In Which I Attempt To Spring Clean & Am Thwarted By Motherly Advice

Order out of chaos.

It’s that time of year.  Spring.  And my half of our clothes closet is a mess.  As usual.  Just ask Zen-Den.

So I’ve decided to be strong, be decisive, be ruthless… and sort through my clothes.  And accessories.  Because it’s not doing me any good having all this stuff piled up hither and yon.

I crave a calm, organized closet.  Angst-free.

Encourage or discourage?

But here’s the issue, when I start to organize anything in our home I hear my late mother’s voice telling me three of her stock phrases. The woman was nothing if not consistent.  And cautious.

  1. Waste not, want not.
  2. Be careful.
  3. Think it through.

So then after acknowledging that these phrases are bouncing around inside my mind, I become so filled with doubt that I do not do that which I set out to do.  And the closet… or the basement… or the junk drawer remain messy.

Stumbling over the past.

It’s the oddest thing.  I can let go of outdated ideas with ease.  I can move on from rotten relationships as needed.  But when it comes to objects that I’ve bought or inherited, I have difficulty deciding what to do with them.

Begging the question: how do you un-program that which a well-intentioned mother who grew up during the Depression programmed into you?

There must be an override switch somewhere, right?

Published by

Ally Bean

Observant. Creative. Humorous. Adaptable. Happy enough. Looking for the crumb of truth in the cookie of life.

22 thoughts on “In Which I Attempt To Spring Clean & Am Thwarted By Motherly Advice”

  1. Maybe the same idea about items after a move – if you have not touched it in two years, get rid of it. Maybe the same is true for clothes – if you have not worn it within the last year, get rid of it. Also bet one of the problems you may have (as I do) is the “if I lose X pounds I can fit into it” issue. Tough one, that. Give yourself a date certin that if you are not down that X pounds, then get rid of it. Just some ideas.

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    1. Z-D, you have a good idea here. Now the questions become: how many pounds and by what date? Perhaps the answers to those questions will help me override all that motherly programming. Or make me more confused! There’s always that. 😉

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  2. I definitely understand your problem. As you know, my mother hangs onto “things”….. many “things”. She has finally relented, and started to get rid of “things”, but she has a long way to go! Good luck to you and your situation.

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    1. Beth, it’s a bafflement to me because when it comes to ideas and ppl I am good; I let go as need be. But set me down in front of clothes or family memorabilia/antiques and I freeze, become indecisive, worried. I know what’s going on, but I can’t quite figure out how to get beyond it.

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  3. Those phrases don’t need to be negative, they just need a need to be heard from new ears. Think it through/be careful could be good advice when selecting the items that are truly important to you that you want to keep, you know, thinking through how you use them, how often, etc. Waste not, want not is a little harder to turn to a positive since it tell you to hang onto everything because you “might” need it someday. But if you think hard and decide that you really don’t want/need the items now or in the future, then donating them isn’t wasteful, it’s actually helping those who have less who really need to live by that saying.

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    1. Carolyn, I like your line of reasoning. Clearly I need a new way to think about Spring Cleaning so that I don’t get bogged down and give up. I’m all about donating items to charities… when I finally decide to part with them. You may have solved my motherly advice problem. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. OMG! Same mother! I find that I can be ruthless for about an hour or so, then I get wishy-washy. Sooooo….I can only clean out for an hour at a time. It works but it takes a long time.

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    1. kate, happy to learn that it wasn’t only my mother who programmed these thoughts into a child. Misery loves company, I guess. I like your one hour approach to tackling the closet. I could do that. Sure, I will do that.

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  5. Ally, I was just having this talk with a friend yesterday. We hold onto so many things to manifest memories, to hold onto people, to keep them alive. It’s hard to know when I’ll regret throwing something away, but I’m getting better at it.

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    1. Andra, I’m getting better at it, too. But this Spring, facing up to sorting through things has left me feeling overwhelmed. I dislike being wishy-washy, but can’t get my butt in gear. Yet.

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  6. It sounds like we all grew up with depression era parents. I used to have trouble getting rid of butter containers and anything else that might be useful. Moving every three years helped me to clear out the junk. These days I have a different perspective since I’m trying to clear out 25 years of butter tubs and styrofoam meat trays and plaid suit jackets from the 70s. Anyone need 25 years of National Geographic? It’s interesting that I was raised with spring and fall cleaning where we donated toys and clothes we didn’t need every year, yet they didn’t throw away anything else.

    I’ve worked hard to get rid of those old messages and sell, donate, give away or toss those things I don’t like or use – even the gifts. I’m not done working on that, especially if I think something might have actual or sentimental value. I try to remind myself that something only has value when someone else wants it. And sometimes, that value to someone else feels really good. I recently gave away Mom’s kilns and her blank porcelain to a woman struggling to support herself and her disabled child. She will really appreciate them and they will get used. Which feels better than holding onto them or selling them for the small amount of money they might be worth. I guess that’s a repeat of Carolyn’s advice – everything you give away can bring joy to someone else.

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    1. Zazzy, I grew up in a household where saving butter tubs and glass jars with lids was mandatory. My mother even washed out lightly used plastic bags so that she could re-use them another time– or two. We also saved all twisty-ties and rubber bands. Of course.

      I agree that getting rid of those ingrained messages is tricky. I worry too much about making a mistake when choosing what to keep and what to give away. On the other hand, I love to give items to Goodwill and The Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul so once I decide, I’m glad to let someone else have the stuff.

      It’s just the deciding part that stops me.

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  7. OMG–my dad always says “waste not, want not,” but it always refers to food. He’s a believer in the clean plate club, whereas I am not. He did grow up during the Depression and his family was pretty poor. My mom was from a wealthy family(dentist dad) so she didn’t get some of the same programming. I can get rid of LOTS of things, but only if there are no significant memories attached. My husband’s tools and work stuff–no problem. His clothes: another issue.

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    1. Margaret, that saying must have been ingrained in that generation. It’s not the best one for our generation, though. We are so much more better off than they were & hanging onto stuff is counterproductive for moving forward. It’s odd to me that I know what I’m doing wrong, but cannot overcome it. Usually I’m a solutions sort of girl.

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  8. You forgot the 4th phrase: Fashion goes in cycles….as soon as you get rid of it, that item will immediately become “new” fashion trend.
    (And as repeated often by my depression era mom with a sewing machine: “It’s still good, just cut off the Peter Pan collar and add some shoulder pads – and it’s brand new and in style!”…..every fall as reviewing wardrobe needs for school…..)
    Washing plastic ziplock bags…she did.
    Such a true true post!

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    1. philmouse, you’re right. That phrase was part of my mother’s repertoire, too. It was all said in love, but somehow or another I have internalized these ideas to a point where they keep me stuck. Rather peculiar, but true.

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      1. Stuck is the word. Time for me to be realistic, grab a big bag and load it up for Salvation Army….so difficult…but I got past the update it for current style when the sewing machine broke….a good thing….they never really looked right as I wasn’t as good at it as my mom….

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  9. Yes, tis a conundrum. I have a much easier time getting rid of material objects unless they are letters or photographs. Then it’s more challenging. But, come to think of it, some more clothes could go–and last time I looked in the closet it felt just like you described!

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    1. Kathy, the weird thing is that I realize that I’m not doing what I need to do, so I can’t claim that I’m in denial about the mess. But actually making the decision to let stuff go is a killer for me. Maybe this coming week, now that summer is here, I’ll be inspired to move forward on this project.

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