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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Reader’s Comments – Why Do Americans Spring Clean?

 

About a year ago, the following comment was made on the post “Laying Aside Weights – Some Thoughts On Dealing with Things”.

Jo from Finding Joy In the Everyday wrote:  “Clara and I were talking on Facebook about spring cleaning, we don't do it in Australia like Americans do. We wondered why , Clara thought it might be the change in weather from very cold to warmer. Our temperature is not quite as extreme. I suppose we clean our homes all year round so there is no need for special time set aside for a more in depth clean. It's an interesting difference…”

From what I understand and have read, spring cleaning had a lot to do with the seasons.  These are just some observations I could think of in relation to that.  I’m by no means an expert on this subject! :-)

Painting by Henry Spernon Tozer

1. Smoke, ashes and soot.

During the dark, cold months of winter when the houses were being heated with wood and lighted for more hours of the day with candles and kerosene (coal oil), there was a build up of ashes, soot and smut.  My own family has heated with wood in a heavy winter climate and I remember how much more dust there was during the winter due to that.  Spring would have been a good time for a good clean up of some of these problems – the ones that perhaps were hard to deal with in cold weather.

2. Dirt, mud and other stuff.

In the winter in colder climates a lot of junk can get tracked into the house.  As wood (and at one time coal) is carried in a certain amount of extra dirt and debris will come too.  Depending on where the wood was gathered it can be quite dirty or quite clean.  Also, there are thaws which can produce mud in the middle of winter, and spring itself can be very muddy in some places.

Added to that, in the past more people had root cellars and stored large quantities of root vegetables, along with apples, cabbage and other things.  At the end of winter when some of these foods were mostly or all eaten, or when the remainder were starting to spoil, there would have been a huge cleaning job to get those storage areas cleaned thoroughly.  I’ve had a little experience with that as my family also has stored vegetables and apples and we had to deal with the clean up on a small scale.

3. No opportunity to clean some things.

Also, back in the old days people had area rugs and throw rugs on their floors.  These rugs were dragged outside to be beaten and cleaned from time to time.  After a long span of winter weather when it would have been impractical, spring was the obvious time to do this.

Heavy bedding might also be saved for a good washing in spring.  Heavy quilts, blankets and such like would not have been easy to wash with limited space and drying arrangements that were common in winter in average houses.  Also, since in many households there was a limited supply of these items and they were needed every night in winter, it wouldn’t have been a good idea to wash them in a situation where they couldn’t be dry by nightfall.  Airing might be possible, but washing would be uncertain at best.

4. Once-a-year jobs.

Some jobs needed to be done once a year, or every other year perhaps.  Things like sanding and oiling the floors (and possibly walls), whitewashing, and other things.  It probably only made sense to do them when other big house cleaning jobs were being done.  Why remove the rugs more than was necessary?

Conclusion

I’m sure that a number or all of these practices relating to spring cleaning came with various people from “the old country”.  Many of them came from cold climates to cold climates, so it made sense to keep on doing those things.  Added to that, the Puritan influence was heavy in New England and they were quite obsessed with cleanliness/tidiness as an evidence of piety.  (Another whole topic evolves from that.) 

I can see how spring cleaning would not be necessary in Australia’s milder and hot climates.  I couldn’t honesty tell you if spring cleaning was practiced by the early settlers of our southwest.  They may have dropped it as well where it wasn’t necessary.

There are many people who no longer practice spring cleaning.  Our modern cleaning abilities, more comfortable homes, cleaner methods of heating (in some cases), cleaner lighting, washing machines and dryers, etc. have made it possible to do heavier cleaning projects throughout the year.  Consequently, some of us choose to do this rather than making a heavy, labor-intensive project of it once a year.  Some of us are very random about it.  (Not mentioning my anyone’s name.)  :-)

A friend of a friend was complimented once on how tidy and she kept her house.  Her reply was, “Just don’t move anything.”  ;-)

14 comments:

  1. I live in Australia too, and I must say, I don't 'do' spring cleaning as such. When winter is over, I do the obvious things, like cleaning out the wood heater thoroughly and washing the windows. But we don't really need to do things like changing curtains to heavier ones for winter, etc. I tend to spread all the cleaning jobs over the year. But it is good to have an annual clean out to sort through items that may not be needed any more, clothing that is outgrown.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. :-) People have many different ways of dealing with cleaning around the world. I wonder if anyone has written a book on the differences in a variety of different culture styles. It would be interesting.

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    2. This is so interesting to me as I came from an old German family in Chicago and they spring cleaned and fall cleaned to a point...but the spring cleaning was the washing of wallls , strecthing and starching of all the lace curtians and window washing, guter cleaning, blanket washing, floor waxing and all walls washed with Spic and Span and sponges and all. In fall it was dry cleaned the same way.. The post, as usualy is perfect, and so educational and loving. Thank you for your lovely blog. Love Merri

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    3. Merri, thank you for the interesting description of the old German method of cleaning that you experienced in your family. I'm glad you enjoyed this post. Thank you for commenting. :-)

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  2. Just wanted to add that switching to heavier curtains for winter, etc, was done to keep out drafts. In long-long-ago years, it was not uncommon to hang heavy curtains over the main door as well, if the family could afford to do so, to stop doorframe drafts. Obviously those would be an annoyance and unneeded in winter.

    And then somewhere along the way after central heating, the curtain thing got turned into a "look" that needed to be changed seasonally along with the throw pillows and holiday decor. Because, you know, more money for big business, selling people stuff they don't actually need.

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    1. I didn't even know that some people changed their curtains for winter in the past, or I forgot it if I once did. That is interesting. Big business is always trying to find ways to promote sales.

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  3. This is really interesting and not something I had thought much about. As Jayne said, with our milder weather we don't has as much to do with the changing seasons:) I can see a book opportunity for you to write!

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad you liked it.
      It would be an interesting book to write, but I have too many irons in the fire now! :-)

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  4. This post would be a perfect addition to the new Our Simple Homestead Hop if you would like to share it with us!
    http://oursimplelife-sc.com/our-simple-homestead-hop-1/

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    1. Thanks, I went and added it. I was having trouble with the graphics on this post for some reason, so it looks a little odd.

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  5. I like to clean whenever the need arises lol! Great post!!

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  6. What a fascinating post, Mary. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and am so glad you shared it with Roses of Inspiration. May you have a blessed weekend!

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    1. You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was kind of fun to write. :-)

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