Like Me, Do You Get the Urge to Do Spring Cleaning? Here Are Some Areas I Plan to Tackle.

One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should. After all, in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet is trivial. And yet over and over, people tell me, and I certainly find this, myself, that creating order gives a huge boost in energy, cheer, and creativity.

So I’m a big believer in the value of clutter-clearing.

Also, I’m a big believer in using outer milestones as a catalyst for action or change. Whether that’s New Year’s day, September (the other new year), my birthday, or a holiday, I think it’s helpful to be reminded that I might want to make changes in my life. (Yes, Questioners, I know you think that January 1 is an arbitrary date. Noted.)

So spring, for me, is a reminder to think about spring clutter-clearing. I’m not inspired to do deep cleaning like window-washing, carpet-cleaning, or anything like that. Spring reminds me to tackle nagging clutter build-ups.

I look for places where I tend to stick things and forget about them. Do you have this problem? For me, I’m looking at these areas:

My Spring Cleaning areas to tackle:

Closet shelves

Are any items jammed in? Can I see the clothes that are stored there, at a glance? Are piles teetering precariously? Can I easily reach the things I want? Is there plenty of room to put things away? I need to tackle the shelf in our main coat closet.

Dump zones

Where do I tend to “collect and neglect?” It’s time to dig out those piles and make decisions about where things should have a permanent home. Or if they don’t deserve a permanent home, where will they go? Speaking of which…

Thrift-store pile

I need to make a few trips to the thrift store to drop off the books, clothes, and other things we’ve collected to give away. They’re still clutter until they’re out of the apartment.

Bedside drawer

I recently thought I’d lost my passport, and  I was in an utter panic until I realized what had happened. We keep our passports in the drawer of my husband’s bedside table (not sure why, but that’s what we do), and his drawer was so jammed with stuff that my passport had been pushed out the back of the drawer into the space behind it. Fortunately I realized pretty quickly what had happened, and was able to wiggle it out. Time to clear out that drawer — and my bedside table drawer is just as bad.

File holders

I have two file holders in my office. In theory, I use them for active files that I need to be able to get my hands on quickly. In practice, I often put materials there when I’m not sure what else to do with them, and then they languish. So I’m going to see what I’ve got there, and figure out a permanent place for those files. If they’re so important that they have to be at my fingertips, why don’t I ever look at them?

If you’re interested in reading more about spring cleaning and clutter clearing, check out…


The great thing about clutter-clearing — and the thing that surprises me every time — is how energizing and satisfying it is, once completed. A month ago, I tackled my giant messy pile of past-their-prime white t-shirts, and I still get a thrill of pleasure when I see my short, neat stack of acceptable t-shirts.

What areas are you planning to tackle for spring cleaning? Any hints about effective strategies for solving — or better, avoiding — clutter?

  • Like you, I get inspired to declutter in the spring.

    My house isn’t too bad – I did the whole Marie Kondo thing about two years ago before moving across the country – but clutter-clearing is not something you can do once and be done with.

    I’ve already started for this year (bedroom closet, bathroom closet), and my son now even has an empty shelf in his room 😉

    But there is always more. I have a drawer where I stuff those papers I don’t know what to do with, and they’re overflowing. I also have a cupboard with tools that is impossible to find anything in.

    Of course, my ‘junk’ drawer and office files need a good re-organization too.

    You’re so right that our outer order affects our inner peace. When I declutter, I feel physically and emotionally lighter.

  • Mimi Gregor

    Funny. I don’t like the routine cleaning that my husband and I do every week, but I do it. A clean house gives me pleasure. However. I LOVE to do the Spring Cleaning! I start from the back of the house (the mudroom) and work my way forward, doing the front porch last. I only do a room or just a part of a room a day. And I can’t work on it every day. Sometimes a week may go by before I get a chunk of time to resume this task. I start at the doorway to the room and work my way around, cleaning everything (including windows and scrubbing floors). I empty bureaus and closets, organizing and winnowing down belongings. I rearrange furniture, if I want to try a new placement. Even though I am a minimalist, I still find boxes of stuff to give to Goodwill. In fact, to avoid clutter, I keep a large empty cardboard box in my coat closet. (It doesn’t stay empty for long.) Into this box goes everything I want to donate — clothes I have replaced with a better quality garment, books that I have read and will not reread, gifts people give me that I cannot use, things I bought on a whim that turn out not to inspire joy. When it is full, I put it in the car. I always pass a Goodwill on my way to the supermarket, so it’s just a matter of making a right turn, dropping it off at the donation door, and moving on to the market.

  • ChrisD

    Regarding papers that you don’t know what to do with. I think it can make sense for that to be a specific file. Stuff you don’t quite want to throw away yet, but which, actually you don’t really need to keep. If you sort through it, say monthly, then you often find the old stuff can go straight out, but the newer stuff, you just feel uncomfortable throwing away, you keep, till next month. Maybe for objects, keeping them longer, makes it harder to throw away, but for paper, it often makes it easier.

  • Just now we finished phase 2 of cleaning my 6yo’s room. Phase 1 was dealing with the papers….choosing what to keep and what to recycle. Phase 2 was actually cleaning up the toys. Phase 3 will be sorting out toys/puzzles/games/books we have accumulated that he no longer likes. Part of Phase 3 involves donations to other places, gifting to friends, and moving stuff into my almost 4yo’s room….where the same process will eventually take place. These deep cleans come for us before Christmas, Easter, and birthdays.

  • Andrea Ballard

    I love to clean clutter from failed or abandoned projects and aspirations. Jewelry making sets, scrapbook kits, spice organization units…these are all things that captured me in the store, and began to sap my energy when I contemplated them at home. It’s been very freeing to say “I’m no longer interested in that” and donate or clear out these items without guilt.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! I write about “Abandon a project” in my book Happier at Home. Free your shelves, free your mind!

  • Wendy Koscierzynski

    Honestly, we have white painted floor molding and I want to get my son to clean it as I cannot get on the floor to do that. I hope to get new weather stripping on the shower door. I do wash the windows and the carpet. And today we are moving furniture! Ah Spring! It feels like we have awoken afresh! Happy Spring!

  • Meredith

    I declutter at least twice a year (usually once before Christmas, because the thought of more stuff coming into our small apartment makes me anxious; once in spring or summer; and other times if I am going through any type of transition or need a boost in mental clarity). It is a HUGE stress-reliever for me. I live in a family of neatniks, but we still manage to accumulate stuff we don’t need, and we have “dump zones” and the closets get messy over time. No matter how much I’ve managed to toss out the time before, I still end up with many bags of things to donate or throw out. It gives me weeks, if not months, of happiness to see neatened stacks of clothes, an empty shelf in the closet (so rare in NYC!), and a patch of hardwood floor instead of, say, a pile of shoes. I’m not into feng shui, but I believe there is something to the greater sense of flow and energy in a space that is newly tidied.

  • forcemajeure

    Speaking of closets…
    Here’s a closet displayed at The Met.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so eager to see that exhibit!

  • millions2

    I’ve been making a mental list of spring cleaning areas. Anything paper is going in the shredder. Broken electronics are going to e-recycling. And old sports equipment is getting donated or tossed. I actually feel better just writing it out!

  • Our garage and attic are crying out for some attention. I keep the house pretty lean, but those two areas require cooperation from my husband. Let’s just say he’s not into minimalism! Cleaning out the garage is the ultimate challenge to harmony around here.
    For motivation we agreed to join my extended family for a garage sale. Normally, we would just give stuff away, but having a deadline is helpful. The proceeds are going toward a family vacation.