Clearing a Path

150 150 Kristin
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Dear Frances,

Thanksgiving is done, but before we dive headlong into Christmas, I’d like to pause for a moment and think about the upcoming holiday season. You’ve actually inspired me to keep a little space between the holidays–to let each one have its moment to shine. I guess that is what Advent is, a season of preparation. And since last week we talked about preparing mentally and spiritually, maybe this week we could talk about the more practical side of preparing for the holidays.

I love the idea of carving out some time to deep clean and create space before the craziness of the season is upon us (is it too late?). Part of me doesn’t want to add another chore to the already full season, but I think there is still time to freshen up the house and enter the holiday season with some peace and calm.

One of my favorite blogs from back in the day was called Pleasant View Schoolhouse. The author, Anna, was an inspiring homemaker. She published this post called Deep Dark Cleaning about deep cleaning before Advent and it has always stuck with me. I admit, I’ve never actually done this, but have always aspired to. Here is Anna’s method, which I hope to do this week:

Simple Guidelines for Deep Cleaning One Room at a Time:

  • Deep breath
  • Put away everything that’s out of place, throw away trash
  • Do anything that’s going to make a mess, like trimming plants
  • Collect loose items and set them outside the door so they’re not in the way
  • Can anything go in the laundry (curtains, rugs), or dishwasher? Do it.
  • Dust walls and ceiling with a long duster. Dust everything else within reach with a microfiber cloth. Wipe baseboards and quarter-rounds
  • Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum
  • Vacuum upholstered furniture
  • Get a bucket of hot, soapy, fragrant water. Wipe everything that needs it–edges of floors where the mop doesn’t get, light switches, any painted walls with fingerprints or smears
  • Mop the floor
  • Polish furniture with lemon oil
  • Clean mirrors and glass
  • Put everything back

Will this be the year? The only rooms I would plan on doing in this manner are the family room and the kitchen since this is where our time is really spent. I imagine the kitchen will take a few early morning sessions to work through–the cabinets, the oven, giving the kitchen table and chairs a good polish. It would be a sweet way to start before the Christmas decorating, cooking, and baking take over. The calm before the storm of the holidays.

And then, with everything feeling fresh, I will gradually start the Christmas decorating. I like to do it slowly, in stages, these days. I’ll start with the Christmas tree set up in the corner of the family room, with just lights on it for a few weeks. A bit later I’ll add the wreath and greenery to the front door. A little later I’ll deck out the rest of the downstairs with garlands and lights. Really, I could be happy with just greenery and lights as my Christmas decor. The rest of it comes later, there’s plenty of time before Christmas.

Dear Kristin,

I love how the guidelines for deep cleaning start with taking a deep breath. It provides this moment to ask ourselves why cleaning a room all the way down to its bones can be a meaningful way to prepare for the coming season. No matter what traditions you observe, these next few weeks of winter will be the darkest of the year. One way to deal with the darkness is to fill it with noise and light and stuff. But a better way, I think, is to do the opposite–to declutter, quiet down, sit in a room that smells of lemon oil and reflect or even just be.

It’s been a dream of mine for years to approach the Advent season with a bucket, broom and trash bag in hand, to create the kind of space I’m talking about. Have I ever done it? Never ever. Will I do it this year? Maybe. I have a similar dream about having a simple, minimalist Christmas. For the last five years or so, I’ve made a secret mission of getting rid of decorations that feel like they’ve served their time and then some. I’ve put most of the adorable Lennox Winnie the Pooh ornaments that my Aunt Betsy sent Jack and Will from 1999 through 2009 in their own special box that stays in the attic. I’ve taken photos of the various paper decorations the boys made of the early years of their schooling and then toted the decorations themselves to the recycling bin. Slowly but surely, I’m shrinking our Christmas decor to its proper size–which is to say, about three bins’ worth.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What we’re talking about the Advent season, a time of preparation, of watching and waiting. We’re one of those weird families that doesn’t decorate for Christmas until mid-December, which means I have three weeks before life gets gaudy and a little unmanageable and the idea of sitting in deep contemplation is laughable on its face.

There are three rooms in the house that I’d love to deep clean–the kitchen (especially the fridge and the lazy Susan), the living room, and the front room where I do most of my work and where I sew. It’s a room I tidy on a frequent basis, so I don’t end up drowning in paper and fabric, but is deep cleaned the least because it doesn’t get all that dirty. I tend to dust when I see dust and vacuum when the fabric scraps from my sewing area migrate to the carpet.

I just realized something recently–when I think of making my front room a serene setting for Advent contemplations, my imagination turns it into a bare, nordic space, more like something out of an Ikea catalogue than what it actually is–a room that holds a couch, an ottoman, a chifforobe, a sugar chest and a roll top desk with lots of art on the walls. As you know, I’m a cozy maximalist and I like all of my stuff (as long as it stays where it belongs), but for three weeks a year I long for, well, your space, you being the cozy minimalist that you are.

This season of waiting is one of my favorites. I have some ideas of how I’d like to observe it, and most of them go back to the pruning we were talking about last week–cutting away distractions so I can focus on my attention on more important matters. A deep clean is a kind of pruning, and it’s also a way of putting yourself in the right frame of mind for the contemplation that Advent invites us to enter into.

Having written all of this, I can’t guarantee that any of my grand plans will actually be executed. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll get that Lazy Susan cleaned before it’s time to start the Christmas baking. A girl can dream, can’t she?


  • Vicki Holloway

    One thing I have done since I have had an empty nest is simplify. We have had much simpler holidays. It is much less stressful and I am happier. I started decorating a tabletop tree during lockdown and I am still doing that . Meals are less complicated and we don’t host the gatherings anymore. We have made more time to rest, dream and make new traditions. For example, my husband and I are going to a football game tomorrow. One day we will go to the Thanksgiving football game in Detroit.

    I have found that living in the moment comes easier when I am not air traffic controlling 10000 events a season. I have pruned so much of the unnecessary things from the holidays I have time to think about volunteering for this advent season. I am thinking about gathering and making fleece blankets for the homeless community that my son works with And making something useful for my daughters classroom as she teaches literacy and helps children behind in reading and spelling at her school. I have a population that I serve in my career that also has need that I could volunteer for, too.

    The deep clean for me usually happens in January thru spring. We are stuck at home in the snow. It is the most bleak season and I have time to tackle the dust, stacks of things on the table and plan my spring goals. This winter my crafty space needs the most work so I don’t trip on something and have a serious injury.

    There is a season for everything and empty nest is the time for self care , personal growth and pruning for me. Thanks for a great blog!

  • Audrey

    This year I’ve jumped in with both feet and have already decorated for Christmas. I truly only put decorations out in the living room and on the buffet in the dining/kitchen area. I must say, it feels good to have it up and twinkling since the darkness seems to come so early in northeast Wisconsin.

    I do a cleaning just before the decorating and then “maintenance” while the decorations are up and deep cleaning after dismantling Christmas. I will be ready to be back to what is mostly a minimum of decor once the Christmas decorations are down. I don’t do anything the winter as far as special decorating, I’ll go back to the “standard” until next Christmas.

    Love this blog and the format. Happy Christmas to all.

  • Robin Leftwich

    I’m in the Francis camp of not decorating until Christmas is almost here. With a December 16 birthday, we usually don’t do much until after then. My mom always went full out on Christmas but we never decorate that much, although I just can’t part epwith any of my beloved Christmas ornaments, one for each year my son has been on earth, 29, and from trips.
    I love the concept honoring Advent more. I think I will take time each day to read for 16 minutes from a spiritual book, to just center a little.
    I deep cleaned the first floor of my house a few weeks ago, and it felt good. For a week, until the winds started and it’s dusty again! But there is a real sense of preparation for coming times with a clean house, even if it is only fleeting!

  • Mari

    I like Frances’ idea of taking pictures of the ornaments the boys have made and getting rid of the ornaments that have served their time. I have ones I’m saving for each son but I know they do not want their homemade ornaments. We have pared down this year, had to since we moved to the condo. It’s nice not to have so much stuff to put out. It used to take me a week to decorate completely! I’m enjoying being selective with what I keep and put out.

  • Tracie

    Thank you for sharing the deep cleaning list! It’s what my home needs more than Christmas decor. With a new puppy and a full-enough schedule, I’m reminding myself daily that this year needs to be different with less clutter and baking. Perhaps next year will be the year with more.

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