Healthy Spaces

When spring cleaning doesn't bring you joy

It’s that time of year. When everything starts blooming and the weather warms up, there’s some innate drive within us to clean the house. After being cooped up all winter, it’s only natural to want to deodorize, disinfect and clear the clutter.

Ah, clutter. If you’ve been caught up in the Marie Kondo magic of tidying up, than perhaps your home is already clutter free. Perhaps you spent the dreary days of winter clearing closets and emptying drawers. In that case, you’re well ahead of the game.

For the uninitiated, Kondo has written several books and hosted a Netflix series that’s centered around her popular KonMari method of organization, which focuses on only keeping those items that bring joy to your life. Many have embraced her methods, resulting in overflowing thrift stores. Some people love all the emptiness and newfound space, while others pooh-pooh the minimalism or question the merit of Kondo’s joy standard. (Take me, for example. If I only the kept kitchen items that sparked joy, I’d be left with an ice cream scoop.)

So how do you tackle spring cleaning in the age of Kondo? The cleaning part stays the same, but when it comes to clutter, you may have to tone it down a bit if you want to finish before the next season hits.

Kondo’s view of spring cleaning

Kondo is all about thanking items when you send them off to their new lives, as she shows in the video above. But there’s an added element to the annual ritual of spring cleaning, she says. She addresses her approach to spring cleaning in an essay she wrote for The New Potato:

Spring-cleaning is a more involved treatment than we normally get the chance to perform when we are busy throughout the year. It’s a reset for our homes and minds. We may have used our bedrooms and living rooms extensively during the winter months as we burrowed under the covers and the return of more daylight provides the perfect opportunity to pay attention to the spaces that have served us so well.

She points out that it’s also a time to make practical changes. Put away the heavy sweaters, coats and boots and replace them with spring clothes and shoes. Fold away heavy comforters and blankets to make way for lighter comforters and cooler sheets.

Don’t just dust around furniture, she says, but this is the time of year to actually shove it aside in order to clean everywhere. Clean on top of the refrigerator and behind your television and computer.

“Again, I envision spring-cleaning as a catalyst to help me restart my home and, thus, my sense of openness to the possibilities that spring entails!” Kondo says. “Cleaning is not the ends, only the means to reflect on your home and what you want for it.”

Spring de-cluttering made simple

hangers in closet Turn all your hangers backwards and then turn them around only when you wear the clothes. (Photo: Grzegorz Placzek/Shutterstock)

Many people are put off by the KonMari method because it involves big steps. To do your closet, for example, you start by removing all your clothes where you can see them and then addressing each item. That can be a daunting item whether you’re tackling your entire wardrobe or even the pantry.

If you’re not up for that this spring, you may want to start smaller:

Try 5 minutes. Leo Babauta at Zen Habits suggests 18 decluttering tasks that shouldn’t take more than five minutes each. You might try clearing off a counter or just one shelf. Clean out your medicine cabinet or pick up five things and put them away.

Do the ‘trash bag tango.’ Professional organizer Peter Walsh says get two trash bags to tackle some of the obvious clutter in your home. In the first, put any trash you see. In the other, put things you want out of your house: clothes that no longer fit, books you can donate to the library or anything else that no longer has a place.

Fill one trash bag. Are two trash bags too much? Then fill just one. Joshua Becker at Becoming Minimalist says one of his favorite decluttering techniques is taking one bag and filling it with whatever unnecessary stuff he finds. Think of the satisfaction when you have a brimming bag of stuff.

Turn your hangers. Not so sure what you really wear in your closet? Try this experiment: Hang all your clothes in your closet with the hangers facing in the opposite direction. When you wear something, turn the hanger the other way. After a few weeks (or months, if you have the patience) you’ll be able to see what you actually wear. If you go a full season without wearing certain things, consider donating them.

Joy versus 5 boxes

woman holding box marked donate Sort all the items you find into boxes. (Photo: Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock)

It may be a lot of pressure to look at an item and immediately decide to keep it based on whether it brings you joy. More traditional organizing methods say to create three boxes and sort things as you go: keep, donate, toss.

But some experts say you may have more success if you instead make it five boxes: keep, donate, toss, move (to another space in the house where it belongs) and marinate. This last box, writes MNN’s Starre Vartan, contains things that fall somewhere between the keep and toss piles — “stuff you can’t bring yourself to get rid of, but aren’t sure whether to keep.”

At the end of all your organizing and decluttering, close up that marinated box. Label it with a date about six months or even a year from now. If you’re feeling ambitious, you’ll open it up and decide later what to do with all that stuff you tucked inside. If you never look in the box again, then donate it. You must not have really needed it, and it certainly never have brought you joy.

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

When spring cleaning doesn’t bring you joy

If you can’t bring yourself to go all Marie Kondo on spring cleaning this year, try taking more attainable baby steps.


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