I have always associated April with sunshine and new beginnings. I am from India and from the Bengali ethnolinguistic group that celebrates the Bengali new year in the middle of April (it fell on April 15th in this year). There are also other groups in India who celebrate a new year in spring, especially March and April. I remember helping my mother and grandmother clean and organize our house. We would keep clean, air, and store away the woolens and blankets away and donate clothes that I had grown out of. Clothes that could not be given away were repurposed or used in various stitching projects. In the US, spring is associated with new beginnings, gardening, hikes, and spring cleaning. After living in the US for nearly a decade, I realize that I have accumulated enough things to do a proper extensive spring cleaning, although I have done it every year. I divide the task into smaller sections and over a long period of time. Here are some tips for a sustainable and eco-friendly spring cleaning:
1. Paper towels and cleaning supplies– I reuse cloth rags instead of paper towels to clean surfaces and counters. Cloth rags are also helpful to wash surfaces. You can also create your own cleaning solutions at home, with vinegar, baking soda, and lemons, instead of using artificial ones. Cleaning windows on a sunny day helps to dry them, naturally, and remember to work from top-down: cleaning the tables and counters and then, the floor. Here are some more ways of cleaning your house.
2. Joy– I have read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it has helped me to be more mindful when cleaning. Simply put, if an item brings you joy, keep it. Or else, get rid of it. This is especially true of clothes that you haven’t worn in a few years or clothes that you might wear in the future if your body type changes.
3. Paper– Despite signing up for online alerts and paperless statements, I am still surprised by how much paper I accumulate. I recycle everything but I also get rid of random lists, receipts of products that I won’t return, and shred paperwork and statements that I won’t need.
4. Composting and gardening– Although composting is possible to do year around, with spring gardening and cleaning up last year’s plants, composting becomes a necessity during spring. As I have a black thumb, my gardening extends to keeping succulents alive. My husband and I planted vegetables and fruits last year which are thriving. As we ended up with more berries than we could eat in a year, after freezing, we gave them to our neighbors. As a result, we became more friendly with our neighbors and we were satisfied that we were eating healthy food. If you do not have a space for gardening, community gardens often provide produce in exchange for volunteering. Gardening, especially planting native plants and flowers that attract bees, will help the environment and can also help teach children.
5. Clothing– After reading about fast fashion and that 17 million tons of textile waste ended up in landfills in 2018, I decided to be more conscious of what kind of clothes I buy. However, sustainable clothing can be expensive. So, to make more space in your closet for clothes that make you happy, I suggest hosting a clothing swap when we can meet in person. I participated in one where we brought our wearable clothes, as well as home appliances, and had a potluck party. The hostess had organized clothing for different sizes and also clothes and toys for children. It was an excellent opportunity to get amazing clothes, get rid of stuff that I wasn’t wearing, and I made friends, too. Whatever was not swapped was donated to local charities, instead of Goodwill. In fact, if you donate to your local charity, you will be directly helping your community. Moreover, you can also search for programs that recycle fabrics and textiles here and also consider using wool fabric balls, whether you make them yourself, or purchase them. While sorting your clothes, you can be meta about it and listen to Natalia and Lucy talk about fashion for Feminist Book Club here!
6. Books and other media– Although this may sound controversial, I donate books that I have read and will not re-read. The local library is a good place to donate books and other media. I also put advanced readers’ copies in our neighborhood’s Little Free Library or mail or donate books to my friends. This map provides locations to Little Free Libraries. You can also donate books to prison libraries, personnel deployed overseas, veterans at home, retirement homes, books programs in Africa, and neighborhoods that lack libraries and bookstores. Independent bookstores often have buyback programs, too.
7. Bigger items– Sometimes, it is hard to recycle bigger items like couches, mattresses, or cupboards. Use Earth911 to find a recycling center. You can also donate them through your local Buy Nothing groups on Facebook or The Rooster. You can also look here to recycle electronics.
8. Digital clutter– I am guilty of saving bookmarks to read later in my Chrome browser, Facebook bookmarks, and also Instagram. However, once a month, I take time to read, organize, and delete my digital bookmarks, unused documents, and files from my laptop and Google Drive, photographs and screenshots from my phone, and apps that do not help me in the long term. Research has shown that it pays to declutter our digital lives and this is a good habit to cultivate.
Lastly, a fun playlist, an audiobook, or a podcast can help in spring cleaning. It also helps to make it into a family activity, and nothing beats the sense of achievement after cleaning. Hope you enjoy spring cleaning, this year and in the future.