Spring cleaning has its roots in several places across history. Some have to do with tradition and religious practices, like how people of the Jewish faith clean leaven (yeast) out of their homes in preparation for Passover, or how people of Chinese descent clean out bad luck before their New Year celebration.
Back in the days of fire-heated houses, winter was a stuffy time when ventilation was limited and soot accumulated on windows and darkened the light coming in. Pioneers would start the winter by plugging up cracks in the walls with various materials to insulate the house better, and it wasn’t until spring that they would open the cracks back up for better air circulation. Spring cleaning wasn’t just a chore, but a way to enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air inside your home as much as possible and for as long as possible until next winter.
The other two reasons for spring cleaning are scientific: With all the darkness that comes from the clouds, rain, and shorter days during winter, our bodies produce more melatonin, which makes us sleepy. When spring arrives, the days lengthen, the sun shines more, and we (quite literally) start to wake back up. That explains why it’s always that first week of sunshine that I start feeling so motivated to clean! Not to mention, there’s nothing quite like sunshine to highlight the cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling, the dust on the floor, or the smudges on the windows. In the winter, we can get away with less cleaning, but when spring arrives it all comes into the light.
For me, the point of spring cleaning is to make things fresh: removing dust and cobwebs, disinfecting surfaces, getting rid of visible grime and stains, laundering bedclothes and pillow cases, opening windows, bringing in plants, and changing out throw pillows or decor items for some visual newness. I like to keep my cleaning focused on freshness, because then I feel like I’m working toward a singular purpose. For me, that’s a lot more motivating than simply cleaning.
Over the years, I’ve developed a system of spring cleaning for myself that helps me set a goal without expecting too much. This is what works for me and gets me motivated, but feel free to make this system your own.
Here are my four steps to spring cleaning:
Step 1: Don’t take on too much
First, it’s important to not overwhelm yourself by setting your sights too high (a personal pitfall of mine). This is not the time to clean every imaginable surface in your home, organize every drawer and cupboard, or to repaint every wall. I see spring as a time to reprioritize my cleaning list. Instead of vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom, I like to take a week to prioritize the things that never get prioritized, like cleaning my rugs, dusting and scrubbing the baseboards, or washing my kitchen chairs. Even if my floor needs to be vacuumed, I’m going to clean my baseboards instead. There’s something extremely satisfying about putting off a regular chore and indulging—if you will—in cleaning something new. Throw out your regular chore list (whether that’s a physical list or one in your head), and write down the tasks you never get around to. Don’t worry if it still feels like too much—we’ll narrow it down later.
Step 2: Plan your time
It’s important to not let your spring cleaning drag. You don’t want to be cleaning from March 19 to June 19—especially if we’re putting regular chores on hold for that time. That would just turn into a disaster. One of my big challenges with spring cleaning is balancing it with my work schedule, so this is a time to get creative. If doing spring cleaning after work is a possibility for you, great! You can pick out a week to go all-in. My work has a tendency to ebb and flow, so I like to take advantage of a slower week to tackle something like this. If that’s not an option for you, pick a day or two of the week to go full-out on your spring cleaning, and pick up some of your regular chores on the off days. Keep that up for a month or just a week—whatever you’re able to tackle this year! When you’re done, you might even find you have more motivation than you originally thought and want to add some additional tasks.
Another thing to keep in mind is to stay flexible with your timeline. For me, weather is everything. If it’s a sunny day, I love cleaning, and I feel so much more motivated. But maybe you feel discouraged being stuck inside cleaning on a sunny day. Either way, figure out what works for you and, if you can, try to work around the weather. Staying flexible also applies to whatever unexpected problems life brings up. If you have an extra-long work week or you’re just feeling burnt out, it might be worth rescheduling your cleaning spree.
Step 3: Figure out your game plan
Once you have a timeline, you can figure out exactly what you want to tackle. I have three stages to my game plan:
First, prioritize intimidating tasks. I like to start out with a task I’ve never thought about doing because it just felt too daunting. This year, that’s washing all of my cabinet doors. Last year, it was deep cleaning my whole bathroom. When I put a task I don’t do during the rest of the year on my list, I feel proud of myself for accomplishing something new. Depending on the size of the project, pick one or two of these large tasks. I like to start with the hardest jobs first, because I always have the most energy at the beginning. If you lack motivation, start with something that will inspire you, but I don’t recommend leaving the big jobs until the very end.
Second, throw in some easy jobs to make you feel successful. After you’ve achieved a mammoth task, it’s time to move on to something easier. These chores are the ones you don’t usually get around to because they’re not on your regular list, but they’re pretty quick and painless to do. Maybe it’s getting rid of cobwebs, cleaning a drawer, or washing your duvet cover. As opposed to projects you never get around to, these are chores you don’t get around to as often as you should.
This is also the time to complete minor fixes, like replacing that broken outlet wall plate. The point is to pick things that are fairly painless and make you feel successful. Traditional spring cleaning tasks—like airing out your house, beating out rugs and pillows, deep dusting, cleaning light fixtures, and washing walls—are great options here. Remember, start small. You can always add on later.
Third, make some visual changes to brighten up your home. This is the icing on the cake, the fun and easy part that makes your efforts feel maximized. For me, a key part of spring cleaning is buying some potted plants. Hyacinth is my go-to because of its amazingly fresh smell. It immediately makes me feel like I’m breathing in the outdoors while inside my home. Greenery, in general, can really freshen up the air in your home.
This is also a great time to bring in different decor. Change out your winter throw pillows for ones with some extra color. Switch out a heavy duvet for a lighter summer quilt. Move your decor or furniture around. Add some new artwork, or swap out the photos in your frames. Paint an accent wall or your front door. The possibilities are endless. Switching out my decor when I need a change is also a great way for me to keep all of the pieces I love without having to clutter up my space with all of them at once. Have fun with this step, and let yourself appreciate the work you’ve just put into your home!
Step 4: Make it work for you
For most of us, cleaning isn’t at the top of our priority lists—it falls somewhere below family, work, eating, and sleeping. Because of that, sometimes it gets pushed aside. If spring cleaning feels like too much for you this year, forget about the big, intimidating projects and pick a few of the small chores that make you feel really good. And if you’re still struggling with everyday chores, then make that the focus of your spring cleaning. Do what works for you this season. Just make sure you don’t miss out on that fresh air and sunshine when it comes around—because that stuff is precious, and it doesn’t take any work.
Happy spring cleaning! For more tips, check out our posts on how to make eco-friendly all-purpose lavender cleaner, wood floor cleaner, dishwasher detergent, window cleaner (and our tips on how to actually clean those windows!), and dusting spray. Note: These cleaners don’t have the same sanitizing power as bleach or other cleaners, so make sure you’re still disinfecting surfaces properly.