Choose your chunk to clean this spring

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The buds are blooming, the grass is greening, and my nose is sneezing, so it must be spring. And since nature is sprucing itself up so nice and pretty, it feels like I ought to do a little sprucing inside, too.

But this year I just can’t commit to traditional spring cleaning. It feels too big, too complicated, too hard. I’d love to have the energy for it, but I just don’t. So, I’m taking some advice I read in a recent New York Times article that recommends breaking up a big chore into smaller chunks – a bite-size chore, if you will.

Last weekend, I chose my chunk – the wasteland of forgotten bottles, bins, and bags festering under the bathroom sink. I’m sure that space had some rhyme or reason once upon a time, but somehow it devolved into a dump. It became the kitchen junk drawer of the bathroom. When we didn’t know where to put something, we’d shove it into the cabinet and try to get the door closed before it tumbled back out.

But most of us can only stand a mess for so long. Messes have an expiration date, and once you pass it, that chaotic cabinet starts to bug you a little more each week. On Saturday, I put on my headphones, cued up an audiobook, and flung open the bathroom cabinet doors to face my chosen chunk.

I hesitated to even reach in there. I knew that if I accidentally tipped over one bottle of hairspray, it would trigger a domino effect that would crash the whole cabinet. But experience has taught me that things like this need to get worse before they get better, so I dove in. I pulled out everything in the cabinet, sat down with it on the floor, and started to sort – trash, donate, or keep.

Sorting might be the hardest part of any cleaning project simply because it requires radical honesty. You’ll pick up that mostly full bottle of conditioner and waffle as you decide which pile to put it in. But let’s get real. You didn’t like that product when you tried it two years ago because, if you had, it wouldn’t be sitting in this cabinet of collected avoidance. So, either give it to someone who might like it, or cut your losses and put it in the trash. Admit that it didn’t work out and free up the space it was squatting on.

During my sort, I had to let go of lingering products – things I bought with the best of intentions. It was hard, but I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by stringing them along. We needed a clean break and a cleaner bathroom.

After the sort, the trash pile was the largest. I shoved it into a garbage bag and instantly felt better. Then I sorted the “keep” pile into categories – first aid stuff, hair stuff, and extras (the backup bottles of products you already use). One thing I realized during this process is that I own enough backlogged body wash for roughly three years, something I’ll try to remember the next time I’m flirting with a new bottle of coconut-scented soap at Target.

A professional organizer once told me that her best advice is to “containerize” things – put them in a bin or basket instead of just putting them back into a cabinet. Why? Because you can always squeeze or shove a few miscellaneous things into a free-range cabinet, but bins have boundaries.

If you really want to get serious, stick a label on the bin. It’s like making a vow to your future self that you’ll keep your promises to put things where they belong.

By the end of the weekend, the house still had projects waiting to be done – someday. But there’s no denying I did a slam dunk on that chunk. It feels great. I keep opening the cabinet doors just to admire it.

Spring clean your whole place if time and energy allow. But remember that there’s no shame in making your world more organized and beautiful – one little chunk at a time.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available at Amazon. 

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