My obsession with spring cleaning started with the “Little House” books. I relished Laura Ingalls Wilder’s descriptions of housework: Without making it sound easy, she also manages to make it sound incredibly satisfying. Her writing made me think that whitewashing a cellar and scrubbing the floors within an inch of their life must be the most enjoyable activity in the world.
What I loved most about her descriptions was the way they connected cleanliness with bounty: The Ingalls family used their shining tin pails to store fresh milk, and wrapped their produce in clean cheesecloths. Sunlight streamed through spotless windows and fresh linens were aired out in the breeze. Their unflagging devotion to cleanliness wasn’t really about germ-killing as much as it was not squandering a bit of light and air — limited and coveted resources in a small wooden cabin.
The same is true of a New York apartment. I never knew sunlight could be considered an amenity until I moved to Manhattan. In my railroad apartment, my bedroom looks onto the street, my kitchen window is mostly obscured by the building opposite, and my living room window opens onto an air shaft.
Without the luxury of bright sunlight to distract from and cheer up a messy room, everything has to be in just the right place. And since my first deep clean when I moved into this apartment, I’ve tried to keep it neat. I’m even a bit of a clean freak: I have a favorite tile cleanser, I save old toothbrushes for scouring grout, and I’m a devoted fan of the Marie Kondo method. But I’m also only human, which means that by now, six months since move-in, life has gotten in the way of my well-laid plans.
And this is where the magic of spring cleaning comes in: It allows me to completely reimagine my environment and start anew. When done wholeheartedly, spring cleaning can go beyond the functional to become an aspirational act of intention. When I start my spring cleaning, I’m envisioning a brighter, neater existence: a world in which I have my life together and everything is where it should be.
While it’s easy to think of spring cleaning as a tiresome chore, I see it as an exciting opportunity to let my imagination take over. I think about the homes I’ve most loved over the years, and the amenities I want to have in mine. Maybe when I finish spring cleaning, I’ll be the type of person with a fridge that’s always fully stocked with ice-cold drinks, ready to offer any friend who comes over. I could even be the type of person who brings home fresh-cut flowers from the farmer’s market and makes salmon bowls for lunch. My home could have a place for everything, with inviting and relaxing energy.
That’s the future I envision when I set out for spring cleaning. It’s not just about bleaching and vacuuming; it’s about imagining the life I want to live, and taking at least the first steps to making it happen. So when I roll up my sleeves and pick up my assortment of sprays and sponges this year, I won’t just be planning how to scrub the floors or scour the tile. I’ll be mentally emptying the rooms and filling them back up again, imagining my dream life in a summer-filled apartment where light and air can stream freely in.