Sustainable Spring Cleaning for Healthy Living
Sustainable Spring Cleaning Tips
As the weather changes, we also itch for change and renewal. The sounds of nature return, the plants, and trees around us begin to show new leaves, and we find ourselves outside more soaking up the sunlight and nicer weather. Spring marks the time of renewal. Have you ever wondered where spring cleaning comes from or why it makes us feel better? I’ve got you covered! In this episode, we go over my top tips for sustainable spring cleaning that will make you happier, healthier, and more sustainable. We will cover how to clean out your unwanted items with minimal waste, improve your air quality, and reduce the amount of water you’re using – sound good? I agree!
History of Spring Cleaning
Spring Cleaning as many of us know it today, started back in the 1800s when homes would have to clean all of the soot from heating their homes all winter long. Everything was cleaned from top to bottom, which kept going even after the heating of homes switched to the furnaces we are used to today.
But it also has a deeper meaning for some, for instance, it is a Jewish custom to have Passover cleaning, which falls at the same time as Spring Cleaning, but prepares their homes for Passover – cleaning the kitchen from all leavened products, but also extends to the rest of the home. And is also seen as a symbol of cleaning your heart of ill will towards others.
Iranians celebrate their new year in March, and it is seen as a time to celebrate a new season of life, so they deep clean and refresh their homes, wishing for good luck in the year ahead.
Similarly in Chinese custom, their homes are cleaned in preparation for the Chinese New Year in hopes to sweep out any misfortune or traces of bad luck.
Mental and Physical Benefits
Benefits of Spring
But no matter your background, our bodies are literally programmed to do more with the change of seasons. During the winter, we experience shorter days and less sunlight, so we produce more melatonin – making us more sleepy or drowsy. Yeah, that’s right – there’s science behind why you want to hide under the covers on the couch all winter long. But when the days begin to get longer and we experience more sunlight, our bodies produce less melatonin, making us more energized and ready to take on chores such as house cleaning and new projects.
At the same time, getting more sunlight also increases our serotonin, or our happiness hormone, reducing depression and anxiety and improving our mood. So the change of the season into Spring, experiencing the nicer weather it brings, improves our mood, gives us a better memory, and broadens our cognition.
Benefits of cleaning/decluttering
And this increased energy and improvement in our mood is actually twofold when we begin our Spring Cleaning. Research has shown that clutter and environmental chaos in the home have effects on our physical and mental health. Visually, when there is clutter in the home, like overflowing closets, or a kitchen that is piled high with junk mail and other random things spilling from your catch-all drawer, our brains go into cognitive overload and have a hard time focusing.
The clutter also increases our cortisol levels, which is our stress hormone, and constant clutter can mean increased risk for heart disease, depression, impaired memory, anxiety, weight gain, as well as affecting our quality of sleep. So having all that “stuff” you think you need probably isn’t doing you any favors.
This means when you are deep cleaning and decluttering your spaces, you’re reducing your stress and anxiety, bringing a sense of calmness, and refreshing your mental space so you can focus and give your attention to the things that truly bring you joy.
Benefits of Sustainable Cleaning
Now let’s add-in what happens when we Sustainably Spring Clean. Sustainable cleaning means adopting cleaning habits and methods that can be maintained, without negatively affecting your own health or the environment. So Sustainable Spring Cleaning is just the deep clean version of sustainable practices that you can incorporate in your cleaning routine all year long.
We know there are many practical benefits to practicing sustainable behaviors, and we will talk about some of those later. But most people don’t realize that happiness is a consequence of practicing sustainable behaviors too! It can increase our satisfaction, personal well-being, intrinsic motivation, and psychological restoration. Happier people act more sustainably and in turn, their sustainable behavior can make them feel more happiness!
So here we are triple packing the feelings of happiness by heading into spring, cleaning, and doing it sustainably. And if that doesn’t make you motivated to get into this, I’m not sure what will!
Set Realistic Goals
I get it, cleaning can be overwhelming. To avoid being overwhelmed with all of the stuff you have and things to clean, set small goals and stick to them. Spring cleaning doesn’t mean you do everything in a day or a weekend, feel free to set realistic goals for yourself so that you can accomplish them. You can make a checklist of what you want to go through in all of the rooms in your house and how long you think it will take you so you can schedule tasks based on your available time.
So for example, I would write down that I need to go through my closet and the wardrobe in the master bedroom which is likely going to take me an entire day, the closet in my office which has become a catch-all for the things I don’t know what to do with I can work on in a few hours, as well as the garage – because the whole thing is just – yikes – and will take me at least two weekends to purge, organize, and clean.
And try to make it fun, music is proven to help make tasks like cleaning more enjoyable so crank up your favorite tunes and let’s start to fight grime! Here’s my Spotify playlist for cleaning if you need some inspiration!
Clean out Unwanted/Unused Items
Put Items into Piles
The first way you can start to Sustainably Spring Clean is by clearing out your unwanted or unused items with minimal waste. You can start by identifying the items you no longer use or wear.
Now before you go and Marie Kondo your home, tossing of all the things that don’t spark joy or getting rid of clothes where the button has fallen off of, I have a few suggestions. Put things in piles as you are going through them – make a keep pile, a reconsider pile, and a recycle pile/donate pile.
Let’s take on our wardrobe specifically here because that is one of the biggest spring cleaning tasks people take on. On average, each piece of clothing we buy will be worn seven times before being tossed. So if you’re standing there staring at your closet thinking “I haven’t worn this in over a year” but have trouble getting rid of it because you spent money on it, you’re not alone. Go through and parse out your most beloved items – the things you wear often and put them in your keep pile. I even saw a tip on Instagram where someone had that said to see how long you can go without doing laundry and that will tell you what items you really love in your closet and which ones you’re steering clear of.
Then make another pile of things to reconsider. Items that you need to try on or repair. Extending the life of your clothing by even three months can reduce its carbon footprint by 5-10%. Think about new ways to wear your pieces, or maybe you even give it new life to it – refashioning it into something fresh with a pair of scissors and a needle and thread. I love the idea of taking old clothing items that you love the design of, but that maybe don’t fit anymore and making them into canvas art, cleaning rags, socks, or a blanket. As I said earlier, spring is a time of renewal, so literally renewing your pieces just makes sense here.
If it no longer fits, you don’t love it, if you can’t repair it, or honestly, if repurposing isn’t your thing – then it goes into the recycle or donate pile. Several brands now have textile recycling programs, where you can send them your old clothes for recycling. And before you think – why would I spend time printing a label and sending my old clothes when I could just dump them at the nearest Goodwill, you may be surprised to know that out of the two million tons of clothes dropped off to charities annually about two-thirds still end up in a landfill. The rest is either sold, recycled, incinerated, or sent overseas.
The same goes for the rest of your household and novelty items. The EPA says that “In 2018, about 4.1 million tons of other miscellaneous nondurable goods waste was produced. And of that total, about 4.4 percent was recycled, and 77.1 percent was sent to landfills.”
Reselling or giving away your clothes and household items to friends or neighbors on the internet with new apps like Poshmark, ThredUp, and Facebook Marketplace can help ensure that someone gets to re-love an item instead of it going straight to a landfill. Donating what is left to local resell charities.
To make this a sustainable practice, make sure you’re not filling up space you just cleaned with new things that you’re just going to have to purge again next year. This is a good time to commit to new goals of reducing, reusing, and recycling on a regular basis. Check out Episode 3 “5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying Anything”
Organize items left
When you’re done purging and renewing your items, spend some time organizing. We mentioned earlier how reducing clutter and disorganization can reduce stress and stress related illness, but it will also help to improve air quality because the dust and allergens will have fewer places to hide. Apply the same process of a keep, reconsider, or recycle/donate pile for clutter. And for the things you do keep, set designated spaces for the items so there is less clutter on a regular basis, saving you time as well.
Improve Air Quality
Speaking of air quality, when it comes to all of the dust and grime in our homes, do we really realize how much it is and how it affects our health?
Many studies have shown that indoor air quality is highly affected by outdoor air quality. So both the indoor and outdoor environment should be considered when thinking about air pollution. But there are many sources of indoor air pollution that we can try to control, like our household cleaning and personal care products, pet dander, carpets, bedding and clothes, cooking, smoking, and much more. The EPA states that Minorities, low-income, elderly, and children are disproportionately impacted by indoor asthma triggers, secondhand smoke, mold, radon, and other indoor pollutants.
Dust is a big one, and can obviously make us sneezy and wheezy, causing tightness in our chest. But prolonged exposure to household dusts can weaken our lungs and contribute to lung disorders.
Now when it comes to sustainably cleaning, I’ve got some tips in Episode 14 on “Easy, Eco-friendly Kitchen Swaps” and I share why it’s important to ditch the plastic in your cleaning routine and how harsh cleaning chemicals could be affecting your health, including indoor air pollution – so be sure to listen to that one if you haven’t already to help prepare you for sustainable spring cleaning. But also, adapting a regular cleaning routine that is natural or non-toxic is a sustainable practice that will have long-lasting results on your health and the environment.
There are several versatile and natural cleaning items that you should have on hand when cleaning. Baking soda, White Vinegar, Lemons, Natural Soap, Salt, and Essential oils. A simple search of “how-to DIY clean…” should give you an answer on which combination of these items you should use for your specific cleaning purpose. Note that when you’re cleaning you should clean top-down.
So since I know you will be equipped with natural, non-toxic cleaners that will lower your VOCs – contributing to cleaner air space, I wanted to mention some things in your home you should be deep cleaning that will improve your air quality.
Clean your carpet
Now, if you have carpet, which most people do at least in their bedrooms, you need to deep clean it. The use of carpets is linked to “indoor dusts, allergens, and microorganisms, and associated with an increased risk of a number of health outcomes including mild cognitive effects, irritative symptoms, and asthma.”
And although almost all carpet is recyclable, approximately 4 billion pounds of all waste disposed of in U.S. landfills is carpet. So properly cleaning and maintaining your carpet can make it last twice as long – keeping it from a landfill.
When you’re cleaning your carpet, make sure you vacuum first, then spot treat with baking soda, vinegar, and water. If you want to do the whole carpet, here’s the step-by-step method that uses these basic items as well.
Linens, Mattresses, and Furniture
Other items in your home that can hold pet dander, mold, and dust that you should be able to easily clean in the washer include your comforter, pillows, and curtains or drapes – however you like to say it! These are items that most of us forget to clean on a regular basis but can be a secret hideout for these allergens.
We know that our bodies shed around 15 million skin cells each night, even more during the day, and that dust mites feed on those cells. But they don’t just end up in things we can wash out, they nestle in our furniture and mattresses as well, affecting our overall air quality.
You can clean these bigger items that won’t go in the wash with our favorite and cheap item – baking soda! Just sprinkle some on after spot cleaning, leave it for several hours, and then vacuum again!
When you are keeping your items clean, it extends their life, which is good for the planet and your wallet.
Dust your plants
And for my last tip on improving air quality, I will remind you to dust your plants! Not only will dusting your plants help the plant to receive sun and photosynthesize, but it will help you breathe better! Indoor plants can collect and foster the growth of mold, which is bad for allergies. So clean those babies up and reap the benefits of the oxygen they produce instead!
Reduce Water Use
And the final tip in sustainably spring cleaning involves reducing the amount of water you use!
When you’re cleaning, avoid running the water continuously. Kitchen sinks usually use about 2 gallons of water per minute, and every drop is precious. This is a super easy sustainable tip that can make a big difference.
Use Energy Efficient Appliances
If you have one available, use a dishwasher and washing machine at full capacity since they are more efficient with water than if you hand-washed. That being said, those washers still have parts that can end up in a landfill when the machine breaks down, so when it comes to spring cleaning, add in cleaning to your appliances that will make them last longer and stay efficient. Make sure that the drains are clear, and run a hot water cycle with baking soda or vinegar to clean out the gunk that can clog up your machine.
When you are using a lot of water, consider how you may be able to use the spent water elsewhere, like in the garden or to clean your car.
Speaking of gardens – usually during the Spring is when everyone starts to clean up their yards, landscaping and planting their gardens. A little planning ahead will help to reduce the amount of waste you may incur when it comes to water use.
Cleaning Yard Debris
When you’re cleaning up all of the debris from your yard, instead of bagging up or burning the leaves, clippings, and sticks, use them as a foundation for a compost pile – which can serve you and your lawn all year long. Compost helps with water retention, and can even help with how it is dispersed, meaning you can use less water to irrigate your plants.
Use Native Plants
When planning your landscaping, consider using native plants – which include flowers and grasses. They are heartier and work with your existing conditions, meaning they will require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, as well as help to improve the air quality and support local wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation has a Native Plant Finder search engine on their website where you can search what plants are native to you by zip code.
When you’re using fertilizers and pesticides, especially for cleaning up the weeds that will inevitably start to pop up in spring, make sure you’re going organic or natural.
And for all of your water needs inside and out, consider collecting rainwater! It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. You could simply collect it in a tub and reuse it for lawn gardening or cleaning, or create a water collection and irrigation system. Rainwater harvesting is free, and can reduce stormwater runoff from a property which can reduce contamination and erosion of the land, as well as saving chemically treated water from municipalities for other needs.
So to recap, start by making a realistic plan for your Sustainable Spring Cleaning efforts. Then identify unwanted or unused items, figuring out the best way to handle them – is it repurposing, repairing, recycling, or maybe even donating? Take some time to mark those achievements off of your checklist, because we all know how good that feels. Once you’ve got what you want left, organize it to reduce clutter. Make a plan to be conscious and efficient when the water you’re using, and then start the cleaning process – working to reduce the amount of dust and grime in your home with non-toxic cleaning products and start to feel better as the air quality improves!
Can I recycle this?
Before we go, I wanted to leave you with a new “Can I recycle this?” moment! I just started my own deep, spring cleaning and realized I had a ton of old wine corks lying around in drawers and vases – and thought “Can I recycle this?” the answer is YES! Natural wine corks can be recycled into useful objects such as shoe insoles, coasters, and flooring. But not all corks are made equal, some aren’t made from natural cork. Cork oak trees, which is what wine corks are made of, are harvested every nine years by hand, and this harvesting actually extends the tree’s lifespan to over 300 years! Save up your corks and send them off to a company like ReCORK who will repurpose them, you can even lookup different wines on their site to see if the cork is natural or not – making it super easy for you!
That’s it! When all of the cleaning is done, make time to celebrate! Revel in your hard work! Having a cleaner, more sustainable home will be rewarding enough, but I encourage you to set a reward for yourself when you’re all through with your spring cleaning! No, that doesn’t mean buying something for yourself, we just decluttered remember? Maybe it’s setting time to be completely alone and treat yourself with a bottle of wine with a natural cork, of course, signing up for that class you’ve always wanted to take, or having a friend over to see all of your hard work realized. Either way, you deserve it!
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