Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ditching 800 Pounds of Clutter


The notion of a top-to-bottom spring cleaning seems quaint in an era when many families, including mine, can't even tame their dust bunnies—let alone a garage full of clutter.

Many people either hate cleaning or can't find time for it, based on the frequent emails I receive on the topic. Weekly hours spent on housework since 1976 have fallen 20% among married couples, 34% among single women and 16% among single men, according to a long-term study of 9,000 families at the University of Michigan. While no one measures clutter, "the number of possessions owned by the average person has risen dramatically" in the past 50 years, says Gail Steketee, dean of social work at Boston University and co-author of several books on hoarding.

A clutter-filled home can be a source of stress—and can spur squabbles among couples.

But how do you fit a thorough spring cleaning into a time-pressured schedule? To look for answers, I ran a six-week experiment. I surveyed 10 books by cleaning experts and picked the three approaches to managing housecleaning time that seemed most likely to fit into a busy schedule. Then, I divided my four-bedroom house into three zones and tested each approach in a different zone for about two weeks, while keeping up all my usual activities—working, cooking for and spending time with my family, hosting weekend guests, seeing friends and doing volunteer work. My house is a worthy laboratory; a packrat by nature, I have avoided doing a top-to-bottom deep cleaning and de-cluttering for longer than I care to admit. (OK, for two years.) Normally I only spend a couple of hours every week or two, vacuuming, tidying up and scrubbing bathrooms...." More