A Quick History of the Annual Chore-Fest We’ve Come to Know as Spring Cleaning

published Apr 19, 2016
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Spring is here! All over the Northern Hemisphere there are telltale signs that spring has sprung: Trees are showing their first green of the year; flowers are appearing in our neighborhood gardens, rooftops, and window sills; and across the lands if you listen carefully you can hear the whirring of vacuum cleaners and the beating of dust from a thousand hallway runners. Yes, for many of us with the season of new life comes the annual chore-fest we’ve come to know as Spring Cleaning. But why do we feel the urge to do it? Here’s a quick glance through time and space to better understand one of the world’s most productive rituals.

A vast historical and cultural history

Cultures all over the world have been practicing a form of spring cleaning in one way or another for centuries, perhaps even longer. The most cited religious tradition that could be linked to a spring cleaning is from the Jewish Passover holiday occurring in March or April. Just prior to the commencement of Passover there is a search for leaven and all chametz is removed from the house. This ritual search often expands to include a more general thorough cleaning of the house as well.

Traditionally the Catholic church cleans the church altar on the Thursday before Good Friday and the Orthodox Greek religion has a traditional house cleaning period, called “Clean Week” during Great Lent.

“New Year, New You” is global

Iran still continues the Persian New Year practice of “shaking the house” on the first day of Spring. Slightly earlier in the year the Chinese often prepare for their New Year by doing a traditional clean of their homes. If you have any Scottish heritage you may be familiar with the Hogmanay tradition of a new year cleaning on 1st January , and while mid-winter might not seem like the best time to open the doors and start giving the home a good dusting the Scots have never let a little bad weather get in the way of anything. This New Year cleaning tradition can now be found further afield as well, reaching to the Southern Hemisphere, especially in countries like Australia and New Zealand where there are ties to Scottish ancestry.

Chemistry and biology

During the cold of winter humans produce more melatonin which, while not a bad thing, can lead us to feel less motivated and generally lazier. During this time you might find you’re much more interested in pulling up a cozy blanket and binge-watching Netflix than being very industrious. But when the days get longer and warmer our bodies react accordingly and the energy we’ve been missing all winter returns leading large numbers of us to start doing things like washing the curtains and digging out the steam cleaner from the attic.

“Weather” we like it or not

Regardless of how one might feel about tackling some of the odd jobs around the house spring is usually the time of year we start to notice areas of our homes that need some care and attention. The longer daylight hours highlight how mucky the windows have become and the harsh winter has turned pristine coats of paint into flecks of dilapidated grime. The spring offers us a time between seasons when we can treat our homes to a thorough once-over before summer arrives and it will be on show again for all those dinner parties, play dates, or House Tours you’re planning in the coming months.

Whatever our reasons for rolling up the sleeves and attacking sections of our homes with renewed vigor the annual spring clean feels distinctly different from the chores we carry out through the rest of the year – it can often feel a cathartic action rather than grim drudgery.