From when Chanukah ends until Seder night, my wife drives us to the brink of insanity with her all-consuming passion for Pesach cleaning. I suspect the only reason the madness comes to an end on that first night of Yom Tov is because by that time she’s depleted all her energy and literally conks out.
As you can imagine, the joy of Purim is tempered in our home – all mishloach manos containing chometz are relegated to the garage to ensure that no crumbs will end up in the bedroom closets that have already been scrubbed free of chometz.
The fact that my wife is a neatnik does not bother me as much as the tension she creates, which ends up making us feel like we are walking on eggshells. Thank G-d our two teenage daughters by now have a keen understanding of their mother’s nature and tolerate it quite well. And luckily we all appreciate a tidy environment.
Truthfully though, I worry about her. I keep telling my wife to relax, that Pesach is not about spring-cleaning and that she has plenty of time to start Pesach cleaning right after Purim. She says she’d never get done and claims that everyone who puts if off till then can’t possibly be doing it right.
My wife reads your column religiously and I told her I would write to you. She said to go ahead and that you’ll probably see it her way. I might have thought this to be a woman thing men simply can’t relate to – had I not seen my own mother manage very nicely without obsessing for almost half a year in advance of Seder night.
Can Do Without the Stress
Dear Can Do,
The first thing to keep in mind is that no two people are alike. The second is that the last person you should be comparing your wife to is her mother-in-law. You can also rest assured that your wife is not the only one to start thinking of Pesach as Chanukah ends. Chances are she’s picked up the stressful routine from her own mother. Conversely, there’s also the chance that her mother was the exact opposite, which in turn influenced your wife to avoid the type of last minute rush she experienced in her growing years.
Either way, obsessiveness is never a good thing. A little stress doesn’t hurt but prolonged stress can lead to a host of ailments. And of course you are right – Pesach cleaning is not spring cleaning, though the time and opportunity sure lend itself to the temptation.
Old habits die hard, they say. Some people just don’t know how to relax. Next time around, try planning a vacation getaway (with your wife) somewhere between Chanukah and Purim. A year-round physical exercise routine (not the housecleaning kind) is another great way to unwind. You might also want to consider speaking to your family doctor about addressing the issue of stress and its harmful effects directly with your wife.
As I began my own Pesach cleaning (the day after Purim, by rote) and was sifting through a mound of accumulated paperwork cluttering my desk, I happened to come across the following (author unknown). Perfect counsel for your wife, or for that matter, any of us.
A lecturer explained stress management by raising a glass of water and asking the members of his audience to guess how heavy the glass of water was. Answers ranged from 20g to 500g.
The lecturer replied: “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer I hold it the heavier it becomes.
And that’s the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on.
As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on with the burden.
So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow.
Whatever burdens you’re carrying now, let them down for a moment if you can. Put down anything that may be a burden to you right now. Don’t pick it up again until after you’ve rested a while.”
Happy Pesach cleaning! And when you start stressing about the ceilings you haven’t gotten to, remind yourself that your children aren’t likely to have had their breakfast up there. Didn’t get to replace that shelf paper in the linen closet and to refold all the towels and bed sheets? It can wait for when your Pesach dishes have been packed away for next year and you are in a calmer frame of mind. Not to fret; the task will await you. Guaranteed no one will undertake to do it for you. Just remember the less you stress the happier and healthier you will all be.
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