Spring Cleaning

My Grandmother’s 1960s Spring Cleaning Routine Only Takes 3 Days — Here’s What Happened When I Tried It

updated Jun 7, 2021
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When I moved out of an L-shaped pocket of a studio apartment in London’s epicenter to a three-story house that was erected in the 1900s and flanked by rolling farmland as far as the eye could see, the only thing I failed to consider was the cleaning.

After the initial chaotic, transitional months were over, I could finally assess what I was dealing with — and it alarmed me. As if seeing my new home and its period detail for the first time, I observed the tufts of dust nestled in the carved fireplaces, the traditional leaded windows that seemed to be magnets for mold, and water that sinisterly pooled behind the kitchen tap on the beautiful (but impractical) natural wood countertop. The upkeep of these features, as well as maintaining the regular household chores, would take some figuring out. Oh yes, and did I mention there were three floors?

I’m a big fan of the act of cleaning — the catharsis from the monotony of it and the sense of control it provides are both hugely desirable to an anxiety-prone person like me. I also hail from an illustrious group of women on my maternal side who view keeping a tidy home akin to an Olympic sport, all perpetually trying to beat their personal bests. My grandmother — the most decorated athlete — has maintained an annual spring cleaning ritual since the 1960s.

Her method was simple. The clean would take three days in total, absolutely no more or less:

  • During the first day, you make a list of all the things you want to accomplish that extends the remit of your usual routine — for example: streamlining your wardrobe, moving larger pieces of furniture in order to hoover underneath, or cleaning the grout between the bathroom tiles. Compiling your list should then dovetail on day one into some comprehensive dusting (feather preferred) throughout your property.
  • Naturally, day two and three are for checking everything off — is there anything more satisfying than drawing a strikethrough in shocking pink marker pen? 

Truthfully, I only recently realized that my Nanna’s ritual would be a great way to manage the more atypical parts of the house I had been (un)happily ignoring since moving in, either out of laziness or time restrictions. So, last month, as the evenings drew out and the silver birch tree in the garden began its languid weeping, it was apparent that spring had sprung, and it was time to give it a try.

Day One

I make my list on a petite notepad swiped from a hotel in Paris, using what my boyfriend coins his “art pen”: Mop kitchen and bathroom floors, descale the kettle, de-crumb the toaster, wipe down every kitchen cupboard, wash inside all bins, deep clean the fridge, throw away old t-shirts. Right off the bat, I suspect that two days to complete everything might not cut it.

I then do a thorough sweep of the house using my regular, yellow cloth duster (the only one I had on hand). I remove, wipe and put back every “Star Wars” figurine, candle holder, succulent, and coffee table book I can see. I dust the art gallery’s worth of picture frames that line every available wall and all the audio-visual equipment my boyfriend was so painstakingly particular about. I use $1 grocery store glass-cleaning spray on every mirror, cheating a bit by using an ultra absorbent paper towel. By the time I am done, I realize the sun has set.

It’s at this point that I ascertain two things: The mathematical formula that produced the total of three days should be revised according to how much space you have, and also, if you fall in love with a person who owns a lot of stuff, this will need to be factored into the equation, too.

Days Two and Three

Armed with heavy duty mold spray, a popular European brand of limescale remover, and a willingness to purge my closet of any reminder that I was once two dress sizes smaller, I barrel on through my extensive list of tasks.

I snake the shower drain, I sweep out the cutlery holders, I wash every compartment of the fridge. One of my main points of contention is that time was eaten up by actions beyond my control. The previous tenants were surely less conscientious than I, as the limescale that had welded itself to the bathroom sink was clearly in residence long before me and my partner. I had also ambitiously tacked onto the bottom of my list to weed the rustic patio area — which, while not technically “spring cleaning,” was an unruly disaster due to a particularly rain-heavy winter and we wanted to make the most of having access to actual outdoor space for the first time.  

Credit: Lizzie Ford

What I Learned

I’m seriously unsure how I managed to get everything on my list done, but I do know that the cleaning hangover was real. I learned that the cyclic nature of my grandmother’s routine is an excellent mood stabilizer if, like me, you stress out about more labor intensive things you never get around to during the week.

I discovered that the amount of time that worked for her was directly proportionate to the size of her home, and an additional day would have made things easier for me. Equally, more days would have provided me — a person brand new to the property — more of an opportunity to finesse which products and techniques worked most efficiently. I did manage to figure out that the nozzle on my vacuum shaped like a small brush works best on our headboards and sofa cushions but, annoyingly, cheap glass cleaner doesn’t work on traditional leaded windows.

And finally, I realized that in order to enjoy my home, I would need to relinquish the need for the consistent, clean perfection I easily achieved when I lived alone in a modern and sparsely furnished shoebox apartment. The spring cleaning ritual was a brand new way of caring for my brand new environment, I just needed to make it my own.