Springtime in the United States is always lovely, with the pale green of new foliage and bright colors of daffodils, tulips, and crocuses all around. Everyone feels a rise in spirits after having been oppressed by the cold and the gloom, the grays and the browns, the blues and the blahs of winter. Everyone except me, that is.

Oh, don’t mistake me; I love the season by itself. It is with one of its rites that I have a conflict: spring-cleaning! I’m not unfamiliar with the practice, mind you. Even in South India, where there is hardly any real spring, we observe a version of this on the day before Pongal or Shankaranthi.

But that is merely symbolic, and I never dreamed that I would have to confront spring-cleaningin its rude reality, thanks to my choice of life partner.


Let me first explain one thing. The man I married is a gem in every aspect of his character except one: he is a Scrooge when it comes to observing American festivals. He is the one who watches news on TV while fireworks are going off outside the window on July 4th, the one at Wal-Mart buying costumes the day after Halloween, the one who has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to his own office Christmas party … ah, I see you know the type. Just my kismat, the one American ritual that he cottoned to was the one I wanted no part of.

When my husband first suggested spring-cleaning to me at the end of our honeymoon, I agreed to it blithely, until I found out what was really involved. I was expected to go through all my things, discard what I didn’t use, and put away the rest in a neat fashion. I nodded brightly, took all the things that I didn’t use and put them in an out-of-the-way closet, way in the back. This practice continued for a dozen years until this spring, when the unspeakable but inevitable finally happened: my unsuspecting spouse opened the closet.

Honestly, to hear the man, you would have thought that he was mortally injured. He claimed that he had nearly been buried alive, but I knew better. Our kids love to play among piled-up things; they would have surely found him before he suffocated. But no! I received an ultimatum: I had to clean up, really clean up … or else he would do it.

At this point, I can hear some of you thinking. “Let him do it!” Big mistake. Do you know that he actually discards his discards?

In our marriage of opposites, I am morally and physically opposed to anything, useful or otherwise, leaving the premises. I call it preparing for any eventuality. The jeans that I can’t dream of getting into unless I contract a wasting disease, the socks that were handed out in the plane on my last trip to India … these will help me if I ever get a wasting disease, or I am on a plane trip where they don’t hand out socks. Get my point?

I also happen to possess the “Sight,” which involves seeing potential in every single thing, including the crazy thingamajig that I found on the street the other day. At best, it can be used to fix an appliance; at the least, it can be included in a Halloween costume. If you want to point out here that I can’t fix anything beyond a sandwich, and that I always buy the costumes, well, that is not the issue. I’ll illustrate just what I mean with a concrete example. What if the whole world and all its dwellers except you were destroyed in some sort of cataclysmic tragedy, and you found yourself in a nuclear shelter all alone and suddenly had the craving for something special? Could you find the recipe for puran poli, Marathi style, to read while munching on a tortilla smeared with jam, coconut flakes, and sugar? I could (though it may take me a year to find it).

I do have to confess that I have the instincts of a pack rat suffering from total memory loss. But isn’t that what backs of closets are for? Once you know an object is safe in there, you can always find it in the manner of a blind squirrel finding a nut … eventually.

So, over the years, I had put together an impressive collection that would rival that of the Smithsonian Museum of Junk, if it existed. After all that effort, the love-of-my-life wanted it out? I had to come up with an S.M.S. strategy, to Save My Stuff.

On the fateful day, Mr. Clean-Up-Or-Else took our two distractions, aged eight and four, out. He returned three hours later, and gasped.

“What’s all this?” he asked, horrified.

I looked proudly at the piles of my prized possessions that entirely obscured the floor, some of which were taller than the four-year-old. Among them were the “works of art” rendered in crayons by our progeny, that occupied a large section of rug area, the unfinished craft projects I had “sampled” over the years, that blocked the entrances to the bathroom, bedroom, and laundry, and, of course, the “treasures” that I picked up for just Rs. 5 and Rs. 10 from the street vendors on my travels to India. I planned to box everything and store it in the crawl space under the house, never mind that there were not enough boxes in the whole of the continental U.S. for all my stuff and our crawl space needed to have been on the same scale as the catacombs of Rome.

“I’m getting organized. What do you think?”

The next few minutes were touch-and-go for our marriage. Life stood still as he searched for words that would be conciliatory but firm, decisive yet not confrontational.

Finally, he pointed to the door with a shaking finger. From the disjointed words that fell from his lips, I inferred that I was to take the kids out to lunch. He gave me a coupon that would take fifty cents off a five-dollar soft drink at a fast food restaurant, which was actually current, so I went.

“Be kind!” I whispered through trembling lips and misty eyes as I went out the door, but he was too busy clutching his hair to reply.

The man was watching a game when we got back. The floor was clear, and, and so was the closet!

I stood there stricken, bereft of all the wonderful things that might have be useful to life on an alien planet.

“Where, oh, where are my things?” I wailed silently. Had he donated it all? Or, horrors, had he actually thrown it in the city dump?

As if sensing my thoughts, he looked at me. His world-weary eyes held a wealth of knowledge that I, alas, could not fathom. I was too timid to ask, too. When Rama broke Lord Shiva’s bow, did Sita quibble about where he dumped the pieces? When a strong and brave man hath gone where no other hath gone before, and done what no other hath done before, the smart woman doth shut up.

As I tottered to the nearest seat, something caught my eye. It was a Sale ad from the paper.

To me, however, it was a Sign! Music rang out and crowds cheered (on TV—I think the Packers scored), as I calmed magically. The Gods were reminding me that stuff could always be replaced … with more stuff! Holiday sales, pre- and post-, rummage sales, garage sales, fundraiser sales.

There would be plenty of opportunity to squirrel away unnecessary things while keeping theglobal economy afloat. My world righted itself again.

Afterwards, the first thing I bought was a lock for that closet. I didn’t want my future stuff tampered with.

There is only one problem: now, where did I put the key?

Lakshmi Palecanda is a biology research technician turned freelance writer in Bozeman, Montana. Email: palecanda [at] msn [dot] com

Lakshmi worked for ten years in scientific research before becoming a freelance writer. She contributes regularly to publications in India and abroad. Lakshmi is an award winning short story writer who...