Before we start talking about quarantine cleaning, we should address that self-isolation and physical distancing is difficult for some people, and can have unforeseen effects on your mental and emotional well-being. If you don’t want to “quarantine clean” and instead want to lean in to your hobbies—whether that’s fishing or painting or playing your zither—and fit in a full schedule of naps, that’s just fine. We at Lands’ End understand the comfort one can take from lazy mornings and afternoons in hammocks; feel free to skip on over to our comfy loungewear and cozy throw blankets. We offer a judgement-free experience.
At the same time, if you are the kind of person who is looking at an empty calendar for the first time in forever and can’t wait to get busy with those “I’ll get around to it” tasks, we can help with that, too! The garage, the tool room or the unfinished area of the basement might have been used as catch-all spaces that can finally be set properly to rights. Or perhaps the spaces are more civilized but just as disorganized. What’s under the bed in the guest room? Or in your inherited cedar chest? Your first free afternoon in you-don’t-know-how-long is a beautiful opportunity to make your home better, more comfortable and more functional than it may have been in a long time. Here, we’re going to talk about the big clear-out that will help you make the most of your quarantine cleaning!
Are you interested in cleaning or tidying your home? There is a difference! If you look around frustrated by piles of paper, outgrown toys, and over flowering catchalls, concentrating on purging and organizing, while if you are more concerned with dust, fingerprints and cat hair, you’ll be cleaning as in scrubbing. These two things often go hand in hand, but not always, and it’s a good idea to identify what’s causing your dissatisfaction so that it can be specifically addressed. If you are fortunate enough to have a cleaning service (and I have a cleaning service, so once again, no one is judging you), you might find yourself having to truly clean spaces such as the kitchen or bathrooms for the first time in a while. It’s okay to head to YouTube or ask a friend for some how-to advice. My father taught me how to change my own oil, but I have taken my car to the service station for oil changes for so long I would need to learn all over again; think of cleaning a gas range in these terms and suddenly it makes sense that you might need to look up how to clean the oven.
In larger spaces, you may have to compromise on this step and empty them of what you can. It’s almost impossible to get the garage entirely bare! Perhaps you’ll have to work in zones and shuffle items a bit. For smaller spaces, such as closets, cabinets or drawers, empty them of all contents and give the inside a good cleaning. This may be as simple as a thorough vacuuming or might require a trip to Pinterest for tips on how to cut greasy grime depending on whether you’re tackling the master closet or the little cupboard above the stove, but the point is that cleaning is easier when a space is empty. Now, place back into the space only what belongs there.
It’s a simple task but a difficult concept. Do all of the scissors in the house belong together in one drawer labeled “scissors” or do you, for example, keep a little pair next to the laundry supplies for snipping tags and stray threads, a big pair in the kitchen for opening bags and a dedicated pair with your wrapping papers? This is a decision to make when organizing, and it has to do with your interests, the size of your home, where you philosophically lie on the spectrum of minimalism to maximalism, and how you want to live. I can’t answer this question for you, but you will have to answer it for yourself if you want to make the most of your quarantine cleaning. Take your time and figure out what is best and easiest to maintain for you and how your household functions.
If you want to live in a tranquil home, basic organization is a key element to achieving that goal. Still, better than organizing a great deal of “stuff” is simply owning less stuff. I’m no minimalist—I own thousands of books, steward several collections, and like to rotate my décor seasonally. Still, I know and abide by the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I encourage you to think this concept over at length, and consider how you might apply it to your own belongings. Ridding yourself and your home of things that aren’t useful to you, or that you do not believe to be beautiful will automatically make your home cleaner and more comfortable. We do encourage you to keep things out of your local landfill! See if your unwanted furniture can find a new purpose in the home of a young person just starting out on their own, or donate it to the local furniture bank. High-end clothing can be sold on consignment, while gently used daywear can be donated to any one of many worthy resale organizations.
A hurdle many people face in purging unwanted items is guilt. Even when you truly believe that reducing is better than organizing, you feel you have to keep that hideous seashell lamp because you wouldn’t hurt your great aunt’s feelings for anything. You are convinced that because you love your husband you have to love the jewelry box he gave you even if it doesn’t have half enough space for your watch collection. You don’t exactly want your autographed baseball but you have happy memories of going to that game with your dad. Well, see if someone else in the family wants that seashell lamp! Your brother might think it’s gorgeous and just right for his dining room! Your niece might have been coveting that jewelry box for years. Redistributing things within the family means they are loved, which may make it easier for you to part with them. If no one else wants the item you are trying to rehome, it’s okay. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of professional organizers on television or in magazine interviews encourage people to just let things go, assuring everyone that getting rid of an item isn’t getting rid of a memory. That’s true, but I am going to give you some additional advice: take a photo. A photo can assuage a lot of guilt, and you can show it someday to your child or your best friend and say, “My great aunt Martha gave me this owl-themed tiered sandwich tray! I couldn’t keep it but isn’t it something else?!” Make a fond story of something even if you don’t want it in your home. The most important thing is to take control of what you keep in your home, and if you don’t know an item to be useful or believe it to be beautiful, do not grant it precious real estate.
When you complete a quarantine cleaning, whether it is as small as the kitchen junk drawer or as big as the entire basement, add a little something to space to signify that you have touched and bettered it. You might freshly line the drawers you organize with contact paper, or treat yourself to attractive new seagrass storage baskets or a monogrammed laundry basket for the laundry room. Fresh lavender sachets in the linen closet remind you that you cared for your space, and bettered your home. Add a little grace note to remind you of what you accomplished with your quarantine cleaning.
Above all else, be kind to yourself. Take your time in completing the tasks you set for yourself and try not to be frustrated if you work in fits and starts. We’re all in an odd situation together; it’s okay if some days are easier than others. Get the most out of your quarantine cleaning by remembering that it is a worthy endeavor, not just a way to fill your day. Enjoy the accomplishment! You earned it!