Spring Cleaning

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single green leaf on tree

Spring: where the sun is high in the sky – and shining straight into our rooms….. And all we can see is the dust, grime, wear and tear and we know that something has to be done.  

Traditionally, this is the time of year for a ‘big clean’ –  or,  ‘redding up’, as we like to say in Northern Ireland. 

After the darkness of winter it’s time to renew our relationship with our home. Time to take back control – as it were.

In spring we see our homes differently. We see tired furnishings, saggy cushions, limp curtains, scuff marks, scratches and stains… lots of them. Red wine? Tea? Baked beans? Cough mixture?  These are the deeper, ingrained residues of living beyond the superficial and regularly removed evidence of cat hairs, crumbs and  spills.

Spring, after winter, brings much discontent. In the darkness, gloom and artificial lighting we can live with surface wear and tear – because we don’t see it.  But in spring, we see it all too well and it prompts a deep-rooted, primal need to eradicate, re-place and clean.

Cleaning is not what it used to be. Mrs Hinch  – who has a massive following on Instagram  – has clearly tapped into a market of like-minded people, all of whom are keen to maintain a shiny, clean home. It 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.

When is clean, too clean?   An unhealthy obsession  with hygiene, anti-bacteria and wipes  for every single surface is a very modern problem. For medical reasons some households may require a deep clean and extreme caution in using stringent cleaning fluids. But alarming rates of asthma and bronchial problems appear to be linked to the rise in cleaner homes and central heating – and our lack of exposure to, and subsequent lack of immunity, to germs. Living life in a sanitised bubble with little or no contact with everyday bacteria is harmful. There are worse things in life than a little bit of dust.

From the hoarder, to the minimalist we each have our own level of what we judge to be acceptable  – that is, clean enough – until it is not. And then we are forced to do something about it.

Which is why, one of the things we love most about a hotel, is stepping into a fresh, clean, luxurious room, that is not our home. That is: no black mould in the grout, empty waste bins, freshly ironed sheets; a dust-free, sweet smelling, stain-free experience.  And the fact we don’t have to do any of the work to make this happen, is even better.

But most of us don’t live in a hotel – or in anything like it. A beautiful room takes quite a bit of work  and attention. Every day. Unless you have staff, the self-cleaning room is still something for the future… unless you are in Copenhagenwhere it has just been introduced.

The good news is: spring cleaning gives us a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with our homespace. It helps us to look and see and reassess what we do have and  stimulates creative ideas about what we could have, and what we want.  We think: perhaps it is time for something different. Time for a change?  Something new?

Spring cleaning is a hugely important ritual.

And that’s when the redding up takes you to emptying out stuffed drawers, bulging wardrobes and those areas where stuff just seems to accumulate.

In Design For the Real World, Victor Papanek claims 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 ( think) you no longer need/want, and  tidying up the stuff that you ( think) you can’t do without – or might be useful some day. As a process, it involves decision-making, organisation and problem-solving. And, it engages you to reflect, evaluate and take action. It completely focuses your mind and activity to that space and place.

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

There is the natural wear and tear that comes from inhabiting a space. But a space that is not lived in, or for whatever reason not maintained, will eventually decay and become unliveable. 

In The Poetics of Spacethe 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 it – thus creating a new object. The intimacy of this action, produces a ‘ new reality of being’  by ‘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 make you very depressed ( a stack of ironing, unwashed dishes, unmade beds). Whereas spring cleaning – which is much harder work – can bring immense satisfaction. You are taking it on, and fighting mess, the disorder and the grime until you beat it 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 and knowing that every nook and cranny is clean. So, if your mother came to visit, you would not be embarassed. You would be ready and you would be proud. And that’s a good feeling. 

Imposing order and restoring cleanliness, creates a human connection to space. You make it your own and you make it the way you want it to be. The new you. And so, for a few days in spring, at least, it is the home you wished you lived in every day. A home that is tidy, clean, sparkling, shiny and neat, where everything is in place, and ready to be ‘lived in’ once again.

Bachelard, Gaston ( 1969).  The Poetics of Space. Boston, Beacon Press. Papanek, Victor (1974).  Design For The Real World. London, Thames and Hudson. 

Follow Nuala Rooney:

Nuala Rooney PhD, is a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing new approaches to design innovation and spatial research through storytelling. With unique skillsets, developed as a design educator in Higher Education institutions in UK and Hong Kong, her interest lies in exploring 'home' as a human centred space.

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