Spring into Action

8th March 2019

The annual spring clean is a concept embedded deep in the British psyche – it’s the time when we get everything in order at home, from cleaning our windows to editing our wardrobes. Lisa Botwright looks at the origins of this tradition and asks why it continues to be so popular…

When a japanese tidying consultant set up her own business at the age of 19, little did she know that her name would become so synonymous with decluttering that it would become a verb – as in, ‘I’m going to stay in and mariekondo my home this weekend’ or I mariekondo-ed my kitchen, and I feel amazing’.

Because the simple act of tidying or sprucing up your home does feel amazing. It makes you feel in control – like an Organised Person who’s winning at life. It may be dismal and raining outside, you may be fed up with your job or worried about your tax bill, but creating order in one area of your life makes you feel better about all the others. ‘Outer order contributes to inner calm,’ believes Debora Robertson, author of Declutter: The Get Real Guide to Creating Calm from Chaos; ‘Decluttering helps to prevent you feeling overwhelmed and allows you to be freer.’

The process in itself can be incredibly rewarding. According to the Japanese guru Marie Kondo herself (who has a uniquely spiritual way of connecting with possessions – when recycling an item of clothing, for example, she urges us to thank it for teaching us about what we like to wear) ‘assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.’

Spring cleaning, of course, isn’t just about decluttering, it’s about polishing, dusting, washing: it’s about celebrating getting through the winter and making everything sparkle with the promise of lighter evenings and warmer weather. It means the ‘fresh air’ smell of towels and bed sheets that have been hung on the washing line, rather than tumbled in the eco-unfriendly electric dryer or draped roughly over radiators.

It’s tempting to imagine our ancient ancestors getting excited about the first hint of spring; fashioning brooms from branches and throwing out bones and rubbish from their caves – ie. something that dates back to time immemorial – but according to historians, the origin of spring cleaning is said to be related to the Iranian Nowruz, the Persian New Year, which falls on the first day of spring. Iranians continue the practice of khooneh tekouni (‘shaking the house’) at this time. Another possibility is that it comes from the Jewish practice of thoroughly cleaning the home in anticipation of the springtime festival of Passover.

But it’s common-sense to assume, religious festivals aside, that people living in colder climates throughout history would have relished the seasonal opportunity to air their homes, tidy up and shake out stale fireplaces…

Even if they didn’t have a decluttering expert on hand to tell them how to do it!

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