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It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Conversation at our house this week:

Me: How do I turn my love of Durango’s Spring Cleanup into a blog post about mental health?

Hubby: Something about taking on baggage and letting go?

Me: *Begins typing furiously*

If you’ve lived in Durango for awhile, you know April is Spring Cleanup month. A bit of exciting small-town backstory: Durango has two city-wide cleanups per year, one in the fall and one in the spring. The fall cleanup is yard waste only—booooring—but during spring cleanup, everything is fair game (with a few exceptions you can look up on the City's website if you REALLY want to know more.) The City eventually comes around and picks up all the piles of goodies on the curbs throughout town. Even in a smallish town like Durango the pick-up portion of this glorious event takes a few weeks, giving us all an opportunity to embrace the joys of pile creation and scavenging. 

Spring Cleanup is the season the townspeople throw open their doors, garages, and sheds and reveal their hidden secrets. It’s a time of coming clean, of showing our neighbors what we’ve been hoarding since last spring…or for the last ten years. Spring Cleanup is also a time of community, with households swapping trash and treasure via the disposal piles lining the curbs. In our house Spring Cleanup month is known as “the most wonderful time of the year” as I love both the clearing out process and the scavenging aspect of the whole event.  

This week I’m determined to somehow connect my passion for Spring Cleanup to mental health, guided by my husband’s inspired suggestion. It’s a stretch, I know, and I will likely be leaning on a few try-hard metaphors for this purpose. To make sure this whole thing has enough mental health vibes, I’ll include a few prompts for journaling and reflection so if you desire to you can embark on your own spring cleanup. 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the particular type of anxiety accompanying spring weather in the Four Corners. I said that while spring can be a time of agitation and overdoing, it can also be an opportunity to look towards the horizon of warmer days and recognize the possibility inherent in the spring and summer months. 

The crocuses and tulips in our yard have been reaching towards the sun over the past month or so, at times clearing their own path through last year’s leaf litter and spring snow accumulation. This is the season nature begins her process of shifting the detritus of the past to make room for stretching and blooming. Spring runoff in Colorado is another example as the tributaries, rivers, and streams swell with water, creating movement, energy, and life. There’s a satisfaction in the feeling of emerging after a long snowy winter; of discovering what lies beneath the layers of wet leaves and piles of snow.

Clearing out the detritus happens organically in nature—via waterways, in the decomposition and reuse of leaves and plants, in our own body’s removal of waste. With us humans, there is also a “choosing” aspect of clearing out and cleaning up. This can be both an external and an internal process. At our house one of our external spring processes is to dig through our scrap wood cart and put what no longer serves us on the curb, then go pick up a bunch of lumber from the neighborhood for our next woodworking project. 

Internally, I often use spring as an opportunity to check in with whatever values or intentions I set at the beginning of the year, and to see if my desires for the year still fit with however life is unfolding.

Prompts for Reflection:

  • What has accumulated or built up for you over the past year? 

  • What internal winter detritus needs clearing so you can achieve your fullest bloom and lushest growth this spring and summer? 

  • What are you holding onto that you no longer need or want? 

  • What might you put out in the metaphorical swap pile? Maybe this is something you want to give to others that no longer does anything for you, or something you're ready to send to the psychological landfill. 

So that is the clearing out aspect or as my husband suggested, the “letting go” part of the spring process. But what about the other side, the “taking on baggage” part of it all?

You might know the El Paso hill in Durango; the one you have to slog up to get to Test Tracks on your bike. It’s big and steep, and can be a real trial to ascend. One spring clean season I found a scrapped together…plant stand? Rolly cart? I really don’t know what it was. It was made of 2x4s and 4x4s, and it was heavy. Despite hubby’s protests, I insisted on carrying it all the way to our house where it sat in our garage for a year before I put it back out for Spring Cleanup the following year. 

There is something to be said about “trying things on” or “trying things out” both internally and externally. Say you explore a new way of self-discovery like journaling, collage, dance, or meditation. You might eventually realize it’s not for you...and you'll probably learn something in the process. 

With my cleanup find, I learned that lugging a giant frankenbuild over a mile is doable, and not really worth it. I’m also sure I learned some stuff about dealing with old lumber and how certain projects are built. I did research into products for preventing wood rot and engaged in some additional faffing around before I called it quits. It was a good reminder that trying something out doesn't have to be permanent and that I don’t have to hold on to things forever. 

Internally, I can think of an example of doing some “trying out” with one of those Line a Day journals. It was great to track my own seasonal patterns over a few years and I learned a lot about how changes in nature affect my mood and activity level. Three or four years in I realized I was continuing the journal out of a sense of obligation. So I put it down, even though my perfectionist part told me I needed to complete all five years in order to “succeed.”  

So, to go back to my try-hard metaphor…it's ok to pick up a few things this spring that you’re not sure about. You can always let them go down the line, and you’ll probably learn something about yourself in the process. 

On the flip side, I believe there can be harm resulting from constantly collecting the “stuff” of other people and holding on to it. Sometimes I’ve cruised the cleanup piles without a whole lot of discernment (see plant stand rolly cart thingy) and loaded up our garage with a bunch of random stuff. This lack of discernment led to anxiety, frustration, and wasted energy as I moved stuff around or fiddled with items with no real value to me.

We can pick up other people’s junk on a physical level, and also on an energetic, mental, and emotional level. Sometimes it can be hard to recognize what's our own crap and what belongs to someone else, like when our Spring Cleanup pile begins to merge with our neighbors’. 

Prompts for Reflection:

  • How do I take on other people’s “stuff”? 

  • Do I do this energetically? Emotionally? Physically? All of the above? 

  • What happens when I take on things that aren’t mine? 

  • What are my cues or flags that let me know I may be taking on other people’s junk? 

Did I pull it off? Did I manage to write a mental health blog based on Durango’s Spring Cleanup? I hope so. I also recognize Spring Cleanup isn’t perfect; it can be scary to see the amount of waste generated by such a small town. And, we can still take some cues from the springtime process of clearing out, both in nature and in ourselves. Once we’re aware of our spring patterns, we can work on not accumulating new crap both physically and psychologically. 

Struggling this spring? Therapy can help you sort through the detritus so you can stretch and grow. Schedule a complimentary consultation call with me if you’re interested in learning more.