Is It Time for the Annual Ritual of Spring Cleaning? Eh, Maybe Next Weekend

Ted S. Warren

The Chicago Commissioner of Sanitation once told me there was one pre-summer day every year when it seemed most city residents, as if on some unspoken communal signal, suddenly decide together it’s time for the annual Spring Cleaning.

No one ever announces that day. It never appears on any calendar. It is, as if on one common Saturday with the days growing longer and warmer, millions of humans wake up and feel the psychic need in weekend unison, “I must clean out a lot of stuff.”

On the ensuing Monday, city crews are presented with massive mountains of stuff to haul away. That is a day of overtime, but also a bounty for sanitation workers, who can pick freely through discards. One woman’s worthless trash is another man’s priceless treasure.

But that regular time of year can also be a burden for social agencies like Goodwill that can sometimes find more trash than treasure in their “donations.”

There are mountains of donations to sift through for good items that can sell in their stores or recycle again to charities or wholesalers.

As one of the 180,000 newer refugees from California’s ongoing population exodus, I recently went through an awful lot of personal belongings to thin them down for a cross-country move. The motive was to reduce moving costs and then to reduce the need for expensive storage space.

When Goodwill told me of its ban on donated bed frames, I found a local recycle store that sells furniture, gently-used clothes, tools, kitchenware, books, even old vinyl records. After rent is covered, the proceeds finance a local animal shelter. Win-win.

There are two schools of thought on Spring Cleaning:

  1. If you haven’t used it in a year, toss it.
  2. If you haven’t used it in a year, you might in two. Or three. Or four. And then, see, you wouldn’t have to buy another one. So, you’re actually saving money in the long run. And quite possibly somehow helping the environment, which is once again a thing, according to people who can afford private jet charters.

According to someone I’ve known very well for 40 years, I happen to fall under number 2. (As media puts it, she remains an unidentified source with inside knowledge of the decisions in question.)

There is, however, also a 2A) corollary:

I can reliably report from another unidentified source that some people genuinely know in their heads they must get rid of years of accumulated belongings, some of which may hold sentimental value.

But in their heart, they know they’ll soon regret tossing them out. See, it would be like throwing away the attached memory, too. Halloween costumes, for instance, for a now-grown child or even a deceased pet would sell in a recycle-store heartbeat and go on to have another meaningful life. On the other hand, you couldn’t then come upon them in a couple of years and pause to savor a bittersweet memory.

There also seems to be a Spring Cleaning rule that none of your old clothing ever gets too large. Always too tight, for some reason. Or impossibly tight. Common sense dictates it go to someone it might fit. On the other hand, you did have some good times in it. And if your workout plans do not get delayed once again….

Geez, what to do?

Since everything of mine is still in (yes, expensive) storage, pending completion of a new (also expensive) house, I do not yet have to address the veracity of those charges, especially in this highly partisan age.

Truth is, it’s often very painful to discard. One effective solution is to postpone the decision to another time. Which seems to take care of everything. One hopeful alternative is to say, well, maybe someone can use this somewhere. The conscience is assuaged by passing it on anonymously instead of tossing it out.

What if something is broken and you’re sure someone with the right skills could fix it — but that person isn’t you? At donation points like Goodwill, some broken items can be repaired by employees. But consumer demand for tables with three legs and a dead toaster that was once a wedding gift on that happy, distant day is, well, non-existent. Worse, it then actually costs the charity money to dispose of that item, millions of dollars when you add it all up.

Clearly, these are all very important, even delicate, topics to ponder at this time of year. I’m not really discarding them. But I have an appointment right now. Maybe next week.