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Spring cleaning religiously: From blessing your home to unf*cking your habitat

Date:18 April 2013
Voorjaarsschoonmaak in het Vondelpark/Spring cleaning in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam, March 1961
Voorjaarsschoonmaak in het Vondelpark/Spring cleaning in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam, March 1961

Spring seems to have finally arrived in Europe and naturally many people’s thoughts turn to the need to “spring clean”. But these days it’s not just about spring cleaning your house, but spring cleaning your life. Kim Knibbe explores all the ways in which religion is contributing to reshaping spring cleaning in the private sphere.

While discussing the many ways that religion is present in the public sphere, we might forget the many ways that religion is present, and provides rules for living, in the private sphere. Many people I know have had a ‘conversion’ experience that did not have to do so much with suddenly acquiring a whole new world view, but with putting their worldview that was already there into practice in their daily lives consistently and putting their lives in order.

This brings to mind a text by Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim on the consequences of detraditionalization and individualization : ‘Losing the Traditional’: “One can even say that decisions about lifestyle become deified. Questions that went out of use with God are re-emerging at the centre of life. Everyday life is being post-religiously theologized‘.”[1]

One of the most famous books that proves their point is Rick Warren’s ‘purpose driven life’: a step by step manual for bringing one’s life in alignment with the reason God put you on this earth. A fine example of a new protestant ethic, but more importantly, just one of the many, many books and resources that are produced to help people organize, streamline, unclutter, prioritize their lives and bring their practice into alignment with what they deem ‘most important’.

While researching for this post, I was often amazed by the lengths to which this is taken (how about your family mission statement? Oops, didn’t realize we were supposed to have one. Currently ours is not laughing when our daughter throws a tantrum). But for this season, it is most important to see what all these different resources have to say about cleaning, specifically spring cleaning.

Maybe in other parts of the world people are all done spring cleaning, but since we have had an extraordinarily long winter, we’re just getting started here in Groningen. Apparently, there are many different ways to do your spring cleaning. Let’s get away from the Christian examples now, how about a feng shui spring cleaning? Clean out things below your bed for… yes, you guessed right, a better love life.

You can do a pagan spring cleaning, untying the strings to objects that have negative energy attached to them. Don’t forget to bless your broom first! Or you can find some inspiration to declutter and simplify your life on zenhabits. There are no less than 72 ways to simplify your life! Or- another Christian and quite radical weblog- loving simple living (luckily, she has only 5 ways to declutter).

The minimalism/simplifying lifestyle is catching on very well in the US is seems, there are a number of blogs on it and even Oprah has an article on it. Some people have downsized from their big suburban house to a small caravan like house, like this person writing on her blog rowdy kittens. I am sure to many students this tiny house can seem quite luxurious…

The archetypal cleaning and home organizing guru is flylady, a woman who has been running a website with an e-mail list for many years and who has, apparently, helped many people get a grip on the chaos in their lives. The formula is very simple: she tells you exactly what to do every day. She is strict, Christian, and family oriented. One of the many things she recommends is dedicating each day to a different value connected to a different cleaning or tidying activity, such as ‘blessing the house’: vacuum cleaning only the middle parts of each room.

If you do not feel like deifying your lifestyle , and the assumptions about family life of many of the abovementioned blogs induce a sneezing fit that is worse than the ones caused by the dust in your house, there is always Unf*ck your habitat : ‘make up your bed! Excuses are boring’.

Kim Knibbe is university lecturer in the sociology of religion at the faculty of Theology and Religious Studies in Groningen, and coordinator of the MA trajectory ‘Religion, Conflict and Globalisation’. Her most recent research is on Nigerian Pentecostal churches and networks in Europe.

[1] Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and Its Social and Political Consequences (London and New York: Sage Publications Ltd, 2002), 7.


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