By Kathy Gilmour
The nineteenth century English poet Tennyson wrote, “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Today’s young man’s thoughts could probably also be said to turn to fishing, golf, baseball, and outdoor recreation. While women’s springtime thoughts might turn to all of those and perhaps gardening and jogging, it’s probably safe to say that they also include “spring cleaning.” There’s even a “National Spring Cleaning Week” in early March.
There seems to be an elemental force of nature that prompts living things to emerge at about the same time every year. Flowers poke their heads through the snow, trees begin to bud, the robins return to build their nests, and animals leave their winter burrows to search for food. It’s a glorious time of year, especially welcome after a long, cold, dark winter.
Though the term “spring cleaning” dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, the practice itself is rooted in ancient religious and cultural customs that occur at the same time each year.
The Chinese New Year, dating back to the fourteenth century B.C., is celebrated at the second new moon after the winter solstice. In preparation for the good fortune that accompanies the new year, the Chinese thoroughly clean their homes. They believe that the cleaning removes any lingering bad luck from the previous year.
Ancient Hebrews thoroughly cleaned their homes before the feast of Passover, which commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The custom is to clean the house, remove any remnants of yeast bread, and eat only unleavened bread. The evening before Passover, the home is searched by candlelight for any remaining crumbs of yeast bread.
Christians observe the custom of cleaning the church the day before Good Friday in preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, coincides with the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring. Iranians celebrate for thirteen days, cleaning or “shaking the house,” buying new clothes and spending time with family or friends.
The custom of spring cleaning makes perfect biological sense as well. In winter, fewer hours of daylight trigger our body’s release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin earlier in the day. The result is that we are sleepier and lack energy. Springtime brings warmer weather, longer days, more sunlight, and a later release of melatonin, resulting in an energy boost.
There’s another equally important type of spring cleaning that should engage us. We probably don’t think much about it, but this is also the perfect time of year to spring clean our lives as well. When was the last time you looked at your “self”, tossed aside bad habits, opened up the windows of your mind, and explored new horizons? Your decision as to whether to just tidy up, speed clean, or deep clean yourself is up to you, but any effort will yield positive results. Your goal is to be a better you.
The following are areas to consider that you could actually tackle at the same time:
Have you hibernated all winter? Put on a few extra pounds? Exercised less or not at all? The improving weather is an incentive to get outdoors and do something you enjoy. An hour a day of moderate exercise like walking will give you more energy and a more positive attitude. Plus, Vitamin D from the sun is a critical factor in good health.
Exercise for both mind and body like yoga or tai chi can result in better balance and flexibility as well as lower blood pressure. Alone or in a group, keeping physically active within your limits is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Couple your exercise with a change in diet. Aim for fewer calories, less processed foods and sugars, and more fresh fruits and vegetables. Incorporate organic foods into your diet. Set your own personal goals and work at achieving them over time. Don’t give up if you slip back into old habits. Reward yourself when you meet the milestones you’ve set.
Don’t forget to exercise your mind. Reading keeps your brain cells active. So do word puzzles, card games, computer or board games, learning a new skill or hobby, and engaging in conversation with others.
This is a time to take a good look at the people in your life. Which ones contribute to a better you and which ones cause you tension and anxiety? Which relationships are worth working on? Family and close friends are worth your effort. Make a commitment to invest in the people you value and “declutter” the ones who drain your energy and waste your time.
Take a good look at your finances—what you spend and what you save. Are you living for the present or planning for the future? Do you have dependents? Whether you are in school, in the military, employed full or part-time, retired or planning for retirement, you need to make sure that you have sufficient money to cover expenses, money in savings, sufficient life and health insurance, and a plan for covering unexpected expenses. Enlist the help of a professional if you aren’t sure how to proceed. Avoid credit card debt. Pay off debts and start with a clean ledger.
Make a firm promise to yourself to get rid of the “stuff” in your life that you don’t need or use. We all have it! Recycle household items and clothing you don’t use any longer and take advantage of recycling programs for electronics and household chemicals. Have a yard sale. Resist the “bargains” that are advertised everywhere and buy only what you need. Ask yourself if you own your possessions or if they own you.
Don’t forget the technical “stuff” in your life either. Look at computer files, emails and apps. Delete what you don’t want or need and store the rest in an organized way on hard drives, USB drives or online storage. Unsubscribe from web sites that clutter your mailbox and bombard you with advertisements. Spend less time on social media and more time on socializing with people.
Feng shui, an ancient Chinese art, is the practice of creating harmony between humans and their environments. Feng (wind) and shui (water) are the two natural elements essential for human survival. The practice is based on the principle that placement of objects within the life force of energy (the chi) affects not only one’s physical comfort but also physical and emotional health, relationships and success. Harmony between the chi and the environment brings good fortune. Put simply: eliminating physical and mental clutter creates organization and inner peace. What a perfect goal for spring cleaning.
One week of cleaning a year won’t do it. While cleaning “things” is a finite activity, becoming a better you is an ongoing process, working with a plan and individual steps. Now is the time to fling open the figurative windows of your life and let the fresh air in. Breathe deeply. Empower yourself. You can do it!
To read more stories from Generations Magazine Fifth Issue, click here.