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The Science Behind Spring Cleaning

What is it that makes us instinctively want to clean in the spring?

When the weather starts to warm, there is something instinctive in all of us...the desire to spring clean.

I'm sure we all remember our parents tackling the mammoth annual cleaning project. Beds and appliances pulled out from the walls to reveal a year's worth of dust bunnies and maybe even a treasure. Cupboards emptied then refilled. Rugs draped over the back fence.

With Marie Kondo's Netflix series renewing our desires to declutter and inspiring our own cleaning journey, spring cleaning has become a thing again. But is it JUST the idea of a perfect Marie Kondo-ed home that gives us the compulsion to start anew? This impulse is a phenomenon experienced around the world by many different cultures, seemingly without any discernible connections.

Before we get to the science, let's look at the origins.

The Chinese people have a long-standing (read centuries) tradition associated with their New Year which involves sweeping and leaning their homes of misfortune and prepare for the year ahead. It symbolizes a new beginning, a chance to clear away not only physical clutter but a cleansing of the mind of any regrets and mistakes. This is done prior to the New Year...once it has arrived no one cleans for three days to prevent the sweeping out of good luck.

In Jewish culture, Passover (which falls in the spring) is one of the most important holidays and is preceded by a complete and thorough cleaning of the home. During the holiday, Jewish people eat unleavened bread called Matzah...a thorough cleaning of the home is performed to ensure that no food or drink made with yeast, even the smallest crumb, remains in the household.

Catholic and Greek Orthodox religions both have traditional cleaning rituals in the spring. According to ancient rituals, the three days after Palm Sunday are dedicated to cleaning and the whole family gets involved in the chores. They are aiming to have an immaculate home free of clutter by Wednesday and the most important feast of the Catholic year, Easter. Even Lent, the 40 days of abstinence leading up to Easter, can be seen as spring cleaning for the soul.

Longer days activate our pineal gland, causing us to be more motivated in the spring

So now, the science.

Our pineal gland, a tiny endocrine gland buried deep in our brains, is responsible for the production of melatonin which causes sleepiness in humans. The gland responds to darkness, increasing its production in winter and reducing its output in summer so we actually do experience and "awakening" with the longer days of spring.

This boost of energy spurs us to naturally rise earlier and carry out the jobs that have been neglected over the winter months. Also, with more daylight the dust and dirt that has gathered in the relative darkness is more visible. In the days of our grandparents, when homes were heated with coal and wood fires, walls and floors became covered in soot so I'm sure it would have been a wonderful relief to be able to open the windows and scrub the place down. You couldn't do that in winter because you'd be letting the valuable heat out.

Scientifically it makes sense to clean our homes as the weather is getting warmer because the rising temperature promotes the growth of mold and bacteria so to prevent infection and disease a good scouring was, and still is, vital.

Fortunately we have it much easier than our forefathers and with the help of modern appliances, jobs that could have only reasonably been done once a year in warmer weather can now of course be done at any time and the term "spring cleaning" is just a turn of phrase. I for one am certainly grateful to love in an era where dust, dirt and grime can be vacuumed, machine-washed and tumble-dried.

But if you're really not into the idea of spring cleaning, just tell people you're following the Joan Rivers Cleaning Method: "I hate housework. You make the beds, you wash the dishes, and six months later you have to start all over again."

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