The Dust Test

To me, dust is one of the most pervasive annoyances on the planet. I have always despised household chores. But the act of dusting has always seemed especially futile to me. It’s painfully boring, and needs to be done over and over again because the results are so short lived. Growing up Catholic, the priests cheerfully reminded me every year when applying fresh ashes to my forehead that I am dust, and will once again “return to dust.” Which is kind of like telling someone who has been fighting off mosquitoes their entire life that they will succumb to mosquito-hood upon death. But they got their point across. We will be dealing with dust until the day we die and join the great dust cloud in the sky. So we need to learn to manage and make our peace with it somehow.

As a girl, I remember sighing every week as I removed my knick knacks and bottles of perfume from my bureau for dusting. I hated every minute of it. This may have been one of my first insights into the idea that owning things is not necessarily innocuous. There is work involved. Somehow this didn’t deter me from becoming an avid consumer. Like most people, I acquired more and more things. Which, of course, required the same monotonous treatment. And over time, I noticed myself becoming more and more frustrated and overwhelmed by my belongings.

One of the helpful tactics I’ve used to minimize dust accumulation is to keep most of my things out of sight in a closet, drawer or cabinet. I find it’s much easier to clean and maintain an uncluttered surface. I also try to store smaller things in larger containers to eliminate the need to dust individual items. Think curio cabinet. More recently, though, I have started to critically question whether I even need or want some of the things I am storing. And whether I like something enough to dust it. This simple question has served as an excellent litmus test for eliminating items that have outlived their stay in my home. It’s easy to let things be when you aren’t thinking about the responsibilities ownership brings. In addition, I find that releasing some of these things also frees up limited, better storage for the truly useful and cherished belongings. So it’s truly a win win if you can find the courage to let go.

It can also be useful to ask the dust question when considering a new purchase. It really puts things into perspective. To me, the mere thought of dusting and cleaning while shopping is a buzz kill. Even more costly than the bill that will inevitably arrive for any new purchases. But this line of thinking is great, because it helps me be really selective about what I allow in my living space. Marie Kondo says items should “spark joy” when we hold them in our hands. But I take this one step farther for most things. I want any new purchases to prove their purpose or usefulness to make it into my living space. Which, in the end, helps them earn their keep in my newly decluttered home. And makes any cleaning or maintenance efforts more worthwhile somehow. jt