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Spring Cleaning Lessons From My Mother

Cleaning in the spring

Spring-cleaning to my mom was/is the prom of house cleaning. It was anticipated, prepared for, and carried out with all the diligence, angst, joy, and sorrow of the high school prom including the promise of the perfect dress or at least new curtains. The end of February she began rearranging her schedule. This year at 81 years of age, she had started attending a Silver Sneakers exercise program at the local YMCA. She was terribly disappointed in the walking class because they “piddled around” so cutting that class was not an issue. However, the first week of March she cancelled all extra curricular activities because it was time for spring-cleaning.

Her cleaning supplies are simple. No amount of television advertising has tempted her from the basic essentials she has tried and proven to be effective. In the past she refurbished her rag supply by cleaning out my father’s undershirt drawer. He has been gone for a few years now but she still has a supply of tee shirts that, in her expert opinion, are the “best thing for cleaning”. A bucket of hot water and Murphy’s Oil Soap and she is ready for action. She will wash down the walls, ceilings, and especially the woodwork. An old style kitchen stool with two steps that fold in and out is the requisite tool involved for reaching those places her five-foot frame will not extend too. For fifty years she has brought out that turquoise vinyl covered stool to reach the ceilings and top of the walls along with the upper cupboards. The rest of the year it sits in the kitchen, back against the wall, newspapers stacked neatly on the seat. For fifty years, my dad would come in and hang his coat on the back of it and for the same fifty years, my mother tried unsuccessfully to get him to carry his coat down the hall. If she hadn’t needed it each spring, she might have gotten rid of the stool just to spite him.

Her plan of action is laid out ahead of time when she decides whether to start with the bathroom or the kitchen. Starting in each room at the top, she positions her stool and climbs up to reach the very back of the tiptop cupboards. In the bathroom, towels and linens are removed, evaluated and after the cupboards are wiped out they are folded and put away or taken straight out to the garage to be gotten rid of. Each of the drawers are then emptied out, cleaned and restocked. A little wire brush that was used for cleaning cake decorating tips is exhumed from under the bathroom sink and is used to clear out the soap scum and such from the shower door track. When the bathroom is finished, she moves to the kitchen.

washing the dishes
If my mother has a weakness it is for dishes. She loves dishes. She rarely entertains so they are seldom used but each spring, they are all taken out, washed, admired and re-shelved. The Noritake China her brother brought home from Japan resides on the top shelf and has for my entire life. I believe it was used twice, but has been washed faithfully every year. We would also see the banana split dishes each spring and I lived in hope of seeing them filled. There was a tiny little teacup and plate, a souvenir from a long ago vacation, which sat in the cupboard for many years. I confess, I remember coming home, smelling the Murphy’s Oil Soap and be filled with dread. I had taken the cup and dish to play with and lost the cup. And, yes, she noticed.

The bedrooms were cleaned next. To inspire cooperation and promote her agenda, my mother would tempt us with new curtains and new bedspread. Periodically she would repaint our rooms. Our color selections were limited to pastel blue or pink, and she preferred blue. There was one year in my adolescence when I held out for green and a very bold primary colors printed bedspread. After many hours of negotiations, I promised to keep my room clean and make my bed everyday. I loved my bedspread. The walls and furniture was “Murphed”, curtains hung, bed made and closet cleaned out; a beautiful new beginning. I did not always make my bed and my mother never liked the bedspread.

tips from mom

Spring-cleaning was done based on a calendar but the floors were exempt from that schedule. They had to be cleaned according to the weather forecast. The hardwood floors in the bedrooms have only ever been cleaned and waxed with Bruce’s floor cleaner. This has to be done when the windows can be opened to air it out. In 55 years, the hardwood floors have been vacuumed and cared for this way and they have looked exactly the same for 55 years.

One other chore dependent on the weather is window washing. She fits that in between other tasks on the first available day. Using her homemade mixture with a vinegar base she washes each window and dries them with the amazing, no-lint tee-shirts.

By the end of March, the house has been “done for another year”. It is important to be finished by then because baseball season starts the first week of April. She hasn’t missed the season home opener since she was 75.

People often ask about my mother. She is well. She takes no medication except a calcium supplement. She doesn’t want any broken bones. How does she do it? Well, she has a schedule and she sticks to it. Her life is structured and busy. Her home is clean and organized. She lives a green lifestyle because that is what she learned to do as a child. Her ways are simple and effective. She is not influenced by the world. To her, 50 shades of grey is the color of her hair. She makes decorated cookies for friends and family each and every holiday, sending cookies to her grandchildren (in their 30’s) out of state each month. Baking and Baseball give her pleasure. We have more to learn from her than how she cleans. Many of us need to learn from her how to spring-clean our lives.

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