I’ve never really felt the compulsion to do “spring cleaning,” unless spring happened to coincide with an upcoming move or the arrival of a new baby. I understand the point of it: You’ve been cooped up in the house all winter, and once warmer weather arrives you direct a burst of energy at the house in which you’ve been imprisoned. Time to open the windows, shake the rugs, clear the cobwebs!
Because I live in a climate that’s subject to dramatic temperature swings, from sub-zero winters to 90-degree summers, there are certain seasonal tasks to be done; spring is when I put up the screen doors, remove the plastic insulation from my daughters’ bedroom windows, set up outdoor furniture and planters, and do a final sweep around the now-cold wood stove. But these are chores, and I do them without enthusiasm while steeling myself for the approaching summer “vacation,” knowing I’ll spend the next three months refereeing sibling squabbles, shuttling four girls to various activities, and applying sunscreen to squirmy little limbs.
So I’m not inspired by spring cleaning. But this year, I had a burst of home-focused energy that began in September, a couple weeks after the start of school, and is still going strong. I think of it as “fall cleaning.”
I should probably clarify, right here and now, that my version of fall cleaning has very little to do with what the average person defines as “cleaning.” I’m not talking about the type of cleaning one does with sponges and rags and chemicals. I’m talking about making one’s living space more beautiful and comfortable.
Fall cleaning makes a lot more sense to me than spring cleaning. In spring cleaning, you’re essentially beautifying a space in which you won’t spend much time for the next several months. Sure, detritus has built up over the winter and everything needs a good airing-out, but chances are that you’ll be out in the yard or at the pool, lake, or beach more than you’ll be indoors, so who really cares?
Fall cleaning is preparing the space in which you will be shut up for the next several months. Who wouldn’t want to make their cell a little more comfortable?
So I’ve been giving our house a critical eye, and applying my energy to making it a place where I’ll enjoy spending most of my time over the winter months, often in the company of four small children.
Here’s what my fall cleaning does not involve:
1. Lots of money.
2. Major projects.
The primary reason I’ve ruled out both of the above is the reality of life with four small children. Why spend large amounts of money and time making significant improvements to our house, when our daughters will undo them in seconds with the swipe of a marker, a sudden spill, or a misdirected ball?
Instead, here is what my fall cleaning has involved:
1. Small touches to make the house more bright and fun. Winter is dark. Our house is in the woods, and gets very little light. Most of the interior walls, ceilings, and floors are exposed wood in the “post-and-beam” style. It’s suddenly occurred to me that there are very small things I can do to brighten our house. This winter, I’m painting two large pieces of wooden furniture, which will lighten them and the rooms in which they reside. I’m going to work with my daughters to create brighter, more colorful artwork to hang on the walls. I replaced the dingy old white duvet cover on our bed with one in a bright pattern. And I finally got some new light slipcovers for an ancient couch and chair that have been spilling their upholstered intestines for over a year. (Slipcovers, I figure, can be light, because I can always wash them.)
2. GETTING RID OF STUFF! More than all the small decorating touches combined, the major reason why our house feels dark and cluttered is because it’s got too much STUFF in it. Again, the kids are a major factor here: all of their toys, their artwork from school, their books, their “craft projects,” and the little pieces of junk they pick up at birthday parties and doctors’ offices and arcades…it piles up. Back when I had only one child, I heard parenting advice that went like this: Your house is not the kids’ house — it is YOUR house. Your children are guests in YOUR HOUSE. Their stuff must stay within a small, designated area rather than taking over YOUR HOUSE. It seemed so reasonable at the time; now, I say, “Yeah, right!” Houses are set up to serve their inhabitants; there are now twice as many children as adults in our house, so whose house is it, really?
Without giving up my parental authority (i.e., I still nag them about cleaning), I’ve given up on trying to make our house look like only grown-ups live here. There are signs of our daughters everywhere, as there should be at this stage. But I have not given up on waging war against stuff; this fall, I’ve been merciless. If anything is broken, it’s out. If it hasn’t been played with in over a year, it’s donated. If it’s small, plastic, and not a Lego, its days are numbered. And, finally, now that we’ve had our last child (I hope), I’m donating clothing the second our youngest outgrows it.
I love, love, love getting rid of stuff!
This burst of domestic energy is not like me. (Did I mention I’m also sewing dresses for my three oldest daughters???) I’m assuming it won’t last; I’ll spend some months brightening and painting and throwing things away, and then revert to my lazy habit of writing a blog instead of paying attention to my house. I can’t account for this change, other than to say that it’s fall cleaning, or maybe the fermenting leaves in our well water.
I rarely promote things on this blog, but The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith has been a major inspiration to me as I’ve been fall cleaning. It’s an easy read with lots of pictures, and it’s basically a decorating book for domestic imperfectionists. Highly recommend.