Change. Big word. Especially when we want to make big changes. The bigger the change we want to make, the harder it all seems.
We live in a “big” culture-big food, big houses, big cars. The value of “small” is not big in American culture. (Sorry. I couldn’t help myself).
Small steps are really the key to big changes. I always think about the Jodie Foster movie First Contact. When working the short-range radio, the main character’s dad coaches her with, “Small steps, Ellie. Small steps.” Then later, when she is meeting the aliens for the first time (who have taken on the appearance of her father to help her feel comfortable), Ellie asks what’s next? Where do they go from here? And he replies, again, “Small steps.”
We often can’t make a change because we mistakenly believe we have to take a big first step, a too big first step.
What if we shift the goal from the meaning-laden, overwhelming idea of “changing my life” to the much more approachable idea of “jiggling my life?” What if all you expected from yourself right now is to just jiggle sometime a little bit and see what happens?
After all, a small jiggle (and another…and another) gets a lot more accomplished than waiting for the stars align perfectly so you can make that big step.
One of the great heartstring-tuggers of my childhood happened at the end of Peter Pan. Wendy has decided to leave Peter and return home. Peter is heart-broken, but pretends it doesn’t matter to him (as he is wont to do). Wendy and Peter agree that he will return every year for Spring Cleaning and take Wendy back to Neverland so she can clean out his hideaway and make all things new for him. She, of course, agrees (as she is wont to do).
The next year, Wendy waits (how she knows the day to wait remains a delightful mystery to me). And Peter does’t come for her (as he is wont to do).
Every year, Wendy waits. Peter does not show. Finally, many years later, Peter decides to come for Wendy. He enters the the nursery, and calls for her. She answers, but she is older now. It is too late for Wendy, she is too old to fly to Neverland. But, do not despair dear reader, because Wendy has a young daughter. And so, Peter takes Wendy’s daughter Jane to Neverland, leaving Wendy behind.
And that is where my heart broke. Wendy was too old and got left behind.
As a result of this story, the words Spring Cleaning inspire in me this strange combination of clarity (to make things new) and melancholy.
And Your Point Is…?
Spring cleaning also brings to mind such great images, doesn’t it? Sunlight pouring through open windows, white sheets gently waving in fragrant breezes, the whole house smelling lemony and fresh.
Spring cleaning doesn’t just have to benefit your house, however. It is also about leaving behind that which we no longer need or has become too old to bring forward with us into the new year. When we accept change without making it a bad, negative thing, (but rather an inevitable thing that arises from growth and change), we renew ourselves.
Let Go and Get Organized
By organizing our surroundings, and letting go of old stuff, we boost to our minds and our mental health. The problems created by too many old things and disorganization of necessary things, (such as lost keys, unpaid bills, embarrassment before company, etc.), create stress and worry. Stress and worry use up our energy and make us unhappy.
The ability to be in your own space, and know where everything is, and everything having a purpose, can give us a sense of satisfaction and happiness. Not only do we reduce the amount of stress and worry we have to deal with in our lives, we also free up that energy for other activities…activities that make us happy.
OK Doc, How Do I Do It?
An important psychological part of spring cleaning is to break it down into small steps. If you try to do too much at once (the whole house in one or two days, for example), you will actually be less productive. When overwhelmed by a task, most people freeze and don’t get any work done.
The Fly Lady is my favorite cleaning resource (well, besides Peter Pan.) You can find her at www.FlyLady.com. She suggests that you set your timer for 15 minute cleaning intervals with 15 minute breaks between cleaning. She reminds us that “we can do anything for 15 minutes!” Whether you break your cleaning up into “chunks” of 15 mins, 30 mins or by one section of a room at a time, take breaks between and give yourself lots of time.
Finally, after each “chunk” is completed, take a moment to experience how awesome it feels to have gotten something done. Our brains are hardwired to notice the negative moments in life as a way avoid the stuff that will kill us. While this is great for the survival of the species, it’s not so great for quality of life. We end up focusing on the bad stuff, and plow right through the good stuff-missing all the fun.
Another great Fly Lady trick (that also fits in really nicely with this Peter Pan theme I’m riffing on) is to sort the stuff that is lying around your house causing clutter and heart break. She suggests three piles: “Put Away,” “Throw Away,” “Give Away.” If an item it cluttering up your home, it is because it doesn’t have a home. Has it outlived it’s usefulness to you? Do you still need as a part of your life? Would it be helpful to someone else? Your answers to these questions determine upon which pile you place it.
Landing the Plane Now
So, be good to yourself. Organize your outside to give your insides a break. Let go of what you don’t need anymore. But when you do, take it slow and enjoy your success along the way. Here’s to open windows, spring breezes, and Flying to Neverland!