It’s spring, and for some reason the entire country gets obsessed with cleaning out the whole house, from the closets and file cabinets to the shelves in the garage.
“This is when it starts, when the sun starts to come out and people are getting a grip on their holiday spending,” says Gea Bassett, founder of Green Cleaning Seattle. “As the real-estate market tends to come back alive in the spring, we get turnover cleanings and move-in/move-out cleanings. The end of March through all of summer tends to be the busiest time.”
Spring cleaning is upon us, and apparently we are all doing it wrong. I asked Bassett and a couple of personal organizers and professional house cleaners for the do’s and don’ts of the Big Clean.
DON’T: Try to do it all at once
“The biggest mistake is to try and do it all in one weekend and try and do too much,” says Jessica Higbee, who oversees the training for new workers at April Lane’s Cleaning.
“When people call me to go into their house, they say, ‘I need to organize the whole house,’ ” says Cindy Jobs, the president of the National Association of Personal Organizers and the owner of Organize to Simplify. “We are not going to organize the house in the next four hours.” Instead, “Prioritize based on what bothers you the most.”
DO: Take on one area or task at a time
Whether you are cleaning or organizing, pick a small area and focus on that alone. Choose the closet, or the kitchen, or the bathroom, do not move, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
“You should just organize two or three hours at a time. Do what is obtainable,” says Denise Allan, a certified professional organizer and the owner of Simplify Experts. “I’m going to hit my lower cabinets on this side of the kitchen today. Next time I come in, I’ll do the lower trunk and four drawers.”
Higbee agrees and even uses this tactic for her own life: “This weekend all I did was clean every trash can and every sink that had a trash can.”
And, she adds: “I pick one project a weekend. And it’s only a couple of hours. Whatever I think will take an hour, it’s really two.”
So, stay laser focused. It will make it easier to follow the next step.
DON’T: Spring clean
“Every seven years a standard American family can fill a large dumpster in their yard,” Allan says. “We just bring so much in.” If you have children, that means even more stuff, especially as younger kids grow so quickly, shedding their clothes and outgrowing their toys. She advises to clean or organize a couple of times a year. Better still, do it throughout the year.
DO: Finish what you started
This goes hand-in-hand with “don’t try to do it all at once,” Allan says. “Not going through stuff all the way, and getting started and stopping” is one of the biggest mistakes people make.
There’s a practical method to the madness, she says. “For your kitchen to function well, you have to have gone through all the drawers and know where things are.”
DON’T: Clean whenever you feel like it
“They never set a time for themselves,” Jobs says. “They don’t actually put it in their calendar. They say, ‘Yeah I’ll do it maybe next weekend.’ ”
She adds: “The first thing I tell them is, ‘Put it in your calendar.’ Once you make your appointment, even with yourself, you tend to adhere to it.”
You heard the nice lady: Make an appointment for cleaning.
DON’T: Overlook the small things
Cleaning easy-to-miss items can make a big difference.
“The big things are probably baseboards and spot cleaning on the walls that really make a house look and feel a lot cleaner but we all tend to overlook,” Bassett says. “On our checklist: We wash baseboards and the wall, light switches, anywhere someone would put their hands or a dog or boot would scuff up.”
Yeah, it’s tedious, but that’s the difference between truly deep cleaning and straightening up.
DO: Clean from top to bottom
Don’t start with the toilet and the tub and then do the sink, or you’ll end up going over the same areas twice, Bassett says.
“The most obvious is a simple thing: Go from top to bottom, knocking down dirt clouds from counters. Start with wiping off the top of windowsills and door frames. Work your way down, spot clean all upper cabinets, move down a layer, wipe all appliances, pull them out. Wipe all counters off. Always work from the top down,” she says.
“Floors are the last thing we do. We go through the whole house and vacuum, and then we go through the whole house and mop.”
DO: Ask for help
When the task seems too large, call upon friends, family or — if it’s really overwhelming — a professional.
“If you have someone to talk to while you are doing it, it makes it more fun,” Jobs says. “Especially with cleaning. If you live with anybody, you didn’t make the entire mess yourself, so there’s no reason to do it all yourself. It’ll make you cranky.”
And no one wants to be cranky, even if it means a clean house.