Ask any householder if they’ve heard the term “spring cleaning,” and the chances are they’ll reply in the affirmative. But ask the same householder where the term comes from, and you’re likely to be thrown a quizzical look.
Spring cleaning is something many of us do once a year. It’s a time for new beginnings, and for preparing a home for the rest of the year. But where did this term originate? And why is spring the season for deep cleaning and major decluttering?
As it turns out, the history of spring cleaning is probably a lot more interesting than people might think.
The term dates back to the 19th century
If you’re looking for the origin of the spring cleaning phenomen, you’d have to take a trip across the Pond to the USA. The Washington Post revealed that the yearly big clean took place in spring as a result of the effects a Victorian winter had on homes at the time. Everything in the average house was covered in a layer of soot and grime by the end of winter — the result of endlessly burning fires and the lamps of the time.
This was an age where central heating wasn’t even a concept, and when only the richest homes in the world had electricity. The lighting was typically powered by kerosene, which was lit with coal or wood. The soot would accumulate quickly as a result, and by the end of February it would be on the verge of causing major health implications.
In order to clean this soot and grime, householders of the day would have to disrupt the entire home and open all the windows. The amount of soot and dust dispersed into the air was potentially dangerous, so thorough ventilation was essential. Of course, the windows in the northern states of America could only be opened when the temperatures started to rise… in the spring.
The religious influences on spring cleaning
In Jewish societies, the process of spring cleaning is directly linked to Passover in March and April. This celebration marks the liberation of Jewish slaves in Egypt. At the beginning of the period, Jewish householders cleanse their home of chametz (yeast bread). This was the unleavened bread fed to the slaves, and has endured as a symbol of religious persecution ever since. The idea is that to have any bread containing yeast in the home demonstrates a lack of gratitude.
Christians have a tradition of cleaning their Church altar on the day before Good Friday. And followers of the Greek Orthodox Church have a tradition of cleaning homes for the entire week before Lent. Muslims in Iran observe the religious holiday of Nowruz, which is also recognised as the beginning of spring. This two-week celebration involves worshippers cleaning their homes, purchasing new clothes and being with family. The Iranians refer to the process of cleaning as “shaking the house.”
Spring is the perfect time of year for cleaning
It’s not surprising that so many cultures and countries around the world give cleaning prominence during the spring. This is a time of climatic change, new beginnings and hope — and what better way to mark the occasion than by giving your home a new start.
But there could be biological reasons why we love to clean our homes thoroughly during the spring. There’s evidence to suggest that longer, warmer days improve our mood, and give us the drive and motivation to clean. Also, the sleep hormone melatonin is released in our brains during hours of darkness. When it’s dark for long periods during winter, we’re tired for longer as a result — so we often don’t have the energy for big cleaning tasks.
Spring cleaning is a universal phenomenon that transcends social structures, nation states and ancient cultures. It’s a natural instinct we probably all share as human beings, and that’s something to celebrate.