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Greene: The New Broom

01/14/11 7:55AM By Stephanie Greene
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(HOST)  Commentator Stephanie Greene has noticed that the New Year is often associated with a new broom - a clean sweep.  And that has her thinking about what we choose to keep.

(GREENE)  Traditions for embracing a new year worldwide all seem to have a cleaning component. Out with the dusty old year; in with the spanky new one, and so forth. Although I suspect a conspiracy of neatniks behind this colossal effort to get the rest of us to pick up, even I can concede that once a year, cleaning out might be a good idea.

"Clutter" is a catchword that means something different to every person. When I announce it's time to clean out some of our things, my dear husband throws open the china cabinet doors and joyfully cries, "Let's get rid of some of this junk!" At which point, predictably, I throw myself in front of my wonderful collection like a mother taking a bullet for her child. My spouse is equally protective of his favorite - if unused - stuff.

Peering into a book on Feng Shui, at the depressingly stripped down premises touted as clutter-free, I think, Does anyone actually live here? Where are all their hobbies?

The obsession with de-cluttering comes as we reassess our consumerism. Running out of land-fill space, we need to reconsider purchases, reuse and recycle possessions we'd have once just thrown away. I've even heard the rumor that Manhattan can no longer send its trash to New Jersey.

We are also urged by gurus of various stripes to live in the present. Don't waste life regretting the past or fretting about the future. The present is all we actually have.

Okay, then, you may say, (and quite reasonably) why should I waste the present moment cleaning when I could be out having fun?

Well, actually, here's why: If you do this right, you will not wince every time you turn a corner in your own house and see yet another pile.

Clearing out has to do with memory and hope. Here's where it gets personal. I hate to admit that I don't need to save five years of busted teacups for mosaics I will not make.   But I have a friend who does make mosaics. She dons protective eye-wear and boots, flings the crockery into a big tub and happily stomps it into usable shards. My small surrender of my teacups to her is a surprising relief.

Now, books are more difficult to toss because they are about education: I should read Dante, but I don't. Reading the right things will lead me out of the middlebrow cave I inhabit, where I read novels and invent new cocktails.

I'm sorry to admit that I find Dante in translation a little silly. I think his catalog of sins could use a serious update. Yet I do not read Italian, and the sands are moving though my hourglass at a brisk clip. Dante goes.

But the rest of my shelf of improving lit stays. To purge it would be to stop trying, however feebly. It would be to give up on optimism itself.
That you can discover and accept who you are just by determining what you actually use is worth contemplating. I'll do it sipping my latest cocktail invention - something I call a Twisted Tutu.
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