While summer may be just around the corner, you still have time to do some spring cleaning. From household allergens and clutter to emotional baggage and winter weight – here’s how to lighten up and let it go this season.
For centuries, people have regarded spring as a season for refreshing. Before the advent of electricity and central heating, homes were lit by candles and warmed with coal, wood and oil. Closed off tightly against the chill, rooms would trap dust, soot, smoke and ash. So when the harsh winter days subsided, families hauled furniture and fabric to the yard to be scoured and aired out while the interior of the house was scrubbed floor to ceiling.
While modern comforts mean we no longer contend with soot and smoke following the cold months, we could all still benefit from an annual deep clean. This year, rather than limiting your spring spruce-up to a seasonal closet swap or mopping marathon, consider clearing out and dusting off all areas of your life – home, body and spirit alike. Here a handful of Roper St. Francis experts, as well as a local organizing professional, help you do just that.
On the surface, tackling dust and grime is the goal of regular housekeeping. However, Dr. Thomas Harper, a Roper St. Francis affiliated allergist-immunologist, says certain indoor allergens are often left behind. “The average home harbors an excess of certain microscopic substances that sweeping, dusting and vacuuming can miss,” says Dr. Harper, who cites feces from dust mites and cockroaches; animal proteins (found in the fur, dander and salvia of dogs, cats and rats); and mold spores as common examples. When present, these can lead to upper and lower respiratory problems (think coughing, congestion and sinus infections); eczema or inflammation of the skin; and in rare cases, hives. So how can you minimize your exposure to these irritants?
“Dust mites feed on dead skin cells and love any sort of foam, inner spring or cotton mattress,” says Dr. Harper, adding that the average double bed houses one to two million of the vermin. While you can’t eliminate these microscopic pests, rest assured that you can reduce your contact with them. Dr. Harper suggests encasing your mattress and pillows with mite-proof covers. To kill mites living in the bedding, wash sheets in hot water weekly and put blankets and bedspreads into the dryer for 10 minutes at least once a month. Controlling mites and pet dander on other fabric surfaces requires weekly vacuuming, preferably using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter (high-efficiency air filter) and double-thickness bags. If your home has draperies, toss them in the dryer once every four to eight weeks, and be sure to change your air filters monthly.
Standing water attracts cockroaches and can lead to mold, so check for leaks under the refrigerator, washing machine, toilets and sinks every few months. If you find evidence of surface mold, clean it with diluted bleach (one cup of bleach to one gallon of water, suggests the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Seek professional help if you discover a pest infestation or suspect that mold is present within the walls – clues for the latter include a strange odor and physical symptoms like listlessness and watering eyes.
You’ve wiped away the allergens, now to wipe the disorder. “Having a home that is cluttered and disorganized can cause tension in your relationships, create bad habits for children, increase expenses due to late bills and prolonged repairs, result in poor time management and missed opportunities, and lead to duplicate purchases,” explains Jennifer Truesdale, founder of Mount Pleasant’s STR8N UP Professional Organizing Services and the president of the National Association of Professional Organizers Charleston. Consider, for example, the time you spend looking for your keys, bills or your dog’s leash from day to day. A daily average of just 10 minutes adds up to more than two and a half days per year spent searching. By minimizing household mess, not only will you experience less stress and more clarity, you can reduce housework demands by some 40 percent, writes author Dr. Pamela Peeke in her bestselling book Fit to Live. But, where to start?
To avoid getting lost in the process, create a plan of attack before you begin. “I suggest walking through your house in your mind,” says Truesdale. “What is the first place that causes you stress, changes your mood or makes you want to close the door? Start there. If you tackle the hardest stressor first, you will be motivated to go forward with the easier areas.” Once you’ve gotten your home in order, take time to create a short list of daily, weekly and monthly action items that will keep your spaces in line. “Maintaining organization is a continual process that demands attention, so treat it with the respect it deserves and avoid the chaos that can result when you’re not paying attention,” suggests Truesdale.
So the space around you is cleaned and clear of clutter. Next up? Yourself, and the emotional baggage from last season, year or beyond that may be taking a toll on your health. Reverend Amanda Jones, Director of Pastoral Care for Roper St. Francis, says that letting go of festering feelings of hurt, anger and resentment can open the door to a healthier, fuller, more productive and happier existence. In fact, several studies have linked optimism and positive emotions to better wellness and longevity. And according to an article published by the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness can lead to stronger relationships, better spiritual and psychological well-being, reduced anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, a healthier immune system, improved heart health and increased self-esteem.
Whether you’ve been going through a recent divorce, spat with a friend, or quarrel with a parent, Rev. Jones says the first step is to recognize that there’s a need for forgiveness. “Forgiveness is about taking charge of your emotions surrounding a particular situation in a way that you are no longer the victim. It’s a very intentional process and not always a quick fix,” she says. Next, examine your own reaction to the situation, reflecting on how your emotions have held you captive. “You need to accept that hurt happens as we live in relationship with other people – it’s a normal part of life.” Finally, Rev. Jones suggests making a conscious decision to let go of the negative feelings. “Reconciliation is sometimes the end result, but it may not be appropriate or possible. The goal is to no longer be bound to the anger and resentment,” she explains. “There’s a freedom in letting go.”
Whether from the holiday overindulging or long-held extra pounds, if you’re feeling sapped of energy, your diet and exercise habits could be in need of a spring clean, as well. According to an examination conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine, men and women over the age of 25 gain an average of one pound each year. And the holidays compound things: average weight gain increases by three to five percent during the holiday season.
Getting back into a routine of smart eating and regular workouts not only boosts energy, self-esteem and sleep, it can also stop that yearly weight gain in its tracks. How? “Ten seems to be a magic number,” says Roper St. Francis exercise specialist Amy Levine, MS. “Once you shed 10 pounds, you start noticing health benefits, such as decreased cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; lesser risk of heart attack, diabetes, sleep apnea and cancer; and improved joint pain.” Levine points out that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to start small and set realistic goals. “Aim to shed one to two pounds each week by combining an exercise routine with good nutrition.” And if you’re starting from square one, be sure to consult your doctor before beginning. Work your way up to at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week and remember that your training time doesn’t have to be done in 30 or 60 minute chunks – 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening can achieve the same positive results.