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Spring cleaning

05/22/07 12:00AM By
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(HOST) It's spring - the traditional time for spring cleaning - and commentator Helen Labun Jordan is trying to understand why springtime and serious cleaning are so closely linked in her mind.

(LABUN JORDAN) Spring cleaning time is a big deal for me . . .not because I actually clean, but because it's the only time of year when I feel like I *ought* to clean. Cleaning is not my strong suite. I have worked from a home office for two years now and never once used my lunch hour to sweep the front hall or put away the laundry. I've been known to hide boxes of dirty dishes in the basement when visitors arrive.

I come from a long line of poor housekeepers. A few summers ago I went with my mother to help clean out the house in Maine where generations of her family had lived for over a hundred years. I know it was over a hundred years because the rooms inside were filled with over a hundred years' worth of stuff. There was moldering junk mail from the late 1800's. A receipt for a dozen eggs purchased when a dozen eggs cost fifteencents. And a closet filled with vacuum cleaners which, when you lined them up, showed the complete evolution of that home appliance. The accumulation inside this house was the only thing my family has ever done that reached mythical proportions. Then we cleaned it out.

So many generations of abandoned things could be the basis for a fascinating anthropological study. Unfortunately, you would have to be an actual anthropologist to decipher them. The collection had long ago tipped from being a record of past lives to being a record that hid the important mementos of those lives beneath unimportant clutter.

I'm not simply pointing fingers here. I've not only inherited the poor housekeeping gene, I've also inherited decades of clutter-producing inventions. The house in Maine had handwritten ledgers from a turn of the century florist. Today that would be filing cabinets filled with photocopies of every paper ever to pass through the door. Meanwhile, every one piece of unnecessary paper from back then would be matched today by crates of mail, flyers, brochures, playbills, tourist maps, rack cards, newsletters and, the ultimate frontier for clutter, e-mails. I've learned to embrace computer crashes - it's the only way that my inbox ever gets cleared out.

Which brings us to spring. Spring is a time to look towards the future . . . a future when the garden is in, when the birds are back, and when I have finally disposed of my trigonometry exams from eleventh grade. While the lilacs bloom, humans like me decide which portions of the disaster in our basement we need to bring into another year. As the peepers sing their chorus, I wonder if it's finally time to deal with the mysterious boxes of childhood items my mother delivered from her attic three years ago.

It's true that the popular notion of spring cleaning focuses on bags of unneeded items headed for the garbage, but I like to think that the real heart of the process is in deciding what to keep for the future, and anticipating what comes next.

Helen Labun Jordan works at the Vermont Council on Rural Development.

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