Act I, sc i
[New Year’s Day, 2017. I’m sitting in my car outside the supermarket. I quickly log on to Facebook before going into the store. A memory pops up.]
January has always seemed to me a terrible time to make resolutions. Sure, the calendar marks a new year, and with it an opportunity for a fresh start. But on the continuum of marking periods, sports seasons and winter weather, there is no difference in how I perceive the world on December 31st vs. January 1. The shift from one year to another does not alter the fact that the days are still short, the air is still cold, and there’s no change to any single schedule I keep. If anything, this time of year seems like the optimal time to hunker down and stay in the rut in which I’m currently and comfortably entrenched. If I’m going to make resolutions, I prefer to be in keeping with the school calendar: massive shifts in the weather, activities, and clothing (come September or June) feel more ripe for change than anything that happens in January.
There are, however, some changes I can embrace. The start of school after the holidays means that my house is silent for the first time in weeks. Though I find joy (and oy!) in the chaotic weeks of December — the clutter, the noise, the decoration, the tightly arranged furniture to accommodate a tree, the jammed calendar and packed fridge — it all leads to sensory overload. I use the first week back to school as a chance to go underground for a few days. I take advantage of the quiet as an opportunity to purge; to be clear, I’m not talking about a juice cleanse or new diet. Rather, without discussion or distraction, I put away all the pomp and circumstance of the holiday. I drag the tree to the curb, vacuum, clear the shelves, put away the linens, find spots for new belongings and vacuum some more (pine needles will emerge from the floorboards all month, with a tenacity akin to those trick birthday candles that reignite long after the singing has stopped). At first, the house looks sadly and pathetically bare. But, I’ve come to appreciate the act of clearing space. It’s not a resolution but a physical and emotional experience. By the time January comes, I’m so happy to see cleared surfaces and the back of the refrigerator that I am inspired to find space in every room. Not only do I rid the house of decorations, but I look to see what other clutter I can put away.
And, in cleaning house this year, my focus has suddenly and unexpectedly turned to our walls. Granted, for some time my husband has felt it is time to repaint. I’ve pushed his suggestions aside, as I couldn’t think of what colors we would possibly want. But in my newfound penchant for the ascetic, it has occurred to me: Clear some space. In a dramatic departure from my usual attraction to bold color — the deep blue of our dining room with large and busy floral curtains, the small passageway with metallic wallpaper and a gold painted ceiling, the dark and lush walls of our laundry room, and the soft and warm damask in our bedroom — I am considering the radical step of painting our entire first floor white. My husband is alarmed. My children feel my clearing space mantra has overstepped. Maybe it is backlash from the noise of 2016 and a desire to bleach my surroundings (and our psyches) of a turbulent year. Maybe the weekend’s snowfall, pristine and quiet, has inspired me to bring some of that silence inside. Or, perhaps, I’m simply a sucker for the aesthetic of popular design websites and beautifully curated Instagram accounts, where white walls have become so popular. Whatever the reason, I want a change — just not one that requires me to join a gym. I can hear the trepidation in my husband’s voice, hinting that he fears our decor is the blank canvas on which I am becoming completely unhinged. What he perceives as institutional, I’m seeing as serene.
Maybe my family’s hesitation is valid. Ultimately, my capacity to rid us of clutter is limited. Just look at the sill above my kitchen sink and you’ll see a perennial and growing collection objects for which I cannot find a home, nor don’t want to, really (what’s more cheery than a small solar-powered dancing monkey or a Darth Vader Pez dispenser?). Clearing the walls of color isn’t going to change much but, like cleaning after the holidays, it may offer a fresh perspective, renewed energy and a clean slate on which to begin the year. As winter wears on, it is likely that my desire to clear space will fade but, let’s face it, a collection of paint samples will take up hardly any room, anyway.