Decades ago, spring cleaning was a serious task. The homemaker, adorned in her housedress, apron, and feather duster—think June Cleaver, and you've got the picture—would clean and reorder the house from top to bottom, shaking out every rug, drapery, and slipcover.
Today with our busy lives, we're doing well if we can find time to clean out a sock drawer, let alone organize and sterilize our entire home. Surely in the big picture of life, dust balls don't really matter. But taking time to clean out and clean up our homes can do more than clear away the cobwebs. It can actually clear away some stress. Creating a home that's orderly and clean can bring a sense of calm and peace to our overloaded lives. And that can't help but enhance our marriages. So if you want to freshen up your home without frustrating your marriage, try these helpful hints.
Have a plan
Write down on your calendar what tasks you want to do and when. Break down the chores into realistic pieces so they don't become overwhelming. For example, if you want to clean and reorganize the garage, you might do one side on one Saturday, and the other side the next. Or tackle all the outdoor stuff (lawnmower, bikes, sports and camping equipment, gardening tools, etc.) one weekend, and all the indoor stuff (closets, drawers, cabinets) the next. Remember, God didn't create the world in one day. He did it one step at a time. If this is your first year to do a spring cleaning, just tackle a few jobs that are frustrating you the most.
Communicate your expectations
We each come into marriage with different role models, personalities, and priorities. Talk with your spouse about the homes you grew up in and what your expectations are for a comfortable, clean home. I know a couple whose marriage didn't survive in part because of their differing home priorities. The husband had expectations of coming home to a house similar to the one in which he was raised—clean and orderly. And the wife grew up in more of a disorganized, "tidy-challenged" home, so she didn't understand his need for orderliness. Rather than communicating their frustrations and being solution-centered, they bottled it in and the marriage unfortunately dissolved.
Celebrate your differences
Which partner can tackle a "to-do" list faster than a speeding bullet, getting things done in a reasonable order, even if they're not perfect? And which of you is more detail-oriented, painstakingly laboring over every part of the process, such as getting out the brass polish before putting that candle holder back in its proper place? In most marriages, there's one partner who can get more done faster and another partner who gets less done but will do an immaculate job. We need each other.
Some personalities are less aware of or relatively unaffected by their surroundings. If one partner's more affected by it, honor him by honoring his requests. That's likely to make your marriage better. If one spouse is more organized, thank God for that. Don't resist her organization, celebrate it and accept that God knew you needed a mate to help keep your life in order.
Define your domains
In every home, husbands and wives each have their personal domains. For the wife, her domain may be the kitchen, pantry, her clothes closet and drawers, and her personal desk. For the husband, his domain may be his desk, his clothes closet and drawers, and perhaps the yard, basement, or tool area. Before you criticize your mate for a messy desk, take a look at your desk. If your areas call for improvement, start there. Actions speak louder than words and the greatest inspiration is a good example.
Gather your supplies
To tackle any job well, you need to have the proper supplies. Load up a plastic bucket with cleaning supplies, paper towels, a scrub brush, and dust cloths, and carry it with you room to room. Keeping your supply bucket close at hand will help you stay focused on the job and make cleaning more efficient.
Make it fun
Upbeat music is a great way to lift your spirits and your energy. As you boogie to the beat, you'll turn your work into play. Also, try giving yourself small rewards or incentives to keep going, such as, "If we get the whole basement cleaned by five o'clock, we'll go see a movie!"
Part with your possessions
We're obsessed with stuff. But too much stuff can lead to too much stress. In a roundabout way, Jesus encourages us to simplify: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy" (Matthew 6:19). If you don't use it, lose it. And if it's in reasonable condition, share it with someone who needs it—a neighbor, a missionary, Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Clutter and cleanliness habits that you form now will carry with you throughout your marriage. Untouched molehills will eventually become mountains! If you don't believe me, take a look at couples who've lived in their homes for 30 years. Take a good look at all the unused items that can accumulate over time. Be a good steward of what God's entrusted you with and part with unneeded possessions.
Start from top to bottom
Do you ever start a project in one room, walk into another room to answer the phone and then begin a new task there, only to wonder how you ended up doing laundry when you were cleaning out your office? Stay focused by working in a logical, orderly way. From the tippy top of the attic all the way to the grungy garage, work your way down and out the back door—taking the dirt and junk with you.
Ecclesiastes 3:6 says there's a season for everything: "A time to keep and a time to throw away." Take four large boxes or trash bags and mark each "throw away," "give away," "store away," or "keep." As you go room by room cleaning, place your extra "stuff" stashed in closets, corners, or drawers in the appropriate box or bag.
For all those "but someday I might " items you can't decide what to do with, get one big box and place your miscellaneous items in it. Close it and put the date on it. After six months, if you haven't missed or used anything in it, don't open the lid, donate the whole box to charity.
If you have tasks you need done, but don't have the time, consider hiring someone to help. Out of desperation, I hired an organization expert/friend to help me tackle my office where I was buried in paperwork. The task was so overwhelming to me I'd become incapacitated to begin. She motivated me, guided me, and her presence and my payment for her services held me accountable to get the job done. With my office in order, I was a new woman, not to mention, more productive! Perhaps you may need to hire someone monthly to help with housecleaning so you can have time to focus on organizing or other home projects. Often the money invested in hiring someone for one task allows you to be more productive in areas you enjoy and do well.
Plan a Spring party!
There's nothing like a deadline to inspire you to get a job done. Invite your friends for a party and let that date be your deadline to finish the spring cleaning. The menu can be as simple as taco salad where everyone brings one item. The goal is to have an activity that gives you the motivation to complete the task. If you finish the spring cleaning, you'll be more than ready to celebrate.
Keep the big picture
Remember there's no perfect home on this side of life and there's no perfect marriage! The most important part of your home isn't your possessions, but the people under your roof. Keep kissing your mate while you're kissing your dirt and junk good-bye.
Terry Willits, founder of SenseSational Homes, Inc., and MP regular contributor, lives and cleans with her family in Georgia.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.