After several cold months spent largely within the walls of my home I have been feeling the need for a good spring cleaning. The walls have begun to close in, with bits and pieces and toys and books crowding in and on top of all available surfaces. This urgency to purge and renew my space, my family’s space, has gotten me thinking about the ritual of spring cleaning and the ways in which it is connected to rhythm: the rhythm of the year and the natural world, of course, but also the way a deep cleaning and a clearing out of our homes can create a space in which rhythm can come into being and thrive.
Rhythm is something that does not come easily to me. Routine, yes. I thrive on routine, and we have been fairly successful in establishing a routine for our sons: our days more or less follow the same sequence of events, and the weeks as well. But rhythm. Rhythm is different. Where routine can be more sterile and rigid (if also needed and comforting in its way), rhythm is warm, flexible, and nurturing. It welcomes you in with assurance that there is a place for you, and carries you along with it, creating a sense of flow and connection — to yourself, your space, and others around you.
In my house, that flow gets tripped up every few feet by this toy or that under foot.
And it goes beyond the toys and children’s books. It would be easy to say with a long-suffering sigh, “oh how it used to be!” And perhaps that’s partly true. But in reality, it is us big people that are even more on the hook than the little ones.
I go through recurring cycles of frustration with “all the stuff!” that we have, followed by some amount of straightening, or at least strident declarations that we’ve just got to do something. And then it subsides. Over this Winter, it began building more strongly, along with my frustration at the disconnect between my desire to establish nurturing, lasting rhythms in my life and my family’s life and my seeming inability to do so. I have so many wishes and ideas for changes I would like to make. I know all the benefits rhythm can bring. And yet, there always seems to be some sort of obstacle: how can I begin to include my sons in the tasks of tending our home when I often feel overwhelmed by the task of tending to it? How can I include them in dinner preparation when our one small counter space and dining table are perpetually cluttered leaving no extra room for little hands? How can I bring creativity to our days when there is no room to spread out to create?
How can I foster a sense of purposefulness in our work if the space in which we live is anything but purposeful?
As I have been fantasizing through these months about purging our space of all the unwanted piles, about paring it back to just what is beautiful and useful, the image — or the feeling — that keeps returning is of openness, and space to breathe — a great exhale of peace. And one day it hit me: this feeling of openness, of space to breathe and be, is exactly what is needed for rhythm to take hold and flourish. Amidst the stubbed toes and multiplying stacks, there is no room for rhythm to take root. Just like all those weeds waiting to sprout in my garden and keep my vegetables from growing, all the stuff inside has been thwarting my attempts and intentions at moving from routine to rhythm.
The things with which we surround ourselves have a deeper effect than it might seem at first glance. What our eyes take in and our hands and bodies navigate day in and day out has the ability to either support us and our daily living or wear us down as we tread water trying to stay ahead of and manage it.
This is not to say that there can be no rhythm amidst some clutter; like all things there is a balance, a continuum. Let’s face it, our home is never going to be worthy of a magazine, straightening will always be a part of my days, and sometimes the stuff will get out of hand. This is good to a point: it means our home is full of life. But this spring cleaning urge I have been feeling to clear things out, and the frustration and stymied attempts to establish rhythm in our home? They make perfect sense to me now, and so this Spring (and Summer and Autumn…) I will be working to renew our home, with a new perspective and new hope.
I am looking forward to seeing what will grow in the space vacated by papers recycled, books and toys and clothes passed on to others, and “someday-I-may-use-this” items released. What I hope is that I and my family will find space. Space to slow down, space to be and create together in positive ways, space to nurture ourselves, space to welcome friends and family, and space to work and grow together as a family as we care for our home. And in doing so, may we, as Katrina Kenison wrote in her book Mitten Strings for God, “bring about changes both large and small, for our children, nurtured by rhythm, may ultimately heal and restore the rhythm of the world.”
Annie Demko lives in a small Northeast Ohio town, in a very old house with her family, a couple dozen chickens, and a few hives of bees. She is a mother, a wife, a sewist, a writer, and a perennial dreamer of what could be. She loves to bring thoughts into being on the page, and finds joy in a hot cup of tea held close, crisp frosty mornings, and the feel of a book in her hands. She blogs at Moon in the Window, and sells some of her creations in her Etsy shop.