According to the American Cleaning Institute, over 72 percent of U.S. households engage in spring cleaning every single year. That means that each year as the weather gets warmer, millions of people around the country fling open their windows, air our their carpets, and swear to finally, finally organize the garage.
When I first saw this statistic, it was comforting somehow. I liked thinking about the fact that we’re all engaged in the same clean-slate spring ritual. It made the world seem a little cozier and a little more cohesive, too. But then I started wondering about why we all do this and more specifically, why we do this every year. I mean if we’re staying on top of our regular cleaning routines, why the need for a springtime overhaul?
It’s because usually, spring cleaning doesn’t stick.
Let me explain.
We all know what a typical spring cleaning weekend looks like, right? You go through all your old clothes, donate a big bag to charity, and put all of your odds and ends into neat baskets and labeled cubbies. You clean out the garage, maybe have a garage sale, sell old sporting equipment, and neatly stack or hang everything else.
At the end of the weekend, you have wiped, washed, scrubbed, and vacuumed everything you own. You may even have some space to spare in your closet and empty shelves in your bookcase. It feels good. Really good.
Aaaand then a few months (or weeks) later your home looks exactly the same!
But at this point, it’s edging into fall and you’re spending weekends shopping for back to school or planning for Halloween or celebrating Thanksgiving or preparing for Christmas. Then it’s too cold to spend hours with your windows open or shivering in the garage trying to organize things. So chaos reigns until spring rolls around again, at which point you and millions like you start spring cleaning once again.
The Secret to Making Spring Cleaning Stick
So why this strange cycle? Why doesn’t spring cleaning stick, despite our best intentions?
The answer is really quite simple when you think about it: although we start cleaning every spring, we never stop shopping. And because we never stop shopping, your empty closet will inevitably start to become cramped and your shelves once again begin to fill with clutter.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s absolutely fantastic to work at taking excess stuff out of your house. But if you don’t also address how (and why) stuff keeps coming in, you’ll be stuck in an endless cycle of buy-use-discard-buy again.
These three simple tips will help disrupt this environmentally and financially damaging cycle and ensure that your spring cleaning efforts won’t be wasted this year.
1. Stop Shopping
Don’t panic, this one sounds harder than it is. Note that I didn’t say “stop buying things.” I said stop shopping. Shopping has evolved from a way to obtain the things we need, to a leisure activity in and of itself.
Resolve to stop spending your sunny Saturdays wandering malls and storefronts because when you do, you’ll almost always find something to buy. These impulse purchases have a huge role in contributing to clutter. Remember, purchases aren’t “great deals” if you don’t have the space to store them or the money to pay for them. So, go shopping only when you need specific things.
2. Shop Secondhand
Whether it’s a chic consignment boutique or a good ole Goodwill store, shopping secondhand is an amazing way to reduce costs and conserve resources but also has another hidden benefit.
When you shop secondhand, you can see how an item will stand up to the test of time — whether it’s a pair of shoes, a set of dishes, or a couch. Shopping secondhand means you’ll be able to select well-made goods at a fraction of the price. When you buy things that last, you have to replace them far less, too. A closet filled with 5-10 well-made shirts will beat out one crammed with misshapen, worn, and faded $5 shirts any day.
3. Declutter Consistently
Don’t leave it until spring! To make sure your spring cleaning lasts, keep it going year-round; make a habit of reevaluating your possessions and whether or not you need them.
I keep a bag at the bottom of my closet for clothes that no longer fit or suit my style, and a box by the back door for toys and household items we no longer need.
Consistently going through your possessions allows you to keep a clean and clutter-free home, but it also keeps an object’s life cycle at the forefront of your mind. It’s hard to go out shopping for books when you’ve just donated a box of them — you may be tempted to try the library instead.
Once you master these three tips you’ll be well on your way to a happy, clean, and clutter-free life — every season of the year.
Madeleine Somerville is a writer, author, and blogger. Her first book All You Need Is Less was published in April 2014. Her writing has appeared in both print and online outlets, including The Guardian, Earth911, Yahoo!Shine, TreeHugger, and Alternet. She lives in Calgary, Canada with her four-year-old daughter and writes at SweetMadeleine.ca.
How will you tackle spring cleaning this year? Let us know below or share your tips on Facebook and Twitter.