In my late 20s, inspired by some casual thing my mother said (if mothers ever say anything casually) about starting the New Year with a "little elbow grease," I began a ritual of deep cleaning on December 31. When I was living in small apartments by myself, this task consumed nothing more than New Year's Eve and made me feel righteous while others were out carousing away the last few hours of the old year. I hated the holiday anyway. It seemed pointless to go out into the cold dark night and come home tipsy, only to wake up to a fresh year—when truly anything could happen—hungover, with my belongings in the same dusty piles I left them in last year.
When I met my husband, Dan, and found he was even less interested in New Year's than I was, we jumped full bore into this cleaning tradition together. In those days, we'd start early in the morning on the 31st and end sometime in the wee hours of the first, having stopped to clink glasses of ice water over our mops at midnight. Somewhere along the line, one of us thought of making egg rolls on New Year's Day. We made a huge pile that first splendid morning of January and nibbled on them in our spotless kitchen throughout the day. Something about slaving away with the goal of both a fresh start and egg rolls quickly became a tradition—one we kept up even when I was hugely pregnant with our son. That year, I hovered awkwardly over the toilet bowl, doing all the "low to the ground" jobs while Dan did the endless washing of our rugs, sheets, blankets and curtains, and—this is his trademark—wiped down the walls.
Okay, I probably lost you at the wall washing: "These people are fanatics," you're thinking. I agree that wall washing is a little insane (baseboards, okay, but the walls?). Still, you wouldn't believe how much dust and grime stick to them, especially in the kitchen. Nevertheless, though walls may not be your thing, believe me when I tell you that when you wake up on January 1 to a clean, orderly home—no holiday decorations or detritus in sight—you'll feel ready for anything. Even January.
Over the last 10 years or so, as Dan and I have dusted our books, disinfected our fridge, thinned our closets, scraped our stove top, washed out our trash cans and sorted the looming pile of papers sneering at us from our office, we have learned a few lessons (some more easily won than others):
A Day of Cleaning May Take More Than a Day
A few years ago, Dan and I realized we could no longer leave this job until the 31st. For one thing, there is the problem of how many hands one actually has free when one has a baby. Not to mention that since we both hit 30 (and then some), our stamina has waned. Lastly, the washer in our rented mansard-roof apartment, which doles out only cold water for clothes, can't handle all the bedding, rugs and curtains for a family of three. So, now we start on the 27th.
Whatever You Need to Do, You Can Do it With Citra-Solv
I don't know what they put in it, but this natural citrus cleaning agent degreases and polishes even the cruddiest bathtub and the ickiest stove top. Because it's concentrated, you can buy it and water it down in an old spray bottle, which makes it super affordable. And it leaves your floors and house smelling lightly of fresh squeezed oranges, and who wouldn't welcome those balmy scents of citrus in January?