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. 

In spring we see our homes differently. After the darkness of winter, it’s time to renew our relationship with our home.

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 aspect of living – alongside the regular evidence of cat hairs, crumbs and  spills.

In the darkness, gloom and artificial lighting of winter we can 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 need to eradicate, re-place and clean.

Cleaning is not what it used to be.  With a massive following on Instagram Mrs Hinch has tapped into a market of like-minded people, all of whom are keen to maintain 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, anti-bacterial wipes  for every single surface, is a very modern problem. For medical reasons some households may require a deep clean and 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. It can be attributed to 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 also 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 comfort that we judge to be acceptable.  On a sliding scale, our homes can be: clean… clean enough.. a bit messy…a complete mess!

One of the things we all love about staying in a hotel is stepping into a fresh, clean, luxurious room. This is a room that has no black mould in the grout, it has empty waste bins, freshly ironed sheets. It is a dust-free, sweet smelling, stain-free experience.  

The fact we don’t have to do any of the work to make this happen – is a treat. It makes us feel good.

Spring cleaning is a hugely important, almost primitive, ritual.

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 ( think) you no longer need/want. It is about  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 takes you closer to the surfaces in your home; to see and touch the thinning threads, faded colours, damp patches, chipped finishes and embedded grime. 

Inhabiting a space creates natural wear and tear.

A space that is not lived in, or for whatever reason 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 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 be depressing ( a stack of ironing, unwashed dishes, unmade beds). Whereas spring cleaning can bring immense satisfaction. You are taking it on, and fighting 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, knowing that every nook and cranny is clean. And that’s 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 because you make it the way you want it to be. This is the new you.

And so, for a few days in spring, at least, this 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 – ready to be ‘lived in’.

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 across the social/spatial sphere.

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