4 Lessons for Spring Cleaning Your Life

Spring, as a season, needs a little PR help. Budding tulips and the smell of hope in the air are great and all, but spring has problems. Not only do we lose an hour of sleep, but we’re also supposed to do the one thing we like less than root canal: clean.

Spring cleaning is the worst — but like dental work that sends you home with quality pain killers, it’s usually worth it. Environmental psychologists have shown that the cognitive experience of our surroundings can positively or negatively influence our psychological well-being — which means that your helter-skelter bedroom closet can actually make your life feel helter-skelter. It’s also true that decluttering your cesspool of a basement, for example, can make your life feel decluttered (because clutter & anxiety go together like Ben & Jerry). One study showed that tidying up at home was one of the top 15 self-management strategies to stave off depression, and researchers at Princeton tell us that not tidying up the visual clutter compromises our ability to focus and zaps our productivity + creativity.

Apparently we have more to gain from a healthy bout of spring cleaning than we have to lose… so let’s consider four lessons to live by when it comes to cleaning up our act.

Cleaning Lesson #1: If You’ve Got Time to Lean…

When I was 13 I got a job in the Milton Mall food court, making sandwiches and pouring coffee while pretending to not be mortified that my uniform required me to wear a bonnet. You read that right: A BONNET. Oh, the things we’ll do as teens for money to buy wine coolers. My boss at the time was a real firecracker of a bonnet-wearing woman, and I’ll never forget her stinging words of wisdom after catching me not sweeping up the toast crumbs: “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”  

We’ve all had a lot of time at home, what with the global hibernation orders over the last 12 months. At first we tidied and scrubbed and organized like obsessive compulsives held captive with enough paper towels and disinfectant to make a hoarder proud… then we threw in the (paper) towel on the whole spic-and-span household thing. The pandemic sprint became a marathon and keeping the place (and sometimes ourselves) clean + tidy just became way less interesting than watching Bryan Cranston in Your Honor.

Many of us, if we’re being honest, still have the time on our hands to tidy things up. Now might be the best time of all to attack the fridge, for example (because the jumbo-sized jars of everything you bought in the initial pandemic panic last March aren’t looking so good a year later). When the world starts to open up again (thank you, vaccines!) you’ll never want to be inside again. You’ve got time to lean, so… (and if you DON’T have the time to clean, the next lesson is perfect for you).

Where might you be able to carve out a few hours here and there to just get your spring cleaning/ purging done, once and for all?

Cleaning Lesson #2: Pay Someone Else to Do It

The studies are clear: buying time makes us happier — and we don’t have to live in a sci-fi time-traveling reality to do it. Any opportunity to spend money on time-saving services is a well-being slam-dunk to boost life satisfaction. Hiring someone to clean your home… to clean your windows (inside + out!)… to tame that jungle of a garden… to organize your office (yes people do that now, and they use the cutest little boxes and labels)… IT’S WORTH IT if you use that bough-time to do something that brings you vitality or meaning.

When The Husband and I turned 30 we woke up to the fact that our lives were too short to spend them cleaning our toilets when we could be doing ANYTHING OTHER THAN CLEANING OUR TOILETS. We hired a cleaning service and literally bought hours of life back every month. (I just did a quick calculation and it looks like we’ve saved 30 days [720 hours!] of our lives from the perils of Scrubbing Bubbles.

Do you need to outsource your spring cleaning this year? You might already have someone to help with cleaning, so do you need to hire someone for a decluttering session? Splurge for a good old-fashioned purge.

Cleaning Lesson #3: Good is Better than Gleaming

Let me guess: you’re reluctant to embark upon this seasonal mission because you know it’ll take the entirety of the season to get your place looking less like a junkyard and more like a residence. I get it. Let’s try to untangle that all-or-nothing mentality and do two things:

  1. Break the behemoth into pieces (more, “I’m going to tackle the pantry today!” than, “I’ve got to clean this dump up for 125 days straight.”)
  2. Go for good, not gleaming (more, “My oven is clean enough” than, “I need to scour the rungs because my mother-in-law might judge me more than she usually does.”)

One tip I like is to set a timer for your cleaning or tidying mission — for 25 minutes, or maybe 45 or 90 if you’re feeling frisky — to help contain the mission into something manageable.

What do you need to prioritize first (like, “the bottom shelf in the basement”), rather than mentally taking on too much? Where do you need to be okay with “clean enough” instead of model-home shiny?

Cleaning Lesson #4: Stop Being Disappointed in Yourself

Do you do what I do when you’re cleaning/ tidying/ purging? I find myself wishing I was a different person… wishing I was the kind of person who didn’t let it get this bad… wishing I was a better human who didn’t need to set aside this much time to clean the cupboard under the bathroom sink because an improved version of myself wouldn’t let miscellaneous Q-tips and hairs and nail clippings intermingle with strewn-about sprays and potions and blush brushes. And when I’m done cleaning + reorganizing whatever crime scene I’ve created, I firmly resolve to never commit those crimes again. “It’s going to be different this time,” I solemnly tell myself, until 12 days later when things are looking biohazardous again. Same story goes with my desk drawers and baking supply cupboards.

WELL F*UCK THAT.

My new modus operandi — that I humbly suggest you consider for yourself — accepts that this is the kind of person I am.” I’m not the kind of person who lives immaculately without a hair out of place (like The Husband). I’m the kind of person who begrudgingly cleans the under-sink cabinet once or twice a year — and instead of admonishing myself and wishing I was different/ The Husband, I say, “well this will look great for two weeks! See ya this time next year. Off to write a blog post!”

Where do you need to accept your own process of letting your closet or fridge or basement get unwieldy before you roll up your sleeves and dive in again? Where can you be kinder to yourself and just let the judgement go?

 

Einstein was probably onto something when he said a cluttered desk was a sign of a cluttered mind. Let’s try to use the time we have to address the clutter (and grime) that’s getting in our way of loving life… and if we can pay our way out of the problem, let’s budget for that. And above all, let’s accept that a few wayward Q-tips are absolutely, perfectly, uncomfortably okay.

Jodi Wellman

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