Zen Guide to Spring Cleaning
In case you haven’t noticed, spring is well under way. After spending much of the winter snuggled up at home, you might find that it’s not just you who might be carrying an extra pound or two. Are your cupboards stuffed and over flowing with woolly jumpers, scarves and bulky knits? If you look closely, are there cobwebs and dust building up in hidden corners? Well then, now is the time to take advantage of the warmer weather by opening those windows, letting some air in and getting down to some good old spring cleaning. To help you along, I’ve put together a special guide based on the Zen principles of design and aesthetics.
Zen is an ancient philosophy which stems from Japan and various surrounding countries. Zen’s core purpose is to help us humans find tranquility through meditation and daily rituals. In other words, by minimizing your thoughts and reducing your internal and external clutter, you should be able to lead a happier existence.
Zen designers have understood that it’s not enough to simply meditate or do some yoga. The way you design a building or place your furniture can have a profound effect on your mood and psyche too. But what about the daily upkeep of your home (or office)? Home maintenance can be a daunting task, and we all know that messy surroundings lead to an unsettled mind.
My Zen Guide to Spring Cleaning should help you stay on top of your daily chores, as well as provide an easy-to-follow format for that big spring clean. My guide is based on the 7 Zen Design Principles:
渋味 Shibumi ~ Austerity is the Best PolicyThe concept of Shibumi highlights the significance of being minimalistic. Buddhists would go as far as to say that you should only keep what is absolutely necessary. When tackling your spring cleaning, if you come across any item that you don’t need, get rid of it. This could be anything from old bedding to unnecessary paperwork, to clothes that you don’t wear or food that has passed its sell by date. Most of us tend to hoard clothes, holding onto items that don’t fit and impulse buys that we feel guilty to chuck. But that’s no excuse. You can take unused clothing to your local charity shop. It’s a win-win situation, because you’ll have more clear space, plus you’ll be helping someone else. If there were a Shibumi cleaning mantra, it would be ‘remove, remove, remove’. This can also be applied to your daily routine… If in doubt, throw it out!
簡素 Kanso ~ Keep it Simple & Get Rid of ClutterThe concept of Kanso suggests that you should keep your frills to a minimum. Think about those homes that have furniture at every turn and shelves filled with collections of China or souvenirs. Perhaps all the walls and curtains are covered in busy patterns. Not only will it be hard for you to think straight in such an environment, it’ll also be very challenging to dust and clean! Kanso is the complete opposite of what I just described. As well as keeping decorating to a minimum, it also involves minimal clutter. If you have a shelf full of pretty (or not so pretty) ornaments, try removing some and only keep the really special ones. This way your space will be less fussy, plus there will be more focus on the extra special items. Same goes for furniture. If there are only 1-2 people living in your house, there’s no need for 20 chairs. As a daily application, try not to let old magazines or papers pile up and pick up after yourself. Keep scattered clothing, shoes and scraps like dirty tissues out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind!
自然 Shizen ~ Go NaturalShizen is all about nature and the environment. The idea is to bind your surroundings with nature and the elements, which include earth, wind, fire and water. When you spring clean (or clean in general), be sure to open the windows and let in some fresh air. Open curtains and shutters too. Natural light will improve your mood and help you see any dust you might have missed. When cleaning, try to use natural cleaning products. Not only are they healthier for your lungs, some say they also provide good vibes and energy. For a natural floor wash, try mixing simple soap and white vinegar. You can also add some essential oils, which smell great and deter little pests. Whilst you clean and organize, you can also play natural sounds or Zen music to make the task more relaxing and enjoyable (YouTube has plenty to offer). You should also give your plants a spring clean. Turn the soil with a fork, cut off old leaves and give them some natural plant food. Fish are great for balancing the water element and they provide a sense of calmness. If you any, make sure the water is changed regularly. If you live with any furry friends, be sure to hoover up their hairs as often as possible.
幽玄 Yugen ~ Be SubtlePoker players would understand the concept of Yugen. They don’t play all their cards at once, plus they don’t make any brash movements. When it comes to spring cleaning, exercise some restraint and pace yourself. Just as it’s not healthy to have an excess of poor habits, you also don’t want to be excessive or obsessive about cleaning. If mess and clutter have been piling up for a long time, it might take a little longer to regain some order. Dedicate no more than an hour or two each day to your spring clean. You can also try dividing your house/flat into sections or rooms and tackle one section at a time. This will make the task of spring cleaning seem less daunting. Some say that this is a good way to approach your daily cleaning too. By doing a little each day, you stay on top of things, rather than letting it all get out of hand and then having to go on an intense cleaning binge.
不均整 Fukinsei ~ Beware of Being Too PerfectThis might sound like the opposite of Zen, but try not to be a perfectionist. The reasoning behind Fukinsei is that because nature is so perfect, it’s a good idea to balance it by introducing some asymmetric or incomplete design into our environment. This concept is often applied to Japanese pottery and art, which can contain small nuances, imperfections or skewed lines. In spring cleaning terms, don’t worry if you missed a spot or if items are not perfectly positioned on the table. By being imperfect, you always leave room for some improvement. Not only that, if everything in your home was perfect, shiny and symmetrical, the place would feel more like a museum. A little imperfection gives your space character and makes it more warm and welcoming!
脱俗 Datsuzoku ~ Break from the RoutineThey say rules are made to be broken. When it comes to design, this couldn’t be truer. Datsuzoku encourages you to break from convention and challenge the norm. In cleaning terms, this can make the task more enjoyable and less daunting. If you have a strict cleaning routine, try to break it or vary it from time to time. Say you’re having trouble sleeping at night, why not pick up a duster, or re-arrange a drawer. Who says that cleaning must only be done during the day! You could also consider turning your spring clean into a dance party. Use the opportunity to listen to your favourite tunes and get on down. If you’re of drinking age, you might even enjoy a glass of wine whilst you sift through old clothes (go easy though, you want to stay focused). You could even turn your spring clean into a game involving the whole family. If you love Bingo, how about making a Bingo card containing various tasks and the first family member to complete a line of tasks gets a prize!
When the word Zen is mentioned, the notion of stillness is what usually comes to mind. Seijaku is all about stillness, meditation and transporting meditative qualities into your creations and environment. It has been said that “meditation is one of the great tools to achieve peace of mind”. Meditation simply involves focusing your attention on a specific point or activity for a period of time. You can use your spring clean to your advantage by turning it into a meditative activity. Designate yourself a set time and cleaning task, and during that period focus entirely on the task at hand. Don’t forget to put your phone ringer on silent so that there are no external distractions. Try to focus your mind entirely on the task, without thinking about anything else. Lose yourself in the act. As a result, you should find that you’ll do a better job, plus your mind will have a rest from the whirlpool of daily thoughts. You may also use some meditation music to assist you in your Zen spring clean.
静寂 Seijaku ~ Connect with Your Stillness
I hope you have had a relaxing and insightful read, plus I hope it will lead you to some very happy and peaceful Zen cleaning!