10 Simple Steps to Freedom from Spring Cleaning. Finally.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhen I found out I had a disease that would likely reduce my years on this planet significantly, I wasted no time and jumped into conservation mode by eliminating things from my life that are not important, not necessary, or just no fun. I’m trying to focus my time and energy on things that really matter.

So, with the words of our bronchitis-encumbered friend, I’ve kicked spring-cleaning to the curb, because “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

I have never understood why spring-cleaning is a thing anyway. What kind of fun-Nazi came up with this concept? Just when the temperature and the birds and little kids are all beckoning us out doors, we are guilted into cleaning our homes from top to bottom like some freakin’ locked-up Cinderella.

Not this Cinderella. No more.

So if you want to put an end to the guilt-trip called “Spring-Cleaning” – you can use my secret non-cleaning methods, which will certainly NOT earn you a headlining piece in Better Homes and Gardens, but WILL most definitely help you reclaim one of life’s most precious commodities: time.

The key to freedom from Spring-Cleaning is prioritization and simply determining how often certain chores are TRULY necessary. Here is my list of spring cleaning chores and the frequency I give them:

  1. Dust baseboards: Never. Why bother with this total time-sucker? Who cares about dust ALL THE WAY down there by your already stinky and dusty FEET????
  1. Washing windows: Every other year. Maybe. However, if the Sparty’s are doing well in March Madness AND your daughter plays spring soccer AND you’re planning a spring missions trip to Guatemala, you can stretch this out to three. Maybe four.
  1. Wash sheets: Whenever you darn well feel like it, and never a day sooner. Who are these people that wash their sheets weekly? These people who make us feel less than just because we’d rather have a root canal than wash bed sheets? Who are these masochistic individuals who are willing to endure the stubbed toes, the broken fingernails, the SWEAT that breaks out when replacing the previously ill-fitted and now significantly shrunken fitted sheet??? They are not my friends, I’ll tell you that much.
  1. Wipe down interior of cupboards and clean food and crumbs out of silverware drawer: Whenever the dishes and silverware coming OUT of the cupboards are as sticky as those going IN to the dishwasher.
  1. Clean out the refrigerator: When something spills and makes a sticky mess. (I was just a young bride when I noticed on my mother-in-law’s calendar the little word “refrigerator” inked in the last Wednesday of every month. I asked her what that meant and she said, “That’s refrigerator cleaning day. I take everything out and clean the inside thoroughly, and then pull it out from the wall and clean behind it, too.” I choked. She had been thinking so highly of me up until this point. I could sense her disappointment. We had been married at least TWO years by that time, and I had never once had a “refrigerator day.” Could this be a thing? Cleaning behind your refrigerator??? Why has nobody shared this information with me before? In a rare, raw act of defiance, I decided then and there that on this one issue I would seriously disappoint my sweet mother-in-law and choose “NO!” I will NOT have a monthly “refrigerator day!”)

So, just to be clear, when I say “clean out the refrigerator”, I’m simply referring to dumping moldy-oldies and just scanning the interior to make sure no living creature will crawl out at you when you reach inside. I am NOT talking about cleaning under or behind the beast. For me, that is done approximately: NEVER. So far, 29 years of being an independent refrigerator owner and NOT ONCE have I cleaned behind one!

  1. Organize closets: When you can’t shut them.
  1. Wash walls: Do you eat off your walls? Do you lick your walls? Do you prepare your meals on your walls? Do you unthaw your frozen meat on your walls? Do you fold your clean laundry on your walls? Do you change your baby’s diaper on the wall? I rest my case. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wash walls. Every 10 – 15 years you will repaint them anyway. Good enough.
  1. Vacuum under the bed: Unless you have a dog who sometimes eats food she shouldn’t which makes her a little psychotic to the point of thinking that the under-bed space is actually a doggy doo-doo zone and leaves you a mess that ferments for several days before you discover it, there really is no reason to vacuum under the beds. I claim “outta sight, outta mind” for this one.
  1. Professionally clean carpets: Do NOT waste your time OR your money on this scam! (I’m pretty sure the government owns both the carpet cleaning industry and the dry cleaning industry. They are both fake covers to extract more money from the unsuspecting American public by pretending to do something that is purely bogus! Surely by now, in our advanced human evolution, we ALL realize that dry cleaners simply step out back, shake out the garments, and then throw them in a funky-smelling plastic bag proclaiming, “Voila! Clean!” Likewise, I guarantee you that one hot minute after the carpet cleaner’s truck pulls out of your driveway, the Kirby vacuum cleaner saleswoman could bust into your house and suck up mounds and mounds of disgusting dirt, lint, and dog hair from your “clean” carpets and furniture making you feel that somehow you don’t love your family well for being so dirty and that what you really want to do is spend ten times too much on a vacuum cleaner. Let me save you the HEADACHE: do NOT bother with EITHER ploy to get you to pay for something unnecessary! I promise you, that little Eureka Wind-Tunnel that your grandma bought you for $59 at Walgreens and proudly gifted to you at your bridal shower a mere 28 years ago… she still works juuuuuuuust fine! Fine, I’m sure of it! Have faith!)

Carpet cleanliness in America is so overrated. Go ride your bike with your kid in this glorious spring weather – something terribly underrated.

  1. And last but not least: Dog Care. I just read an article on spring-cleaning for your pets – a serious exposition on why my dog Buddy needs extra special attention at this time of year, too. Well, let me save you those wasted hours as well, my friends. My special secret that only takes a few seconds and keeps Buddy smelling April-fresh year-round: spray her frequently with spring-scented Febreeze! While the manufacturer and PETA probably do not endorse this practice, it could very well be the best spring-cleaning tip I can give you!

(I initially learned of the spring-cleaning concept from the Dutch Master herself, my Grandma Visser, who single-handedly raised the bar on the phrase “Dutch clean.” I’m noticing a bit of a cold sweat here as I contemplate posting this possibly too-honest list…. She was also a very large, very candid woman who made me cry on more than one occasion simply by speaking her mind. I believe I’m hearing her voice posthumously in my head right now – “Girl! Have you no shame???” Well, probably not, Grandma. Probably not.)

Wiser Why’s

I am told that when life just doesn’t make sense at all it’s okay to ask God, “Why?”   When maybe a single phone call, lab results, a fire, or a funeral, leave you suddenly questioning who is God, really, and if He’s truly good and concerned about what’s going on down here or if He’s just hanging out with the angels playing Settlers of Catan and watching Downton Abbey.

There are a few things that I know to be true but they don’t necessarily help:  I know God can handle our questioning – people love to remind me of that.  I also know that I don’t necessarily need an answer to the “Why?” in order to find peace and joy.  And I know that God will meet us where we’re at, which, sometimes, is in the middle of the unknown.  Those statements are all true, but presently feel so cliché and have not been all that comforting lately.  But I’ve also learned something in this season of asking a whole lot of “Why?” questions:  when I come up with some Wiser Why’s, I just feel better.  That’s it.  Asking a different, wiser set of “Why’s?” just seems to be carrying me these days – better than any cliché reminders.

  • When I want to ask of God: Why am I only 47 and have to start thinking about death because of this stupid lung disease?  My wiser Why is this:  Why is it that I have been given a disease that gives me years to live instead of one that gives me only weeks or months?
  • Why did my sweet friend Jill have to die at 44 yrs. old, in the prime of her life, leaving behind a loving husban
    Wd and 4 amazing kids?  My wiser why is this:  Why, Oh God, why, would you give insignificant little me the gift of 15 years of a beautiful friendship with someone as spectacularly special as Jill?
  • Why is it so freaking cold in Michigan?  I should be asking: Why is it that we have a heated home and yet I know full well just 20 minutes up the road there are people who have no home at all?
  • Why is every stinkin’ day a blizzardy-day in Michigan this year?  I could be asking: Why did God choose to make snow white?  He could have chosen to make it black, you know.
  • Why does it feel like this winter will never end?  A better Why would be:  Why, out of all the ugly- brown-70’s-ranch houses in West Michigan, did we choose this particular ugly brown house for our down-size – which just so happens to have a miracle bush by the front door which just so happens to attract chirping birds ALL WINTER LONG providing us with the sounds of Spring – ALL WINTER LONG?
  • Why can’t we take a trip to Hawaii like my sister?  A much wiser Why would be:  Why don’t I run to the bathroom, stick my head in the toilet and give myself a swirly?  We like to tell our kids:  ask a junior-high question and you’ll get a junior-high answer.
  • Why do some people do and say hurtful things yet seem oblivious to the hurt they leave in their wake?  A wiser Why would be:  Why am I so stuck on the hurt that has been done to me instead of looking to where I may have been the hurt-er?
                                                                                                                                                  
  • Why can’t my husband or children ever replace the empty toilet roll with a new one?  A wiser why would be:  Why, Lord, did you choose to give me a husband who loves me and four (fairly normal) children?  Why do some people pray for those things forever yet not receive them?
  • Why can’t I lose 20 pounds and have a figure like my co-worker Hillary?  A much wiser why would be:  Why is it that I have never known true hunger?
  • Why can some people eat like crap, smoke cigarettes, and drink their liver silly yet still live into their late 90’s – but even though I DIDN’T live like that, I might get robbed of a few decades?  Perhaps a wiser Why would be:  Why is Josiah so ridiculously funny that we can sit around the dinner table and laugh with (at) him for hours – helping us to realize we can know bliss without the aid of substances?
  • Why did my cousin Zac, who was more like a nephew and one of Andy’s best friends, have to die last summer at the age of 23 in a tragic, senseless car accident?  My wiser why is this:  Why, heavenly Father, did you pick bright eyed 5-yr.-old Anand out of all the millions of homeless and orphaned children in India, to be adopted by his family, to be brought home to America, to be renamed Zac, to touch and bless the lives of all who knew him, and to teach us all a little more about passion, love, and zest for life?  And this one:  Why, oh why, was he ALWAYS smiling?
  • Why do you allow pain and suffering, Almighty God, when I know darn well you could stop it all if you wanted to?  A wiser Why is this:  Why did it take me getting a diagnosis of a potentially terminal illness to stop the crazy-cycle life I was living and slow down enough to notice people, to notice need, to notice beauty, to noticequiet, and to notice God?

If I only had 10 more years to live:

The phone finally rang – two days, three hours and fifty-seven minutes later than it should have.  I was a shredded pile of emotions from the waiting.  She took an infinitely long breath, cleared her throat, and dealt the blow:  It is as we feared – lymphangioleiomyomatosis.  I know what you’re thinking:  that’s not a word, it sounds like a kindergartener made it up.  It’s most definitely a word and it’s definitely no joke.  While initially I was relieved that it wasn’t the “C” word – the one disease we’ve all learned to respect – now I’ve come to wish it were.  I remember learning in nursing school that cancer should really be viewed as a curable disease.  Many times people with cancer receive successful treatment and are cured and we need to stop thinking of that diagnosis as the kiss of death.

 

Not so with lymphangioleiomyomatosis (or LAM, its kinder acronym).   It is not curable.  In fact, “they” – those great minds of the medical elite – make no concessions about that.  “They” don’t even know how you get it or how to treat it.  Paul and I have been to multiple physicians and even drove across the state to the University of Michigan and talked to the most special specialist who specializes in LAM.  I have also now read from nearly hundreds of websites – six weeks since I first heard there was an evil in the world called LAM.  Six weeks since “they” first suspected I have it. 

I am 47 years old.  I basically feel healthy and strong, but for years I have wondered if I was more short of breath than I should have been.  Although I can walk for miles, I couldn’t really carry on a conversation while walking, and try as I might, I was simply unable to run for lack of air.  I blamed it on being 20 lbs overweight and vowed that someday, when I finally got in shape, I’d run a marathon.  I was also more tired than I wanted to be – but I blamed that on four kids, multiple moves overseas, middle age, and an affliction that makes me unable to say “no”.  And, apparently, I cough.  It doesn’t bother me any, but I’m finding out my loved ones have noticed it (a lot) and find it rather annoying.  But I would have sworn to you I’m not sick – just, well, a little bit not quite right.  But now “they” have assured me those are all symptoms of a disease which initially lets you appear healthier than you are.  I guess LAM has started to take over my lungs and moved toward my kidneys.  And slowly, I will find it harder and harder to breathe until I simply cannot.  “They” say this takes, on average, ten years.

Where does one even begin to process that?  Before we even started telling family and friends – or our own kids for that matter – I was thrust, unwillingly but entirely necessarily, into a mind-numbing exercise of trying to make sense of all that is life, and all that is death, and how to fully live in every gifted breath.  I hope, and believe, that as my plus or minus ten years progress, I will discover more about the meaning of life and that I can exit this reality with more peace than I have today.  Because today I’m still a bit of a mess.

 

One day, or maybe it was night (they’re all a blur lately), while being swallowed both in self-pity and a sea of snotty Kleenex, I decided someone with a terminal illness should probably make a bucket list.  Ten years is not near enough time to do all the things you thought you had 40 years in which to do them.  My list included many things one would expect to see on a typical bucket list:  see “Wicked” on Broadway, visit Machu Pichu, walk the great Wall of China, run a marathon, see Coldplay in concert, hike the Himalaya’s, learn to speak Spanish, sky dive, etc.   

 

But before I even got to #9, I had a revelation.  I realized that if I really only had 10 years left, I better first figure out the pointto this life and then waste no time trying to get there.  I don’t really have time for pointless activities – unless of course they were done with people I loved – but then, that would be the point.  The more I thought that through, the more I was convinced I couldn’t (wouldn’t) make a bucket list full of typical things one does before one dies.  Because, I reasoned, those typical entries were all deposits made into “ME”.    Places I wanted to go, wonders I wanted to see, things I wanted to do – all of which, are all for ME.  With only 10 years left, why would I only make deposits into ME?  When I die, those deposits all die with me.  The only legacy one can possibly leave behind that makes any sense at all is a deposit into OTHERS.   What I really must do for the last 10 years is pour whatever energy I have left in me into other people. In my less selfish moments, when I’m not grieving over the fact that I will be robbed of maybe 20 or 30 years on this planet, I have concluded I must spend my years sharing the love that I believe can only be found in Christ Jesus my Savior.  I want to live like Him – just extravagantly loving others and pouring myself out for them. 

 

So,  this is my better bucket list: 

 

  • I want to spend as much time with my four children as they’ll allow.  I’m aiming for a melange of Carol Brady, Claire Huxtable, Maria von Trap, Mother Mary, and Olivia Pope – praying that even a sliver of good in me can be majorly multiplied in them growing them into good, kind, compassionate, hard-working, self-less givers who are musical, wickedly smart, and forceful world changers. 

 

  • I want to be spending unhurried time over long lunches with friends who feel like they’re being trampled from the hurried masses, beaten down by the world’s injustices, or crushed by the pressures of a culture run amok  – and simply listen.  We’ve all got crap we’re dealing with – but we don’t often find good listeners with whom we can safely spew our crap.  Dear Lord, make me a big crap loader. 

 

  • I want to walk Buddy, my Holy Spirit she-dog, through the trailer park and let all the children (some who, I fear, are bearing physical and emotional wounds from their tired, over-worked, and underpaid daddies) pet her and play with her and forget their troubles for just a few moments.  

 

  • I want to spend unsolicited coffee-time with my sweet and self-less mother-in-law who is slipping away slowly and barely remembers my name these days. 

 

  • I’m going to be all about letting my 12 year-old daughter climb up on my lap even though she is entirely too old to be doing that sort of thing, but entirely able because she is from Guatemala – a country where they just make smaller people. 

 

  • I want to drink wine with our friends until we’re giddy and foolish and we let some buried things bubble-forth and then we laugh and cry together as we realize this was the very therapy we needed. 

 

  • I want to take longer showers (My husband must be thinking:  is that possible?) – but like most people,  that’s where I get my best revelations.  Often, I feel God reveals to me random people from my past which feels like a prompting to reconnect:  Kathy Henderson from nursing school, Diane Marker from Davenport,  Stephanie Saumon from Aix-en-Provence, Julie Jones and  Stacey Johnson  from Casablanca and countless others – where are you now,  my sweet friends?  And do you randomly think of me as often as I randomly think of you? 

 

  • I want to keep visiting our poorest of poor friends in Morocco and just sit with them, accepting their extravagant generosity, while we wrestle with the pain of how much we have and how much they have not.  And loving them deeply, without necessarily fixing their problems. 

 

  • I’m going to keep a large bag of Snickers in my car at all times so I always have something to give a pan-handler.  Since I am running out of time, it doesn’t look as if I’ll be able to solve the problem of poverty and homelessness in America – or for the rest of the world for that matter.  And that beats the hell out of me because I so wish I could.  But possibly, for this moment, on this day, for this one person, I can at least hope to spread a flicker of sunshine.  Besides, who doesn’t love Snickers? 

 

  • I’m going to work hard at forgiving those who wounded me unintentionally.  Harder yet – forgiving those who hurt me intentionally.  And why stop there?  I want to bless them, too. 

 

  • I’d like numerous fireside chats with our neighbors making time for sharing stories.  But also watering their flowers, feeding their dogs, eating their cherry tomatoes, giving their kids popsicles – so they are much more than “the people with the white car”, but they are fellow sojourners whom we actually share life with on our little cul-de-sac in Hudsonville. 

 

  • I think I’ll watch more comedians.  Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Stephen Colbert (don’t judge) and Tim Hawkins – these will be some of my new friends.  I just want to laugh, in a room full of people I love, because I think laughter is music to God’s ears.  And bonus, I’ve heard a good hard belly-laugh can burn upwards of 100 calories. 

 

  • I’d like to keep working at my job at a psychiatric hospital – because I believe I have been called to serve the marginalized in society.   I feel so honored and privileged to care for these misunderstood people – I’d even be willing to work there for free.  And I now see how the soul begins to die when we stop serving others – which is a much worse death than the physical one. 

 

  • Because of that last one, I think I’ll return to the homeless shelter where I interned last year and start volunteering.  I’ve never felt more alive than when I walked through those doors and breathed in deep the aroma of desperate need colliding with God’s love in action. 

 

  • I want to spend countless afternoons watching the sparkles accumulate on the lake as the sun descends in the sky, and then, because we’re too ensconced to get up and cook a proper meal, we’ll just throw all the food from both of our refrigerators onto the picnic table and feed all the kids left-over chicken wings, string cheese, a head of lettuce and a can of baked beans.  I want to laugh and eat s’mores and drink wine around the campfire until our sides hurt too much from laughing and the mosquitos chase us away. 

 

  • I want to have ice cream for dinner – repeatedly throughout my remaining summers – buying about 20 gallons too many so that we can take all the extra gallons to the trailer-park to spread smiles. 

 

  • I want to spend time at my local nursing home and find out which residents never get any visitors.  And I want to sit with those lovelies and let them talk endlessly about their childhoods, their children and grandchildren, their careers, their legacies – until they run out of stories or break into song with “How Great Thou Art”.  I used to work there – I know how it goes. 

 

  • I want to pull out my memorabilia from high school and college and spend a whole day, or perhaps a whole week-end, with my high-school sweetheart, who both miraculously and graciously married me, and together read through all of our old hand-written love-letters to each other.  And I want to revel in the beauty of 27 shared years.  Twenty-seven.  That’s a pretty big number when you’re talking years. 

 

  • I want to read a ridiculous amount of books.  I know that seems contrary to what I said earlier about investing in others and not myself – but I also believe this truth:  When we live out the life that God destined us to live and we become who He created us to be, He is glorified.  He made me a reader and a writer.  And when I read, I feel His pleasure. 

 

  • I want to plant trees.  Is it just me or have others noticed that the trees are dying?  When we returned from living in Morocco, I was hyper-aware of dead trees everywhere – way more than when we had left 4 years prior.  I think it’s continuing to get worse.  I think I’ll plant at least one tree for every year God gifts me here.  At first, I felt like this one wasn’t an investment into people, but now I think it is.

 

  • I want to hand-write cards expressing: “Thank-you”, “Way-to-go!”, “Congratulations!”, “Thinking of you”, “Praying for you”, “Sorry for your loss”, “Wish you were here”, ‘til my carpal-tunnel screams “No more!” 

 

  • If my lungs will allow, I want to take several trips to Guatemala or Honduras – two countries that are home to many people we know and love.  And on these trips I want to take bunches of people who have never left the USA before, and introduce them to the “real world” and hope and pray that they get it, absorb it, and live differently because of it.  That’s what changed us, anyway, and I’d love to keep paying that forward.  Even though it wrecks you for good. 

 

  • I hope I’ll never watch another reality TV show – perhaps any TV show for that matter.  I don’t find the point in it at all.  Unless, of course, it is “24” with my husband and our two sons and we’re all death-gripping each other’s hands on the couch, or “Downton Abbey” with my two daughters curled up under the same blanket with me. 

 

  • I don’t know, but I think with only 10 years left, I’m going to give up dusting and vacuuming.  Those two things seem equally pointless and just time-suckers – time better spent with people.  I need to be about making a point.  I bet they don’t dust and vacuum in the Congo.  I’m contemplating throwing out cleaning toilets as well – but more undecided on that one.  I still have nightmares about the toilets at Paul’s college residence after just ONE year with no cleaning… I swear I got bit in the butt once by some kind of toilet vermin. 

 

  • And I’m going to write that stinkin’ book.  It doesn’t matter if it is ever published or even gets read for that matter, it just matters that our story gets told.  We all have a story and they are all too good to not be told.  The five reasons this bucket list entry is for others and not for me are named:  Paul, Andy, Josiah, Grace and Yulisa. 

 

  • In fact, I’m going to write everything down on this journey.  And I’m going to share it openly not caring what some negative people may say anymore.  I’m done with letting words hurt me, and I just don’t have time for that anymore.  The only way I can be hurt now is if someone would steal the set of lungs that I might need for a transplant. 

 

  • And then, hopefully, if I still have energy left after all that, I want to devote serious time, money, and creativity in bringing awareness to LAM.  Because it’s so rare, it doesn’t receive the research monies a terminal illness deserves.  It still has no cure, and it is silently killing many women in the prime of their lives with average age of diagnosis around 35.  I cannot possibly understand the mercies of our God – but mercifully, He has allowed me to live this long, well into my 40’s; and hopefully, He grants me another 10 years.  But many other women with LAM do not live long enough to even see their first grey hair or their children graduate from high school.   I want to tell everyone I know about LAM, and trust that somehow, somewhere, someone out there exists who will discover the cure.