Spring cleaning: my worst nightmare

Vernal equinox is rapidly approaching, and my general level of uneasiness is increasing. No, I’m not worried about final exams or finding a summer job. Similarly, my anxiety isn’t attributable to the University’s pending budget request that is slowly meandering through the legislative maze in St. Paul. I’m not even scared about the administrative discussions on the future of Coffman Memorial Union. My concerns are considerably more pedestrian — I’m nervous about spring cleaning.
Now I realize that many college students don’t bother with this quaint ritual. However, as my friends filter out of the University and into the private sector (and assume more real-world qualities), a growing number have caught the spring cleaning bug. Although they’ve lived in newly purchased houses for less than a year, they’ve already started cleaning.
There are few celebrated events more painful to me than this annual rite. While many people will gleefully throw out piles of garbage in the next several weeks, I’m afraid to even approach the Dumpster.
Throwing out stuff like old assignments and souvenir pens just isn’t in my nature.
My apartment resembles the University Archives in Walter Library. Filing cabinets contain everything from college applications to junior high report cards to Christmas cards from 1989; not too long ago, I found a preschool finger-painting buried in the stacks. The living room is saturated with piles of work papers, school books, letters, software packages and magazines, and my kitchen table is littered with heaping towers of mail. Most of these items are unopened, unread and/or unanswered.
To be sure, there is no shortage of material to toss. Every year I attempt to join the mainstream and set aside several bags of junk for the landfill, but my contributions rarely amount to more than a half-empty grocery sack of inkless pens and old newspaper clippings. It’s so disappointing. Try as hard as I might to pitch stuff, I always lack the necessary fortitude.
Consider, for example, the pile of old sporting gear that sits in the corner of my bedroom. Included is a deflated basketball, two Nerf footballs and a cracked bat from my Little League days. Certainly I’m never going to play baseball with that Louisville Slugger — it’s sized to fit a seven-year-old kid. However, I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. That bat is loaded with memories (most of them strikeouts), and tossing it is akin to rejecting a part of my childhood. Compounding matters, I’m never sure if what I throw out today will be a collector’s item tomorrow (see LPs, Smurf lunch boxes and Pez dispensers).
Like most respected therapists and psychologists, I hold my parents and sibling responsible. For the first 18 years of my life, I was taught to save everything from money to broken shoelaces. And save I did. I still have copies of Valentine’s Day cards from second grade, a program from my first communion and my original Cub Scout uniform. The concept of spring cleaning was in diametric opposition to my family’s lifestyle. Is it any wonder that I now have an aversion to (perhaps even a phobia of) throwing stuff out?
My mother, for instance, avidly sews and knits, and she has remnants of cloth (whole boxes, in fact) dating back to the ’70s. Over the years, she has accumulated enough junk in the housewares department to fully outfit both my brother’s house and my apartment, and she still has a surplus of pots and pans that should carry her well into the next century. From her perspective, spring offers only an opportunity to capitalize on garage sales (which, I might add, are an odd by-product of spring cleaning rituals where you pay to haul away another person’s junk) and little else.
On the other hand, my father collects everything from assorted nuts and bolts to antique small engines. Whereas most people clean and reorganize when the garage is full, he embraces a different approach: He simply constructs an addition to the garage when space is at a premium. From his vantage, spring cleaning means moving the boat to make way for the snowmobiles.
The most chronic offender of all is Steve, my younger brother. At an early age, he began collecting bicycle components, broken lawn mowers, power tools, radios and CBs, among other things. While living at home we shared a room, and his worthless junk crept like ivy over the floor, up the bookcase and on top of the desks. Now that he’s a homeowner, his boxes occupy every room of the house. To Steve, spring cleaning is simply a vile phrase.
Because no one in my family can find the strength to reorganize, rearrange, and restructure toward the end of March, I don’t feel so bad. Just once, however, I would like to catch the spirit of the season and join the millions of Americans who celebrate the passage from winter to spring by filling up the Dumpster.
In the coming weeks I won’t be dreaming of an exciting vacation in an exotic location or praying to the gods of unprepared students everywhere for good marks on my finals. I simply hope to get organized and throw out some junk.
Greg Lauer’s column appears every Wednesday in the Daily.