purple desert cactus For the past two months I have posted photos of our desert flowers, green ferns growing along flowing creeks (thanks to our above average rainfall), and sunrises and sunsets. All this because spring has taken over here in Tucson and partly in sympathy with my East Coast friends. Cries and complaints of cabin fever of the most threatening degree with this winter’s snow and ice were reaching me daily. “Spring has got to be coming,” I kept saying.

What’s the difference between winter and spring weather in Tucson? We don’t have the gray days and snow of the East. So the contrast is not as sharp. But there is a difference in the abundance of greens and yellows. Our trees do change color and lose leaves in fall, and bud back in March. The air is less crisp or moist, a bit more arid now. Oh yeah, allergies are dangerously on the rise.

One thing that’s still the same for me is spring cleaning. Mom would be so proud. Years of extreme housecleaning training cannot be eradicated. I wipe down the walls with the swiffer mop, shampoo carpets and chair coverings, switch to lighter colors in home décor. I am of a generation of girls, no boys allowed, who had Home Economics in junior high (there’s a clue to the era). Likewise, girls were not allowed in Mechanics and Shop classes. Grist for the mill of another story.

Switching seasonal clothes is a part of my spring-cleaning. It is akin to the changing of the guard at a royal palace. Here in Tucson I loved adapting to thinner materials, lighter layers when we moved. Our Tucson home has a walk-in closet that is used as a small office in other houses with the same floor plan. When we moved in I inventoried the combined wardrobes for my husband and me. A neighbor’s recommendation got me in touch with a local closet company. “Come in and build custom shelves, racks, and cabinets for everything.” I confess I did this even before opening up a Tucson bank account or getting a library card. And wherever I’ve lived I’ve always gotten a library card.

This year on the first day of spring, I stood in my closet preparing to do the clothing switch. I was also talking to my twin sister on the phone. “Have you done the clothes switch yet?” “Mmm, I’m standing here now.”

I’m a clothing fiend. My love of clothes started long before junior high and sewing in Home Economics class, but it was then that my twin sister and I doubled our wardrobe by sewing our own clothes, which we would then share.

Many years later I worked in a small department store. I was one of the “associates” in the ladies clothing department. I honed the skills of knowing clothing materials and appreciation of clothes at the feet of two masters. My department manager taught me how to carefully fold and gift-wrap clothing. She took me under her wing in putting together outfits complete with jewelry, handbag, and gloves. (You can guess how far back this other life was). I learned to buy what looks good and to assess what flattered customers too. You do feel good when wearing something that feels good texturally, is cut to flatter, in my case the ever pear-shaped figure, and colors that enhance a mood. Red to energize, light blue for calm, orange for energy, purple when you need confidence.

I shadowed the store manager learning the best way to deal with unhappy customers (they are always right), how to boost morale (the response to “How’s business?” is always “Great” or “Wonderful”), how to assess upcoming trends in clothes, (think Paris and Italy), and how to deal firsthand with customers who have overextended their credit. (“Ethel, you really don’t need to spend your entire paycheck on clothes”).

My clothes closet is arranged by clothing categories–jackets, wraps, long sleeve shirts/tops, short sleeved, pants, capri pants, skirts, dresses. Handbags, totes, shoes, sneakers are lined up like soldiers. Each category is arranged along the color spectrum, left to right, black, brown, blue, green, purple, red, orange, yellow, tan, beige, white, with prints on the far right. It’s like walking into a rainbow. A very dense and crowded rainbow.

Over the five years we’ve been here, I put away fewer and fewer items for the season as the line blurred between hot and cold weather. There are still “colder weather” jackets, some fleece tops, and heavier jeans. Most just aren’t necessary here.

There are some items I’ve kept for over five years, maybe ten, because it’s my style. I have an Indian embroidered long shirt that is popular again but I got it in Montclair New Jersey back in the late 90’s. A thin linen boxy jacket, gold and loose cut, goes with anything.

More and more clothing comes out of those winter storage bags and gets discarded. It doesn’t fit right now, or will never fit ever again. It’s out of style. It was an impulse buy that still has the price tag on it. It was a gift that was actually regifted to me. I have more than enough. How many ski sweaters do I really need? We haven’t skied in years. Do I really need the handmade wooly mittens or are they part of what has become sentimental memorabilia?

This year I was ruthless. Out went the monogrammed dance club jacket, the tap dance t-shirts. Goodwill got the extra large sweatshirts, winter jackets, jeans, and knee socks that served me during winter playground duty in New Jersey.

I was on a roll. My husband drew the line at me crossing over to his side of the closet to just do a tiny bit of rearranging.

My spring-cleaning energy was still sizzling. Where could I take it? Go to your office said a small voice inside me. All those writing files, folders and boxes. Now is the time.

Next post: Spring cleaning for writers.