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Bonzer Words!: Cleaning House

...I was glad when I got a place of my own. A place which is a bare bones skeleton of me: walls white as skim milk, fog on the floor, sand on the windows and nothing bright except for rainbows of books traipsing across shelves . . .

Gloria MacKay thrives on the simple life, uncluttered and unencumbered. Gloria writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please do visit www.bonzer.org.au

The couch that grew old as I grew up had doilies straight-pinned into its arms and back. The fireplace mantle was home to a trail of glass animals—a foot or a horn or a tail missing here and there. Hanging above the scratchy blue rocker was a faded basket of flowers painted on black velvet.

You must know a room like this: a footstool padded in needlepoint; an old oak piano nobody played; a dark mahogany end table with a top-heavy radio almost covering an ecru, hand-crocheted doily; a light mahogany table with stack of dusty magazines; top; a metal floor lamp with a wobbly tray just large enough to hold an ashtray.

This was my home for twenty years, but there was always too much stuff inside that place for me. I was glad when I got a place of my own. A place which is a bare bones skeleton of me: walls white as skim milk, fog on the floor, sand on the windows and nothing bright except for rainbows of books traipsing across shelves . . .

When I feel choked by clutter inside me I ream that stuff out, too. I am amazed how much nonsense I soak up without any effort, the way a daffodil turns green if you set its stem in colored water. Like most cleaning projects this purge takes strength and energy and results in aches and pains, but I am never sorry when I take the time to do it.

It’s surprising what is left once I throw the rubbish out. The beauty of a tune from a guitar that doesn’t plug into the wall. The hum of the furnace. A wind chime. A touch. Moonlight. The slam of a car door. The rustle of a page from a chapter that doesn’t come out of a book. My insides and my outsides match up like congruent triangles, like two peas in a pod, like parallel lines that go on forever but somehow manage to meet.

How heavenly and why not? Why can’t heaven be a feeling and not a place? A verb and not a noun? To use the language of business, why can’t heaven be ongoing?

Even my thinking skills improve when I feel organized, orderly and calm. When I lived in the house with the scratchy blue chair, I went to Sunday school. I will never forget my favorite teacher. She was beautiful and kind and could sing like an angel. One Sunday morning she confessed, “When I was young my dream was to go to New York and be a singer. I even had my train ticket. But then I thought about all the temptations that I would have to face and I prayed. I decided God wanted me to stay right here at home where I would be safe. I know I did the right thing.”

I didn’t feel close to her any more after that. I still liked looking like her because she was beautiful, but I was confused by her story. She looked strong enough to move across the country without going to hell in a hand basket (a phrase my Grandmother liked to use). What I did learn from Sunday school was that I would rather learn how to survive in New York City than climb a stairway to paradise. My dear teacher changed my thinking forever, but probably not the way that the Presbyterians had in mind.

A simple mind like mine operates best uncluttered and unencumbered. The here and the now is all the heaven I can embrace and all the hell I deserve. I don’t want to wait for the envelope please. I don’t want angels sitting on my shoulder—not even Botticelli’s best. And I don’t want to make special preparations for the judgment day; I have always had enough to do right here.

What a production spring-cleaning was in the home where I grew up. We set the doilies in the sun to dry and stiffened them in sugar water. We straightened closets and swept ceilings. We polished windows with crumpled wet newspaper and while we were at it, the couch and rocker changed spots.

These days my cleaning, somewhat like my heaven, is more ongoing. I tend to do a little at a time, and, like all housework, it will never be done. This is because cleaning out means letting go and letting go means taking risks and taking risks takes time. It is hard to decide what to save and what to throw away.

© Gloria MacKay


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