When the wintry mix makes going outside unpleasant, the couch and a good book are tempting. But think: if you start your spring cleaning now, you’ll be able to enjoy the first warm days of the season outside smelling flowers instead of inside scrubbing floors.
Why should you do an early spring deep-clean
If you’re thinking about putting off this year’s spring cleaning, think again—there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t. A 2011 Princeton study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that a junk-covered room can amp up stress and frustration by overloading your mind with stimuli and constantly reminding you of the things you should be doing. That feeling only intensifies during those long winter evenings when it’s just you, the pile of books you’ve been meaning to alphabetize, and the crusties underneath your stove grates.
Untidy spaces in particular seem to have a harmful effect on your mood and health. As a 2017 article in Psychology Today noted, clutter can interrupt “both your ability to move and your ability to think.”
[Related: A complete guide to digital spring cleaning]
Plus, it turns out people who regularly tidy up are getting a fair amount of light physical activity. That’s good if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to decrease the number on the scale, but cleaning also offers the benefit of space in your home to do things like rolling out the yoga mat or firing up an exercise video, doubling down on the physical benefits of a tidier space.
And if you start your spring cleaning now, it’ll give you an edge when warmer weather rolls around. Nearly 80 percent of households in the US ring in the new season with spring cleaning, and tackling what you can now means there will be less to do when you’d rather be outside. Some tasks, though, like washing windows, should probably still wait until you’re in significantly above-freezing temperatures.
Organize your things and donate the items people need most
A good place to start your pre-spring cleaning journey is by gathering the things you no longer need that others can use. Winter clothing and shelf-stable food should be at the top of the list. (Though it’s worth noting that canned food is good to donate regardless of the season). Once you’re done in the kitchen, dive into your bathroom cabinets. Unopened soap, shampoos, and other toiletries can be useful to certain projects and charities—even those you brought back home from your latest hotel stay can be a great donation.
Up next is your closet. Make sure any clothes you donate are clean and in good shape. Carefully check items that have been in long-term storage, as bugs like to chomp on textiles and can be persistent when there’s a meal involved. They may have also laid their eggs before you stored the items in question. For clothes in bad shape (thin, stained, or with tiny holes), check to see if your local government participates in textile recycling.
Next, consider what you’ve accumulated—gifts, trinkets, and toys—over the past year and pare down items that serve similar purposes. For example, if you got a new phone or computer for Christmas, donate the old one. Be sure to include any cords and chargers, and consider including a pre-paid minutes card if you can afford it.
Tackle big indoor projects in small chunks
During winter we spend more time in our homes, a reality that was only exacerbated by the changes in living and working routines brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. So when the snow flies or freezes into a sheet of black ice on the highway, you’ll want your space clean and tidy to stave off cabin fever.
That said, don’t declare this the weekend you finally scour all the stain off every tile in your kitchen. Break a big task into more digestible chunks and tackle those grout stains a row or two at a time. Taking smaller steps will also let you know what “clean” and “tidy” mean to you—your place doesn’t have to look like an apartment straight out of #cleantok to be functional for you.
Give yourself a flexible deadline and bend the scope of the task to accommodate. Instead of having that shelf in order and the books to be donated out the door by the first day of spring, set a steady, regular pace that you can pick up and put down as you need. Even if the big stuff isn’t complete by the time the robins come back, it’ll still be much closer to being done than it was before.
Finally, consider tackling multiple projects on a rotating basis. A 2015 survey conducted by Microsoft in Canada showed that our attention spans have dropped substantially in the past decades—from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. But switching things up keeps us more productive for longer. For work that’s repetitive or doesn’t need your full attention, multitasking and doing it in “small bites” can also help.
Lay the groundwork for other spring tasks
If you’re planning a particular spring blowout, such as a garage sale, start the prep now. Organizing and pricing items in January and February means that once the driveway is clear, you can simply roll out the stuff, post the flyer online, and see it go to another loving home. Spending an hour or two over the winter squaring away these tasks will make it much easier.
For other major projects, take the winter to do some research. If you’re planning to start a sustainable garden, now’s the time to plan out which local plants you want and which tools you need. If you’re going to rip out your water heater or make your house more energy efficient, start researching technologies and approaches that best fit your budget and needs. Painting? Look at swatches and pricing.
Think of it this way: once the boring part’s done, you can get to the fun part much faster, and enjoy the sunshine that much more.
This story has been updated. It was first published on January 26, 2019.