I love learning that I’ll have the apartment to myself for the day. Just the words “I am heading out for a few hours” send endorphins rushing through my head because of the realization that I now have several hours I can dedicate to tidying up my apartment. The prospect of organizing my life by cleaning overtakes my mind as I start a load of laundry while “Neon Guts” by Lil Uzi Vert blasts through my speakers.
Before I moved to college, I was a hoarder. If you’d taken a peek under my bed, you would have found my McDonald’s receipt from four months ago, my middle school yearbook and the Adidas Superstar shoebox I got with a shoe purchase from three years ago. But after discovering the inner peace I gained after using my own will to remove useless junk from my space, I changed my lifestyle from that of a hoarder to that of a neat freak.
Cleaning had always been a chore to me. My mother taught me how to do laundry and iron my clothes when I was nine and clean dishes when I was ten. By twelve, I was hovering over her shoulder as she taught me how to measure the perfect amount of salt for any dish. With my Indo-Caribbean heritage, it was expected of me, the girl of the house, to learn to cook and clean from a very young age. I began to dread cleaning because I was required to live up to this cultural standard while my brothers would never have to fathom the idea of using a bucket and a mop to wipe the hardwood floors every Sunday morning. The scent of Clorox wipes and Scrubbing Bubbles Bathtub Cleaner attacked my lungs, choking me slowly as I scrubbed the dirt and grime off the bathtub walls. Eventually, I became Cinderella before she received her magical carriage, gown and glass slippers; my free time was spent picking up after my older brothers. While my brothers were able to laugh in the hallways as they got ready to go see their friends, the sound of water coming from the kitchen sink was my small companion for the weekend.
Having to clean up after yourself and be responsible for the adults in your household is an emotionally grueling task as a child. It sours your perspective on cleaning because it’s a parent-mandated duty rather than an act of self-care. After moving to Ann Arbor for my freshman year, keeping my side of the dorm room clean was initially challenging. It was frustrating to come home to my room, with makeup and clothing scattered across my desk and my unmade bed, serving as a constant reminder of my terrible time management and sleep schedule. I felt defeated every day as I shoved my little black makeup bag under my desk and into an organizer. My eyes felt heavy and exhaustion washed over me, because I was always wondering when this cycle would come to an end.
One day, I discovered Marie Kondo’s method of tidying, where she worked with those in cluttered spaces to declutter their environment and introduce them to a new perspective on cleaning. Kondo would ask people to only keep the items which “spark joy” in them, meaning that if someone held an object in their hand and did not feel excitement or happiness, then they would remove the object from their space. Ultimately, the purpose of the exercise was to declutter by getting rid of various old items and creating space for something new.
After coming across the KonMari method of cleaning, I decided it was time to purge my room. I ran to my dresser, starting with the top drawer, and removed every piece of clothing one by one until they were heaped into a mountain on the floor. Band t-shirts from middle school and jeans from my first year of high school had all followed me to college. I was holding onto memories that I felt neither emotionally connected to nor thought were relevant to me as a freshman in college. I did not understand how holding onto old pieces of clothing could block me from reaching a sense of peace until I took the time to hold each garment in my hand and ask myself, “Does this spark joy?”
Once my wardrobe no longer consisted of old clothing, I felt as if I had been set free from all the weight that had been holding me down. Though I was thankful for my past memorabilia that accompanied me throughout summers in New York City and time spent with friends, I was approaching a new beginning. All of a sudden, the sun looked brighter and the breeze came through the dorm windows. There was an extra skip in my step as I lined up my three garbage bags of clothes against the wall to take out. I stood in the middle of my room, looking at the small pile of clothes I had left, and smiled. Finally, cleaning made me feel good.
Decluttering is now a weekly routine of mine. A surface can be properly cleaned without having to move something. A workplace is like a temple, so having a clean environment is essential. In a time when everything is virtual, keeping items that “spark joy” can keep you motivated, happy and focused. Nurturing your environment with sunlight and plants is a way to improve your mood and your point of view towards work. You deserve to study, work and play in a stress-free environment this semester, so give yourself a chance to fall in love with cleaning.
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