Not all spring cleaning happens in the spring but eventually it must happen. The Hindu festival of Diwali, one of light and beginnings, is traditionally when many households do their spring cleaning, though it doesn’t occur in spring. Diwali happens in the later part of the year when the tropical heat of the subcontinent takes a turn towards a milder temperament. These cooler climes at the year’s end is when many Indian festivals light up the night, and homes and those in them clean-up, take stock and start anew.
There is a certain element of archaeology involved in cleaning or reorganising a long-running home. While sorting through messages or notebook pages is an effective glimpse into your recent past and thoughts, digging into the layers of accumulated life in your home is a bitter-sweet and sometimes startling history lesson.
When we hear the old saying “Out of sight, out of mind,” we imagine things lost in distant lands, but the fact is, nothing can be as thoroughly lost as in plain sight. No veil is as impenetrable as the veil of familiarity. Our homes, their every corner, piece of furniture and architectural quirk is so familiar to us, and so often ignored in our daily lives, that we miss most of it and forget. Soon the veil of familiarity is replaced by the even more lasting veil of new layers of things accumulating on the pieces of our lives. Objects, letters, documents, precious treasures and incidental scraps, all fall through the cracks, get buried under new obsessions, and sometimes get safely put away in secure places that slip into the fog of time. Cleaning up is our way of shovelling away the fog and digging through our history to re-evaluate and reset our present.
The things we uncover when we spring-clean our lives are that most crucial piece of what our lives will be like tomorrow. They remind us and force us to rediscover, acknowledge and accept what we must be grateful for having and having done, and what we must let go of.
What you are grateful for
When I open up long forgotten cardboard boxes and dig behind the stacks of things over-crowding my closets and bookshelves, I am most often reminded of old ideas. Some ideas I worked on and tempered into designs and creations for my own pleasure or for others, and some ideas that remained unmade, unspoken and unexplored. The random objects, craft materials, and precious scrap I find reminds me of these lost notions and past triumphs. For both I am grateful, for having the luxury of the time, space and opportunity to think of those I never did, and for having the resources and people who let me do the ones I did work on.
If you’re reading my musings on the Internet, I can assume some things about you which deserve your gratefulness, regardless of your spring-cleaning discoveries; A roof over your head, access to the information and ideas of the world, sustenance, opportunity. Those not-so-common things we must never stop being grateful for, though it is easy to forget to be. In addition, your home and everything you discover which lay safe and unmolested there for years, deserve their own rush of being thankful.
One of the wonders of rediscovering old memories under the dust is in realising how much you’ve done and how far you’ve come. We all obsess over what remains to be done, but few of us truly take stock of what our slow and constant efforts have yielded. If you’ve been on this planet for long enough, you’ve done things and achieved things you can be grateful for. Not everything is a great invention or would have changed the world, but if it mattered to one person, you achieved something worthy, however personal or abstract that achievement was. Celebrate that. The forgotten letters, the old trophies, the yellowing birthday cards, the fading bills and the torn tickets, all hold as much value to remind you of what you have and have had as all the riches and grand achievements of the world.
Pressed against what has already past are often things unrealised. We collect pieces of our lives in paper and trinkets as fast as we collect memories, and sometimes it takes the passage of time to help us realise what some of those things are worth. Not as nostalgia, but as keys and seeds for what they could do for us today. We inevitably change and grow, and with us grows the potential of all we deemed interesting and important in some past life. Those seeds are worth being grateful for and worth sowing in the more fertile soil of the present.
What you must let go
Of all the things you dig up in the cleaning up of your home, much of it, if you’re honest, will be meaningless and you will have no idea why you have it. If you’re not honest with yourself and are a hoarder, you will invent usefulness to ascribe to every toothpick and paper clip, all of which is untrue. Hoarding can be a whole different topic of discussion for creative souls, but for now, in short I’ll just say this: Be honest with yourself. Not all that was lost is a treasure and most of it you must simply get rid of for practicality. Recycle, donate, give away, destroy, whatever it takes. Just remove the detritus from your life to make space for new things to enter it and be significant.
The more tricky challenge is letting go of some of the things you are grateful for, which are significant to you, or were. I spoke of all the things which can be the seeds for new beginnings. By all means, hold on to those — be selective — until you can extract what you can from them. Even artefacts from your past that are reminders of deeds done and things achieved, which can still help you remember, and in some cases muster your strengths towards new challenges, hold on to and cherish them. But there will be things that are important to you, and were, and are simply wasted being kept hidden and unused and unappreciated in your memories. Let those go.
Let go of the things that mattered which could matter to someone else a lot more today. Let go of those that have more left in them which you will never squeeze out of them. Let go of those treasures whose memories are more important to you than their possession. Let go of those that were given to you and perhaps would flourish in being given to someone else again. Let go of those things you are rich in but would be pure gold to someone else. Let go of all those things you held on to tight back then and have forgotten now, and which might have the chance to be held on to tight elsewhere again.
A large and unspoken part of being grateful is in letting go, of cherishing what you gleaned from it all and then letting it gladden and enlighten others. We live in a self-obsessed, individualistic, beginning-middle-end, birth-and-death obsessed world. This forced finiteness on the things we possess and interact with is a way for us to sweep under the mental carpet the fact that things go on and continue, and change and blend into other things. Most of the things we obsess over will outlive us. Of all of them, we ourselves are the most finite. Let go of those things you have no real use for or true appreciation of any more, because you may possess them but you can never really own them.
Everything I’ve said, if it has merit, goes far beyond the objects we hoard. It applies to many aspects of our lives, the ideas we hold dear, the people we covet, the knowledge we protect, the notions of who we are and who we were meant to be. All that we must be grateful for, for only in gratefulness will we find the seed of more, the start of new things and possibilities. Only in gratefulness will we find the time, the love, and the humility to hold on to the precious wonders someone else generously let go of.