Spring Cleaning

I’ve been doing a lot of Spring Cleaning lately.

It started last weekend with an opportunity to get some new-to-me furniture. It was definitely time for a new couch: the one I had was on its last leg: the frame was broken, the fabric was worn through and ripping… it was well past time for something new.

Before the new one arrived, I decided to move the old couch so I could clean behind it. I expected a few cobwebs and maybe some other bits of trash… but I certainly wasn’t expecting the filth that I found there! It was terrible! I realized that in the nearly six years I had lived in this house, I had never once moved the couch. Over half a decade’s worth of dead insects, dust, dried spills, bits of ripped food wrappers, cobwebs, bottle caps, and uneaten dog treats greeted me.

All that time, I had been cleaning around the couch — but neglecting the part I couldn’t see. It wasn’t that I enjoyed having the filth there… or even that I was OK with it being there. When I got the old couch, the floor was clean when I positioned it. I didn’t put the bottle caps and food wrapper remnants underneath it on purpose. I certainly didn’t set out to create a sizeable collection of dead bugs. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Fast forward one week and I found myself in another Spring Cleaning situation. This time, I had helpers. Our goal was simply to re-organize a storage room, tossing a few broken or stained items as needed. But the more we removed from the storage area, the more it became clear that we had a problem. Evidence of bugs, lizards, and mice multiplied as the day went on.

I knew that every item in that storage room had been placed there in good condition with good intentions. No one intended for their used wedding centerpieces to become housing units for mice. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Some things bounce back rather quickly from neglect when they are rediscovered. The hard floor beneath my couch was easy to clean. Glass and metal, many washable fabrics, hard plastics: items like this are relatively easy to clean. Evidence of years of neglect disappeared from these in just minutes. But others didn’t fare so well, like organic materials (dried flowers or wreaths made of dried branches or vines often became a food source for the uninvited guests).

Yet even for the organic materials, destruction wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t the centerpiece’s fault that it was exposed to mice. It wasn’t even the mice’s fault that the centerpieces were available! It wasn’t the couch’s fault that it concealed filth. The couch couldn’t move itself. The centerpieces could have been stored in a plastic bin that would have kept the mice and water away. The couch could have been moved more frequently for cleaning. The quick and easy moral of this story? If you care about something, take care of it.

The deeper moral? You can’t expect to find things in the same condition you left them in if you’re unwilling to do the maintenance. It’s like playing an instrument: just because I know how to find the notes on my guitar, that doesn’t mean I can play competently without practice, and certainly doesn’t mean I can flow with a team without putting in the time to rehearse with them. Neglect has consequences.

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