Spring Clearing: Making Space for What Matters Most
By Emily Hanna, LLMSW
The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also. – Harriet Ann Jacobs
With the arrival of spring, we tend to relish putting away our winter clothes to be replaced by lighter and brighter fabrics, setting up outdoor spaces in anticipation of summer gatherings, and even engaging in the tradition (sometimes begrudgingly) of spring cleaning. A Cantonese saying, “wash away the dirt on Ninyabaat” means to rid the home of bad dirt of the past year, and to get it ready to fill it with the good luck to follow. Similarly, in Persian culture, the holiday known as Nowruz includes the ritual known as Knaneh-Tekani, meaning “shaking house”. During this time, the family cleans the spaces and objects in the home that have been neglected the rest of the year (Freeman, 2012). The tradition of spring cleaning takes form in many different cultures, though each practice boils down to the same core intention: taking care of what one has, while carefully choosing what to let go of in the pursuit of renewal.
In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo outlines her method of “tidying” largely based on the determination of which possessions “spark joy,” and which do not (or may even have the opposite effect). This criterion is a variation on simply discarding what is no longer useful, out of season, or damaged. Instead, it carves out the opportunity to create a space according to the lifestyle one wants to lead. When Kondo asked her client what she envisions her ideal routine to be, the client vividly describes, “before going to bed, I would have a bath, burn aromatherapy oils, and listen to classical piano music or violin while doing yoga and drinking herbal tea. I would fall asleep with a feeling of unhurried spaciousness” (Kondo, 37).
While this luxurious nighttime routine would not be possible for many, it illustrates how concretely picturing one’s ideal lifestyle can help define one’s values. As defined by Hayes et al (2006), values are “desired global qualities of ongoing action.” Ultimately, values are what you want to keep on doing.
In the case above, one of the values this woman may hold is to engage in self-care. By clearing enough space in her house to practice yoga and discarding what could hinder the feeling of “spaciousness,” she created an environment to facilitate the nightly routine she envisioned. Kondo recommends asking yourself why you want to live the kind of lifestyle you want, and then ask yourself “Why?” to each answer. This is to access the core reasons for your ideal lifestyle – or in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) terms, to help clarify your own values. You may ask yourself the following questions:
“What is important to me?”
“What qualities do I want to cultivate in my day to day life?
“What actions do I want to take that will lead me towards the life I want to live?”
Then take time to think about what concrete and realistic actions will bring you closer to these values. Lastly, envision how your space can best help facilitate these actions. This process can help create your personal compass to help make decisions about what to keep and what to let go of in your spring cleaning process. Not only will the process clear physical space, but mental and emotional space to allow you to live out your value-driven aspirations.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT by Russ Harris
Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy by Steven C. Hayes
Bond, F. W., Hayes, S. C., & Barnes-Holmes, D. (2006). Psychological Flexibility, ACT and
Organizational Behavior. In S. C. Hayes, F. W. Bond, D. Barnes-Holmes, & J. Austin (Eds.), Acceptance and Mindfulness at Work: Applying Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Relational Frame Theory to Organizational Behavior Management (pp. 25-54). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press.
Freeman, S. (2012). HowStuffWorks.com. <https://home.howstuffworks.com/home
improvement/household-hints-tips/cleaning-organizing/5-world-spring-cleaning-traditions.htm> Top 5 World Spring Cleaning Traditions. 6 May 2018
Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Kondo, M., & Hirano, C. (2014). The life-changing magic of tidying up: The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing (First American edition.). Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.