It’s lovely to think, too, that while I am cleaning, people all around the world are doing the same, using a vacuum cleaner or a mop and a bucket of water as a gateway, where spiritual renewal meets nature’s regrowth. Passover, for instance, calls for scrubbing the house to remove all traces of chametz, food with leavening. Unleavened bread, or matzo, represents the humility and faith (as well as the haste) with which the Jews left Egypt. All puffed up with yeast, chametz is a metaphor for the unbridled human ego, so removing it is an opportunity for spiritual purification.
Related: The Only 10 Things You Need To Buy To Make All Of Your Own Cleaning Products
In other traditions, such as Lent, spring is a time to fast—a sort of housecleaning for the body. Among Orthodox Christians, Lent is preceded by the Sunday of Forgiveness, when believers ask one another to forgive their mistakes and dismiss grievances from the past year. Songkran, Thailand’s mid-April New Year, is far less solemn. But the water fights that ensue when Thais douse one another are nevertheless a form of symbolic cleansing.
Spring-cleaning, then, is not just for our homes; it’s for every aspect of our lives. If there’s a common theme across these rituals, it is the importance of getting rid of the past. Whether the ritual is festive like Nowruz or ascetic like Lent, the subtext is that it’s time to let go of what doesn’t serve you, be it the cobwebs behind the refrigerator or the resentment you harbor after a fight.
The more we’ve lost touch with seasonal rhythms, the more it seems that spring-cleaning is simply about decluttering our closets and beating the rugs. But making khouneh tekouni my own birthday ritual reminded me that shaking our houses can also entail a shaking of our souls. We can go beyond the objects we own and refresh our bodies, our relationships, our spirits. Spring-cleaning offers the promise that we can renew ourselves, inside and out.