Writer: Erin Lee
A member of the family recently lamented to me, "I've been Marie-Kondo-ing my house, and I didn't realize I had so... much... stuff!"
Growing up in a Chinese Singaporean family, spring cleaning, or 大扫除 (dà sǎo chú) as we call it, was an important tradition and once-a-year ritual. It represented the practice of "clearing out the old" (除旧 chú jiù) so we could "invite the new" (迎新 yíng xīn) into our life.
I remember spring cleaning to be a rather massive endeavour in our household just before the arrival of each Chinese New Year. For a week we had to push aside commitments to accommodate a stringent routine of thoroughly cleansing the home.
We scrubbed, swept, mopped, vacuumed, and wiped with such fervour that no corner was spared and no furniture was left untouched. We opened every drawer and storage box to determine what to keep and what to give or throw away. And when we decided we were done, we would sit back in both exhaustion and satisfaction, admiring the fruits of our efforts, and feeling like we could finally ease into the new year with more space, clarity, and confidence.
Over the years, we have toned down a lot on the time and energy spent carrying out this ritual, but the symbolism of spring cleaning somehow stays alive in me. There is much wisdom to be found in the spirit of "cleaning for moving on". On top of doing a thorough cleansing of the physical home in which we live, spring cleaning can be adopted as a beautiful mindfulness practice of reviewing what we have been holding on to, what no longer works for us, and how we could create the conditions to welcome what we truly need.
A ritual will only remain a sequence of prescribed actions, until it is made meaningful through the practice of mindful awareness and contemplation.
Here are some insights I have personally gained from bringing mindfulness to spring cleaning:
In general, spring cleaning the house shows me how I have chosen to take care of the physical space I inhabit, how much attention I have awarded to my living conditions, and how much I prioritise taking care of myself and my right to live well.
Spring cleaning the fridge gives me insight into how I have been nourishing my body over the past year. Have I been consuming more processed, sugary foods? Have I been eating out more than I need to, and have I made the effort to cook more, like I had intended to?
Spring cleaning my wardrobe and finding forgotten pieces of clothing with their tags still on offers insight into my spending behaviour, and the relationship I have with both money and my body image.
Spring cleaning my bookshelves (boy, is this always a tough one!) and realising that many books have been left untouched suggest that the idea of owning books may have taken over my original intention to spend more time reading.
Spring cleaning the digital contents in my phone tells me how much time I have spent on mindless consumption and consequently how absent I may have been from what or who truly matters to me.
Spring cleaning the objects I own, that I have no use for but had chosen to store year after year, exposes me to my hoarding tendencies and underlying poverty mentality.
Last but not least, it also helps to further reflect on whether we have been discovering the same tendencies in ourselves with each year's cleaning ritual:
Are we throwing out stuff only to once again acquire the exact same things we don't need?
Do we feel momentarily inspired to stock up the fridge and pantry with healthy foods, only to forget about them and relapse to junk food and emotional binge-eating when we experience distress?
Are we going through the motions of spring cleaning just to make ourselves feel better for a while, only to fall back to the same old patterns of buying, owning, and hoarding as the year progresses?
What have we really learned about ourselves from cleaning the physical space we inhabit?
Spring cleaning is no longer just about decluttering and re-organizing when we approach life with more mindful awareness. It is an opportunity to look more deeply into any deep-seated attitudes and unconscious patterns that have been holding us back from living more simply, healthily, and wisely.
I wish you an insightful spring cleaning, and a happy new year.