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I know I need to spring clean, but why is it so hard to throw things away?

I know I need to spring clean, but why is it so hard to throw things away?

It’s not about cleaning, it’s about breaking with the past.

Even if Spring is in the air, carrying with it new life and fragrances of change, I approach the new season with trepidation.

Living on my own invites ridicule from my nearest and dearest. Not because I’m living as a hermit, but because I don’t employ a domestic worker.

This is a result of financial constraints, as well as a wish not to have my things moved or disturbed, even if I remember how fantastic my small home looks after a cleaning.

I am solely responsible for dusting beneath my bed and couch, sweeping dog hairs and beach sand, cleaning the windows, mopping the kitchen floor, and collecting the leaves that accumulate beneath the back door. Have I mentioned the laundry? And the plants? 

Being responsible for my surroundings is something I learned from my parents. After visiting Palestine, they sold their big Joburg house, did good works, and cleaned up after themselves.

They dispensed with domestic help, except for a lifelong friend by the name of John, a gardener who inherited my grandmother’s beautiful old Datsun. It had taken them that trip, away from their suburban bubble, to recognise the evil of Apartheid. 

Even now, jobs are scarce and life is hard for most South Africans. I help where I can. I still enjoy making my bed every morning, however. It sets me up for a good day.

And, every six months, I wash my sheets. Kidding! But there’s a link between keeping things shipshape and my mental health. Clean sheets are part of the deal. As are fresh towels, a clean bathroom, and flowers foraged from neighbourhood hedges. 

I divide my domestic cleaning tasks into two categories: the regular and the occasional. Regular cleaning is set for Monday mornings, because a client visits then, and I make the house as near as impeccable for her. 

Spring is in the air, and with it, a deep earth current that demands I address the accretion of goods in the garage, unwanted detritus that I’ve carried from house to house, things I think I might need one day.

The top shelves of cupboards creak with sheets and blankets and pillowcases, old school uniforms, any manner of thing. Do I dare go there? It takes courage, time, and a plan. 

A neighbour disgorged his garage recently. It took a fortnight. I watched in horror. Even if Spring is in the air, carrying with it new life and fragrances of change, I approach the new season with trepidation. 

Every object I own is inscribed with meaning. A cavalcade of memory, some of it burdened with regret and the reminder of things lost, or projects that never materialised.

Spring cleaning is less about achieving a sanitised and orderly utopia than it is about severing the past. What do these objects serve? The gallery of a life, understood only by me. They will become redundant when I die, to be picked over by my children and possibly my siblings. What story will they tell? 

The story keeps being edited. I edit my stuff with each move. I find it liberating to chuck out an entire box, of letters, say. But I’m not ready yet. It will take a few more seasons for that.

All I can say with certainty is that Spring will herald a rising of the sap of change, and that in my mundane tidying, something bigger might tumble away from me.

I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m curious to find out. Whatever I discard will be a piece of me.  

As for a plan, I don’t have one. I never have. As for those tops of cupboards and the garage, I need to be happy with making a bit of mess, see what it throws up, and take things from there.  Much like life, really.   

Sean O'Connor

Change expert, Sean O'Connor, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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