The Tradition of Spring Cleaning
A deeper look into the concept of spring cleaning through cultural, religious, historical and psychological lenses.
Written by Halle Elder
The snow has begun to melt away, the trees are regaining their green hues, and the flowers are blooming. The world around us becomes full of life as the days grow longer and we see more and more of the sun’s rays. These are all signs that spring has finally arrived. After a long winter full of cold temperatures, chilling winds and heavy snowfalls, many of us are ready to embrace Spring with open arms. As springtime approaches us here in Northeast Ohio, the common concept of spring cleaning begins to be heard time and time again. It is such a common practice in our society today that many of us don’t question its reasoning or origins. However, there is actually an abundance of history, culture, religion, and psychology involved in this simple idea of cleaning when spring arrives.
Cleaning is not a practice particular to spring (if this is the case, I would strongly suggest realigning your practices). However, spring cleaning in particular is an idea that just about everyone I know either knows about, or actively takes part in. The origins of this term stem mostly from a time where cleaning in the spring was necessary for practical reasons. In the early 1800s, people would deep clean their homes once winter let up to rid their living spaces of the soot that came from the heating sources used during that time period. Kerosene lamps, coal or wood fireplaces, and various other heat sources — before gas and electrical heating were utilized — created a lot of soot and grime that would coat surfaces in old homes. These families would scrub and wash their homes as soon as the heating was no longer needed. This practice is by far the most pressing reason behind the lasting practice of spring cleaning. It was passed down through generations, as it was a yearly practice that the entire family would partake in. While this practice is not as necessary as it was in the past, the idea of cleaning your household after the winter months is still a healthy practice; by removing the dust that accumulated throughout winter, you'll improve the air quality in your home.
The Cultural and Religious Implications:
Another reason behind the widespread participation of spring cleaning is the cultural and religious connections to springtime and renewal. In Jewish tradition, prior to Passover, which occurs in either March or April, it is common to partake in a general cleaning of the home to remove any trace of yeast from the area. Similarly, the Christian faith often indicates a cleaning of the home in preparation for Lent. Iranian culture has a connection to spring cleaning as well, as the Persian New Year occurs on the first day of spring. During this time, it is tradition to thoroughly clean one’s home in a practice termed khooneh takouni, which can be translated to “shaking of the house.” Another practice is rooted in Chinese culture, as Chinese people clean their homes on the day before their Spring Festival, with the goal of ridding their spaces of bad luck in order to allow more space for good fortune to come into their lives. These cultural practices come from all over the world, and yet they all fit the mold of spring cleaning, which goes to show that this practice is widespread.
The Psychological and Biological Basis:
Despite the deep history surrounding spring cleaning, not everyone who participates in this practice does so for the reasons previously discussed. The old historical reasoning is long past necessary, and there are many who are not members of cultural and religious groups with similar practices. However, there are some psychological connections between spring and a desire to clean. “Out with the old, in with the new”: This well-known quote is a great representation of the general idea surrounding spring cleaning. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal: the earth is coming alive again and the nicer weather comes with a feeling of refreshment. Many feel heightened levels of motivation that take hold in the spring, which makes cleaning easier, and cleaning, in turn, creates even more motivation. There is actual biological reasoning to the renewed feeling that arrives with spring. During the winter months, the cold weather and lack of sunlight make our bodies produce higher levels of melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy and unproductive. When spring arrives with more sun and longer days, the production of melatonin slows and gives us a burst of energy. This burst of energy can manifest as spring cleaning, which represents the desire to leave winter in the past and move into the new season with a fresh start and clean home.
Spring cleaning is by no means a fruitless effort. There are endless benefits to this tradition. The action of cleaning itself gets us up and moving after the rest period that is often taken during the winter months. It motivates us to get our bodies moving which can be a catalyst for an increase in activity for the warmer months. Cleaning also often means a healthy living environment with heightened air quality and a more welcoming space. All of these are great benefits of spring cleaning, but one of the most significant benefits is the action of decluttering. Decluttering is often one in the same as the tradition of spring cleaning in the modern notion. Physical clutter often has a direct connection to mental clutter; when we remove the physical clutter from our environment, mental health often is improved significantly. A clean, clutter-free environment leads to increased rates of productivity, better mood and self-esteem and a clearer mind.
Spring cleaning has a deep and involved history and reaps many benefits. With that being said, I am now ready to begin my own spring cleaning and embrace the new beginnings of spring, and I hope you are too!