Each spring I find myself returning to a childhood ritual of doing some spring cleaning. At quite young ages my mother trained all of my siblings and me in this yearly practice of washing walls, stripping hardwood floors and even polishing silver! These days, I don’t wash the walls or strip any floors and we don’t own silver, but I do like to wash my blinds and baseboards, sort through my kitchen cabinets and finally attack my clothes closets to get ready for Spring just in case she decides to knock on our door this year.
It didn’t slip past me that I while I do this every spring, I noticed that this past week, the ritual of cleaning, of making order, helped me as our country continued to grieve with the families affected by the Humboldt Bronco’s tragedy. Somehow, I find that finding order in my own little world helps me feel in control. Rationally, there is no sense to my actions, but it makes me feel better.
Although normally, when facing more than one task, I do the hardest one first and work my way to the easy jobs, this year I found I did the mindless jobs first and I’ve left the cleaning of my clothes closet for last. Even I know that I must look like a lunatic as I go through the following routine:
I slide the hangars all to one side and then begin by moving each to the opposite side, one by one. As I move the hanger, the theory is that I will decide if this item is one that a) I like b) I wear c) fits d) looks good on me e) would be good for another season. If these criteria are met, then the item gets to stay. If not, again, the theory is that it will be put in a pile for either donation, rags or trash.
The problem is the little voice in my head that often accompanies me into our walk-in closet. Her chit-chat goes like this. You paid quite a bit for that, it would be a shame to let it go without getting good use out of it. Or, it doesn’t look great on you right now, but maybe next year. Or, you probably should replace that one but don’t do it just yet, not until you have something new. Or, maybe it looks better on me than I remember. Or, my favourite, you don’t wear it but it really fits well and you might want it some day (this one is about things I haven’t worn for several seasons!).
Even I can recognize this voice as one that is very similar to that of my saboteur. She doesn’t like it when I try to make change in big areas of my life and apparently, she isn’t fond of letting go of black sweaters either.
The process of spring cleaning my closet isn’t yet complete but it has made me think about what other areas of our lives need a spring cleaning. If we could push every activity, story, habit and relationship to one side of the room and then move them slowly into the middle for an examination, what might we discover?
I’m guessing that we each have some old stories that no longer serve us well. These might be simple stories, stories that are so familiar to us that we don’t even think about them as stories. We believe them to be the truth. I remember when our children were still at home and I was working, that when my colleagues would invite me to join them for some socializing after work, that I would easily thank them but decline; I wanted to be home with my family. This was a truthful story, and it served me well when I had children at home. However, one Friday long after both kids were away at university, this same invitation was casually extended and to no one’s surprise, I declined. Then I found myself driving home, to an empty house suddenly wondering, ‘Why am I continuing to say no?’ No one is expecting me to be home.
My old story had created a habit in me that had become unconscious. Not only that, by this time my colleagues had a story about me too; I didn’t like to socialize. My story no longer served me well and their story had no reason to change. This was one story I could have taken off the hanger and moved to right to the trash pile.
I also have some clothes that I wear far too often. I love these clothes. They are comfortable, they fit like a glove, and quite simply, they are just ‘me’. I reach for them without really thinking about it. And that is the problem. These pieces of clothing have become so comfortable that I’m now out of touch with other things that might look far more flattering on me. This happens in our closet of life too. We can get so good at practicing one quality that we eventually overdue it. While it still feels very comfortable to us, others start to see us in this singular way. For instance, if we practice being the one who will always say yes to the little (or big) extra jobs, we forget that we might have other skills to offer, like being the creative force behind a project. Eventually others take for granted that this is simply what we do. Not only have we over-worn this outfit, it begins to be the only one that others recognize us in. We might be better served by donating this outfit to someone else who could use some practice at wearing it!
I know that I also have some habits that, like my clothes, just do not look or feel good on me. It’s interesting that I continue to hold on to them as if suddenly, they will begin to serve me well. If I could let these go, it might make room for new, more productive or helpful habits.
This week as you travel through your life, take a look at what habits and qualities you need to spring clean. Do they just need to be put away for another season, or do they need to be donated or trashed altogether?
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘Do I like this? Do I wear it well? Does it still fit me? Does it flatter me? Do I want it for another season?’
Enjoy your Spring Cleaning!
Elizabeth is a life and leadership coach in Calgary, AB. She provides leadership coaching for individuals and groups and she creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups.