By Todd Outcalt
Many households continue the centuries-old tradition of spring cleaning. This ritual commonly involves a mandatory enlistment of the entire family in divesting closets of old clothes, washing walls, sweeping floors, vacuuming carpets, beating rugs, and otherwise opening the home to a new assortment of toxic spring allergies. Women seem to love this ritual. Men hate it. And teenagers consider it a leading cause of death.
Nevertheless, spring cleaning continues. We need these rituals to give us permission to parse the old so that we can create room for the new. Spring cleaning reminds us that hoarding is not the ultimate goal in life, but giving. That is why people have garage sales in the spring and why April is also the best time to purchase slightly-used workout equipment – like treadmills, weight sets and the latest fads in Himalayan hiking gear from Dick’s. It only takes four months for people to realize that they are not going to keep their new year’s resolutions (like getting in shape or losing weight) and they are willing to part with these expensive January purchases for five dollars or a three-pack of tube socks.
The advent of spring also awakens other sensibilities, like romantic love, and we want other people to regard us as tidy and able to manage a summer wardrobe. Spring awakens these organizational juices in most everyone (except those who have been married for more than thirty years) and a person can glimpse the changing seasons by how much junk people are carting to the curb.
Likewise, spring can also awaken our faith, even our sensibilities and awareness, to the new possibilities inherent in changing liturgical colors, in movements of service, and in cleaning up the baggage of winter. Plans are being made for summer camps, for mission trips, for socials in the shelter house. The entropy of winter succumbs to the rituals of cleaning.
We have these thoughts, of course, because they hearken back to more ancient proclamations – namely that God cleaned out the grave and God is the One who makes all things new. Every time we haul junk or lighten our lives by insisting on the formula of simplicity or sharing, we can remember that God is a giver, not a hoarder. We are called to this life, too. After all, our lives will not be defined by how many toys, or rowing machines, or smoothie blenders we can accumulate, but by how much we can matriculate into a world of need.
That’s why we can think of spring cleaning this Easter. A little cleaning never killed anybody. It just offers an opportunity to live a new life.
Todd Outcalt cleans closets in Brownsburg and writes hundreds of essays on a fourteen-year-old Compaq computer with a floppy drive. He loves giving his book royalties to mission and looks forward to the publication of his next books – Common Ground (forthcoming in May) and All About Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (a children’s biography of Dr. King). He also writes each month for Preaching, YouthWorker, and Midwest Outdoors magazines.