As winter loosens its grip on nature and the sun takes a little longer to dip below the horizon, many notice renewed energy and increased vigor.
Without much forethought, you begin moving furniture around, sweeping hard-to-reach places, washing drapes, and spraying rooms with disinfectant sprays. Suddenly, the dish sponge you’ve been using for a while starts looking grungy and your muscles spring back from near-atrophy after hibernating in front of the TV.
As if by instinct, you’re itching to purge your home of all the dust and dirt that’s been keeping you company during those long, dark days. Surprisingly, you’re not alone in this strange desire. In fact, spring cleaning has become an event resembling a ritual in many parts of the world.
But how did this compulsive urge come to be?
Spring Cleaning 101
Spring cleaning is a traditional practice of thoroughly cleaning a living space in or before springtime, typically after the long winter months. Usually, it involves numerous tasks that go beyond clearing out cobwebs.
People from different cultures declutter their homes, deep clean their carpets and furniture, wash the windows, and reorganize closets and cabinets during this time.
For many, spring cleaning is the perfect opportunity to start anew and organize the home. It’s a time-honored tradition that carries the power to utterly transform not just our homes, but our spirits as well. And as we sweep away the dust, we’re clearing out the remnants of the past and creating space for something new, something vibrant.
Although this tradition is near to our hearts and cultures, it’s surprising to discover that it might have originated in the East. But since this event has been around for a while, we can’t be certain.
What we can do, however, is learn a bit about the long history of spring cleaning and build on the tradition for the coming years.
History and Reasons for Spring Cleaning
When and where do we see the first semblance of spring cleaning in the world?
Even though it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origination, many cultures maintain and sustain the ritual for their own reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the oldest ones:
Passover (Pesach) is a Jewish holiday that marks the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. During this arduous journey, the slaves were fed unleavened bread (mitzah – bread without yeast), which the Jews have since adopted as a symbol of the subjugation they overcame.
The symbol permeated their culture and it’s now considered offensive to keep leavened bread (chametz) in the home during Passover. To eschew insulting God, Jews thoroughly clean their homes around April to ensure they haven’t missed any crumbs from leavened bread.
In Iran, the new year begins on March 21 and this is when Iranians (and many other nations) celebrate Nowruz (Persian New Year). This day is traditionally a time of regeneration and symbolizes a refreshed and reinvigorated life. Iranians observe this tradition by continuing the practice of khaneh tekani or “shaking the house,” which is when everything in the home is meticulously cleaned so as to “shake” the misfortune and evil.
Apart from scouring the entire home, from drapes to rugs and furniture, Iranians buy new clothes and deck the house in green to welcome spring.
Christianity has also observed a “cleaning tradition” preceding one of the biggest holidays, Easter. Namely, Holy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) is when the Catholic church strips the altar from all ornaments, linens, and paraments to symbolize Jesus’ humiliation at the hands of the soldiers. In the same vein, believers dedicate the three days after Palm Sunday to a good scrub and reorder.
For Orthodox Christians, cleaning the house is a custom that must be observed right before or during the first week of Lent (also called Clean Week). And since Easter almost always falls at the start of spring, it makes sense why we now call it “spring cleaning.”
Biological and Practical Origins
When we take culture and religion out of the equation, spring cleaning can be pinned on simple biology. Namely, during the winter we get less sunlight, which encourages the production of melatonin. The melatonin-induced stupor renders us unwilling to engage in activities that require more energy.
Then, as the day grows and we take a whiff of spring, we find more energy to complete the tasks we’ve been putting off.
Besides this, March is when it’s finally warm enough for people on the Northern Hemisphere to open windows to get the dust out without letting insects in. In North America and northern Europe, this time of year was when coal furnaces would stop running and our ancestors would wash the soot off the walls and furniture.
When Should You Start?
Although many cultures place particular significance on the day they do their spring cleaning, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it any time it suits you. And as spring starts on March 20 this year, you can even get a head start.
Don’t wait, get cleaning on the first sunny days!