There was a time when housewives took spring cleaning seriously. They dusted and mopped, washed the windows, scrubbed down the tile floors and swept the cobwebs from the basement and the attic.
It is practically unheard of today but many people, even those of modest means, would have had seasonal wardrobes for their home — in spring they traded the heavy lined drapes for cotton chintz and got out the summer slipcovers for the furniture.
Like most rituals, spring cleaning is not just a ploy to make work or sell household cleaners. It’s a way for us urban and suburban humans to participate in the great awakening of nature that begins in spring. Psychically, we need to prepare for the great burst of energy that comes with warmer weather and longer days. It’s a natural time for clearing out the debris left by old man winter and allowing the process of physical and spiritual renewal to flourish.
I tend to harp on clearing clutter, probably because in my business it’s hard not to accumulate way too much stuff, and I am well aware of my own shortcomings in this area! When I speak of clutter, I’m not talking about a healthy amount of mess which accompanies almost any kind of worthwhile work, I’m talking about the size 2 dresses in the back of the closet that haven’t seen the light of day since high school and the boxes of blurry photos from long forgotten events. One of my sisters for example had an album in her photo collection entitled "Somebody’s Wedding" — I convinced her to toss it.
If you have a hard time parting with useless stuff, I suggest you contact a professional "organizer." Yes, we have so much stuff in our lives now that "Organizing" has become a profession. These people are trained to help you streamline your life. They have systematic strategies about how to sort through your stuff and help you make decisions about what to keep and what to toss or, better still, recycle.
Personally, I think that it’s natural for humans to want to accumulate stuff. Since we began walking on this earth we have been adapted to living with scarcity; it is only very recently that overabundance (in things and in food) has become an issue and many of us are still living in the old scarcity mind-set where hanging on to your stuff was a more appropriate response. My grandmother used to quip, "Use it up, wear it out, substitute, or do without." Good advice for hard times. But in our era of abundance it can be downright amazing how much energy you can free up by clearing out your useless clutter.
It sounds pretty elementary to make a list — but I find it to be an essential and sometimes almost magical tool. Something about committing your "To Do" list to paper clears the head and makes things happen. Ideally one refers to the list and has the great satisfaction of checking off the items as they are completed, but I’ve run across many a list I’ve made and forgotten about only to find that indeed 90% of the items on the list were accomplished without my ever looking at the list again. Something in the act of making the list propels the actions forward.
And don’t forget to put washing the windows as a high priority on the list — one of the great joys of housekeeping is to get the windows washed! In my book, nothing can beat the beauty of the sun streaming in through a sparkling clean window.
If you’re feeling ambitious, why not make your wish list too — renovate the family room, plant the wildflower field or turn the guest bedroom into a hobby room — whatever is your pleasure. If it’s on a list, you might find yourself getting to it sooner than later.
Roll up the Rugs
When I lived in New York City, I worked with a client who had a large penthouse apartment on the east side. Every spring we would roll up her rugs and send them to be cleaned and stored for the season. In doing so, we would have to move the furniture and this led to experimenting with new furniture arrangements. We would re-create her apartment every spring! What a way to bring vitality into the space.
In contemporary times, we think of furniture as being set up in static "arrangements" but originally, furniture was meant to be moved. The French developed so many of our familiar furniture pieces in the 17th and 18th centuries and the French word for furniture "meubles" literally means movable. In those times, furniture was moved around to wherever it was needed. Maybe you are happy with your furniture where it is or don’t have enough flexibility in your space to re-arrange it but you can still bring in that new vitality by thoroughly cleaning around and under it and maybe adding something like a colorful throw pillow to give it new life. If it’s possible, roll up the rugs and send them out to be cleaned; if you have carpeting, get it cleaned. (Be sure that your carpet service uses non-toxic cleaners; no sense in bringing irritating chemicals into your environment.)
Have a Party
Every year, I set a date to have a party in May or June. The party becomes my deadline for the seasonal changeover; I have to have the pool open, the house clean, the grounds raked and planted and I have to have my outdoor entertaining gear ready. It’s a great feeling to welcome friends and family to celebrate the kick-off of the outdoor entertaining season, and, speaking of bringing energy and vitality to a space — there’s nothing like a crowd of people to generate energy.
Finally, remember the spring flowers. Tulips, daffodils, iris, azaleas: they have the ability to lift the spirit and delight the eye more than we know. Put them on the table and plant them in the yard.
Looking forward to a happy fruitful summer.
Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at 37 Main St., Tarrytown, NY