Monday, November 28, 2011

From the Cleveland Post October 7, 2010

Fall Cleaning


Kathleen S.Volcjak

Fall is underway. We are settling into the school routine. The weather has finally cooled down. Time to face the remains of summer, tidy up the loose ends, prepare for fall and winter obligations, necessities. I am trying to turn my attention to putting the house in order. There is an election in four weeks.

There used to be seasonal routines: spring cleaning, putting away the wool things to keep the moths out, slipcovers on the furniture to prevent soiling the fabric with summer perspiration. Now we have modern heat (no soot and ashes to clean out), synthetic fabrics, air conditioning, fewer clothes that are truly seasonal. Now we just manage on the fly.

We admire people who wing it gracefully. And the sad fact is that being organized can lead to comparisons to Martha Stewart, comparisons that are not intended as compliments. For some reason, it is just not decent to be so on top of things.

Not to worry. I know how to run a household, how to organize. I know that having a place for everything and everything in its place saves time and frustration. I actually admire Martha Stewart's attempts to spread the word on how to tackle this mundane reality. But my housekeeping will make very few feel inferior. I find it really, really boring.

Okay, boring is the word my children use. Too tedious to contemplate is more accurate.

I know that, contrary to the stubborn insistence of my children, 'boring' doesn't make the work go away (or magically put the words, 'Oh, that's all right, children. I will do your work for you. Go play!' into Mama's mouth).

I also know that it is foolish to waste energy resenting the task before me. Its my life: its my work.

But it is tedious. The stuff in the pile on the desk is there for a reason, just like the stuff in the pile on my daughter's desk and the odd assortment of miniscule building blocks, wheels and axles on my son's floor. If it was easy to file, easy to sort, possible to increase the interior storage volume of the house without altering the exterior in any way, it wouldn't be there. The junk room is just that: a place for the stuff you don't know what to do with (and so does meet the goal of 'a place for everything and everything in its place.')

And time is limited. There's a lot to be said for letting sleeping dogs lie. What if, once you start, you get sucked into an organizing vortex and just want to keep going and going and going until its all done. That kind of thing can just ruin your schedule.

As if that were not enough, if we are dealing with piles of old stuff, we are not attending to the present. We are not breaking new ground, moving forward into new territory.

That is, until the junk crashes down around your ears and makes it impossible to move forward.


Every so often one hears the question "What is the biggest problem facing our nation today?" A list of headline topics follows: education, government spending, the environment, the economy, healthcare. These are all really juicy topics, all excellent for firing up a righteous tirade.

If it is a well-constructed survey, they give you a place to check 'Other: please specify________'. To which I respond, 'Being too busy to follow the rules' or 'Refusal to put our civil and economic house in order'? Or maybe 'Refusal to clean up after ourselves.'

The idea requires too much thought to qualify as a hot button issue. Let's think about it anyway.

Consider the oil well blowout in the Gulf. Think about the problems associated with legal immigration, not to mention illegal immigration. (Its too soon to tell whether the Employment Security Commission overpayment mess qualifies).

For all these things we have procedures in place, but not followed. Laws in place, but not enforced. Always something more pressing, never enough money, not important enough to go out on a limb.

Until it is important. Until unintended consequences explode it, literally or figuratively, into importance. Then following rules creates new problems or is no longer an option. Still so many other pressing issues: how to make fixing the problem politically palatable? Even less money makes ignoring it still seem like a good plan.

Kind of like the pile of stuff on the back of my desk. Except nobody's going to die or starve or ruin their health from anxiety over my handling of the pile on my desk.

We know how to plan, organize and manage all these things, safely and effectively. We just don't have the attention span.

And people make fun of Martha Stewart.

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