Spring Clean

I've been thinking that this time of enforced self isolation might be the perfect opportunity to do some home improvement.

And besides, the days are longer, the birds are busy, the first buds and leaves have appeared.  Everything is energized and ready to begin, and I've noticed a heavy, tired, even slightly grubby atmosphere in my house.  I'm ready to spring clean!

spring kitchen

In the old days...

Now, maybe your mother or grandmother immersed herself in a time-consuming, energy-depleting, rafters-to-baseboards scrubdown.  Maybe you were forced to help.  And maybe the thought of all of that labor is enough to make you want to run the vacuum cleaner through the middle of each room, hire someone to clean the windows, and call the job done.

Unlike our ancestors, the majority of us don't heat our homes with open fires or light our rooms with candles or kerosene lamps.  We aren't forced to use either an icy privy at the back of the yard or a stinky chamber pot stored under the bed.  We have washing machines, dishwashers, and other mechanical servants to help with the housework.  As long as we don't completely ignore cleaning and let roaches or mildew invade, our homes may never reach the level of dirt and disorder that a Victorian homeowner had to contend with by the end of winter.

But we may share another problem with those Victorians that makes cleaning house a burdensome job.

Clutter makes every job harder.

Susan Strasser, professor of history at the University of Delaware, and author of Never Done: A History of American Housework (a library book, now out of print), reminds us that Victorian interior design embraced a "more is more" aesthetic.  Intricately patterned wallpapers, heavy draperies, thick carpets, ornate furniture, tapestries, collections of porcelain, exotic souvenirs, hunting trophies and more filled the typical home.  "It made spring cleaning much more difficult than it would've been in a home without tchotchkes," writes Strasser.

So you can clean and reorganize everything like your grandmother and great-grandmother did, or you can use this opportunity to accomplish several things by decluttering first:

  • Learn about yourself.  Cleaning may require you to handle your possessions, but it doesn't require you to evaluate them, especially if you just shuffle some of them into closets or the spare room.  In contrast, actually removing items from your home forces you to decide what's truly important to you. 
  • Control your urge to shop.  Do you really need to greet the season with new spring d├ęcor?  Maybe paring down will provide the fresh look you crave.
  • Benefit others.  The possessions you rarely use sit and gather dust.  Before you make another trip to the container store, consider donating your excess.
  • Inspire gratitude.  Cleaning and organizing do improve your mood, but they rarely lead to a new outlook on life.  You may still feel your house is too small and your income too little.  But clutter is evidence that you have more than you need.  When you start to remove excess possessions, you realize how prosperous you actually are.

Make room for the things you treasure and the things that are really useful to you by decluttering the rest.  Let your home be a haven that supports you, not a burden that steals your time, money, and energy. 

8 steps to declutter and spring clean

1.  Remove the trash.

It might surprise you how much of the stuff cluttering your home is simply rubbish:  Old magazines, junk mail, and receipts.  Outdated school papers.  Cords and keys to who-knows-what.  Broken toys.  Chipped dishes.  Ragged towels.  Off-smelling condiments, off-color beauty products, and half-used craft supplies from three years ago.

Getting rid of this stuff requires no hard decisions.  Recycle what you can, toss the trash, and dispose of chemicals (such as old paint and dead batteries) responsibly.

2.  Donate duplicates.

You know what you actually use and what you're keeping "just in case:"  The second set of luggage.  The third set of dishes.  All the extra mugs and kitchen utensils.  The laptop, tablet, TV, or phone you replaced.  The old couch Dad gave you when you were first married that still crowds the back bedroom.

You have enough for your needs.  Someone else can use these extras if you give them up.

3.  Release the unwanted.

This category includes gifts you don't like and never use:  That vase.  That painting.  Grandma's Hummel figurines.  Anything that came from an ex.

It also includes purchases you regret:  That green jacket.  Those jeans that just don't fit.  The pressure cooker you're actually a little afraid of.  The treadmill that simply makes you feel guilty.

If you don't need the money, don't waste the time and energy selling these things.  Donate instead.


4.  Clean most-touched surfaces and all of the corners.

Spray an all-purpose cleaner on a cotton cloth.  Wipe:

  • door knobs and drawer pulls
  • appliance fronts and handles
  • light switches
  • staircase railings
  • telephones, tablets, and computer keyboards
  • remotes and game controllers

Starting at the ceiling, use a long-handled duster or a broom with a rag over the bristles and get all the dust and cobwebs from the corners and edges of your rooms.  Don't forget ceiling fans and picture frames (and decide if you want to declutter any pictures).

5.  Wash and fluff soft goods.

This is the perfect time to wash items that haven't been laundered in a while.

  • Fluff throw pillows and lap blankets in the dryer on high heat, or remove covers, wash on gentle, and line dry.  Are these items really useful, or do they simply clutter the couch?  Vacuum upholstered furniture before replacing what you want to keep.
  • Wash and dry bathroom rugs and cloth shower curtains according to manufacturers' instructions.
  • Fluff bed pillows in the dryer on high, or launder according to instructions.  Wash blankets, quilts, and duvet covers before storing, and replace with lighter-weight bedding.

6.  Clear flat surfaces.

Remove lamps, plants, candles, photos, figurines, and all other knickknacks.  Dust and polish the furniture, and return only one or two items to each table, desk, or chest of drawers.  Choose your favorites, and donate the rest.

7.  Clear the floor.

Anything on the floor except for rugs and furniture should be put away.  School bags, purses, coats and other clothing, shoes, sports gear – if it's used regularly, it should have a home.  If there are cases of soda or diapers or something else that have been shoved into corners, find a better place to store them (discard unused items to make a home, if necessary).  Now you can sweep, mop, spot clean the carpet, vacuum, and clean the baseboards.

8.  Clean the windows.

Window washing and spring cleaning seem to go together, but this can be a big job.  It doesn't have to be all or nothing – if you only get to windows in the kitchen and living room, you're still making your home brighter.

Clear off window sills and wipe them with a damp cloth.  Decide if you prefer to keep them uncluttered.  You might also decide to remove heavy draperies and leave only the window shade, a valance, or some lightweight sheers.  Use your all-purpose cleaning spray and a squeegee on the glass.

Celebrate spring!

Your home is cleaner, brighter, and more spacious.  Don't you feel energized and ready for spring?  Treat yourself to some fresh flowers, relax with a cool drink, and enjoy your home.

Be well!

Updated March 2023


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