When I say “spring cleaning,” what’s your gut reaction?
I simultaneously feel two ways when I hear the phrase:
1. “Ah, springtime. It’s warm and beautiful. It’s a time of freshness and I’m excited to clean my house so that the freshness of spring is in my home too!!” I say, holding up a broom and smiling brightly. *insert a bunch of flower and sun emojis here*
2. “Oh no! There is so much to clean, and scrub, and organize, and suddenly I don’t ever want to move from the floor. I am content to live in a messy home forever!” I say, overwhelmed and sitting in a corner radiating a pitiful aura.
Ok, so maybe that’s just me being over dramatic. But spring cleaning is a big task; it requires a lot of time. It’s not all going to get done in a day, let alone a week, or even a month.
So let’s break it down to avoid any breakdowns. Put on a good podcast or some quality tunes and don your best cleaning attire because we are about to tackle this thing called spring cleaning!
Our first target might be something that maybe isn’t obvious when spring cleaning: it’s the food spaces in your kitchen, specifically your refrigerator/freezer and pantry/cupboard, and all the foods that they hold.
Let’s get the more cumbersome stuff out of the way, by starting with your …
Refrigerator and Freezer
Estimated cleaning time: about 1-2 hours, spread out between days if necessary.
Turn off the power of the appliance, or completely unplug the refrigerator. Remove all food; store the most sensitive food in a cooler if necessary, but hopefully this won’t take too long to do any real damage. As you remove food, immediately throw away anything with visible and obvious mold. Wait to fully investigate expiration dates when it is time to put food back in the fridge. Take out any removable shelves and drawers; soak them in some soapy water if you can. Now tackle the inside of the fridge. In a bucket or a spray bottle, mix warm water and dish washing soap, then use a sponge to start scrubbing away. Or for a more natural substance that is less likely to transfer any fragrance to your food, use a mixture of baking soda and water to clean the interior OR a mixture of vinegar and water. That’s right, “OR”. Contrary to what you’ve heard, mixing vinegar and baking soda together isn’t actually super effective as a cleaning agent. The two are more effective on their own, or even when used one after the other, but not mixed together. Read more about that tidbit of info here if you’re interested. Anyway, when you’re done, dry the inside with a towel. Now finish cleaning the shelves and drawers with whatever mixture you used to clean your fridge’s interior. Dry them and place them back in the fridge.
Now begin to sort out your food and reintroduce it to your newly cleaned fridge! Continue to throw away anything you missed at first that is molding or anything that someone left half open and you have no idea how long it’s been in there. As you put things back, check expiration dates and the condition of the item. Sometimes food finds its way out of its container, so wipe down any jars, bottles, or cartons that seem to have unwanted residue on them; you don’t want these to soil your newly cleaned refrigerator! If you find food beyond the expiration date, I would recommend setting it aside in a separate pile so that you can consult later with websites like EatByDate, or even just do a Google search, to determine if you should truly throw it away, or if it’s really still edible. These kinds of websites usually have information on how long a food’s shelf life actually is, too. Yes, it takes more time to do this, but food waste is real, so consider making the effort. And if you’re really doubtful about whether something is still safe to consume, use your judgment, go with your gut, and throw it out. Deal with any leftovers in containers; decide if they are still good, and clean out whatever has been in there for too long. Take note of anything expiring soon; put it in a more visible spot (or even label or mark it) to be sure that you use it before it goes bad. Finish organizing your food and you’re done!
Cleaning your freezer is a similar process; basically, repeat the same steps from above. Though, you might want your freezer to defrost before cleaning it since ice buildup can get in the way. Make sure you have towels prepared on the ground for the melting ice. Go through your frozen food while waiting for the freezer to defrost. Throw away anything that’s obviously weird or gross; you know the drill. It’s important to keep frozen food cold, so do your best to store it all in a container together; the mass of frozen food together will help prevent too much thawing. Then clean the freezer as you would your refrigerator. Put everything back in, organized how you like it and you’re done again!
If you have an extra fridge/freezer in your garage, or if you have a lot of access to temporary cooler space, then it might be a good idea to completely empty out both your fridge and freezer, and immediately clean the two, back to back. Clean the fridge while the freezer is thawing out, and follow the steps above to have it all done in one day.
Well, actually maybe you aren’t done quite yet. If prior to unplugging your fridge, you noticed that your fridge has not been cold enough, then it’s probably worth it to try to clean your condensing coils. GE Appliances provides information on how to do that. Otherwise, you’re finally done with the harder stuff and now tackling the pantry should be a breeze since you don’t have to juggle food between cold places.
Estimated cleaning time: about 30 mins-1 hour
Go through your pantry. Take everything out and put stuff in boxes or on the table for now. While your pantry is empty, give it a good wipe down. Try to use a dry washcloth or a small brush to brush out any old crumbs and whatever else might be in there. Then use warm soapy water to wipe down shelves. If you have any removable racks, take those out and wash them in your sink. Dry everything with towels and then you are ready to reorganize your food. It might help to have a few boxes for sorting during this step.
First thing is first; if there are any really, really questionably old items, throw them out. But remember the problem of food waste, so if anything is stale, hold onto it. Maybe put it in a special box or shelf indicating that it is no longer fresh and save these items by reviving them using these tricks from Earth 911 or up-cycle the food as suggested by EatByDate. Invest in some good bag clips to save any future chips, etc. Get another box for any food that is still edible, but maybe you forgot about it and it turns out that no one in your home wants to eat it anyway. If this stuff is individually packaged (granola bars, etc.) or completely unopened, see if you can donate it to a local shelter or food bank. If you have open food, like a box of cookies or something, that no one in your household likes, try taking it into the break room at work; hopefully someone will enjoy the snack. Leave this box of unwanted food out of your pantry so you remember to give it away as planned. Now you can start to put things back into your pantry and reorganize your food. Check expiration dates and try to strategically place items that will expire soon towards the front of the pantry to ensure that you use them before they totally expire. Yay, you’re done!