The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Spring has officially arrived, and now that it’s April, we might actually begin to believe it. This week we look at how this green, fresh season often spurns a cleaning spree, whether or not we shall partake, and what this means in our lives.
I struggle with tidiness in the same way that I struggle with my weight. For me, it’s not really a matter of discipline or willingness to try to keep the spaces in my life clear or my body healthy. For me, it’s a matter of courage. The courage to let go of the comfort and reassurance I feel from having the extra weight on my body and extra things in my life.
Any time I start losing weight or my house starts to get to clean, I sabotage my own efforts – not on purpose, of course. But it’s happened enough times that I know I do it. I indulge in an extra cookie, I miss a few workouts, I stop putting the laundry in the basket. To totally clean up my diet, my home, my life would require facing some uncomfortable truths about myself and risk discovering what I fear most of all – that I am not enough.
As it stands, I have an excuse: I can’t get any place on time because I’m so disorganized. I’ll
be more successful when I just “get it together.” Often, I blame the children (to be fair, a 4 year old and an almost 2 year old can create a truly impressive amount of pandemonium in a remarkably short period of time).
But what if I cleaned up my home and took care of my body, and still couldn’t get my life together?
A few years ago, I picked up Mari Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She recommends that you go through all of your possessions one by one and determine whether or not they bring you joy. If the answer is no, then you can get rid of it. Her reasoning is that if you get rid of the excess things in your life, you’ll be more motivated to keep your remaining possessions in order (and she has some recommendations on how you do that as well).
I set to work right away – I pulled all my clothes out of my closet and went through every piece of clothing – one by one. I didn’t think I had a huge selection of clothing, but I managed to donate three trash bags full of clothes to my local second hand store. I went on to discard an entire book case full of books – something I would have once considered a high crime. But, on the other hand, when my shelves were filled with books that brought me joy, I found that very freeing and refreshing.
But, after that initial and energizing round of tidying, I never made it to the rest of the house…I just haven’t had the courage to face it.
For me, facing my possessions – the aspirational purchase of a cross stitching kit, the 2015 journal that I started but lost track of sometime in February of that year, the picture frames I bought but have never put pictures into, the random notes with reminders on the them – they’re reminders of all things I’ve wanted for myself and my home and for whatever reason, I haven’t acted on or followed through with. It’s easier just to ignore them and let them pile up.
A fellow Martial Arts instructor once told me that when you clean your school, you clean your soul. I have thought about those places in my soul and my home that need cleaning. In my case, cleaning up is not simply an act of courage, but would also require an awful lot of compassion and forgiveness – for the hardest person to have grace for – myself.
Confession: I never get rid of old clothes. I still own a blouse I bought in middle school when Forever 21 first opened in our mall. (It still looks great. I wonder if it was a different kind of store back then.)
I have more clothes than you’d probably believe, but I’m not a hoarder – I’ve been keeping my old clothes because I was still wearing them. And I’ve loved it – buying only a little here and a little there over the course of years, I’d built a strong and flexible wardrobe that I thought could carry me a long way in life.
But then, I started eating disorder recovery, and long story short, the enormous wardrobe I’ve cultivated for over 15 years is now full of clothes that – god willing – will never fit me again.
For the past year I’ve lived on mostly hand-me-downs while I ignored the problem of what to do with the loads and loads and loads of clothes I can’t wear. But now we have a baby on the way and it’s time to clear out.
It seems like an easy chore – bag it all up and drop it at Goodwill, job done. But in my mind, things get trickier.
Here’s the thing: donation centers are completely swamped with all our unwanted clothes, and people don’t necessarily want them. In fact, only about 20% of America’s secondhand clothes ever get sold. Whether it’s a consignment shop or the Salvation Army, they keep only what they think they can sell. If the clothes look too old, they never even get put on the shelf.
And the clothes that the donation centers don’t want? A lot of them go straight to the landfill. Goodwill alone ships around 20 million pounds of unsaleable clothes to the landfill every year. As for the rest, they may get passed around to other donation centers but ultimately they’re sold to for-profit textile recycling firms.
A good portion of those clothes – maybe 45% – actually do get recycled into things like housing insulation. But the rest gets stuffed into enormous bales and sold wholesale to private re-sellers in third-world countries where – guess what? – our tons of throwaway clothes smother their established textile industries and crush local economies, making the poorest people of the world even poorer.
Discarded clothes are America’s 8th leading export. One billion pounds of our throwaway clothes are sold to (dumped on) the developing world every year.
Of course, the alternative to donating your clothing is putting it straight in the garbage, where it can produce greenhouse gases and seep dangerous chemicals into the soil and groundwater while it decomposes.
The best thing to do with old clothes is to find an organization that will place them directly into the hands of someone who needs them – like a women’s shelter, for example. But in my case, I doubt even a shelter wants my anorexic skinny jeans. I doubt anyone does.
So, I have mounds of clothing to get rid of and no possible way to feel good about doing it.
But here’s what I’m telling myself to ease my conscious. If the key to this whole mess is to buy fewer clothes (and that is the key), then I’m doing okay. I’m not discarding bagfuls of last year’s fashion trends – I’m discarding bagfuls of apparel that’s been accrued a few pieces at a time for over a decade.
And here’s the other thing I know. While my own personal choices are important, recycling won’t end global warming – only renewable energy can do that. And refusing to donate my clothes won’t end global poverty – only international policies aimed at ending neocolonialism can do that. So at the end of the day, what matters far more than what I do with my old clothes is how I vote.
Happy problematic spring cleaning, everyone. Get ready to vote in 2018.
For sources, google “what happens to donated clothing” and take your pick.
I learned while living in Jerusalem that strictly observant religious Jewish families go through an intense cleaning process in anticipation of the spring holiday of Passover. I already knew that no leavened bread was eaten during the eight days of the festival, a commemoration of the Exodus story where the Israelites journey out of slavery in Egypt. The practice reminds its observers that in this deliverance story, their ancestors left in such a hurry there wasn’t time for their bread to rise. What I learned in the Holy City is that far beyond simply avoiding rolls and crunching matzo for a week, people eradicate any trace of chametz, (leaven plus any of five specific grains) from their homes in anticipation of Passover. From an outsider’s vantage, it seems to amount to a religiously-proscribed, ritualistic, extreme home cleaning. Corners are swept, linens washed, surfaces doused with boiling, purifying water; anything that might possess a wayward crumb is cleansed.
I grew up in a household kept immaculately (let’s be honest, obsessively) clean and organized. (Note: Love you, Mom, and actually love that I’m like you this way). Cleaning happened continually, along with the habitual practice of weeding out unneeded items. I now organize my home multiple times a year, gleefully purging closets, cabinets, and paperwork, invoking a lightening, less burdened feeling around my life. Truthfully, don’t most of us clean partly or primarily because bringing order to our environment changes our mental and emotional state somehow? My most recent flurry was at the end of 2016 in an attempt to physically slough off some of the previous year’s burden. Along with donation/discarding sweeps, I also never last long without actual broom sweeping and my lemon-scented cleaner, so I avoid feeling completely overwhelmed by the state of my house. I can honestly say (without judgment of others!) I’ve never been in on the joke: “I must clean my room, since I can’t find the floor anymore!”
Spring-cleaning is a different beast, though; my roommate and I are planning our coordinated effort to tackle floorboards, stove, windowsills, etc. Perhaps strangely, when I think about this type of elbow-grease, corner-vacuuming frenzy, my mind leaps to the Passover preparations. Not because I have the same goal as the orthodox, nor pretend to understand the true significance of someone else’s religious observance; rather my obsessive mind identifies deeply with the idea that I could eradicate every trace of something from my environment or life. I’m captured by the idea of the exquisitely clean, rooted-out, purged, fresh-slate, residue-free situation. After all, along with a floor I could eat off of, there are also crumbs I’d like to sweep from the corners of my brain.
Then I encounter a problem in my train of thought: my analytical mind that understands atoms starts whining about the virtual impossibility of eradicating every trace of leavened bread from a home. You could never get rid of EVERY crumb, my 21st century, post-high-school-chemistry brain exclaims!! In my home, too, I could never get rid of every speck of dust, every bathroom tile stain. Similarly, it is literally impossible to cleanse yourself of certain unwanted aspects of the mind or spirit.
Ultimately and obviously this leaves a tension in my fixation on the idea of cleanness and purification. The idea captures me, oddly romancing me in its simplicity and sterility. But logically I comprehend its impossibility—the futility and unhelpfulness of chasing it in a physical and spiritual realms.
No grand conclusions here. I’m working on this tension.
I’ve got to learn to live with crumbs.