A common refrain from my husband is, “If you just put your keys in the same place every time, you’d always know where to find them.” Easier said than done for someone like me. Chaos and clutter have surrounded me. I have always functioned quite well at my desk amid stacks of papers. The heap of books, papers, and magazines, sprawling alongside my bed I have navigated willingly. And I have always been at peace throwing my shoes in a pile at the bottom of my closet, even though I have to dig them out one at a time each morning. Until recently, that is.
Having just completed a kitchen renovation at the end of last year, I was inspired to move back into my new kitchen the “right” way. I enlisted the help of my good friend, Jodi Eisner, who is a professional organizer and whose business is aptly named “Method to the Madness.” She helped me to organize my cabinets and food pantries, creating systems and designating spaces based on how I operate in my kitchen, and forcing me to part with things I hadn’t used for years. For me, not only was it a novel experience, but therapeutic, as well. I soon found I was putting everything away, I could locate anything I needed quickly and effortlessly, and my house was always presentable. I no longer had to hide an unseemly stack of mail in the bread drawer when guests arrived.
Jodi’s work with me had a snowball effect. We next tackled my home office where Jodi created a filing system for every relevant piece of paper entering my house. We took on my kids’ playroom, my daughter’s homework space, and finally my bedroom. The Container Store became my new obsession, and I began making daily drop-offs at Goodwill, purging my house of “stuff” for which I had absolutely no use.
I liked how I began to feel. I felt less stress and more control in my house, and to some degree, I experienced a profound sense of liberation. Liberation from clutter, and things, and chaos. The adage, “Less is more” became my daily mantra.
With the Passover holiday upon us and my bustling newfound sense of organization, I’ve become curious about the ritual of bidikat chametz, the hunt for chametz, as well as the nexus between Passover and spring cleaning. I’ve poured through Internet articles surprised by the plethora of content in cyberspace about these subjects. And in my research, I’ve learned a thing or two.
In preparing for Passover, a Jewish tradition is to rid one’s house of any chametz, or leavened bread. This process ("bidikat chametz”) traditionally begins weeks before the first seder with a thorough house cleaning. Some believe that spring cleaning has its origins in this Jewish ritual. This house cleaning is followed by the removal and/or sale of the chametz, which then leads to a final candlelit search for chametz the night before Passover, and the burning of the last remaining chametz the following morning. In its place during Passover, Jews eat matzah, unleavened bread, as a reminder of the Israelites hasty exodus out of Egypt.
Unlike matzah, chametz has a leavening agent which makes it rise or “puff-up” and is often associated with ego, haughtiness, and the state of being full of one’s self. While Passover is the celebration of the Jews’ freedom from slavery, in a modern context ridding our house of chametz is a physical act symbolic of freeing ourselves from anything that enslaves us, whether it’s ego, self-importance, or as in my case, clutter.
In prior years, spring cleaning didn’t even enter into my lexicon of thoughts. This year I have enveloped the practice both physically and spiritually. For the past days, I’ve worked towards preparing my house for our family’s seder, and with each passing day, I feel more connected to spring and renewal and the celebration of Passover.
Next Sunday evening, I intend to lead my family through the final, candlelit hunt for outstanding chametz. As instructed, we will use a feather, or perhaps a toothbrush, to sweep any crumbs we find into a paper bag. I’m certain my kids will find this ritual quite amusing. And when we go to burn the chametz the next morning, the good news will be that I will actually know where to find the matches! Happy Pesach!