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Featured ArticleSpring Cleaning

Rites of Spring and Other Wrongs
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I have always avoided any activity described even partially by the word "cleaning." I have neither the talent nor the inclination to turn stain into sparkle. Although I enjoy an environment which is fundamentally fungus-free, I have always believed that eclectic clutter is a reflection of character. Recently, however, it became difficult to navigate from room to room without tripping over some of my "character." Mother Nature conspired by deluding me to believe that Spring was in the air, and I launched a massive invasion of my hitherto unexplored wardrobe wilderness. I can only assume that this foray was hormonally induced; it would pain me to think that the need to have all my sweaters folded the same way is a characterological defect.

During my freshman year in college, I lived in a small dorm where professional cleaners kept the bathrooms up to board-of-health standards. They entered other rooms only to empty wastepaper baskets, a fairly painless weekly chore in the days before pizza and Chinese food were delivered directly to dorms. One day, my roommate Lil and I returned to our sanctum to find a note from Peggy, the house cleaner. "Girls," she had written (after all, it was only 1965 and she didn't know we were really women), "I won't empty your wastebasket until you clear a path to it." I assume we complied, since we finished the year without pox or pestilence. Nevertheless, our little "stable" could never have been selected for the immaculate conception.

I chose a roommate for sophomore year who was witty and wild. Since we had never shared living space, I was surprised to learn that she was also organized and immaculate. Taped to her closet door, she kept an updated chart of her pantyhose, categorizing them by color, control, and condition. Some were relegated to the "pants only" classification, doomed to be underlings by flaws in visible locations. The good ones -- no runs, pulls, or anemic elastics -- were listed by texture, color, and degree of dressiness. Ever the iconoclast, I rolled mine into a ball and shoved them all into a drawer. On the rare days when I wore a skirt, I reached in, pulled out a ball, and let serendipity do the rest.

My roommate could not tolerate my closet. One Saturday morning, I left for Medford at six a.m. with the sailing team (and that's another story!). After our first entrants capsized, we returned to school wet, tired, and generally disgruntled. I headed straight for my room and my beckoning bed, vowing to recoup those early morning hours no college student is ever supposed to encounter. Did you ever wonder where you might use the word, "Alas?" Well, this should be about right. Alas, my bed was piled high with everything that had been stuffed, sequestered, and secreted. In my absence, my roommate had taken the opportunity to undo the havoc wrought in my closet. "When you put your clothes back," she advised, "make sure the hangers all go the same way. It's easier to save things if you have to run out in a fire." Well, a fire in my closet would probably be considered more of a blessing than a bane. Thirty years and several degrees later, I still use a system of serendipitous storage. I have lived with walk-in closets, armoires, built-ins, free-standing units, tiny cubicles, sliding door extravaganzas, and drawers of all descriptions. I can still stick my hand in and pull out a pair of pantyhose. I wear them rarely, but it's nice to know they're there.

Don't get the wrong idea. I am fastidious about my personal hygiene, showering daily and augmenting my natural bouquet with every promise of freshness, fragrance, and flawlessness the market has to offer. I just can't seem to keep the bottles and tubes arranged in any semblance of order. The under-eye cream hides behind the "Dramatically Different" moisturizer, which perches precariously on a package of make-up removers large enough to denude the entire cast of Titanic. The pantyhose system works well here too. I just reach in and grab. You'd be amazed what you can do with eyebrow pencil when nature's other helpers are concealed.

I once saw a movie in which the great theoretical psychologist Jean Piaget discusses some of his ideas with interviewers. His philosophy was fascinating, but I couldn't take my eyes off his desk. On every available surface, unruly piles of paper stood stacked like leaning Towers of Pisa. I was delighted to see how freely Piaget and his "character" faced the camera. I became lovingly certain that he mixed blues and blacks in his sock drawer with abandon.

What perverse mind developed the concept of spring cleaning, anyway? The air is seductively soft and perennials poke through mounds of winter-weary soil. Why catalog your pantyhose when soon you won't be needing them? Reach, instead, into life. Pull out a ball of delight and follow it anywhere. It's Spring. Come out of the closet. Go fly a kite.

Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
April 10, 1998

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