Why Do We Traditionally Clean Our Homes At the Beginning of Spring?

Why Do We Traditionally Clean Our Homes At the Beginning of Spring?

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­It feels ­almost like a biological imperative. The sun takes a little longer in its descent below the horizon and the chill of winter begins to leave the bones. Without much thought on your part, the couch is moved from its place so you can sweep beneath it and the drapes are suddenly in the washing machine. Disinfectant sprays suddenly attract a ne­w level of interest and you decide your sponges must all be replaced. You’ve awakened from the long winter quasi-hibernation that kept you glued to the television. Now it’s time to thoroughly rid your home of the dirt and dust and dog hair that have accumulated over the long, dark season. You’ve been gripped by the urge to spring clean.

­You’re certainly not alone in this strange desire to clean your house. Spring cleaning has become nearly ritualized in the West. Makers of cleaning products ramp up advertising late in the winter. Internet sites and magazines become awash in spring cleaning tips. Public service campaigns for everything from properly disposing of outdated pharmaceuticals in America to removing litter from t­he Irish countryside are attached to spring cleaning each year. It’s kind of an unconscious, collective movement.

Spring cleaning isn’t for everyone, though. Using fMRI scans, researchers have determined that when confronted with a decision to throw out possessions — even junk mail — people who’ve been diagnosed as compulsive hoarders show activity in the same region of the brain that’s responsible for processing damaging and unpleasant experiences [source: New England Hoarding Consortium]. An estimated one to two percent of the population in the United States are compulsive hoarders, who accumulate and refuse to throw out large collections of everything from newspapers to paper clips.

For people who don’t have a hoarding compulsion, spring cleaning seems almost compulsive in itself. The sense of cleanliness and accomplishment that comes from scouring the house also brings something like a neurological reward from the brain. There isn’t any documented medical evidence that spring cleaning is a compulsion; rather, it seems to be rooted in tradition more than anything else. Exactly why do we traditionally clean our homes at the beginning of spring? Those of us in the West may be surprised to find that it’s possibly rooted in customs found in the East. Learn about these possible origins to spring cleaning today on the next page.


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