The Inherent Satisfaction in Gone

Melting, dripping, cold’s grip slipping.

Sunning, warming, thunderstorming… Spring  – Bob Raczka


This line is from one of my favorite children’s books.  Every February I eagerly look forward to opening the spring décor bin, finding it nestled alongside handmade heart decorations and bits of Easter grass.

This year, it seems to hold a particular meaning, not only because the lines match the feeling in my nose after this recent cold, nor the view of receding snow outside my window.  Instead, it is the promise of change.

Spring is a natural time of renewal, as new babies hatch, and fresh blooms emerge.  There is something compelling about warmer air and longer days, giving energy to examine our lives and homes, brightening dark, dusty corners, both real and metaphysical.

In doing some research about spring cleaning, it seems it was not invented as a pulse marketing campaign by P&G, but draws its roots from early religious history, as our ancient ancestors made their homes ready to celebrate the feast of Passover or Good Friday.

Part of spring cleaning for me is also organizing and shedding unneeded things.  Aside from the altruism of passing unused articles on to others, there is an inherent satisfaction in ‘gone’. The act of tossing the old one into the recycling bin, and placing the new one out is satisfying.  Having one less thing piled in my closet can feel like an accomplishment.

I always thought the part in Pride in Prejudice where Elizabeth Bennet and Miss Bingley speak of walking around as a small kind of accomplishment as strange.  Where’s the accomplishment in that?

Well, I think it’s amazing that you young ladies have the patience to be so accomplished.

What do you mean, Charles?

You all paint tables, and play the piano, and embroider cushions! I never heard of lady but people say she is accomplished.

Indeed, the word is applied too liberally…Miss Elizabeth, let us take a turn about the room. It’s refreshing, is it not after sitting so long in one attitude?

And it is a small kind of accomplishment, I suppose.

But, there are both big and small accomplishments in life: graduations, promotions, the birth of a child.  However, it is the small kinds of accomplishments that get me through the day. I find it satisfying to make a to-do list, and sneakily checking off a couple of things I’ve already done.  Likewise, using things up is equally satisfying.  The shampoo I bought, but almost immediately regretted, for lack of satisfactory sudsing, is gone, hooray! The holiday scented candle is gone –time to bring out the spring one.

I wonder, why do these things make me happy? Is it some Fung Shu desire to achieve balance by cleaning out the old?  Do I just like using new, fresh things?  Is it some American, impatient, fanaticism to be always onto the next thing? Do I not achieve enough tangible achievements that I have to celebrate the ridiculous?  What is it?

I thought this was my own personal fascination, but apparently it is simple brain chemistry.  From a neuroscience perspective, ‘gone’ creates a dopamine boost in the same way as new shoes or a chocolate snack.  We have a deep seated desire to consume as a means of survival.  When something is gone, we get to open a new one, and it is that physical proof of progress our brains crave.  One is over, and the next begun:  it marks the passage of time in a satisfying way, not unlike the beginning of a new season.

I think some of the pleasure also derives from the exhilaration of the unfamiliar.  In shedding off the old, we move onto new and unknown territory, which is exciting, but can also be a bit frightening. Having stuff makes us comfortable.  Who knows when black booty pants may come back in style? What if I find I should miss the sweater I gave away?  Moving ahead with less creates a positive feeling of lightness that we can rely on only ourselves, not needing to cloak ourselves in things that become a burden over time.

But, still, I wonder, why am I in such a rush to finish things?  If change is unnatural, and people tend not to like it, why is standing still so distasteful to me?   Is it strange to be happy when something is over?  The realist recognizes that in rushing through life, the end can only be death.  However, staying still feels like quicksand; downtrodden, I am ever eager to go on.

I remember an interview about the wonders of small children, and how they can be our greatest teachers.  Each day they awaken fresh and energetic, asking ‘What’s next?’  Perhaps, craving change is in fact natural, and it is actually the end of this What’s next? attitude that really foretells death.  Still, I think there may be a stop and smell the roses lesson here.

After exploring the various layers of satisfaction in gone, I believe motivation is at the heart of it.  Finishing something is an accomplishment.  Small accomplishments can often fuel us to tackle the bigger ones in life.

My mind is going in a thousand different directions all the time.  Many of the things I’m ruminating over are in fact out of my control. It’s nice to have control over something, anything, even if it’s what soap we’re using.

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