5 simple changes to make your spring cleaning routine more sustainable

Green spring cleaning tips for those who want to do their part to protect the planet

5 tips for an eco-friendly spring cleaning

  • Embrace the purge and get rid of stuff
  • Repurpose, recycle and donate
  • Organize what’s left
  • Abolish the paper

Clean everything in a nontoxic way.

It’s one thing to be interested in keeping a clean and healthy home, but if you’re serious about sustainability, there’s more to spring cleaning tips than meets the eye — like Transformers. Not really, but we are talking about transforming your home, aren’t we? As we prepare for spring cleaning, we want to use eco-friendly products and techniques to make as little an environmental impact as we can. As responsible citizens of planet Earth, being good stewards of our home should be a lifelong habit. Once you commit to taking control of your spring cleaning and making it sustainable, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to save money and produce less waste. Your cleaning will also be just as effective, even as you make a few changes in the interest of greening your spring-cleaning routine.

We’ve been stuck inside more than usual over the past year, and it’s safe to bet our living spaces need a significant spruce-up. Unless you’re really on top of your cleaning routine, dust and dirt pile up pretty quickly. Factor in the clutter of clothes, dishes and other day-to-day items, and your place might be begging for a seasonal refresh. With spring just around the corner, and as nature’s emerging reminders of its incomparable beauty accelerate, you might also be thinking about how to make your spring cleaning more Earth-friendly. From simple, cheap and eco-friendly cleaning products to cutting back on household waste, we’ve put together some great suggestions for green spring cleaning.

Embrace the purge and get rid of stuff.

Whatever you’re trying to motivate yourself to accomplish, the hardest part is getting started. Sure, it’s a cliché, but it’s based in reality. The sustainable edition of your spring cleaning is no exception. But before you even talk yourself into rising from the couch, step one is to accept this mindset: Embrace the purge. Get into the headspace that it’s OK to get rid of stuff because you almost certainly need less of it. Believe it or not, this is an excellent first step on the road to a cleaner, healthier living space — one that might even make you happier.

Before you start cleaning anything, you’ve got to be able to access it. Aside from preventing you from cleaning your space and making it look like a real mess, piles of stuff can also cause depression, triggering stress and making it difficult to relax. Many experts advise us to “cut out the noise” in our lives, allowing us to focus on what matters. Psychologically, piles of stuff can seem noisy, impeding your progress toward what we like to call “Zen at home.” In short, if clutter plagues your home, even if it’s hidden in a closet, you’ll feel better if you deal with it before you begin your sustainable spring cleaning.

Once your head is in the game and ready to begin your decluttering mission, figure out a system and make a checklist. Your system could be as simple as creating categories for things you need to go through and placing each one on your checklist. Item categories could include clothing, cooking utensils, books, toys and media, like DVDs, magazines and old CDs. You might prefer to organize these categories according to rooms in your home. Do whatever works for you, but if you have a checklist, you have a plan. Your next step is to go through each category on your list and find things you no longer use. These are the things to add to the checklist and place in the get-rid-of-it pile. No matter how you choose to organize your checklist and categories, make sure you go through every room while in this purge mode.

Repurpose, recycle and donate.

Once your list, your search and your get-rid-of-it pile are complete, resist the temptation to throw everything into the nearest dumpster. Your old, unwanted stuff presents a great opportunity to get a little more planet-friendly, lessen your impact on the landfill, and approach this whole project more sustainably. Repurposing is a great way to breathe new life into old items, and once you start getting creative, the only limit is your imagination. An old frisbee could become a water tray under a plant. With some creative stitching, a few old sweaters could transform into a cozy dog bed. Tired-looking furniture can be stripped down and refinished for a new purpose. Old T-shirts make excellent dust rags or car-polishing cloths. Plastic food containers, mixed-nut tins and glass pickle jars serve as great screw-savers in garages or basements.

Once you’ve tried every option you can think of for ways to repurpose and reuse items that stubbornly remain in that get-rid-of-it pile, recycling is your next step. Glass, metal, plastic, cardboard, paper and even old motor oil can be recycled, but make sure you follow local guidelines. Recycling rules have changed a lot in the last few years, and depending on where you live and how actively you recycle, you may not be aware of everything you can currently bring to recycling centers or leave out for neighborhood pickup. Leaving extra stuff in your recycle bin that doesn’t fit local requirements is a waste of everyone’s time and effort. Take a little time to familiarize yourself with your local options, and then scope out your shrinking get-rid-of-it pile for prime recycling candidates. If you’re not sure about how to recycle something, such as old office equipment, flat-screen monitors or other technology items, check with your local recycling center or go online for places that offer these services.

Donating what you can’t repurpose or recycle is a great way to help out someone in need who might be looking for exactly what you’re happy to give away. Whether you have spare clothes, tools, games, toys, books, media or nearly anything else, organizations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army accept items like these and pass them on to those in need. If you have oversize household items, such as furniture, working appliances or valuable construction materials, places like Habitat for Humanity welcome such donations. Some churches have ecumenical storehouses that may stop by to pick up furniture or appliance donations to help others in your community. Services like Planet Aid will even recycle torn and stained clothes, bedding and other damaged textiles. Finally, if you still have a few things left that can’t be repurposed, recycled or donated, look into your community disposal regulations to learn how to get rid of things that must go to the dump. Batteries, old paint cans, medications, and other potentially hazardous materials typically have specific guidelines and times of year for pick up or drop-offs.

Organize what’s left.

Once you’re through the purge process, now you’re ready to reorganize everything you decided to keep. Clearing out that get-rid-of-it pile may have given you a new perspective on your living space. You might see it in a new light, literally. You hopefully have less of everything, which means you have more room for what remains. If you still have a few leftover boards and boxes, use them to reorganize the shelving in your closets. Now that you have more space in your kitchen drawers and cabinets, reconfigure them in a way that makes sense according to what you use most often. Rearrange furniture to better take advantage of the natural light in the rooms. Free up extra floor space by putting more stuff away in those newly reorganized closets. Use an old trunk as a storage chest for winter blankets or toys. Brainstorm creative new storage solutions, and think hard about the extra space you’ve created and how you could better use it to enjoy life. Maybe now you have more room for yoga or kickboxing. With one fewer TV, perhaps you’re ready to outfit your ideal reading nook. Consider the possibilities, and if you still have your checklist, jot down ideas.

Abolish the paper.

When you were getting rid of all that stuff, you probably noticed a disturbing amount of paper. Of course you recycled it, but the thought of it still makes you shudder. Now is the perfect time to save a tree or two and remove paper from your life. You may not abolish a paper trail entirely, but you can take steps in this direction. First, go through all your bills and accounts. Sign up for the paperless options, so you no longer receive bills in the mail or send checks to pay them. This also saves carbons because the mail carrier does less work. Meanwhile, you’ll save yourself considerable money on stamps, envelopes and the checks themselves, not to mention saving time. If you’re one of the last holdouts, stop sending paper letters and postcards. You can use email, text messages, phone calls or video-chatting apps to let people know they’re on your mind.

Now that you’re zeroing in on the actual cleaning phase of this adventure in sustainable spring cleaning tips, don’t buy any more paper towels. It seems obvious, but relying on them is often so second-nature that we don’t realize how often we use them. The best way to avoid this drag on the environment and your bank account is to use those old T-shirts we mentioned earlier. Cut them up into squares, and you can clean just about anything. They’re soft, absorbent and reusable, and also free — if you’re willing to sacrifice them. Unlike paper towels or disintegrating plastic sponges, they won’t end up in the landfill or the ocean, and you can recycle them after many seasons of vigorous spring cleaning.

Clean everything in a nontoxic way.

Now that you’re ready to do the actual spring cleaning, with your eye on environmentally friendly practices, make the effort to clean the nontoxic way. Many, if not most, household cleaning products contain toxic chemicals. You don’t need to spray them all over your home. You don’t need to spend the extra money and create excess waste, either. By focusing on all-natural, biodegradable and green essentials, like baking soda, vinegar, lemon, salt, soap and warm water, you can clean, deodorize, degrease and polish nearly anything. Try these ideas:

  • Vinegar: Your all-purpose go-to superstar of do-it-yourself cleaning, vinegar is great for glass, floors, dishwasher rinsing cycles, and virtually any surface.
  • Baking soda: An excellent dish-soap additive when you need some extra oomph, use baking soda to absorb odors, sprinkle into carpets, or as an abrasive mold remover with vinegar.
  • Lemons: An all-star of the antiseptic and antibacterial world, lemon is a natural deodorizer, pot-shine restorer, stain remover, sanitizer, scourer, air freshener and more.

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The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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