Photo: Jeff Harris
A messy attic is one thing, but what about a terrible job, a lousy friend, or an indifferent spouse? Spring is here—time to take a long look at your life. And if there's something you don't love, change it.
My mother was not the traditional spring cleaning sort; she hated housework of every kind, and if I had ever seen her beat a rug or clean a window, I would have known the end of the world was upon us. But every spring she'd look at her wardrobe and mine, and eventually my children's, and declare it was time to "start fresh!" Everything that was a mistake (puce, velour, edged with rickrack) went to charity. Everything that was too large or too small went to a bigger or smaller cousin. She was smart enough to keep things that were merely, and only temporarily, out of style, and her Ferragamo pumps have now served three generations. She also made allowances for the once-in-a-lifetime (which is why I have a perfect Lilly Daché hatbox from the '50s).
I have taken her approach to heart in the matter of my closets (when she was alive, I didn't really have a choice: no dingy shirt or too-tight skirt was safe). Now I have taken her approach to heart in matters of the heart, and even of the mind.
There are things, as she used to say, up with which one should not put, and spring cleaning is a good way to deal with them. Rude children, indifferent spouses, bad bosses, lousy friends, social injustice—all have no more place in our lives than painful shoes and shirts with huge yellow stains. I'm not suggesting that you throw out your children or your spouse or that you have to turn your entire life over to righting wrongs, but there is something about the greening of the grass and the lovely swelling of buds that should signal change is in the air. Spring seems to me to be a great time to reckon with your beloved—after a long, dark winter of bickering about things so apparently minor that you're forced to recognize that the underlying issue is probably major—a time to square up to the psychological moth holes and tomato stains and suggest couples therapy. If he refuses to go, that crisp, lemony smell is you facing the fact that this is not a good sign. Here, "Start fresh!" means going to your own therapy and/or consulting a smart lawyer.
Sometimes spring cleaning requires a good, long look at oneself. If nothing fits and nothing makes you feel attractive, it's always possible that the fault lies not within our closets, dear Brutus, but within ourselves. Spring is a perfect time to learn to love what you have, change what you can't love, and get the hell away from what does you harm. From my point of view—that of a person with a poochy tummy—live with your poochy tummy (Spanx, people—it's there for a reason) but not with your toxic mother or energy-sucking job. But pace yourself. There's a wonderful motivational speaker I see only at about 2 A.M. She is so much like everyone's sensible, forthrightly funny, pearls-wearing aunt and talks to a crowd of people who are midlife, midcareer, hoping to be advised to chuck their jobs as accountants and engineers and social workers and leap into a daisy-and-butterfly-filled meadow of new possibilities and success as potters or poets or carpenters. Here's what the lady with the pearls says: Not so fast, shorty. She points out that the impulsive leap is sometimes as bad as no leap at all, since it often ends in disappointment and disruption and debt and a terrible creep back to the old job. She says: Take baby steps, but take them now. Go to the library and study up. Apprentice yourself. Volunteer in the arena you want to make your career. It's some of the best advice I've ever heard.
A good psychic spring cleaning calls for a walk through every room in the psychic house. Mark some "Fix now," some "Try again next spring"; on some just scrawl "Oh, well" on the door and move on. In my real house, last spring, I threw out every spice that was more than three years old and every cosmetic that was more than two. However, the suitcases with broken zippers (and Cabbage Patch dolls and baby mobiles) remain. In my psychic house, I'm adding physical therapy on my postsurgery knee to the daily routine; I've called the nice lady who took care of my parents in their last days, as I have been meaning to do since October. I also got rid of all obligatory social engagements that don't include family. And floating through the psychic rooms, I also see my mother blithely ignoring dusty windowsills in favor of fresh flowers, championing repose with a good book rather than baking from scratch, and celebrating spring with a bag of things for Goodwill and a glass of Champagne.
Peter Walsh unclutters your mind and your closet
From the March 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!