When winter's here, we want to hibernate. Spend evenings huddled on the couch with a heated blanket, a cup of tea and a good book. Toss ingredients into the slow cooker and eat soups and stews for dinner. Wear comfy, fuzzy pajamas and slippers. Deep cleaning the house doesn't even cross our minds. Then as the weather starts to warm up, we emerge from the cave (so to speak) and realise that the basic cleaning routine we go through every week is mostly just scratching the surface. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal; why not make that go for our house as well? Spring cleaning is a time-honoured ritual for a reason -- the fresh air and greenery outdoors make us want to prettify our indoor spaces, too. It just makes us feel better. But if the mere thought seems overwhelming, here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Make a Plan
Whether your place is tiny or massive, spring cleaning can be a challenge. Spring cleaning is about going beyond your usual dusting, mopping, vacuuming and scrubbing routine. And if you've never done it, how do you even know where to start? Like all big undertakings, it's a good idea to make a plan. Yes, that means committing pen to paper. Or creating a spreadsheet, if that's more your style.
Start by listing out every room of your house, without forgetting places like the spare room, laundry, garage and wardrobes. Think about tasks like cleaning the skirting boards, the walls, the windows, as well as moving and cleaning behind and under furniture (and the furniture itself). Basically, things that you probably don't clean on a regular basis. If it helps you, walk through your house while making the list.
If even the idea of making a list is too much, do a little research first. There are books and Web sites on every subject and that includes cleaning. Find a list to work from or at least get some inspiration. While it doesn't look like there's an app just for spring cleaning, there are more than a few for cleaning in general. They could help you find your starting point.
Do you want to do it fast or do you want to do it right? After you write your list of tasks, you might be re-thinking how much time to allot to it. Sure, you can hit the highlights in a weekend, but if you want every square inch truly clean, you'll need to take more time. Before you give up because you can't take a week off work just to clean, remember this: nobody can.
The answer? The classic divide-and-conquer technique. Go back to your list and break down each task into manageable chunks. There's no rule about how long it should take you to finish your spring cleaning, and it doesn't have to be finished by the first day of spring. Estimate how long each task will take you and where you can add them on to your everyday routine.
For example, if you're in the bathroom wiping down the sink, maybe you can also take the time to clean and organise under the sink, too.
You also need to build in breaks to avoid burnout. I'm guilty of powering through when I'm in the middle of a task, but then sometimes I run out of steam before I reach my goal. At the same time, be a little ruthless with yourself -- now is not the time to flip through your old photo albums or reread letters from pen pals.
3. Get Ready
I don't mean getting mentally prepared, although if you haven't looked under your couch in a long time, you might need to be ready for anything when you pull that sucker out. I'm talking about making sure that you have all of the supplies you need. Spring cleaning isn't the most thrilling thing in the world, but it will be even more annoying if you have to stop and run to the shop because you're out of something.
You probably have the basics already, but at a minimum, you'll need an all-purpose cleaner for everything from walls to floors and a glass cleaner for windows and mirrors. Don't forget about specialised cleaners, like oven cleaner, silver polish or wood oil, because you probably don't use those things nearly as much. Your tools are just as important: Inspect everything from brooms to mops, and replace them if they're in bad shape. A frayed broom can make sweeping take twice as long.
Spring is also a good time to go green. You can even go one step further and discover new uses for household items like white vinegar and baking soda. You may not have them in the quantities you'll need for cleaning, but buying them will cost you much less than traditional cleaning supplies. Try to avoid using paper towels if you can (although I can tell you that coffee filters are the best way to a streak-free window). Microfibre cloths are great for dusting.
4. Declutter First
'Spring cleaning' is kind of an inaccurate term because it's just about cleaning. If all you do is shuffle piles of stuff to clean around them and then put them back, sure, your stack of DVD's is tidier, but is your living room ambiance really better off for all of your hard work? Before you can clean, you have to declutter and organise. There are lots of ways to go about it, but the easiest is to set up three different bins (or boxes, whatever works): keep, toss and donate/sell.
With each item, ask yourself what this particular thing is doing for you. If the answer is nothing but it's still calling to you, next decide whether you could be happy with just taking a picture of it (I'm thinking of some of those souvenir nicknacks gathering dust). If you don't even want a picture of the thing, then why is it sitting on your shelf? A common mistake is to let the donate/sell bin stagnate. Make time to deal with those items accordingly so you don't have that staring you in the face in the midst of your otherwise sparkling clean home.
Once you have your "keep" items, think about how you can better organise them. If you're a cooking magazine hoarder (guilty as charged), go through the magazines, pull out the recipes you just have to make and haven't gotten around to yet, and either put them in a folder or scan them. Recycle the rest. You can find inexpensive baskets and bins in all sizes at op shops or dollar stores.
Now would also be a good time to ensure your LifeLot account is up-to-date with any new documents/paperwork you may have. Set aside some time to scan and upload them before accidentally throwing anything out with the rubbish (definitely speaking from experience!)
5. Bring Backup
You've got a plan, you've budgeted your time, you have your supplies ready ... and it still seems like way too much work for one person. There's really no shame in asking for help. And you might even need it for some of the big projects that involve moving around furniture or climbing ladders to dust light fixtures. Getting someone to help you clean might be even harder than getting someone to help you move, though.
If any other people live in your house, that's a good place to start. Their stuff and their mess are contributing to the need to spring clean, right? If you have kids, get them to focus on their rooms first (including the wardrobe). Just remember that you'll need to help keep them on track and make sure they didn't just shove everything under the bed. Even small children and toddlers can do things like dust skirting boards; they're still eager to help, and there's no time like the present. No luck with anybody at home? Offer to help a friend with his or her spring cleaning in exchange for help with yours (or for free food and/or alcohol -- if it works for moving, why not for cleaning?). Finally, if you can afford it, you could also hire a housecleaning service to tackle some of the larger jobs that just seem way too overwhelming.
6. Top Down
There's nothing like driving around in beautiful spring weather in a convertible with the top down and the wind in your hair. Just keep those thoughts in mind while you're cleaning your house. If you don't have a convertible, maybe you could treat yourself to a rental after you accomplish your goals. OK, back on track. One time-honoured trick when you're spring cleaning is to tackle each room from the top down. Yes, you were supposed to make a list. But do you always do what you're supposed to? I sure don't. If you're more the type to wing it, you can get lots done by going into each room and literally going from ceiling to floor.
It's a pretty simple concept. Dust and clean the ceiling, molding and the light fixtures. Then wipe down the walls, clean the windows, dust pictures and other art and sanitise the doors and light switches. When you're done with what's on the walls, move on to the furniture and the outside and inside of any storage pieces. You can either start with the wardrobes or do them right before you clean the floor, which is always going to be last.
7. High-traffic Zones and Shortcuts
Even with all these tips under your belt and after enlisting help, does it still seem like an absolutely horrible, monumental and otherwise insurmountable task?
Fine. Go over the list -- if you've made one, of course -- and figure out what you can cross off. One way to do that is to think about the most high-traffic areas of your home. The kitchen has to be high on the list, and so does the room that houses the TV. So what can you remove? Rooms like spare bedrooms, bathrooms that don't get much use or finished basements with very little furniture or stuff in them (does that exist?). Wardrobes that are already pretty organised anyway. Basically, the places where you and your family do the most living are the places that will need spring cleaning the most.
Another way to speed up the process is to look for shortcuts, like spot-cleaning instead of cleaning the whole thing. Instead of steam-cleaning all of the carpet, focus just on the stains in the high-traffic areas. If you have a hand-held steamer for clothes, use it on curtains instead of taking them down to wash. Window washing from the outside is a classic spring cleaning task, but I have to say that I haven't done much of it myself. I just turn the hose on the outsides of the windows occasionally to get rid of bugs and leaves, and I'm satisfied with that.
8. Be an Early Bird
I know, I said that there aren't any rules about when you have to finish up your spring cleaning and that it doesn't even have to be done by spring. However, actually getting everything finished, period, will become more difficult as time goes by. When the warmth and beauty of the new season is beckoning to you from outside your window, do you really want to be knee-deep in a cupboard reorganisation? Before you know it, you'll be in the dog days of summer, trying to find beach toys in the garage and realising that once again, you weren't able to get to that room in spring.
So here's my crazy advice: start early. Those doldrums of winter, when it's too cold and dreary and blah to go outside, are actually the perfect time to spring clean.
9. Expired? Retired!
Supermarkets use a system called FIFO (first in, first out) to rotate products with a limited shelf life so that they'll sell before they go off. We should take a cue from businesses and save ourselves both frustration and money, and yet, many of us don't. There are probably expired products lurking in your pantry and medicine cabinet right now.
When you're spring cleaning your pantry, don't just pull everything out and put it back in. Actually check out those jars, cans and boxes. Pretty much everything has an expiration date. Whether something like pasta is still good past its date is up to you, but awareness is a good thing. You may be periodically cleaning out the fridge anyway, but sometimes we forget about the condiments. They have a longer shelf life most of the time due to ingredients like vinegar and those fantastic preservatives, but that life must come to an end at some point. When in doubt, throw it out. While you're at it, consider a new organisational system so you don't keep buying cinnamon because you can't find it and assume you're out.
The medicine cabinet and your other bathroom storage areas also need to be purged of old stuff. Expired medicine can be dangerous at worst and ineffective at best. Cosmetics don't have expiration dates, but liquid-based ones especially can harbour bacteria and should go in three to six months. If it looks or smells bad, let it go.
10. Take it to the House
The phrase "spring cleaning" doesn't just have to mean cleaning the inside of your house. There are lots of other home maintenance-type things that would benefit from your attention once spring has actually sprung. Murphy's Law says that if your air conditioner breaks down, it's probably going to happen right in the hottest part of the summer. So before it gets hot, get your system checked out to make sure that it'll actually work well for you when you turn it on.
If the winter was particularly rough, your roof probably needs an inspection for loose tiles, and your gutters could be full of gunk. Take care of it all before summer does its own damage. Lots of people talk about weatherproofing to keep in the warmth during winter, but if you didn't do that, consider things like caulking around your windows and sealing any other leaks to keep in the cool air once you turn on that AC. You'll soon want to spend time on your deck or patio, so inspect that for wear and tear and get it into shape. If you do all of these things yourself, mild spring temperatures might even make them slightly enjoyable.
Do you have a completely perfect, sparkling clean and organised house inside and out by the time spring rolls around? Not me; there's always something left to do. But it's good to have goals, and maybe this year you can get a little further with the help of these spring cleaning tips.