Spring Clean on the 31st


I had never heard the term “spring cleaning” until I came to live in the mainland US at eight years old. Actually, I don’t think I learned the term until I finally started speaking and understanding the English language, and that linguistic epiphany did not come until about the fifth grade in Mr. Sacker’s classroom at I.S. 206 B in the Bronx. My mother forced the school to switch me to regular classes instead of perpetuating, in her own words, my exposure to the fraud that was bilingual education.  By then I had been living in the Boogie Down for almost two and a half years.


For those of you who are not familiar with public schools in Gotham, I.S. stands for Intermediate School. The number has no particular purpose and the B stands for Annex. The B makes the school building somewhat of an educational Jr. to something bigger, and perhaps, suggestively, better.  So there was an I.S. 206 somewhere else, probably nearby, but I never saw it. I don’t recall where I first heard the term but I remember learning that “spring cleaning” happens in American homes sometime in March or April. And I wondered why los gringos clean during those months instead of deep cleaning in December like we did in Puerto Rico, like I did in my own home in the Bronx, and still do today.

Perhaps it’s done right before the Spring holidays to make room for family visits and dinners? Maybe the late winter peaking of the daffodils sound the alarm to start dusting the cobwebs in the attics of old musky Victorians? Perhaps it’s the sometimes balmy days of March that signal the coming of the perfect days to rip off the plastic coverings that keep the wind drafts at bay? I guess it makes perfect sense in a frigid environment to wait until warmer weather to clear out the old, paint, refresh, renew, prepare, primp, and make one’s space beautiful and bright, I guess.


That was my primitive 10 year old understanding of spring cleaning during those “assimilation” years in Gotham. Those were some of the first set of questions running through my mind at the beginning of my lifelong learning about just what exactly it means to have the largess of having been born an American.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, and later on living in the Bronx with my parents, meant that “spring cleaning” was not done in April, but rather the last week of December, and sometimes before the Christmas season began. This was in direct conflict with my earlier observations of how Americans did things.  Rather, I try to get to the deep clean during the last week in December and I do it at my own pace, in accommodation to the burdens and toils of mid-adulthood.


The winding down days of the year mark the time to do all that cleaning you know. Why? Because December 31st is the grandmother deadline of all deadlines. It will never go unnoticed unlike your anniversary, tax day, or your dentist appointment.

The last week between Christmas and New Year, the perfect opportunity to quietly clear out old papers, and things you no longer need so you can wipe the gunk that has accumulated during the last 52 weeks. It’s the perfect time to clean out that junk drawer of yours. You know the one where you relegate those superfluous Chinese food packets and old batteries never used that keep the company of the birthday candles you don’t want to throw out because you might need them when the zombies finally climb out of the TV and come for you.

Go ahead and take advantage of the perfect time to put those things out of their miniature junk yard misery, no pardon, no mercy. Go on, recycle and donate what you can and put the rest in the garbage can. Those little useless items will be taken away by your sanitation service and they will be delivered to a grandiose depository of discarded treasures somewhere at the bottom of the sea or some poor country that cares for our abundant obnoxious American trash.


Then, on New Year’s Eve–before the newest glamour girl pushes the button to make that giant big crystal studded testicle descend on the millions of worldwide gawkers–your garbage can should be empty. If you do nothing else, make sure your garbage can is empty. That’s all garbage cans, including the one in your head. By the way, as a side bar, this year Gotham’s “very own” Taylor Swift will be shaking it off right before the big push of the button welcoming 2015. Be sure to tune in for the 11:55 to 11:59 musical performance by New York’s newest international ambassador. I am still trying to figure out her credentials for such an important job. However, kudos to her for her uncanny ability to write songs for co-dependent stalker girlfriends. They make the worst breakups feel like a day at the beach.

An empty garbage can starts your clean slate for the new year. If you should forget, the old Puerto Rican superstition kicks in. How you spend the first day of the year is how you spend the entire year. Trash in your can at midnight means you will have trash in your life, litter, disorder, and clutter.  You don’t want that right?


Your house should also be spotless, if you can get to it. New sheets, closets re-organized, floors disinfected, and the tub whitened with Ajax, windowsills and the windows cleaned, and the mirrors polished. Anything swept should be pushed out the main door to get rid of all the bad mojo in your dirt. In Puerto Rico my grandmother scrubbed the persianas(Caribbean shutters), the walls, the floor, everything, with an intoxicating mix of bleach and dish washing liquid. It all had to be brand spanking “like” new, and shiny like gold, by the time midnight came. If you follow the rules, January 1st brings a day to start your do overs, no questions asked. The day is probably the most hopeful day of the year.


Now, in my big girl days, during the end of year “cleansing” process, I reflect on the past year. For me, the act of cleaning is brain quieting. Have you ever taken a brillo pad to a dirty cauldron? A Buddhist monk can’t reach Zen under a Bodhi tree like I can on a blackened caldero. The cleaning actually stops the chattering group of old ladies in my head, the critical old ladies, the happy ladies, the sad ladies, the hurt ladies. They all get busy cleaning the cobwebs of the mind, I guess. While I scrub, sweep, throw away, and get high on bleach, I think about the past year. In past years I used to focus so much on what I hadn’t gotten done that by January 1st I was obsessing over how I could have saved more, eaten less, worked out more, dressed better, etc…all those superficial things that I now know to be irrelevant in my growth as a human being. Now I use the last day of the the year to do a little cleaning and speak  and listen to myself with a quiet mind.


Have I met my Spiritual goals set during the year?

Did I manage to establish contact with my Higher Power this year? Did I maintain communication with that Power? Did I get a little better at learning how to pray? Did I genuinely let go of people, places, and things that caused me suffering? Did I remember to give a shout out of thanks to my Higher Power when I was happy and not just when I was sad or in trouble? Answering NO is not the end of the world and I am not destined for the fiery pits of hell. Answering no just means that I can ask in prayer for the tools necessary to maintain the relationship I aspire to with my very own caring, kind, and loving God.


How did I treat my family and friends?

Did I make amends to those I harmed in 2014? Did I make an attempt at rekindling cooled but otherwise healthy relationships? Did I let go of friends or family members that were toxic in my life and did not contribute to my goal of walking in light steps? Answering NO to any of these questions just means that I can try and remember to make an effort in the coming year.


Did I meet my financial goals?

Did I manage to become more responsible with my spending? Did I try to think before I bought? Did I save like I said I would? Did I pay my bills on time? Did I make reasonable effort to reduce my debt as a step toward a long-term goal of being debt free? If I answer YES to one of these questions I am in a better place than I was the previous December when I was asking the same questions so I will not be so hard on myself. If I answered NO to all the questions I will reflect on the changes I can reasonably put in place for the coming year. Tomorrow is a new day, just like every day after that and morning will bring the promise of the unknown, the living of the present, the opportunity to renew the old, refurbish the broken, recycle or discard that which I no longer need and/or want.

Once I am done with the questions I make the affirmations. I pat myself on the back for the good things I did and forgive myself for the bad things that came or I made come in the past year. I try not to think about the things I might have wanted to buy but didn’t or the money I hoped to have saved but didn’t. I will reflect on the stuff I can’t put a DOLLAR amount to, friends, family, love, creativity, and serenity.


I don’t have to scrub everything, including my hands, to the bone to get a fresh start. I don’t have to fix and get rid of every little problem or shitty thing in my life to have a good life.  I am choosing to part with that which occupies the most space with no purpose in the junk drawer of my home and mind.  I am consciously LETTING IT GO!  The attempt to let go doesn’t work all the time, as it is a nascent skill in my journey, but when it does the greatness it brings is indescribable because I get to start just a little lighter than I was the day before.


Oh, and one more thing, tonight just for luck, while I watch Taylor shaking off all the haters in her life, I will have about 50 cents in my pocket (or my bra if I have no pockets) to usher in a prosperous new year. So in the end when I re-do my cleansing next year, it doesn’t really matter if I kept a completely tidy home and a full piggy bank. What matters is how I started and how hard I tried.


Happy New Year to you and your entire entourage of old ladies. Happy cleaning. May the new year usher blessings for all the living beings of this world.