Stepping into madness.

I work very hard to be a calm and zen-like person, but those who know me well know that I am, deep down, a controlling and Type A person. It’s not even that deep down, one only needs to load the dishwasher differently from me, or fold the tea towels in halves instead of thirds, to know this. I like to think that being controlling and Type A is not actually in opposition to being calm and zen-like, really; I embrace the adage that you cannot control external forces but you can control how you react to them.

With that in mind, it doesn’t take a psychology degree to make the connection between the end of summer, and the new school year as a demarcation of the rapid passing of time, and my embarking on a Project. Normally these Projects are of the Cleaning and Organizing Type, which is, to me, only a benefit. One year, you may recall, I completely Kondo-d my entire house, donating twenty-five garbage bags of clothing and household objects. Another year I embraced the Kitchn Cure, right down to my multiple fridges and freezers. No one is harmed in these Projects; they fulfill my need for order, and the house is better off for it.

The only exception was the year my youngest started kindergarten; the day before school started I decided to make birthday invitations for his entire class, which ended with an inexplicably broken printer and me, sobbing on the phone to the printer help desk. I cried so hard that the very kind gentleman on the other end told me everything would be all right, he would take care of everything, and maybe I would like to get a glass of water? He ended up sending me a brand-new printer at no charge, so I guess the house was better off for it, even if it was at the expense of my own nervous breakdown.

It started off innocently enough yesterday; I decided to make granola. The house filled with a delicious, maple coconut aroma, and I noticed that a couple of the kitchen cupboards were a little smudged. I decided to wash them, which is not an unusual occurrence. The cupboards are white and I do wash them down once a month or so. But yesterday, after washing the cupboards, I started washing down and polishing all the appliances, big and small. Then I took everything out from under the sink and began scrubbing. Then I noticed some smudges on the wall in the back entry, which resulted in my scrubbing down the entire entry and the stair railings. I couldn’t stop there; the stairs leading downstairs also seemed smudgy, and so did the back door.

This way leads madness.

I could actually feel myself spiraling out of control; I recalled that there were some toothpaste spatters in the bathroom which meant I was soon washing the walls there too. As I scrubbed out under the bathroom sink, I realized that if I didn’t stop soon, I would be tearing all the pictures off the walls and moving furniture to wash the walls behind it, which would probably lead to hours of cleaning that no one, save me, would ever notice. I vowed to just wipe down the hall cupboards and stop; it took every ounce of willpower to empty my bucket and put it down in the basement. As it was, my kids and their friends came in from the back yard to get snacks, and were tiptoeing around me as I washed the hardwood. Don’t worry Nicole, we can minimize the amount of feet on the floor, one of them said as he took enormous steps on his tiptoes. In an attempt to model normal healthy behaviour, I stopped cleaning after finishing the floors.

Many years ago, my mother-in-law told me that when she was first married, her mother-in-law washed all the walls in the house once a month. Once a month! she said to me. Really, that’s too much. Once a season is plenty. I remember staring at her, thinking once a SEASON? The walls in my house get washed a) when they are going to be painted, and b) piecemeal, when I notice smudges. And c) when I become obsessive at the end of summer, I guess.

This cleaning binge put me in mind of a book I just read and loved, David Sedaris’ Calypso. Are you a Sedaris fan? If so, this book is a must-read. It is, in my opinion, his best writing ever. Oh, to write like David Sedaris! Every sentence is gold. One essay in, and I was telling my husband that it was on my Christmas list – I knew I would want to read it over and over again, and I had only gotten it from the library. My husband’s response was It’s August but no matter. Gold. Several times my family asked what I was laughing at, and more than once I was doubled over, with that silent laughter that comes from the inability to breathe and make any sound, tears running down my face.

Calypso includes the essay Stepping Out, which is my favourite thing he has ever written, and also perfectly articulates why I cannot have a fitness tracker. Some of us cannot be trusted. My husband has a fitness tracker and he uses it like a normal person. He looks at his steps, calories burned, and whatever else a fitness tracker records, and then he goes on with his life. If it were me, all semblance of a normal life would go out the window and I would be welcoming Fitbit, My New Overlord.

In the words of David Sedaris, “…there’d be no end to it until my feet snapped off at the ankles. Then it’d just be my jagged bones stabbing into the soft ground. Why is it some people can manage a thing like a Fitbit, while others go off the rails and allow it to rule, and perhaps even ruin, their lives?”

See, this is the thing. Self-awareness is where it’s at, and given my propensity to spin off the rails, I can say with confidence that a Fitbit is not for me. Occasionally I will mention to my husband that it would be “interesting to have one,” at which he stares at me silently, probably imagining a life with a lunatic who is “just getting her steps in” to the detriment of everything else. I mean, I’m already at the point in my life where I scope out parking spots that are the farthest from the door, and I refuse to take an elevator for anything less than seven floors. And imagine what would happen during the last week of summer vacation? I would probably end up in a different province, pumping my arms enthusiastically. And with my terrible sense of direction, I may never make it back.


  1. Favorite part: “I cried so hard that the very kind gentleman on the other end told me everything would be all right, he would take care of everything, and maybe I would like to get a glass of water?”

  2. I feel such a kinship with you at this moment. This is why I am staunch in my anti-cleaning stance because it spirals so quickly out of control. You start tidying one tiny cabinet and the next thing you know, the entire contents of the first floor is lined up in the dining room.

  3. I love David Sedaris. I’ve heard him read that Fitbit essay, either on the radio or on a podcast.

  4. I FREAKING LOVE DAVID SEDARIS. I will be acquiring this book by any means necessary. And as for cleaning… well…. your ways are not my ways. I could probably stand to have a few more of your ways. If you know what I mean. When we were on vacation in St. Lucia there was a family where the dad and kids would always take the elevator and the mom would always take the stairs, and the family would get to the top of the stairs and do some kind of action/ tableau to greet her with. It was really cute.

  5. I am weeks behind in reading my feed – glad you didn’t get lost in another province in the meantime!

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