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Banish trash, dust and clutter with these spring cleaning hacks

Alfonso de Anda for NPR

Updated March 8, 2024 at 10:24 AM ET

The long winter is almost over. As spring settles in and longer days commence, Life Kit has some ideas to help you nurture that seed of fresh-start energy that starts to sprout this time of year.

First, it's OK to start small. Taryn Williford, a lifestyle editor at Apartment Therapy, suggests giving yourself a "bite-sized task" to begin. "We might kick off an entire whole home decluttering project by just cleaning out one drawer," she says.

Once you get going, it might be hard to stop. Now, onward to spring cleaning, organizing, decluttering and letting go of whatever might be weighing you down.

Focus on garbage, dishes and laundry

KC Davis, a licensed therapist and author of the book, How to Keep House While Drowning, has a method for cleaning when you just don't feel like it. Go around the house with a trash bag and collect all the trash. Then go around, collect all the dishes — like those water glasses on your bedside table — and put them in the sink. Then go around with a hamper and collect any dirty laundry.

Don't worry about actually taking out the trash, washing the dishes or doing the laundry until later when you have more energy, says Davis. The point of this exercise is to quickly get a messy house back in order.

Clean more efficiently

Don't clean more than you have to by following these rules of thumb, says Williford.

Dry clean before you wet clean. Dust your blinds, for example, before using all-purpose spray to wipe them. "If you start with wet cleaners and you haven't dusted that surface, you're going to end up getting all that gunk on your rag having to switch out rags more often. It's not efficient," she says.

Go from top to bottom. In the bedroom, clean the light fixtures and the fan before stripping the beds. Williford learned that lesson the hard way when she first started by taking off all the bedsheets. "All the dust would fall on my bare mattress!"

Go clockwise so you don't miss any surfaces or furniture or clean the same spot twice.

Keep your house as dust-free as possible

Dust is made up of a lot of things: fibers from clothing and rugs, hair, dead skin cells and even chemicals from the grime that your shoes pick up from the street.

To reduce indoor air pollution, take your shoes off at the door of your house. Use a damp cloth, not a dry cloth, to trap the dust instead of putting it back into the air. (Yes, it will use up more rags, but it will keep dust from resettling elsewhere.) And get yourself a good vacuum with a HEPA filter. That stands for high-efficiency particulate air filter. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, they can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and many other airborne particles.

Put away kitchen appliances

To reduce the amount of clutter in a small kitchen, Deb Perelman of the cooking blog and cookbook Smitten Kitchen says to keep big and unsightly appliances tucked away in cupboards. In most kitchens, counter space is precious — so don't waste it on that blender you only use on the weekends.

Prioritize your decluttering projects

When it comes to organizing, don't bite off more than you can chew. Instead, start with something less challenging, like your purse or one single bathroom drawer. Save more complicated items, like tax paperwork, or sentimental items, like family photos and memorabilia, for last. These kinds of organizational projects often take the most time and emotional energy, so you'll want to build up your decluttering muscle first.

Make more storage space

Got boxes and boxes of childhood keepsakes in your garage or attic? Here's how to pare down those mementos to make more storage space.

Limit how much you keep. Aim for one box for each chapter of your life, such as one box for elementary school, one box for high school and another for college.

Take photos of journal entries, yearbooks and school artwork instead of keeping the physical items. They save space and you can revisit those artifacts any time on your phone or computer.

Give your mementos a new life. Get them outside the box by thinking outside the box. Sew old T-shirts into a quilt. Make a scrapbook out of saved holiday cards. Display special items in a shadow box.

Whittle down your closet

Clean out your closet by finding a new home for your old clothes. Donate them, organize a clothing swap with friends or sell your unneeded items on resale sites like ThredUp, Poshmark, Depopor The Real Real. Here's more advice on cultivating a sustainable closet and mindfully parting with what you no longer need.

We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.

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Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Harlan
Becky Harlan (she/her) is a visual and digital editor for NPR's Life Kit, which brings readers and listeners actionable advice on health, finances, relationships, parenting and more.
Malaka Gharib
Malaka Gharib is the digital editor of the NPR podcast Life Kit. Previously, she was the deputy editor and digital strategist on NPR's global health and development team, where she covered topics such as the refugee crisis, gender equality and women's health. Her work as part of NPR's reporting teams has been recognized with two Gracie Awards: in 2019 for How To Raise A Human, a series on global parenting, and in 2015 for #15Girls, a series that profiled teen girls around the world.