If you’ve followed this blog, you must know that since news of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself spread, I moved back to my childhood home and I’ve spent most of my time here – barring a few days in May. While that has provided the opportunity to work on several projects and knuckle down to use the time as best as possible, it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how I lived here while growing up.
I stayed in this house full-time between the ages of 10 and 17, moving away to attend University and returning only as a part-time visitor. As a result, I came back home to the house being in the same condition as when I had departed. My room even had my Grade 12 board examination pouch and all the copies of my hall ticket I had made. That prompted a lot of clean-ups.
While my approach to cleaning my room was defined by Marie Kondo and trying to eliminate everything that did not spark joy, cleaning up the rest of the house has been a bigger challenge. There are several reasons for this. First, I am not the sole owner of everything within the rest of the house. It is a common space, and there are attachments to those objects that my parents and other members of the family have. As a result, I could not be the sole judge of whether an object sparked joy – my judgment would have led to several things being disposed of, that perhaps brought happiness to somebody else at home. Second, I was not aware of everything that lay hidden around the house. I have perfect knowledge of the items within my room. Beyond that, is a world of adventure. Given how my parents and I have taken turns visiting the house, it was difficult to actually collect information on what was located where, and what category of items I may find in a particular spot. Third, I did not know where to start. The house is the perfect size for our family, but when it comes to storing items – and cleaning, it suddenly starts to feel very, very big. I felt this way for the first couple of days in April where I fended for myself and did all the brooming/mopping. It is overwhelming.
I had to figure out a fresh approach.
I spent most of April and May thinking about what I wanted to clean-up/fix, deciding the areas of improvement I could see for the house and discussing strategies with my parents. We figured out how to tackle each of the problems I listed. Since transplanting the Kon-Mari method here was futile, we decided to prepare an itemized list of the big items so my parents could make a joint decision on the same, based on why the object was with us. The smaller ones, I had agency over. While discussing this, we realized that it was not necessary to know what I would find prior to cleaning-up, but that I would have to adapt my cleaning-up method as I went along and discovered new items. This meant localizing the clean-up and fixing particular areas to clean – emptying every cupboard out, and then segregating to clean up. Finally, I decided to take control of what areas of the house to clean, by asking myself: what caused me the most angst? It felt like a natural consequence of this would mean that when that place was cleaner, I would be less angsty, and happier. That led to three places: the kitchen, the guest bedroom, and the bureau.
I started with the bureau. It was closest to my room, and so meant that I could return to the sight of a clean space within an instant when I passed by a mess. The reason the bureau frustrated me was that there were way too many things we no longer used or required, and they were all over the place. It took me two weeks to clean the bureau, which yielded a large amount of electronic waste but provided the opportunity to examine more closely two parts of my parents’ lives I had no involvement in: the foundation years in their relationship, and their academic study. The first was just really lovely because it prompted a discussion on how much my parents valued letter-writing and how that has translated to e-mail. The latter showed me why my parents placed expectations upon me: their own credentials, experiences, and efforts in getting their qualifications. It was lovely to find their dissertations, read them – and try to get them to remember stories from their University days, just as I came to the close of my own journey. There are photos from that time where my father, in his early 20’s, looks exactly like I do today – minus the glasses, which was fun to look at.
Then I moved on to the kitchen. I couldn’t really clean much, but what I really wanted to do was to look at the appliances and try to get them all working. To my parents’ and my dismay, we had to let go of our oven, but the microwave was repaired. That was sufficient. It has helped me cook potatoes quicker, and I imagine that my chili con vegetales would have cooked faster if I had it in April. That was a quick job – not too much effort, and a useful break before taming the giant.
The guest bedroom.
There was a lot to work through here because it was delightfully clean on the outside, but I had to organize the cupboards and I had no idea where to begin. It’s why (apart from work), it took me a month to actually finish up. I finally managed to segregate all the materials into four distinct categories for the ease of my parents’ access, and sort out things that did not possess utility any longer (for us), to give to society.
I don’t know if you can tell (you probably can), but my enthusiasm to clean-up started out really high, and tapered off as time went by and I understood the magnitude of the task I had taken up. I’m glad it’s done now, to be honest.
There is a lot I’ve learned, however. Deep cleans are worth it. If nothing, they teach you how to better appreciate what you have, while giving you the opportunity to evaluate whether there is somebody else in this world who may be able to use the same in a better way. That process itself is extremely rewarding because it really puts into perspective two things. Privilege, and priorities.
Couldn’t have managed this without my parents’ trust – and I’m really hoping I haven’t disposed of something they value. I think I’ve scared my mother that I may have.