Spring cleaning has been a mainstay for much of human history. Some say the tradition began as a Jewish practice in preparation for Passover, requiring the removal of all leavened bread from the home – right down to the crumbs. Others attribute spring cleaning to the Chinese, who clean their houses and sweep their floors of bad luck in anticipation of the Chinese New Year.
As a practical matter, spring cleaning was of particular importance to those living in cold climates. The onset of winter required northerners to turn on wood-burning and, later, coal-burning furnaces, which would leave soot on the floors and walls along with a hearty smoke smell in all of the linens. Families would open their doors at the first sign of spring to welcome the change of seasons and to take every piece of furniture and every scrap of cloth outside. As the linens aired out, some members of the family worked to rid the furniture of soot and ash while others swept the house, scrubbed the walls, and dusted everything in sight.
Many changes took place in the 3,000 years between the first celebration of Passover and the effective end of coal-burning furnaces. The Romans paved the way for hygienic living in the third century B.C., when they siphoned water from the newly invented aqueducts to supply the public baths. Five centuries later, the Greek physician, Galen, advised bathers to lather up with soap while enjoying the communal bathing experience. Soap itself was discovered near Rome at the fictional Mount Sapo, where rain mixed with the fat of animal sacrifices, pooling in the clay of the Tiber River below. Women who washed clothes in this river walked away with cleaner laundry than those washing at inferior watering holes.
When Rome fell in 467 A.D., so did European standards of cleanliness. By the 14th century, unsanitary living conditions brought on the Black Plague, and it took 300 years for bathing and personal hygiene to be en vogue again in Europe. Even still, soap was unaffordable to most people and was seen as a luxury item until prohibitive soap taxes were revoked in the 1800s.
To curb pollution, Chicago was among the first cities to regulate smoke emissions in 1881. Even still, Chicago homes were using mostly coal as a heat source through the 1940’s. To Chicagoans living in late 19th and early 20th century, spring cleaning would have been an important yearly ritual to scrub the coal soot off their walls, furniture, and clothing. However, by 1975 only 1.5% of homes in Chicago were still using coal as a heat source, as most had switched to natural gas.
Thanks to technology, spring cleaning today is a much less labor-intensive process. Most people see it as an opportunity to purge. Others celebrate the occasion by looking at their lives and their homes in a new light. Whatever this spring brings, make sure your life is in full bloom and your home is sparkling.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guest posting from ServiceMaster by Zaba. I’d love to hear about your spring cleaning rituals.
Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,