single green leaf on tree

In spring we see our homes differently.

After the darkness of winter it is a time to renew our relationship with our home.

Suddenly, we see tired furnishings, saggy cushions, limp curtains, scuff marks, scratches and stains… lots of them.

Red wine? Juice? Baked beans? Cough mixture? 

These are the deeper, residual aspects of everyday life – and living. They are a feature of our home. We live alongside children, cats/dogs, crumbs, dust and  spills.

In the darkness, gloom and artificial lighting of winter we live with surface wear and tear – because we don’t see it.  

But in spring, we see it all too well.

This prompts a deep-rooted, primal urge to eradicate, re-place and clean.

It’s time for a spring-clean.

With a massive following on Instagram Mrs Hinch has tapped into a market of like-minded people. All these people keen to maintain and present a shiny, clean home.

This is cleaning as therapy.

Cleaning that shows you take pride in yourself. Cleaning as a system of organisation and order. 

A clean home is a happy home.

But when is ‘clean’, too clean?  

An unhealthy obsession  with hygiene with anti-bacterial wipes  for every surface is a very modern problem.

For medical reasons some households may require a deep clean and caution in using stringent cleaning fluids. But evidence suggests the alarming rates of asthma and bronchial problems appear to be linked to the rise in homes that are ‘too clean’.

Living life in a sanitised bubble with little or no contact with everyday bacteria can be harmful. We actually need exposure to germs in order to build up our immunity.

From the hoarder, to the minimalist, we each have our own level of comfort of cleanliness. A ‘standard’ we judge to be acceptable.  

Our homes can be: clean… clean enough.. a bit messy…a complete mess!

One of the things we love about staying in a hotel is stepping into a fresh, clean, luxurious room.

This is a room with empty waste bins, freshly ironed sheets. It is dust-free, sweet smelling and a stain-free experience.  

It makes us feel good.

Spring cleaning is an almost primitive, ritual.

It is deeply wired into our psyche, our culture and seasonal way of life

In Design For the Real World, Victor Papanek asserts that clearing out a drawer is an act of design.

Design is:

the planning and patterning of any act towards a desired, foreseeable end’ and ‘the ‘conscious effort to impose meaningful order’.

Ultimately, it is about chucking out things you no longer need/want.

It is about  decluttering and imposing order on chaos.

This is a process that involves decision-making, organisation and problem-solving. It engages you to reflect, evaluate and take action. In doing so, it focuses your mind and actions in that space and place.

Inhabiting a space creates natural wear and tear.

The act of cleaning takes you closer to the surfaces in your home; to the thinning threads, faded colours, damp patches, chipped finishes and embedded grime. 

A space that is not lived in, or for whatever reason is  not maintained, will eventually decay and become unliveable.

In The Poetics of Space the philosopher, Gaston Bachelard muses on housework as a creative activity.

He describes the joy of the ‘poet’ who, through the action of rubbing wax on a cloth,  brings life into a piece of furniture.

The intimacy of this action, produces a ‘new reality of being’  in ‘attaining a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects’.

He identifies the “the housewife” as someone who “awakens furniture that was asleep.”

Romantic notions aside, the repetitive drudgery of housework can be depressing (a stack of ironing, unwashed dishes, unmade beds). Spring cleaning, however, can bring immense satisfaction.

You are taking on, and fighting the mess.

The disorder and the grime will be beaten into submission.

And you will win. 

And when it is all done you recognise the glowing sense of happiness that comes from creating that order. You know that every nook and cranny is clean. It a good feeling –  a rush of dopamine.

Imposing order and restoring cleanliness creates a strong and important human connection to space.

You make it your own, the way you want it to be.

It is a home that is tidy, clean, sparkling, shiny and neat.

With everything in place is a home fit to be ‘lived in’.

For a few days in spring, this is the home you wished you lived in every day.

Bachelard, Gaston ( 1969).  The Poetics of Space. Boston, Beacon Press.

Papanek, Victor (1974).  Design For The Real World. London, Thames and Hudson. 

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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