Monday, May 16, 2011

Annual spring cleaning offers up a lesson in futility

I’m not a big fan of spring cleaning. In fact, until we moved into our current house in 1998, I had a very simple approach to spring cleaning … it was called “moving.” In the first six years of our marriage, we lived in seven different apartments, and each of them had a one-year lease. The choice was either signing a new lease or moving entirely. My choice was clear.

If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice that we lived in seven apartments in six years. One of those moves occurred as a result of a rodent who crawled between the wall boards of our apartment and decided to curl up and meet his furry maker. This, of course, was when I was pregnant; a time when a woman’s olfactory senses are sharper than a hound dog’s, which is lovely. The end result is that we had to rent a van and move our belongings across downtown Denver on the day … wait for it … that I went into labor. True story.

Fast forward to 1998 when we bought our home in Roseburg: We lived in it for a good three years or so before the thought even occurred that I might want to give it a good once-over, from ceilings to floors. I believe it was the crusty sippy cup still partially filled with milk that I discovered under a chair that pushed me over the edge (see dead rodent smell above for an idea of what that smelled like).

I approached spring cleaning with an overwhelming sense of dread, but was surprised to find how exhilarating cleaning out closets, cabinets and cupboards can be, especially when it comes to re-organizing everything. Have you ever noticed how much control you can experience through organization?

Well I’m here to burst that bubble of illusion, because as long as I share my newly-organized living space with others, namely my husband and children, I have very little control.

Sure we like to defend ourselves by saying that we are busy LIVING life and not wasting our time making sure everything has its place and all corners are clean.
But really, who are we kidding? We’re a mess.

Exhibit A: The hall closet: Last year at spring cleaning time I bought those plastic drawer organizers and neatly labeled each drawer with the following stickers “ponytails,” “headbands,” “hair clips,” “sewing stuff” and “first aid.” It was beautiful, marvelous, and even my husband was wowed by my organizational prowess. One year later, I was horrified to find spools of thread in the ponytail drawer, Band-Aids with one sticker on and one sticker off in the sewing drawer, and a used paper towel shoved willy-nilly in the first aid drawer. Only one of the following statements can be true: (1) my organizational plan was flawed, (2) aliens had invaded our closet, or (3) my beloved family members had suddenly become illiterate and unable to locate a trash basket. Each of these possibilities were troubling in and of themselves.

Exhibit B: The “extras” drawer in the bathroom. This is the area where I keep all of the freebies from hotels and gift bag purchases from makeup counters. The freebies from hotels are becoming ridiculous, making me wonder if I’ll be one of those women they feature on the reality show “Hoarders” who lives with 33 cats and has a living room filled floor to ceiling miniature-sized shampoo bottles. The makeup extras are equally absurd. I ask you, when will I wear coral lipstick? Better question: Why don’t I just throw it away? And before you encourage me to recycle it by giving it away, I say “NO ONE should ever wear coral lipstick and out of solidarity for women everywhere I will throw it away.” Marketing representatives at Elizabeth Arden, do you hear me?

Exhibit C: Front hall closet. I have coats shoved toward the back that haven’t seen the light of day for quite some time. Just last week I grabbed one of my older raincoats from the back of the closet and threw it on. As I reached inside the pocket of the coat I felt something soft and fluffy only to discover it was an unused diaper. An important point of reference here is that our youngest child is now NINE.

As I re-read these exhibits in the harsh light of day, I find that I have one of three choices: (1) burn the house down and start over with a new set of organizational drawers, (2) get rid of my family, and visit them at their own hovels, or (3) get over it and control what I can.

Insurance could get messy with No. 1, I kind of like my family so No. 2 is out, which means I’m left with No. 3: get over it and control what I can.
This, I’m finding, is less than I ever imagined.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and futilely organizes her house in Roseburg each spring. At print time, she still only has one cat, but would be happy to share her mini shampoo bottles, which are innumerable. She can be reached at

Mama Bear

Over the years, my kids have teased me when I’ve thrown my arm across their chest anytime I brake hard in the car. You know what I’m talking...