My family never got too into spring cleaning. We did clean the house, of course, and there was always the first window-washing of the season, but we didn’t remove and launder the drapes (we had blinds). I switched out flannel sheets for something airier, but didn’t always get around to rotating the mattress. Sleds would be shuffled to the back corner of the garage, and bicycles moved forward, but the existing closets and dressers were sufficient storage for winter wear throughout the year.
In short, we did not follow Martha Stewart’s guide to spring cleaning—resealing grout lines, shampooing carpets, washing all screens with dish soap and a soft brush, gently beating upholstered cushions by hand in the fresh spring air. These things were done on more of an as-needed basis, and some of them were not-so-needed.
Even today, I mainly get to deep-cleaning projects when there’s something I just can’t take any longer—and when there’s something going on that I never see, like the dust behind the books on my shelf, I have a pretty high tolerance level.
I’m thinking about spring cleaning again right now, though. In part, it’s because after three years of accumulating more than we let go, my husband and I are on the verge of outgrowing our little New York apartment. As my time in seminary draws to a close, however, and we prepare to move on and out in just a couple short months, any motivation I have to try to organize and move as much as possible out of sight quickly fizzles.
At the same time, we’re nearing the end of Lent, which often feels to me like a sort of spiritual spring cleaning. Lenten disciplines often involve forgoing some extraneous thing that may not be bad, but perhaps has become distracting (and, for me at least, Lenten disciplines also generally involve a nice, humbling dose of a failure of willpower). Even the services, especially in the Episcopal churches where I now spend my Sundays, have something of a spare quality—a penitential air and a certain subtlety in the music and the turns of phrase.
And there’s something to be said for a certain clean quality, for a kind of tidying up. I admit, the whole Marie Kondo craze, while sometimes going a bit far for me (I do not thank my clothing for its service when I change out of it at the end of the day), holds a certain appeal in its call to get rid of those things that make you anxious and unhappy. It is a sort of housecleaning version of testing everything and holding to what is good.
I would even go so far as to say that tidying, a good spring cleaning that freshens any staleness that has settled in over a long winter, a commitment to ridding ourselves of what is superfluous and unhelpful and embracing gratitude for the good gifts we have, can be a spiritual practice.
It sounds like a stretch, I know—when I am hauling bags of laundry up and down four flights of stairs and across half a city block, I am not generally thinking about my spiritual growth and closeness to God. I have not yet reached the point where cleaning the toilet feels like an act of prayer, though Brother Lawrence would try to convince me otherwise.
Nevertheless, as winter gives way to spring and Lent gives way to Easter, I feel that need for spring cleaning. I want to throw open the windows—of my apartment and my spirit—and let in all the warmth and air and light.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.