Tell me what this sounds like to you. You’re in a dimly-lit room. Balls of lint float gently across the floor like miniature tumbleweeds. There’s a fraying recliner with a broken footrest sprawled drunkenly in one corner, and a wooden desk is cocked at an angle beneath a windowsill stacked high with brick-a-brack – receipts, empty Tic Tac boxes and long-forgotten Batman figurines. There’s a vague smell of must in the air. It is lonely. It is forlorn. It’s unsettlingly quiet, enough to make a child weep for mommy.

Oh, and it’s the kitchen. Add dish clutter to the list.

So! What does all this sound like? A small shack in a refugee camp? A dormitory in a minimum security prison?

Even sadder. It’s my apartment during spring cleaning.

I try to maintain order. I really do. Occasionally I succeed; on a typical day, all the grimy bits are banished to certain strategic hiding spots, like under the couch or behind the refrigerator, where there are big enough piles of cereal box prizes to open up a small dollar store. Stray dirt and junk has this nasty tendency to accumulate, and my day-to-day strategy is to keep it at the margins, far enough away from the main stage that I can pretend I’m neater than I actually am. This is a mental disorder known as Bachelor Delusion. It has its perks.

Most importantly, it’s a time saver. By doing the utmost minimum to maintain a sense of cleanliness and order, you can give yourself a lot more breathing room when it comes to the things that really matter. In my case, that means writing angry letters to politicians and catching up on old reruns of “The X-Files.” Neither of these activities is especially productive, and the former may lead to the odd restraining order or two, but that still beats getting on your hands and knees and scrubbing the toilet until your arm falls off. The obvious problem with this approach is that, when spring cleaning time comes round, your workload is compounded. Shoving things aside isn’t the same as getting rid of them, so when you finally heave the couch asunder it’s like an archeological dig: Stratified layers of detritus that you can use to reconstruct the recent history of your life. Sifting through my own debris, can now map out rough outline of the past 12 months.

They started off with bizarre Cocoa Puffs obsession half of these brown, crunchy cereal bits ended up crushed into a dusty carpet-cake), and they ended with a yellowed copy of

The Grapes of Wrath.” I still haven’t read it and am now not sure I want to, considering it has developed the faint green aura of a nuclear fuel rod.

Lifelong struggles with procrastination certainly don’t help, but I suspect the main culprit here is upbringing.

My dear mother was a wonderfully dedicated parent, but one of her child-rearing strategies backfired. When I was barely old enough to wipe my own nose, she stuck a vacuum cleaner in my hand and showed me the finer points of removing crouton crumbs from the living room carpet. Looking back, I suspect she had a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Whenever watched her toil with that ugly mechanical noisebox, she’d pass over the same area so many times I wondered if perhaps she had superpowered sight and could spot subatomic particles with her bare eyes; by the time she was done, the fibers were so sterile they could have been used to swab the blood from the gashes of a stabbing victim.

When my turn came, I was a little less manic about it. I did several passes, but only as many as I thought necessary to remove all traces of the previous night’s popcorn binge. With an earnestness only children can achieve, I shoved the vacuum’s crude geometry into the tightest corners, determined to show Mom that I had “the touch.”

I did not, apparently, have “the touch.”

She’d be encouraging at first: “Oh, nice work honey, really good job.” Then she’d revacuum the area I just cleaned. Not with a cursory pass, either. She’d just re-do the entire section with the same mania she brought to every other surface in the house. To my eye, my designated area was spotless, void of even the most microscopic morsels of pocket lint. Mom, by contrast, saw advancing armies of grime trundling across the floor like the Nazis storming into Poland.

Aside from being deflating to my self-esteem, it taught the wrong lesson. The lesson should have been, “Clean regularly, and you’ll have a nice living area.” Instead, the lesson was, “Clearly, you’re bad at this. Let someone else do it.” Not that I’m laying blame. She got a lot of things right, Mom did, and any lackadaisical attitude toward neatness and order I may have is my own responsibility. Nevertheless, it would have been helpful to have gotten a better foundation in that area; perhaps today I wouldn’t be blowing whole weekends trying to beat back the encroaching hordes of broken watch bands and dust-covered DVD cases.

Love you, Mom.

Let my tale be a cautionary one. If you don’t maintain your abode consistently, you run the risk of ending up like me: waist-deep in trash bags, hands and arms slick with Pine-Sol, and staring down a mountain of assorted crap so large it could bury Stonehenge.

Somehow, when Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous coined the term “spring cleaning,” I don’t think that’s what they had in mind.

Jeff Lagasse is a disheveled and unorganized editor for a Portland media company who currently smells strongly of dish soap and frustration. Contact him at [email protected]


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