spring cleaning

A Chore That's Good For The Soul

The rituals of spring refresh living spaces—and body and spirit.

April 23, 2015

I remember the first time a friend told me about khouneh tekouni, the intensive cleaning that takes place in late March in Persian households. In the days before Nowruz, the Persian festival of spring, my friend recalled, his mother would reorganize every closet, scrub every windowpane, wipe every piece of furniture. That was fitting; khouneh tekouni literally means “shaking the house.” By the time the festival arrived, it was not just the house that felt lighter and cleaner. Each member of the family, wearing new clothes to welcome spring, felt lighter, more free, ready for the holiday and its 12 days of feasting, family visits, and gift giving.

Those two Farsi words, khouneh tekouni, changed my own relationship to spring-cleaning. My birthday, March 20, delightfully coincides with the vernal equinox, the time when Nowruz is celebrated in Iran and other central Asian countries. I decided that this was how I wanted to prepare for my birthday: by shaking the house. Instead of a chore, I now had a rite of passage. I always begin my khouneh tekouni with my desk, clearing the clutter of paper that has accumulated, which also helps settle my mind. Then I usher my winter gear into its disappearing act, reveling in the season’s warm weather. This is also the only moment of the year when I take an honest look at the rows of condiments inside the door of the fridge. And cleaning under the couch almost always gets me rearranging the furniture. By the end of the weekend, the apartment feels different. So do I. My house shaking is cathartic; it gives me a sense of a fresh start just as my own new year comes around.


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.