October 13, 2006 

This was a day of doors flung wide; of windows lifted like a toast to autumn gusts and sunlight shimmering through sparkling wavy glass. Of shaking rugs in the open air and polishing old wood till it shone a deep amber. It was a day of housecleaning—the kind that only occurs once a year—and of deep satisfaction in my happy lot.

When we were first married and all my long-held and much-cherished ideals of homemaking were finally realized in a house to keep and a husband to love and look after, I approached the great undertaking of a yearly cleaning with relish. I regarded it with much the same energy as that displayed by my sister and me in our annual attack upon our little playhouse in my parent’s backyard: we would drag everything out into the first warm sunshine of the spring, scrub down our ‘Little Tykes’ refrigerator and sink and the small wooden chairs and table, wipe the two tiny four-over-four windows, and scour the six-by-eight floor with a zeal that would have made Cinderella blush. Then we would fill a #2 washtub with good soapy water and fling in our tin and plastic kitchen accouterments with abandon. After everything was dry—just about the time the sun had lowered behind the trees in our neighbor’s yard and the breeze turned suddenly chill and the aromas of supper were wafting out to us from the house—we’d give the floor a last sweep and put it all back in, satisfied that the sanitary standards were up to par for another season.    

But it’s a big jump from keeper of a one-room playhouse to chatelaine of a rambling old farmhouse, and I must confess, that first spring I found myself rather daunted by the magnitude of the task that lay before me. And I didn’t even have my sister to help wash the windows. 😉 But I had good examples in the way of books and friends, not to mention those of my mother and my mother-in-law. (Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield was a great boon that spring.)

In the years since I have honed my own principles of keeping house; I have learned to simplify my task list and I’ve had it out with my perfectionism (over and over and over again…). And I have discovered that spring cleaning is a chore in the spring. But it’s a delight in the autumn. In the spring I am all about garden beds and sprouting seedlings. I just want to be outside with my growing things. But in the autumn it is an absolute joy to prepare my home for the coming cold weather and inside days with a furious spree of cleaning. Every task carries for me its own sense of celebration, the glorious energy of October mornings and the fluttering joy of the coming holidays. The very smell of Scott’s Liquid Gold can make my heart beat faster…

I’ve also learned that I don’t like to do all of my cleaning in one big block like I used to. It’s just a breeding ground for perfectionism if I think that I have to finish it all within a given (and arbitrary) slot on the calendar. This year I tried something new: the Friday mornings of September and October have been given to the big once a year onslaught, and the tasks themselves have been broken up into reasonable chunks, divided over seven weeks or so. Each Friday I consult my master list and decide what I’m in the mood for that day, which only enhances the sense of pleasure in the work of my hands. And it also silences the clamor of other jobs which will get my attention on the next Friday…or the next…

One of the main points that Deniece makes in her book is that forethought is our greatest ally in the management of our homes, and I am only beginning to realize how true that is. Ten minutes of planning this year saved me hours of wearisome labor; the very act of limiting myself has, inexplicably, made for a joyful and productive autumn. I don’t think I’ll ever do my spring cleaning in the spring again.