Tackling spring cleaning

Spring is in the air and, at last, the sun is peeking out. Finally, you can throw open your windows and exchange a breath of it for the staleness that’s been hanging in your house, along with the ghosts of that corned beef and cabbage you cooked back in March. The birds are singing. You think you might have a lupine or two in the front yard, but you suppress the urge to go and check, knowing you must not withdraw from your domicile and the allegiance it demands. The dust clinging to the window pane in front of you, which has turned your curtains from crisp white to a shade often found on old bread, is as much a harbinger of the season as the robins and the warm breezes. So, you prepare a checklist and steel yourself for spring cleaning. “1. Upstairs: A. Windows and walls; B. Closets; C. Floors…” you write. “2. Downstairs: Ditto, ditto, ditto…” As you’re filling in major categories with more subheadings, you remember last year you had a similar action plan, all nicely detailed on a large sheet of paper, and each time you looked at it you became paralyzed with dread.

You may have turned to the self-help aisle at the bookstore for a little motivation, where you were met with reams and reams of training in the science of domestic engineering. Trouble was, you probably spent so much time reading that you were still pecking away at your checklist when your daffodils had given way to tiger lilies. You certainly don’t want that to happen again, so consider this: Our foremothers—who firmly instituted these seasonal scrubbing rituals so that, come warm weather, we’d forget about Gloria Steinem and begin worshiping Donna Reed—called it “spring cleaning” for a reason. Even pre-emacipated wash women intended for a brief respite before fall cleaning, if only to save up their energy for canning and baking all the fruits of the harvest they never got to savor on the vine.

To complete your checklist before you’re dripping sweat into your Spic ‘N Span, you do need to keep in mind some of those nifty tips you read up on last year while procrastinating. The experts would recommend you begin by tackling household focal points first—rooms where family density remains fairly constant over time. Try to view your home as a casual visitor might, drawing your attention to major accumulations of dust, debris and discoloration. A visitor would see, for example, what happened to the rug when you let the family eat spaghetti in front of the television, not what’s under your bed or in your corners. Adopting this perspective will let you prioritize to get maximum results where it counts. After all, it’s not so much for sanitary reasons that we clean, it’s to give the general impression of sparkle and shine to the viewing public—our company. (They probably won’t be crawling around on their hands and knees or hopping high enough to see most cobwebs. But, if they do, spike their coffee so they won’t care anymore.) It’s important to forget about feels clean and lemony fresh clean and go for looks clean first. Seeing the immediate outcome of such well-focused housekeeping will motivate you to organize closets and scrub unknown substances from your surfaces later, when the weather’s lousy and when you’re not taking an Irish coffee break.

When you’re ready to start tackling your spring cleaning list, an obvious place to start is that kitchen window you just opened—the one your family and friends have been politely ignoring since you put the hibachi right under it late last fall. The experts would agree. It’s small, not time consuming and requires few supplies—big pluses when you’re just getting in gear and are easily discouraged. And, once that window’s clean, you can move onto other windows without losing your focus. Begin by gathering your supplies: glass cleaner, paper towels, sponges and some sort of scraping device for splatters that have no respect for ammonia. If you’re unable to locate your scraper right away, start looking for it in the basement first because, that way, you can toss the kitchen curtains in the washer and they’ll be clean when you’re through with the window.

Now, don’t let the fact that your washer and dryer and surrounding shelves have been collecting dust since the Carter administration distract you. You’re on a window-washing mission and wiping down basement appliances would be totally senseless right now. However, since you may never be standing there with paper towels and Windex in hand until the end of the Obama years, no harm will be done by taking a few swipes at the dirt.

By the time you find your scraper in a closet that demanded total reorganization, you’ll probably be out of paper towels. That’s O.K., though, because newspaper—for some undocumented reason—does a better job on windows. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll have an ample supply of really old papers to use. And, if you’re like most Americans, you won’t be able to resist reviewing some of what’s in the stack. Half an hour later, after re-reading accounts of oil spills, tsunamis and tornadoes, you’ll naturally be depressed and lethargic. Ten million gallons of black goo floated around Alaska and you can’t even bring yourself to clean a simple window!

At this point, a cup of regular coffee will be just the thing to restart your motor. Do not, however, under any circumstances look closely at your coffee maker while you’re making one! Then you’ll have no choice but to sponge it off, especially up underneath the drip mechanism where it looks like you’ve been brewing with swamp water. Make yourself sit with your cup of coffee and do your best not to stare at that window you still haven’t cleaned. Lower your eyes, if you have to, to that grungy spot of crud clinging to a juice spill next to the refrigerator. Well, you do have the sponge handy…

When at last you’ve finished your first spring cleaning chore, stand back and admire your accomplishment. The curtains look brand new, except for those grey fingerprints you got on them when your hands were covered with newsprint. You’re exhausted, but you’ve got one-sixteenth of a clean floor, a coffee maker that would impress a contortionist, one organized closet shelf, a washer and dryer gleaming where the sun never shines and, voila, one heck of a spotless window. The sunlight will now stream into your kitchen and straight through your livingroom, pooling right on that pile of ashes under the wood stove you told yourself back in February you’d “get to” if it ever got to be spring again.

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