Spring cleaning has turned into spring decluttering in the modern age. A hundred years ago, we had dirty coal- and wood-fired heating systems and fewer cleaning tools. Today, dozens of cleaning chemicals, inexpensive broom and mop alternatives, and ever-more eco-friendly replacements for traditional cleaning supplies ARE the clutter.
It’s not your fault that you feel overwhelmed by clutter when spring arrives. In colder climates, staying organized during the winter is hard, and spring feels like the natural time to make things right again. During the winter, you may not be motivated to carry donation boxes out to the car, keep your car clean, make a chilly stop at a donation point, or pare down all your creature comforts like excess blankets and throws, slippers, and sweaters. You also don’t have as much daylight, even in moderate climates, and probably feel like there isn’t time in the day for organizing projects. But when the weather breaks, longer days combat the impulse to hibernate. We have a bit more time to make donation drops instead of hurrying right home for cocooning. We can be more objective about snuggly items that we might use–but didn’t–last season.
Spring cleaning, however daunting, has big payoffs. Last spring, we organized a two-car garage for a couple. In the twenty years that they’d lived in that house, they had never parked a car in the garage. Once we organized it, they were easily able to get to all of their garden tools and hoses, extra water, paper towels and canned goods, and all the party supplies. They enjoyed it for the rest of the summer, but they also started parking a car in the garage. That made it easier to unpack weekly groceries all year long. And throughout the winter, the car was protected from rain, ice, and snow. She often tells me how glad she is to have a car in the garage. Because of a spring cleaning project, she’s now using all of her home, not just a part of it.
We’ve all heard that things don’t bring us happiness, and research shows that’s true. In fact, our belonging can negatively affect our health. One study showed that more women than men perceive their home to be cluttered, and this causes elevated cortisol levels (the stress hormone) throughout the day, not just when women are at home. Men didn’t describe their surroundings as cluttered as often, and when they did, their cortisol level tended to drop during the day, with a restorative effect to their health.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure your things are contributing to your well-being, instead of sabotaging your health:
- Place your everyday items on display. Whether you neatly line up shoes along the baseboard or fold and stack your towels, the resulting visual order feels calming to most people.
- Get help. If you live with others, ask them to help. Even young children can sort things and carry items to the next room. Even reluctant spouses can help just by keeping the kids out of the way.
- Don’t confuse cleaning with organizing. Cleaning is removing dirt from surfaces. Organizing is about creating systems so you can find what you need when you need it.
- Use a system. SORT and Succeed, outlined in my books, is a five-step system that helps you organize any space using the same five simple steps. Stop reinventing the wheel, save your energy, and get better results.
- Buy fewer quantities of higher-quality items. You take better care of items that feel special or are a splurge.
- Watch your language. If you find yourself keeping things because, “I might need it someday,” or “I don’t really like it, but it was a gift,” those are signs that it’s become clutter. Keep things because you use and love them, not because you are afraid of some undefined future without them.
- Ask yourself if you would buy it again today. If an item is “perfectly good” but isn’t something you use, and you wouldn’t buy it again today, you can feel good about sending it to a thrift store where others might be able to use it.
What does spring cleaning look like at your house? Is it more about decluttering or removing dirt?