It’s spring! You know what that means: spring cleaning.
It’s time to sweep dusty nooks and crannies, scrub neglected floors and surfaces, and purge the clutter. If you’re like me, you might wonder how this tradition started and why it feels right to do it each spring.
Keep reading to learn about the history of this tradition. Also, discover some of the psychological benefits that make it worth doing year after year.
People have been practicing spring cleaning for thousands of years. The history of spring cleaning traces back to spiritual traditions from around the world and may be explained in part by human biology. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs, we can all profit from the psychological benefits of this age-old practice.
In Judeo-Christian traditions, spring cleaning dates back to the liberation of Israelites from Egypt, now celebrated as the holiday of Passover. To prepare for Passover, the Torah commands not a crumb of leaven (yeast used to make bread rise) in the house. As a result, one would thoroughly clean the entire home (1).
Spring cleaning also plays a major role in ancient Buddhist purification rituals. For example, during Thailand’s Songkran Festival held in April, Thai people pour water over each other to wash away bad thoughts and behaviors. They also deeply clean their homes and temples to purify these spaces (2).
In Persian culture, spring cleaning traces back 3,000 years ago to a spring tradition called khaneh tekani. This translates to “shaking the house.” It was believed that sweeping up dust and removing clutter from one’s home would prevent ill-fortune in the upcoming year (3).
Within the yogic tradition, spring cleaning embodies a Niyama, or ethical observance, called saucha. Saucha means purity in thought, word, environment, body, and deed. It relates to keeping boundaries which includes ensuring a clean, non-distracting environment to live, work, and practice (4).
Spring cleaning may also have something to do with our neurochemistry. During the shorter and darker days of winter, our bodies produce more melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. As we move toward spring and the days begin to lengthen, we produce less of this hormone and receive a boost of energy from the sun. We often put this energy toward chores such as cleaning (5).
Also, as we emerge from winter hibernation, our natural instinct is to open doors and windows, interact with others, and spend time outside soaking up the sunshine deprived from our bodies over the past 3 to 5 months (6). When we organize and deep clean our homes, we can focus our attention on enjoying the sunny days ahead.
There are many psychological benefits to spring cleaning that make it worthwhile. Psychologists agree that spring cleaning results in improved mood, reduced stress, and increased creativity (7).
One of the top five stressors for Americans is home cleanliness. Clutter causes stress by overwhelming our senses and reminding us of undone chores and to-do lists (8). By cleaning physical spaces, we can also organize our mental space in a way that produces positive and clear thinking. For this reason, spring cleaning increases mood, productivity, and creativity.
This tradition also allows us to declutter which can save us time and money and help reduce the mental strain of busy schedules and finances. When we organize our homes, we don’t waste time looking for our keys, phones, and bills underneath piles of paperwork. We also prevent future, unnecessary purchases by taking inventory of the items we own. When we find old or unused items, donating them can increase generosity and self-esteem as well.
Another psychological benefit of spring cleaning is the feeling of the “fresh start effect” (9). After being inside all winter, spring cleaning allows us to get moving and start anew. Even small tasks such as reorganizing the spice cabinet give us the momentum to take control of other aspects of our lives, such as health, finances, or relationships.
Lastly, spring cleaning is an opportunity to let go of emotional attachments to possessions (10). By getting rid of items that don’t serve us, yet continue to take up physical and mental space, we free our minds to focus on the immaterial pleasures that make us feel truly joyful.
- The Surprising History Behind Spring Cleaning, https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/the-surprising-history-behind-spring-cleaning-53303
- Songkran , https://www.thaiworldview.com/feast/songkran2.htm
- ‘Shaking the house’ on Persian New Year, https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/opinion/blogs/shaking-the-house-on-persian-new-year/article_f302fd2a-3c08-5fa1-baf3-0e84cb4aebe9.html
- Saucha-Niyama, https://artoflivingretreatcenter.org/blog/saucha-niyama-5-age-old-ways-to-deep-detox-your-body-and-mind-every-day/
- Neurochemistry of Spring Cleaning, https://www.windowgenie.com/blog/the-history-of-spring-cleaning.html
- Why we Spring Cleaning, https://www.sparefoot.com/self-storage/blog/14187-a-brief-history-of-spring-cleaning/
- The Psychology Behind Spring Cleaning, https://www.dignityhealth.org/articles/the-psychology-behind-spring-cleaning
- The Psychology of Spring Cleaning, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-you/201504/the-psychology-spring-cleaning
- How Psychology Explains the Itch for Spring Cleaning, https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/how-psychology-explains-itch-spring-cleaning
- Psychological Benefits Of Spring Cleaning & How To Make It Fun!, https://growingupbilingual.com/psychological-benefits-of-spring-cleaning-how-to-make-it-fun/