Dirt and dust bunnies

Advice on spring cleaning: Do not attempt, if you can help it. In many ways it is a severe waste of time and energy.

But if your fingers, like mine, start itching to turn the house upside down about the time the robins return, here is some counsel. (Free of charge. One size fits all. No one will know if you take it or leave it. And you may find it useful in other areas of housekeeping as well.)

1. Consider your resources.

  • How long do you want to work at this project? This year I had only two weeks to spend, which meant I couldn’t be spit-polishing every nook and cranny.

2. Consider your goals.

  • What do you hope for? Sparkling windows and freshly washed walls? Decluttered spaces, tidy drawers? Do not overreach. You will not be able to accomplish everything. For me, spring cleaning means catching windows and cobwebs, organizing drawers and closets, and giving attention to neglected spaces.

3. Set a course.

  • I do not mean, carefully schedule hour of the day. I mean, combine your resources and your goals: “I will clean upstairs this week, downstairs next week.” Or “I will tackle one room a day, three days a week.” Fit your goals into your time slots. Make a simple plan, and stick to it as much as possible.

4. Start with a bang. A manageable bang.

  • My first day, I scrubbed my windows and defrosted a nasty freezer. (Correction: I held the hairdryer while my good man wielded the ice pick. [I mean the ice scraper. {Is there a difference?}]) A significant start builds your morale and frees up time later.

5. Don a uniform.

  • This is proof of my childishness, I know. But wearing a special apron or slipping on a pair of fresh Latex gloves converts me into a Cleaning Lady, and I work better.

6. Use good supplies.

  • I’m convinced that success in cleaning is largely dependent on your tools. I mentioned Latex gloves. I also rediscovered two inexpensive super-cleaners last month: the Magic Eraser (which beautifully whitened my scuffed walls and a filthy door I’d scrubbed unsuccessfully with everything else), and Bar Keepers Friend (a powder that shined my rusty laundry room sink when even Clorox had left it unfazed).

7. Stick to your course and do not obsess.

  • If you dislike cleaning (like me), it’s best accomplished by a concerted push, then freedom—not by picking along at it for the next three months.
  • Make a list of projects to return to later (print a new 8×10 for the photo frame, mend books, choose a new light fixture, reupholster futon). Don’t derail to sew new kitchen curtains right now, or run all over the community returning borrowed items and shopping for perfect replacements. Make a list. It will wait.

8. Find rejuvenation along the way.

  • Some nights I was too tired and grouchy even to think. So I’d soak in a hot tub, or get a bowl of popcorn and see what Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot were up to. The next day, I’d be ready to go again.

9. Do not fear The Slide.

  • The Slide is what happens when someone rearranges all the books that you just placed alphabetically by author,* when your mister strews more tools around the laundry room, or when small hands stuff their treasure chests with new pine cones and Sunday school papers to replace the ones you just surreptitiously removed. It’s okay. You have to live here. They do too. Whatever you cleaned is that much better than before.

*Believe it or not, we used to do this when we were newlyweds. No more.

10. Celebrate progress and completion.

  • One of these days, I owe myself a very large chunk of chocolate cake at Chovy’s—the kind with six layers and a side of whipped cream. Mission accomplished. Whoopie!!

CRUCIAL NOTE: Lest you read into all this advice that Shari Zook has her life put together—well—don’t make me laugh. I live in an adorable half-renovated piece of crap. And by the time I’d finished downstairs, the two dust bunnies I’d missed upstairs had repopulated at an astonishing rate; their offspring were popping out of rabbit holes all over the place. I am cheerfully ignoring them all out of existence. The only problem I see with dust bunnies is that they grow into dust jackrabbits, but I figure I have a few months leeway before I have to pull out the big guns again.

Do you spring clean your house? How?

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10 years ago

In five+ years of marriage, I have never spring- or fall-cleaned. We’ve moved four times and will be moving again this summer, so it’s convenient to wait until then to do any deep-cleaning. I like your ideas though. Maybe I’ll reference this post next year when it will be time to do spring clean . . . unless we move again. 😀

10 years ago

I am in full agreement with your first line. 🙂
And I think you already know my cleaning schedule. That nesting instinct just kicks a dirty house in the rump.

10 years ago

I’m not sure I’ve ever spring cleaned, but I have deep cleaned occasionally. The urge just sometimes hits in the winter…or fall…or never. It sure is a good feeling when it’s finished though. I have to agree with the Magic Eraser and Bar Keeper’s Friend, which I only discovered in the past year or two. Your uniform comment cracked me up – so true! Enjoy the rest of your weekend ~

10 years ago

These are such good pointers.
I do my deep cleaning in fits and starts, dragging it out over long, long periods and never ever being done. I have neglected it for so long and it looks hugely overwhelming. But April is The Month. I shall not be moved. Thanks for the kick-start.

10 years ago

I deep clean when it drives me crazy enough to do something about it. I have no idea how often that is – but I know it is not often enough. I used to have a schedule of sorts, but it fell by the wayside long ago. I’m learning that when a window looks filthy, I can just wash it – without doing all the windows in the house. Or if a closet is driving me crazy with clutter, I can carve out time next week to do that one closet – and not wait until some magic spring cleaning day that will probably never arrive. Maybe someday I can have a plan again, but in our stage of life right now, this is working. Of course, I do have my regular weekly cleaning routine that keeps things from getting out of hand.

Loved your post.

Rachel S
10 years ago

Oh I do not enjoy cleaning, but I do love and demand a clean house! So…I do it the easy way. I save up my pennies and then once a year on “THE DAY” my family and I disappear while my amazing neighbor girls move in and clean my house from top to bottom. I leave them a list as long as my arm to make sure everything gets done. In about 8 hours (with 2 girls), my house is spotless. This includes windows inside & out, hand washing floors, wiping walls & trim, kitchen cabinets and a host of other corners that normally get missed. What a huge relief to come home to a sparkling clean house!

Amy Herr
10 years ago
Reply to  Rachel S

Ooooo.. Absolutely THE best solution!

10 years ago

I love giving free advice. 🙂 I wish sometimes I would take it. Very good pointers, Shari. I hear you about the dust bunny population.
If any of you are interested in not needing to spring clean, I strongly recommend checking out this website: http://www.flylady.net (Luci, I pick you. Don’t be overwhelmed!)

10 years ago

I don’t really like cleaning but I am with your friend Rachel ~ I love and demand a clean house. 🙂 I can focus better on living, thinking, people (etc) when my world is set to order. (I also have quite the obsessive compulsive streak!)

I do spring-clean my house top to bottom every year. My mom did and I am used to it I guess!

She (my mom) would tackle the whole house in a couple of weeks and we’d turn that house totally upside down! For the last couple of years, I did that too, but this year I have been taking it in sections. My kitchen & bathroom are out of the way now and they are always the rooms that overwhelm me the most – so that makes me happy!

My favorite way to spring clean is to invite people into my work. Last year I had Donna come and help me and we did almost the whole house (top to bottom, windows, etc) in a day. It felt SO good. My sister had me come and help her with some spring-cleaning two weeks ago and she also had a group of friends come one day. It makes the cleaning go so much faster & its way more fun!

I am not on Fly Lady, but I have lots of friends who use it and love it. I kind of do my own version of “fly lady” though and it makes my spring cleaning way more manageable and less overwhelming. (I am into having house systems to cut back on drawer & closet clutter, and I do things like weekly wipe down the fronts of my kitchen cupboards and monthly check the windows…)

10 years ago

I agree w/ you Gina. I’m a cleaner when it needs it. Those magical cleaning days never seem to arrive– or else I push them off and off and off. So, I gave up fall and spring cleaning, and clean when things need it. I love to have a perfectly clean bedroom or kitchen or living room. They just never seem to get clean all at the same time. But, if you have kiddos, it never seems to happen anyway.

Another good idea, is wait till you get good and angry– then you can get a lot of cleaning done! 🙂

Once, the kids and I set the timer for 2 hours, dressed up in weird clothes, talked in strange voices, and yelled at each other– cleaning all the while. The funniest, most enjoyable house cleaning we’ve done in years.

10 years ago

These varied ways of handling spring cleaning make me think of something I learned about time. People operate within time in three ways–linear, cyclical, and pulse. Linear time is the people who can maintain an even level of productivity day after day. (Tidily scheduled, systematic working through the house at a measured pace). Cyclical people have days of the week or parts of the day or even seasons of the year when they are more productive. (Spending a couple hours every morning or all day every Wednesday doing spring cleaning.) The pulse people expend huge amounts of energy in one big whoosh, which may last for hours, days or weeks. But then they have to crawl off by themselves for hours, days or weeks and recover, before the next pulse comes along.

Ideally, my spring cleaning urge would hit just before a pulse arrives, and I could clean the whole house in one marathon cleaning session beginning early in the morning, steamrolling through meals, and ending dreadfully late at night. My husband, who does linear time, would hunker down in his studio until it’s over. The final exhausted hours would be sustained by an exciting audio book on headphones, accompanied by Oreos and Pepsi.

American culture and for sure Menno culture don’t work well with pulse time. Christian pulse time people have to learn to be disciplined despite their natural tendency. But oh what fun when a pulse hits and you can accomplish and produce and create with astounding results!

And it’s kind of nice to have an excuse for crawling off to hibernate after such heroic output.

Wendy Zook
10 years ago

Moving and the coming arrival of a new baby usually contribute to my “deep” house cleaning. I had a baby in the fall and have a possible move coming this summer, so I am skipping the Spring cleaning. 🙂

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