two short years we have lived in Dubuque. Although at the time everything seemed to be an absolute necessity, now I question my judgment- and in some cases my sanity. Did I really need two indoor bike trainers? How many times have I actually sat at my bar? This black leather Ikea couch looks stellar, but damn it’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever sat in. And my books- were my library fines really so high that I thought it would be cheaper to buy instead?

By its very nature spring is a season for fresh starts- Hence the concept of spring-cleaning. At no other time of the year is cleaning pursued with such rigor. If we only did the deed throughout the year, there would be no need for one mega-weekend of cleaning and Goodwill donations. But that’s not the way it works. Spring is for cleaning, the rest of the year for accumulating junk. Looking around my now overfilled garage, I realize that eventually our materialistic ways get the best of us by making things too crowded. Gripped with a sense of claustrophobia, once a year we pass our junk off to somebody else in order to clear out enough room to start the accumulation over again. It’s a vicious cycle, but hey, it’s the American way.

But this year the cycle stops. This year my spring-cleaning is serious as Kara and I plan to sell almost everything we own. Furniture, desks, bikes, clothes, lamps and even our car. Everything but the cat (unless we get a good offer…). No, we aren’t moving to become Buddhist monks and shun possessions altogether. Although we are moving, it’s not to a monastery. We’re moving to Belgium, which is quite a long way to haul a bunch of stuff.

So stuff is what we are getting rid of. We’re leaving it all behind and looking to start anew. Surprisingly, it’s easier to do than I ever imagined. Sure, our infamous red couch that had to be air-evacuated from the third story deck of our Iowa City apartment will be hard to part with, but nothing lasts forever. It all has to go.

With each trip of stuff I haul upstairs and into the garage I feel as if I am shedding another layer of skin. As I let necessity wash away this unneeded accumulation, I feel lighter, maybe even a little exposed. I step out of the oil-slicked garage, take a breath of fresh air in the afternoon sunlight, and experience a sensation not felt since the simplicity of childhood. I am relaxed, refreshed and renewed- Just like Spring.


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