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Clean sweep Spring cleaning is on our minds but not always on our agendas

Get out the sponges, rags and soap, it's getting to be spring cleaning time.

Or, is it?

For today's busy young families, perhaps not so much.

Spring cleaning is a ritual that people either love or hate. Those who hate it are often younger people who say it makes them feel guilty and stressed. Those who love it are typically a bit older and say it makes them feel great.

There's a generational spring cleaning divide that separates older householders from their younger peers faster than a washer separates colorfasts from runny dyes.

"Older folks are used to it. Everything comes down, the drapes come down, the walls are washed -- everything," said Mary Antonacci, 56, a passionate spring cleaner who is also the owner of Maid Brigade in Niagara Falls. "This generation that's coming up now, these are kids who grew up in child-centered homes where life really revolved around the kids. They were not involved in the Saturday cleanings. If they cleaned their own rooms, that was asking a lot."

Meanwhile, pretty much everybody -- on both sides of the divide -- agrees that intensive spring cleaning is a dying art.

"The overwhelming trend is, it's going to disappear," said Cheryl Mendelson, domestic expert and author of the popular advice book "Home Comforts."

"People are always telling me that they don't do it."

And yet some people still do.

In England, where people celebrate "Spring Cleaning Week" each April, a survey just last year found that fully 83 percent of British householders described happiness as "a clean house." And 57 percent in the survey, published on Scotsman.com, said that the act of cleaning itself gives them a deep sense of satisfaction.

At the same time, in the United States, people are relying more and more on outside help when it comes to keeping up their homes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that homecleaning firms are one of the booming businesses in the nation.

Spring cleaning has a long history here -- and people do feel passionate about it, whether they undertake it or not.

"Sometimes I take almost a week to do a room," confessed Joann Duncan, a senior citizen who was sipping coffee at Tim Hortons in Hamburg on a recent weekday morning. "It just feels so good. I feel like, 'Great, a room is done.'

>Thanks, mom

Duncan is not alone. Lots of people in Western New York know how to do a thorough spring cleaning, and many of them credit one person for that: mom.

"I just watched my mother. She was a very clean person," said Irene Jones, a senior citizen who lives in Boston and considers herself a good spring-cleaner. "It's nice to be neat. It's for yourself, and it's for others to see. It's just much more comfortable to go into a house that's clean.

"We learn so much of this from our mothers," said Jones, with a smile.

And, true to her word, by mid-February Jones was already midway through her spring cleaning. She wants to be well done by the time the weather warms up, because then she spends most of her time outdoors.

Many younger people also give credit to their mothers for teaching them how to do this kind of deep cleaning -- only they say that they adapt what they learned to fit their own hectic lives.

In other words: younger people's houses might not pass the Grandmother Test for cleanliness. But they don't sweat that.

"I do it, to some extent. But nothing major," said Karen Heffler, 36, a Blasdell resident who works at Target. "It was my mother that taught me -- we all had our chores. She set the example."

Still, said Heffler, there are limits to what she's willing to tackle. "I don't do anything crazy -- nothing like washing the woodwork or anything."

Jodi Schall, 27, of Eden, might be an exception to the rule. She said she's a passionate deep-cleaner of her home, which she shares with a husband and an 80-pound dog.

"I like the result. Once you get used to a clean house, you love it," Schall said. "I've always been that way. By the time spring comes, my house is spotless."

>Why we do it

The idea behind spring cleaning is simple: get rid of the dirt, dust and clutter that have accumulated during the long winter months.

Spring cleaning was especially important in American homes in previous generations, when heating and lighting methods made homes dirty with grease and soot during the winter months. In those days, washing down the walls and scrubbing the floors and ceilings come springtime wasn't optional -- it was necessary.

"When furnace, grates and stoves have been in constant use for six or seven months, and gas or lamps are burning many hours each night, a very thorough house-cleaning is indispensable," wrote Eunice Beecher, wife of abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, in 1873. "And it is necessary that the warm spring days should be devoted to cleaning and renovating; but certainly not to the exclusion of real home comforts and pleasures, while this work is in progress."

Now, people's homes are typically less grimy, but they still need deep-cleaning in order to be truly organized and clean, said Mendelson, who wrote about seasonal cleaning in her 1993 book of domestic advice.

"It's a very useful thing to do," said Mendelson, who earned her doctorate at the University of Rochester and now lives in New York City. "We have, instead (of soot and dirt), disorganization. We have this proliferation of goods. It's the disease of the time."

Besides restoring household order -- which Mendelson said has lasting benefits for the whole year -- spring cleaning also, she said, makes for a better relationship with one's home.

"It's a learning experience about your home. You really get to know that place," she said. "It can be kind of fun. You have to go at it with the spirit of an event."

>Hiring the pros?

That sense of renewed closeness to your home is something you miss out on if you hire a cleaning service to do spring cleaning for you.

Yet many people in Western New York do just that, according to people who run cleaning services here.

"We definitely have an upswing in the spring," said Antonacci, who has owned Maid Brigade for seven years. "That purging of all the winter staleness in the house, people still do that. Windows are a big thing, and chandeliers, and light fixtures. People want to get all the light in, so it sparkles."

One big difference in spring cleaning nowadays, Antonacci said, is that people own gigantic houses in the suburbs -- and those houses take forever to clean. Much longer, she said, than it took to clean her small house, growing up.

"Houses are so much bigger now," she said. "You can't get through a house that big on a Saturday, even if you wanted to. There's a lot of hardwood floors, a lot of ceramic tile, a lot of woodwork."

In Orchard Park, Eva Day, the owner of Come Clean With Us, reports that she gets lots of requests for deep-cleaning chores in the spring.

"Do you do windows? Do you clean inside and outside? Can you clean my 10-foot ceilings that have cobwebs?" she said, repeating some of the more frequent questions.

Day said she usually agrees to most requests, as long as they are within reach.

"If I can't reach it, I'm not going to climb up to do it," she said.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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>GETTING DOWN TO THE BASICS

"Try it once before you rule it out."

So says Cheryl Mendelson, author of "Home Comforts," the popular 900-page guide to domestic life, about spring cleaning.

Sounds like a good plan. But where to start? Here are Mendelson's suggestions for how to do a thorough housecleaning for spring. Remember, these jobs are in addition to regular weekly or monthly housecleaning tasks like laundering bedding, turning mattresses, airing pillows, cleaning lampshades and washing mirrors.

* Wash blankets, comforters and quilts.

* Give or throw away unused or worn-out items.

* Clean and polish jewelry, silver, brass, copper.

* Clean chandeliers and light fixtures.

* Have the piano tuned.

* Clean all walls, ceilings and floors.

* Clean the basement and garage.

* Clean the attic (perhaps every two years).

* Wax the furniture.

* Vacuum books.

* Move and clean underneath heavy appliances and furniture such as stove, refrigerator and piano.

* Shampoo rugs and upholstery.

* Empty and clean all closets, drawers and cabinets.

* Dust or wash china, crystal and knickknacks.

* Wash blinds, miniblinds and shades.

* Wash (or dry-clean) curtains and draperies.

* Organize and store videos, DVDs and CDs.

? Charity Vogel

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