Did you ever think about how the spring-cleaning ritual developed? Before the advent of electricity and a host of other modern conveniences, homes were heated with coal, oil and/or wood, and lit by gas or candlelight. Soot and grime were the natural companions of winter. Once spring arrived, the doors were thrown open, and everything – rugs, furniture, cupboards, curtains and more – was aired out, cleaned out, swept out and scrubbed out.
Although today's centrally heated homes don't collect that intensity of dirt, somehow the winter dingies seem to creep inside. And this year, with challenging weather conditions keeping us indoors all too long, our instincts are to make everything look fresh and bright come that first whiff of spring with a new cleaning schedule.
Strategy #1: Clear It Out
Start by getting rid of the things that are needlessly filling up your home.
- Recycle it. Even with the availability of reading online, some people still prefer the paper versions. Gather up any newspapers and those magazines no one has ever quite gotten around to reading. If your community also recycles mixed papers, check the regulations and then start a bin where you can toss those papers as you clean.
- Sell it. Garage sales, tag sales or consignment shops are a great way to get rid of items that are in excellent condition but that you no longer need. Collect them in one spot, and then, once spring cleaning is done, decide how to dispose of them.
- Donate it. Items that are in good condition but no longer fit your lifestyle can be donated to a charity or "freecycled" away. Freecycle is a grassroots, web-based, nonprofit movement of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns. Each local group is moderated by a volunteer, and membership is free. Visit www.freecycle.org for more information.
- Consumer convenience: Smaller, lighter containers are easier to carry and store at home.
Strategy #2: Inventory Your Supplies
Before you start cleaning, make sure you have all the necessary supplies on hand.
The basics should include an all-purpose spray cleaner (for small, washable areas), an all-purpose powder or liquid cleaner (for large washable surfaces like floors and walls), an abrasive cleanser (to remove heavy amounts of soil in small areas), a nonabrasive cleanser (for gentle cleaning on easily scratched surfaces, including porcelain sinks and ceramic tile), chlorine bleach (an effective disinfectant, particularly where mold and mildew are present), glass cleaner, furniture-dusting product (such as a spray and a clean cloth, or a microfiber cloth, mitt or duster) and toilet bowl cleaner.
You may also need to add cleaners specific to your surfaces, such as metal polishes and granite cleaners, or your personal preferences, such as wipes and special-purpose sprays. And don't forget to check your supply of vacuum cleaner bags and trash bags.
Strategy #3: Make a Plan
- Decide on your cleaning style. Some people find it more effective to clean one room at a time. Others prefer to group tasks – such as cleaning windows in several rooms at once or leaving all the vacuuming until the end.
- Prioritize. If one room at a time is your style, decide on the order. Generally, it's best to do the rooms that need the most work or get the most traffic first. That way, if your cleaning plans get derailed, you can still be proud of what you've accomplished.
- Consider the big stuff. Do the curtains need to be laundered? What about comforters, blankets, bed skirts, slipcovers and shower curtains? Are your area rugs and draperies due for professional cleaning? Once these items are removed from the room and on their way to getting cleaned, it will be easier to tackle the rest of the space.
Strategy #4: Recruit Help
It's not necessary to do everything yourself.
- Enlist family members. Establish a Spring Cleaning Day. Start early. Assign tasks according to age and ability. Have lunch preplanned – maybe even delivered – so your helpers don't lose momentum. And make it fun. Hide some favorite treats in places that need to be cleaned. Play lively music that keeps everyone's energy up.
- Pair up with a friend. If you live alone or family members can't help, find a like-minded friend and clean together – your house in the morning, his/hers in the afternoon. If needed, schedule a second day.
- Call in the professionals. If your budget allows, you don't have to do every bit of cleaning yourself. Someone else can come in and wash the windows ... or buff the floors ... or shampoo the carpets ... or clean the upholstery ... or even do the majority of the cleaning after you've removed the clutter.