If you’re feeling totally stressed and can’t seem to get a grip on your to-do list, spring is the perfect time to make some changes that will help get you back in the saddle and in charge of your own life.

Why’s that, you ask? Because spring is the time when you can throw open the doors and windows to let in some fresh air — and let out a bunch of your junk.

I’m talking about a thorough spring cleaning of your life.

Spring cleaning is pretty symbolic these days, but symbols are important. Lots of cultures around the world celebrate spring cleaning rituals, and once coal was used to heat homes, it became a real necessity to let out the fumes and clean all the black coal dust off of everything after a long winter of allowing it to build up.

Today, it still feels good to breathe deep and get rid of things that are no longer useful — or just to catch up on some cleaning tasks you’ve been too busy for. Best of all, a good cleaning and de-cluttering of your house might just inspire you to get rid of some of the mental clutter that’s been holding you back in the rest of your life, too.

Spring Cleaning for the House

Getting a grip on the physical realities of your house is a great start to getting organized in general. Once you find yourself making your house shine, you’ll feel more in control of your space — and by extension, your life. Try these steps for a thorough spring cleaning:

Start With One Room: You’ll feel overwhelmed if you try to tackle your whole house at once, so start with just one room and give it a deep cleaning. Dust the ceiling and walls along with all surfaces, and really get into the corners when you clean the floors.

Take the Time to Deal With Hidden Dirt: Now’s the time to vacuum every inch of your rugs and all upholstery, including drapes, pillows and anything you have that’s made of fabric. Lift up heavy furniture to sweep under these items — you might be shocked how much dirt has gathered, and it feels great to get rid of it!

Don’t Forget the Windows: How often do you wash your windows? This is one of the most traditional spring cleaning jobs, so grab some Windex and newspaper to shine up both sides of your windows. You’ll have a great view of the outside world when you’re done!

De-Cluttering Your Space

Once you’ve completed your cleaning, it’s time to get to work on getting rid of extra items that aren’t working for you any more. As your life changes, there are just things you no longer use.

These objects don’t just take up space — they can also exact a pretty hefty emotional toll as well, whether it’s anxiety about not knowing where to put things or guilt about not liking something anymore. Get rid of the stuff, and you break its hold over you. Try these tips to get started:

Use the OHIO Rule: “OHIO” stands for “Only Handle It Once,” and it’s a great mantra to keep yourself moving as you go through your possessions. Once you pick up an object, you must make a decision about it before you put it down. I recommend putting it down in a pile of things to keep, give away or throw away. Adhering to the OHIO rule will keep you from flitting from object to object in indecision.

Use the One-Year Rule: Another good rule of thumb when deciding whether to keep your stuff is the One-Year Rule. It’s easy: If you haven’t used the item in the past year, you’re not keeping it! You can make exceptions for a few sentimental objects, but I recommend limiting those to a shoe box or under-bed box to keep your collection in check.

Reward Yourself With Organization: Once you’ve eliminated a lot of your extra items, put back the things you’ll keep in a fresh new organizational system. You can treat yourself to matching boxes and a label maker, or you can just hang your shirts back up in rainbow order for a new look. Note: If you’re wondering where the line between OCD and organization is, you can quiz yourself to see where you fall on the spectrum.

De-Cluttering Your Life

Once I tackled my spring cleaning and got rid of a lot clothes that were — ahem — too small, I felt great! My closet looked better, and I didn’t have to spend much time hemming and hawing about what to wear. The same was true for life in general — it was just easier to navigate without so much stuff.

So that led me to want to de-clutter the rest of my life, too. For example, I quit that book club that only made me feel guilty and stressed about reading — or really, not reading — a book I didn’t like. I also quit the gym and started going on weekend hikes instead. When you get rid of time sucks you don’t love, you make a lot more room for things you actually want to do.

It’s hard to give specific advice on what you should get rid of, because everyone is so different. What brings me joy might make you want to claw your eyes out in frustration! But here’s my rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t give up a Saturday to do this activity, why would you do it next Wednesday night?

So if someone asks you to volunteer for something, and it’s an activity you’d love to devote a precious Saturday to, then go for it! But if you’d be very upset to give up a Saturday for that job, then it’s equally unworthy of any of your time. I’ve found this to be a life-changing question to clarify priorities.

So that’s it! I started with the most basic cleaning steps, but it led me to a snowballing quest to re-organize my priorities in addition to my closet. Give your spring cleaning a push, and you might head into summer feeling a whole lot more in control of your life!   

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