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The mental load of holiday cleanup

woman cleaning tired- holiday cleanup mental load
fizkes/Shutterstock

In early fall for the past two years, my family and I have made the trek to a sprawling pumpkin patch in our neighborhood for an assortment of gorgeous, overpriced pumpkins. We have a wide section of stairs going up to our front door, and I love that it is flanked by a small yet delightful assortment of pumpkins ranging from deep orange to golden yellows to a light blue fairy tale variety. Picking them out, supporting a local farm and scolding my children to just go inside and stop rearranging them nightly has brought me joy since the sunny October day we brought them home.

Except that Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now I’m reminded—who is going to haul these things away? Some of them are heavy and awkwardly shaped. The trash cans are on the other side of our yard. It would be at least five trips for me to do it alone. I could try to get the kids involved and instill in them that we clean up after each season, but I’d still be the one primarily executing this task.

Last year, we were in the throes of illness during the holiday season. We barely got our Christmas decorations up between bouts of covid, the flu and RSV. I cursed those damn pumpkins every day. My arms always seemed to be full during comings and goings up and down those steps as I hurried to and from Target pickups of medicine and ferrying kids to doctor appointments, scrambling to get to meetings on time and always running late when I was supposed to be at work.

In March, we got a freak storm that brought “snow” to our neighborhood. Over the course of an hour, our southern California home was pelted with half inch balls of hail until every surface was blanketed in white. It was truly magical. My three-year-old son, who had never seen snow before, delightfully exclaimed, ‘The rain is exploding!’ as we watched in awe from our upstairs bedroom. Even more spectacularly, it seemed only the section of our street where our house sits got to experience this phenomenon—properties just a few doors down got only rain.

When the hail stopped, we quickly put on the closest thing to snow gear to run outside and play. I stuffed my boys into rain boots, puffer jackets and fleece sweatpants and set them free, snapping photos as they marveled at how cold the “snow” was and giggled as our dog got the zoomies and tore through it. It was easily one of the most joyful experiences of our year.

But you know what is in every photo, reminding me of my failure to tend to household chores? PUMPKINS!

The following week, feeling guilty as I shared cropped photos on Instagram to hide my inadequacy, I finally took the time to get the pumpkins off the steps and into the trash cans. Surprisingly, they weren’t rotten and moldy as you’d think they would be—apparently a few months of soaking in winter sunshine and an unusual amount of rain kept them healthy. Who knew?

This year, every time I rush up and down the steps past the pumpkins, I think about how much we suffered last year. How one more task like this was simply beyond my capacity. I was too sick, too tired and too stressed to care what anyone might think. I also think about Eve Rodsky’s pivotal moment of her husband texting her about trash in their front yard, and then not doing anything about it. In my version, I am noticing, taking no action, with only myself to be frustrated with for not finding a solution. My husband stared at me blankly and asked why I thought it was necessary to have 14 different pumpkins if I don’t want to deal with cleaning them up. Is there such a thing as the mental load of holiday clean up?

So, every day as I come and go, I mutter, I’ll deal with those pesky pumpkins later, as I trudge past them. I made a mental promise they will not be there for Christmas, then New Year’s and now here we are, halfway through January.

And if it snows again in March, well—we’ll deal with it then.