Spring cleaning: How to clear the cobwebs without adding to your pandemic stress

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Kacy Paide, founder of the Inspired Office in Silver Spring, Md., noticed that her masks were strewn around her home, so she gathered them in a brass bowl for easy access. (Photo by Kacy Paide)

In a normal year, this might be the time to block out a weekend, pull up your sleeves, and lift a season’s worth of dust and grime off every surface in your house. But with the emotional and financial tolls the pandemic has inflicted on so many, and with home having to function as a space for work, play and everything in between, it might be worth rethinking the mammoth spring-cleaning operation.

“There’s both a lot of desire to spruce up the home and also a lot of exhaustion,” said Bea Copeland, an organizer and digital video host based in New York.

We talked to four experts about creating a spring-cleaning plan that will remove clutter and dirt from our lives without adding any more stress.

– Pick your ‘need-to-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’

“We’re under an extraordinary amount of pressure right now, so … I want people to go easy on themselves this year,” said Melissa Maker, founder of Clean My Space, a boutique cleaning company in Toronto. “Traditional spring cleaning happens in a traditional year where you can cyclically expect the same things to happen, but we’ve been thrown a curveball.”

Maker advises separating tasks into “need-to-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” Anything that affects your safety and well-being and the basic functioning of your home should take priority.

Needs might include checking smoke detectors or switching out a furnace filter, Maker said. Make sure all essential appliances, such as the refrigerator, freezer, and heating and air-conditioning systems, are in working order.

If you live somewhere with inclement weather, check that seals on doors and windows are intact and that screens aren’t broken.

– Focus on areas where you spend the most time

Once you’ve addressed the highest-priority tasks in terms of safety and function, take a look around. Vernestine Laughinghouse, founder of Absoulute Organizing Solutions in Washington, D.C., said to let your household’s behavior dictate what gets priority. “Do things that will be useful for everyone in the household and that you enjoy,” she said.

This guidance won’t mean the same thing for everyone. Laughinghouse suggests prioritizing workspaces, entryways and areas where your household gathers. For example, if your family is partial to movie nights on the couch, vacuum the cushions and launder throw blankets and pillows.

And if you’re still working from home at a makeshift setup on the kitchen counter, this may be the time to assess whether that really works.

“Maybe now is the time to invest in a desk or a small table instead of working off something you’ve cobbled together,” said Kacy Paide, founder of the Inspired Office in Silver Spring, Md. “It’s OK to spend some time or money or focus to make something a little more set in stone and enjoyable or beautiful.”

Encourage children who are learning remotely to have autonomy over their own workstations. This might require some guidance, but it’s an opportunity to spend time with them and to build a routine while easing up some work on parents, Maker said. “Just like at school, where they have a locker or a desk, they can make sure their space is tidy at the end of the day,” she said.

And here’s a new task to add to the 2021 to-do list: Tame the various pandemic-related items you’ve accumulated, like the masks piled on the entryway table or the containers of sanitizing wipes underneath the sink.

“It’s not as temporary as we thought, so you can incorporate it in some kind of semi-permanent way,” Paide said. In her own home, Paide noticed that her disinfecting supplies and masks had become unruly. A favorite wall shelf has since been freed from its use as a dumping ground for pandemic supplies and is now restocked with decorations, and her reusable masks are gathered in a pretty brass bowl on a table by her front door.

Decide what you regularly use and need, and put those items in an accessible spot, she said. Any extras can be stored out of sight.

What can you skip? Well, spring is typically the time to purge stretched-out turtlenecks and old sweatpants to make room for new warm-weather attire. But multiple organizers we spoke with recommended against a major closet purge this year. “Our daily activities have shifted so much that it seems like some of our clothes are irrelevant and unnecessary, but when the world opens up again, you might need your suits and business slacks,” Copeland said. Paide added that your body and taste in clothes or accessories may change, and you may wish you had kept an item that you don’t want now.

– Don’t bite off more than you can chew

The sentiment that perfect can be the enemy of good extends to organizing. Set a timer and organize one space – even one drawer – at a time to ensure tasks get finished, Laughinghouse said.

“Doing one closet is better than pulling everything out of three or four closets and saying, ‘I’m tired and don’t feel like doing it,’ ” she said. “Give yourself 15 minutes or half an hour to do it, and if you feel like it, continue. But if you pull everything out, that’s overwhelming.”

If you’re working from home, Maker suggests carving out small, regular windows of time for cleaning as a break from work. “If you’re struggling with something, take a break and do the dishes in five or 10 minutes, and then you’ve accomplished a cleaning task and given your brain an opportunity to switch modes for a bit,” she said.

If you’re normally a gung-ho spring-cleaner, don’t fall into the trap of comparing your pandemic self with your previous self. (And definitely don’t compare your home to the perfectly styled spaces you see on Instagram and in Zoom backgrounds.) Carrying out the daily tasks of life against the backdrop of a pandemic is hard enough. Success is knowing where your items are and feeling comfortable and safe in your home.

“The most important thing for people right now is just to exonerate themselves from the pressure,” Maker said.

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