Spring-Clean Your Life

You may count yourself in that infinitesimal category of people who actually like to clean -- and gleefully undertake the annual top-to-bottom, spring-welcoming scour. If you're like everyone else, however, you probably approach spring-cleaning more as a seasonal obligation (albeit one with very satisfying results) rather than as one of life's special joys.

But there's more to the post-winter cleanout than mopping up the mudroom and sponging the baseboards. Culturally speaking, spring-cleaning is as much about self-renewal as a clean house. In Persian culture, for instance, a ritual called "khaneh takani," or "shaking the house," precedes the New Year, which falls on the first day of spring. Families traditionally banish dust from every corner and crevice and polish belongings in preparation for returning spirits. Similarly, preparations for the Chinese New Year, aka the Spring Festival, involve rigorous housecleaning. Accumulated dirt is swept away along with stagnant energy and bad luck, creating room for good fortune.

You don't need a familiarity with a particular tradition, however, to start embracing spring-cleaning as a once-a-year opportunity for personal regrowth. As several experts note, the difference between drudgery and renewal comes down to intention. "Everyone has to clean up," explains Alice Peck, editor of "Next to Godliness: Finding the Sacred in Housekeeping." "You can look at it as a chore, or you can imbue it with something much more powerful."

Clean Your Emotional House
Whether it's cleaning grout or sweeping, try to instill each task with intention. In one Cherokee ritual, says David Winston, a clinical herbalist with training in Cherokee herbal traditions, "you emotionally cleanse while you clean." As you dust or polish each item in your home, think about how you acquired it or the person who gave it to you. Or use repetitive work, like mopping, as a chance to meditate, repeating a short phrase or mantra, like this one from renowned monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh: "How wonderful it is to scrub and clean. Day by day, the heart and mind grow clearer."

Get Some Fresh Air
Open those windows and doors. Come spring there's nothing that a house sealed tightly against winter weather needs more than a good airing out. Exposure to pollutants -- combustion by-products from gas cooktops, incense, and fireplaces, as well as chemicals emitted from many building materials -- can lead to headaches and respiratory issues, so invite in some cross ventilation by opening windows and doors on opposite sides of your home. Leave them open for about 30 minutes to ensure that fresh air has displaced the stale.

Let In the Light
It's no secret that sunshine brightens spirits and surroundings. Research has shown that light (or a lack of it) can affect your brain chemistry. Winter's short days and gray skies can change biological rhythms, leading to symptoms such as fatigue and food cravings. To increase the amount of light in your home, start by cleaning your windows to let in every ray of mood-enhancing sun. "Windows represent the eyes of the home, says Roberts. "Washing them will help you see clearly in all ways." You can also amplify light throughout the house by cleaning lightbulbs and fixtures and trimming back shrubs and trees that block windows. To lighten the mood even more, replace drapes, linens, rugs, and slipcovers that feel dark or heavy.

Clear Clutter
There's a reason that yoga studios and meditation rooms are often frills-free spaces. When you're surrounded by stuff, it's easy to get distracted. Likewise, it's hard to see your home as an oasis when you're constantly tripping over piles of clothing or teetering stacks of magazines. "If you have physical clutter, you have mental clutter," says Kathleen Cox, author of the forthcoming book "Space Matters" and a longtime practitioner of vastu (an Indian philosophy of harmonizing spaces). How does she decide what to toss? "If it doesn't celebrate who you are and what you love, or doesn't serve a utilitarian purpose, it's clutter," she says. Donate, sell, or recycle it.

Green Cleaning Guide
Here's everything you need -- and need to know -- to get your house sparkling, without the usual chemicals

Using a soft, slightly dampened cotton cloth, work from ceiling to floor in each room. Pay special attention to the areas you can't see, such as the tops of door and window frames, high shelves, and ceiling-fan blades, which are often neglected.

Clean window blinds and baseboards with the vacuum dust-brush attachment. For curtains and furniture, use the upholstery attachment. To avoid damaging delicate curtain fabrics, turn the vacuum's suction to low.

Wash throw pillow covers, unlined curtains, and bedding (including pillows, duvets, and mattress pads) following the instructions on care labels. Send lined curtains to the dry cleaner (check your Yellow Pages for a "green" dry cleaner in your area). Freshen items that can't be laundered by hanging them on a line in the sunshine for a couple of hours.

Washing Windows
Start by brushing exterior windows and frames with a soft brush to dislodge dirt and grime. Then scrub windows with a large sea sponge and a solution of one part hot water and one part white vinegar. Finish by drawing a squeegee down the windowpanes in long, overlapping strokes. Repeat the process inside, first laying old towels along the windowsills to catch the drips.

Cleaning Light Fixtures
Gently wipe cooled bulbs with a soft cloth dampened with nontoxic glass cleaner or a mixture of equal parts hot water and white vinegar. Always spray the cloth, rather than the bulb, to avoid damaging it. Wash the glass shades of interior and exterior light fixtures in a solution of hot water and a few drops of mild dishwashing liquid and dry thoroughly. Dust lampshades with a clean, dry paintbrush: Flick the dust downward and wipe it up with a damp cloth.

Cleaning Tools

  • Bucket
  • Cardboard boxes or garbage bag
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Mild dishwashing liquid
  • Natural-bristle broom
  • Nontoxic glass cleaner
  • Sea sponge
  • Soft cotton cloths
  • Squeegee
  • Three-inch-wide paintbrush
  • Vacuum with dust-brush and upholstery attachments

Text by Kelly Tagore

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