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What a dirty house has been teaching me about starting over

Do we ever stop cleaning?


Do we ever stop starting over? Of course we can, but only if we give up.

This week the construction crews returned to my house to resume painting, sawing, working. The amount of dirt and dust is a little breathtaking, really. When I got home from the Coast after a rather abortive trip which was sidelined by an ice storm, I returned to one hell of a mess. I spent the better part of two days doing my best to clean out a few small spaces so that I had a tiny bit of peace of mind before they returned.

All over the house were footprints on my tile, paint that had dried and was devilishly hard to scrape up. Dust bunnies, now coated with forty layers of construction dust, had grown to Godzilla proportions.

I went after it. It got me thinking.

I've lived in this house for going on four years. The previous owners hadn't repainted, hadn't cleaned the ceiling. We get lots of spiders up this way, and those webs gather dust and dirt and smoke from the fireplace insert. I'd had to use that insert a lot this fall because my HVAC system had died, and the occasional belch of smoke went skyward and settled in on the webs.

It's an old popcorn ceiling. Oh my that's hard to keep clean.

After moving in, I just threw all my stuff in place without really bothering to ask if I liked the walls colors, if the place needed a really thorough cleaning (no and yes, respectively). Then I thought I would sell the house, got it cleared out, sold the bulk of my belongings and then lived in a mostly empty house for months on end.

When reality, the real estate market and the reality check of actually already having my dream home sank a sale, I recommitted. Now, step-by-slow-step I get to make the place mine.

And I like clean.

While I am perfectly aware that my clean compulsion is just another compulsion, at least it has excellent outcomes if you like shiny surfaces.

I found myself with a toothbrush and a Clorox spray scrubbing baseboards. Most particularly, I wet a Q-Tip and went after the tight, filthy corners which were displayed once all the furniture was moved.

It wasn't just that the activity was gratifying for its physical nature. It was gratifying in other ways which I hadn't anticipated.

Then yesterday one work crew removed my ancient, heavy, ugly overhead light fixtures. Four of five brand-new, bright modern ones were installed. When I flipped the lights, the house was bathed in utter brilliance.

Now I could see all kinds of things. Not just that, with this kind of light for my aging eyes, I can actually read what I put on my breakfast counter.

The house is also a lot safer for me as I age. Besides, in the dark dead of winter (barring another ice storm and power outages, which we expect next week), that creates this marvelous island of light in the fir forest that's like my own fairy palace.

The house is starting to sparkle. It won't last long, but the process allows me to consider how this is also what we are invited to do when we face the possibility of change.

So often ideas and assumptions and beliefs gather like dust bunnies in our own selves. We can "dirty" our minds with -isms and negative thoughts, some of which serve and many of which don't. They can collect over time just like this wonderful house ended up dingy. I am most assuredly speaking about myself here.

When I moved here, what I owned filled the entire basement and then some. Now it's a fraction of that and I'm still releasing stuff. Each time I do I have more space both in my house and in my life- okay and in my head - for cleansing breezes to blow through.

The selloffs of the furniture and belongings were just the beginning. Once Big Things were out of the way, then I saw Medium-Sized Things. Then Smaller Things. Now Much Smaller Things. The details.

What a great analogy for the kinds of wholesale clean-outs we affect every so often. Sometimes we get so happy about a Big Thing that we fail to attend to many of the smaller things lurking in the corners which caused the Big Things in the first place.

It's a lot of work.

Of course it is.

It never stops.

Of course it doesn't.

I know you know this. I just appreciate the reminder. It's so tempting to believe that there is a "there," after which I can stop scrubbing, cleaning, scraping off the barnacles of useless beliefs, self-recrimination and all the rest.

My challenge, and I'm living it right now, is to find a way to thoroughly enjoy the cleaning process. I actually do, albeit I can think of a great many other ways to spend my time rather than on my knees with a toothbrush. Still, when I'm willing to do that with the corners of my mind, heart and psyche, there's plenty of hope that I will find much to celebrate.

New breezes also bring plenty of dust and dirt and bacteria. Some of it is helpful. Some, not so much. I guess that's why we have to keep at it.

Here's to scrubbing out the small spaces. Here's to sparkle and light. Here's to evolution and the process. It is all good.

a person using a vacuum to clean a carpet
Photo by No Revisions / Unsplash

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