8 Ways to Spring Clean for Your Mental Health

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It’s spring, officially! Happy equinox! Happy allergies! Happy maybe it will stop raining soon and the sun will come out and you can wear that transitional weather jacket you bought back in December!

You know what people talk a lot about when they talk about spring? Cleaning. You know what it mostly sucks to do when the weather starts getting nice-ish? Clean. Luckily, there are a few handy ways to make cleaning feel like something good you’re doing for yourself and not just, you know, your floors.

Because there’s definitely a link between the state of your living space and the state of your mental…state. And when you approach SpRiNg ClEaNinG with that in mind, it becomes more than just another chore to keep your roommate from threatening to put your dirty dishes in your bed.

But don’t worry: this is not about picking up everything you own and asking what its patronus is and keeping it based on the answer. This is about helping the world outside of your brain become a source of energy or relaxation for what’s inside your brain, instead of a source of stress. And maybe you read all of these suggestions and decide that you’re whole place is perfect, just the way it is — which is awesome, and mad props. But you do still have to do number two. It’s not negotiable.

Shall we?

1. Make your bed look really nice

Say, as nice as you would want it to look if someone sexy were on their way over. Do this first. It’s going to immediately make the whole room feel more put-together, and serve as a place to temporarily put other stuff if you decide to keep organizing. And even if it’s the only thing you do, now your bed is all lovely and inviting and ready for you to climb in because you’re worth it. Bonus points if you wash all the sheets and pillowcases first.

2. Open all the windows

Especially if you live in a cold-during-winter place. If you do, I bet you haven’t cracked those suckers since October. And there is something incredible about opening all the windows, all of them, all at the same time. You can actually feel the old air leaving and the new air rushing in. It’ll make the hairs on your arms stand up. It’s like shaking out your feet after sitting cross legged on the floor for a long time. Take some deep breaths. Invite the new stuff in.

3. Choose one small thing that frustrates you and change it

Maybe it’s that every time you reach for your toothbrush you inevitably knock something else off shelf. Maybe it’s the Tegan and Sara poster you’ve been meaning to hang up for the last seven months. Whatever it is, make sure it’s nothing too big or daunting. Completing one living space-related task will make you feel accomplished, and just might inspire you to keep going once you’re done. Mark my words, next thing you know you’ll be scrubbing the grout between the tiles in your shower.

4. Dust!

If you’re anything like me, dusting is both the easiest and most impossible thing on the planet. Why does it feel so hard to do? It’s just rubbing a static-y thing over other surfaces! I will admit that I feel an immense sense of satisfaction when I get rid of a layer of dust and can marvel at the clean, shiny thing underneath. It’s like a physical manifestation of shaking off the excess crap that’s clogging up your life and not letting you reach full shininess potential. The same goes for vacuuming, only remember: dust before vacuuming (I’m not a rookie you’re a rookie).

5. Get rid of clutter, or be decisive about where it stays

As a low-level hoarder, I don’t mind a bit of clutter. Having random objects around can add texture and warmth and character, not to mention interesting conversation topics. But putting thought into where things are, and how they’re arranged, is a way of exerting agency and taking ownership of a space. Even if you choose to leave a few books strewn about in artful disarray, that’s a conscious decision you made to create a specific mood. There’s this idea of Mindfulness as being a big, epic state of grace everyone should strive for, but really all it means is thinking about the stuff you’re doing while you’re doing it. And if that means focusing on putting loose change into a jar for five minutes, you’re doing it right.

6. Move one thing to a totally new place

Sometimes we get so used to where things are, we don’t question whether it’s where they should actually be or if it’s just where they’ve always been. #deepthoughts It’s a good idea, in every area of your life, to take a step back every once in awhile and assess the placement of, say, chairs/mirrors/lamps/sleeping cats. Maybe try switching a side table to the other end of the couch, or turning a shelf so it faces out from the corner at a new angle. Leave it for a week or two. You can always move it back, or somewhere else entirely. Either way, you know you made a decision about it, instead of just accepting things as they are. Get down with your bad self, game-changer!

7. Take inventory of what you’ve got

Right at this very moment I happened to glance up at the very tip-top of my kitchen shelf where I never look, and lo, there are two full paper towel rolls up there. I really wish I had known this yesterday, while I was cleaning every glass surface in my apartment with toilet paper. It’s good to look up (and in and under and behind). You never know what you’ll re-discover in the back of a closet or under your bed, e.g. treasures. Sometimes there are transitional weather jackets you forgot about!

8. Make it fun

When I was a kid, my mom never cleaned without her trusty radio blasting NPR by her side. (Look it was the ’90s, that mythical time before iThingies and the interwebs). Nowadays, I use any and all organizing time as a chance to catch up on podcasts, or practice my T Swift choreography. Because most things are more fun when you pretend you’re in a music video while doing them, especially when they involved a broom.


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Maree lives in Berlin and is usually carrying some sort of Tupperware product on her person. She's written for Marie Claire, The Rumpus, and Teen Vogue, but still has not fulfilled her lifelong dream of seeing a real blue-footed booby. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter and probably the dance floor.

Maree has written 24 articles for us.


  1. Look, I could be wrong here, but I have a feeling Maree is the secret protege of Mary Poppins, and this makes me extremely happy and also hopeful that if I write a letter about my shitstorm life and throw it in a fireplace that Maree might come sort my house out for me, come linen shopping, and help me make a kite on the cheap.

    • How did you know that linen shopping is my favorite thing in all the world? I AM ON MY WAY.

  2. unfuckyourhabitat is a website with before and after photos that motivates the hell out of me. i spring cleaned yesterday by setting an alarm at 6am and had a terrible day at work afterward so at least i got to come home to a much cleaner space when my headspace was not in a good place. it does help.

    • It does, doesn’t it? I am highly impressed with your 6 am wake up, also unfuckyourhabitat, a thousand times yes.

  3. if I can add a #9, consider a tiny plant friend! plant friends make everything so much more friendly and happy.

    • YES I actually went to a succulent sale today, though didn’t find anything to complement the three ikea cacti I have that are doing remarkably well…

    • Yes! Plus if you get a larger plant (I have an aloe vera because it’s practical and near-impossible to kill), it can help filter the air and produce oxygen and stuff.

  4. Super timely – along with a bunch of other people I know, I am not only cleaning but packing for a move right now! It’s like… the ultimate cleaning. Everything has to be out! I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m going to keep the new apartment clean (there is more motivation since it’s a lot nicer, plus it has its own washer/dryer and dishwasher which my current place does not) but I don’t know how to do that. Any advice on keeping my clean slate clean? Are there… cleaning things that people do regularly? (Lol I’m so helpless)

    • I AM DOING THE SAME RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT. (I’m actually moving into my very own apartment for the first time ever, so I have very similar cleanliness goals.) Dishwasher helps kitchen-wise immensely. Re: appliances, make sure you do some upkeep about twice a year — that means running either a self-clean cycle (if your stuff is new enough to have that option), or doing an empty wash load of just hot water and white vinegar to make sure everything is clean and fresh. If you live in a place with hard water, there are special tablets you can get to get rid of build up. Re: everything else, I absolutely love Apartment Therpy guides to annual cleaning — they have great schedules, and a lot of interior porn to keep you motivated. Good luck with the move! Your packing hair looks awesome, I promise.

      • *looks at dishwasher that hasn’t been cleaned in the 5 years I’ve lived here* I should, uh, probably get on that.

        • Full disclosure: my girlfriend is in charge of this, I just know that she does it. Never too late!

    • A strategy that my fiancée and I have employed is to do a certain set of cleaning tasks every week and others either every other week or twice a month. It’s a way not to make cleaning so overwhelming. So we vacuum and clean cat boxes every week. Then we rotate kitchen cleaning , bathroom cleaning, or dusting every other week. In the end, we have our regular cleaning with only one additional task so it rarely feels like OH SHIT ALL THE CLEANING. Good luck with the move!!

    • Yes! I am a wannabe inbox zero, it feels so goooooood the few times I can make it happen. But I also have a personal system where I keep something unread until I can follow up on it, which makes that hard. Tips on fixing this VERY welcome.

      • Folders! I have 0-5 emails in my inbox regularly, and the rest go into folders once I’ve dealt with them (responded/ decided I don’t need to respond). So I keep them “read” if I have to respond still, but since there are only 5 or less emails in my inbox, it makes it easier to remember

        • I like this. My problem is that once I put things into folders I forget about them forever. Would love a way to set a Check Folder alarm…

    • Tech tip: https://unroll.me.

      It allows me to separate my important correspondences with individuals or organizations I want to keep up with in moment ( ahem, autostraddle), from the more general stuff that I also don’t want to completely unsubscribe from.

      It will “roll up” all of your subscriptions into one daily newsletter/ email.

      I can choose to open that one rolled up email or not, depending on my mood or whatever else is in my inbox.

      Additional benefits include minimizing impulse buying just because so-and-so is having a one day sale. I open my rollup with that risk in mind.

  5. Yes! This is so great! I basically did all of this over my spring break, so its really validating to just confirm that yeah I did a lot and its going to help a lot going into my new term! GO ME! I reorganized the living room area and cleaned the hell out of the kitchen and bathroom. Plus I got a dining table which means I’m like almost an adult now!!

  6. Maree this was so good and so needed!! gonna go open my windows and feel like an easy breezy beautiful new person!

    • YESSSSSS it is the most magical and may or may not be my secret way of blowing dust off the things I don’t wanna clean.

  7. I am definitely guilty of claiming that clutter just makes my room look homely when in fact, it’s a mess.

    My desk is just covered in… stuff! I swear I’ll fix it one day.

    • For my desk, I have a pair of neon colored stand-up file holder thingies that I cram all the stuff into when I need some clean space / someone is coming over. It’s a good way to keep everything in one place, so you can find what you need (though going back through them is a bit of a task).

  8. I’ve found that Habitica (or really, any to-do list app, but I like Habitica’s classification system and the fact that you can fight monsters on a flying pig) has been really helpful in the “unfuck your habitat” department. I have two “habits” set: one with a higher reward for major tasks like dusting the whole apartment, rearranging the closet, etc. and one lesser one for minor things like wiping down the counters or making my bed. It feels so satisfying to check things off.

    • I think this is one of the best implementations of gamification I have ever heard of. Getting this app straight away.

  9. I 100% recommend dusting. I don’t even realize how much grime has accumulated on my furniture until I start cleaning it. Even if I wasn’t bothered by it before, I feel 10x more refreshed after I actually do something as simple as wipe my desk or clean my bookshelf.

  10. maree this is so helpful and inspiring! i’ve been using the daily cleaning chart that rachel linked to in a recent HYHY in an effort to stay ahead of the mess. and it works! (when i actually do it!)

    and yes yes yes to making your bed. megan stays in our bed for hours after i get out of it, and i practically sprint up the stairs to make it after she gets into the shower. i mean she would totally make the bed for me, but i think i do a better job. TIGHT SHEETS. #tightsheets

    • TIGHT. SHEETS. There is nothing else as satisfying. I am so glad that I am not the only obsessive bed-maker, sometimes even if someone has already done it I will re-do it. #notsorry #tightsheets

  11. “this is not about picking up everything you own and asking what its patronus is and keeping it based on the answer”

    You read that book, too?

    • My girlfriend told me I absolutely should not under any circumstances do that to my stuff. Because she knows she would come over and I’d have a bed and some text books and that’s it.

  12. No 4. – Quentin Crisp said after the third year the dust doesn’t get any worse. So I feel like maybe I’ll just leave that bit for 3 years?

  13. 100% support the bed-making as a place to start. My theory is that a messy room can look clean with a made bed, but a clean room always looks messy with an unmade bed. Plus I swear I sleep better when the bed has been made.

  14. Adding to #4, use the vacuum to dust! Seriously. I’m allergic to dust (no, really) so I always vacuum anything I can with various attachments, then wipe with microfiber towel & vinegar or whatever cleaning agent you like if you use any. It keeps the dust contained much more and no need to waste a swifter or something like it.

    And wear a dust mask if you have allergies. Wearing the mask kind of sucks if you have a lot to do & it’s going to be a while, but it’s still way better than inhaling the gunk & having a runny nose, sneezing & coughing for the rest of the day/evening.

  15. It’s funny that you included sleeping cats as a thing to move/rearrange. I have no control over sleeping cats. Sometimes they have a fav spot they sleep on for months and then one day they aren’t interested any more. My cat, Gandalf, has decided his new favorite place to sleep is on top of the dirty clothes pile in my closet that is, admittedly, not put away in the laundry basket (his other favorite place to sleep) because the clean clothes are still in the laundry basket.

    I really do need to do more cleaning though. It’s hard to clean when you live with roommate’s whose random crap is everywhere. I just have this, “THAT ISN’T MY MESS SO FUCK YOU” mentality. I CAN’T WAIT TO LIVE ALONE!!!

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