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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Spring cleaning, with a shovel

My sisters will be happy to tell you that I am about the worst housekeeper they have ever known. It doesn’t help that three of the four members of my immediate family are pack rats, and the one who is not is the one who moved to New York City last September.

Still, every year I am hopeful that with a thorough spring cleaning I will not only clear out our little house enough to make it roomy, but will somehow reverse our slovenly tendencies.

I always start by trying to get rid of stuff. When the ballerina daughter was home for her spring break, I had her go through the box of every toe shoe she has ever owned.

Why were we saving them again? We couldn’t remember, other than that they are expensive and pretty, and the box fit under her bed. But that was a different bed, since her little brother traded his tiny room for her small one when she went off to school. And her brother does not want a box of old pointe shoes under his bed.

I had her take what was usable — the ribbons and elastics, which can be sewn onto new toe shoes. Everything else went into a big garbage bag, which we snuck out of the house on garbage day, before the family dad could decide that we really should save those shoes forever.

I had searched for something to do with them other than send them to the landfill. These shoes are what dancers refer to as dead — they will no longer support a foot in a safe manner — so all the Internet chatter I read about donating your old pointe shoes to Third World dance schools seemed cruel. A dancer in a dead shoe is an injured dancer.

There was a lot more chatter about pointe shoe art projects and, if you were lucky enough to see the “En Pointe!” exhibit at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, you know that painted and decorated pointe shoes can look pretty awesome. But as artistic a family as we are, we do not need dozens of decorated shoes. Or shoes turned into planters. And my daughter wears her shoes until they are really dead (which might explain her tendonitis) so these shoes are frayed and chewed up. And stinky.

If we had gotten rid of them one pair at a time, it probably wouldn’t have seemed so overwhelming. I wondered if one pair at a time, buried in the center of the manure pile, they would have composted away — they are mostly cardboard and satin and glue. I’m not sure what the hard shank inside is made of — cardboard? leather? It’s a plastic polymer in some shoes, but not ours. Whatever, it would need to be pulled out of the shoe before composting because of the nails.

I had better success getting rid of other stuff more sustainably, mainly because my son has a habit of outgrowing his clothes before they wear out.

“How many of these shorts still fit you?” I asked him, pulling about 10 pairs from his drawer on the first day that shorts seemed appropriate. The answer was none, so I had him clean out all his drawers of all his too-small clothing. He’s the youngest boy cousin, and smaller than my friends’ younger sons, so there’s no one to hand them down to.

We packed up a bag for the local thrift shop, which we’ll have to visit soon since the boy seems to have outgrown almost every item of clothing he has.

Once we finished his drawers, we started on the bookshelves, cupboards and those piles of magazines and newspapers. The paper stuff is easy — there’s a big bin behind the church where you can deposit magazines, junk mail, newspapers and all those school worksheets to be sent to a company in North Carolina that makes paper into insulation.

The books need more careful sorting — which ones stay on the bookshelf, which ones can go to the thrift store, which are so shredded they need to go into the paper recycling bin?

The children’s books that the kids are too old for are the hardest. Some of them my son wants, not on the bookshelf but in a handy box where he can grab them if needed. Some he insists he needs to save for his own kids. And some are not needed but special enough that he wants to give them only to a special child, a friend’s child, for instance. They go into another box.

For someone inept at cleaning, all this clearing and sorting is exhausting, which might be why I much preferred the spring cleaning I did last weekend — in the chicken coop.

Two days with a fork and a shovel and I got a good workout and two piles of manure — one so well composted it’s already been spread on the part of the garden where we’ll plant sweet corn in a week or so, and another that needs another season to finish it off. And we had room enough to finally move in a stack of nesting boxes that someone gave us last spring, when he was doing his own spring cleaning in a barn.

My son and I think the chicken coop looks lovely, and the chickens are getting used to the new arrangement. I guess that means I’ve got to go back to working on the house.

It might be easier to clean and clear out if I could just go to work with a fork and a shovel. I’m sure my sisters would agree.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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