It's that time again: Islanders come clean about their spring cleaning

Nothing is perfect. People, particularly in northern climes, look forward with longing all winter long for the advent of spring. But, along with spring comes a ritual that adds little to the joy of the season: spring cleaning.

A tradition dating back many centuries, spring cleaning is linked to the ancient Persian New Year and the Jewish custom of purifying the home to prepare for the Passover holiday. Once, many families had to share their cramped abodes with the livestock all winter, which created a strong incentive to do a thorough cleaning, once the animals could be put out into the pasture.

Homes and their inhabitants went months without contacting soap or water during the winter. Spring brought temperatures that allowed homes to be opened to the weather before the insect population multiplied.

Spring cleaning takes on a different significance in 21st-century Florida. With vacuum cleaners, Molly Maids and air-conditioning, we are not dealing with a heavy accumulation of grime or soot from coal- or wood-based heating.

Snowbirds’ spring rituals take the form of “summerizing” their Florida home before heading north. The meaning of spring cleaning has moved beyond the house to mean making major changes in any endeavor. But, judging from the comments of a sampling of local residents and visitors, there is something about the season that makes homemakers want to air out the drapes and search for the rug beater.

“I love to spring clean–I go at it real big,” says Luella Mong. She’s even thinking about new tile in the kitchen, but that won’t happened until she and her husband Bob return to their home in Erie, Pennsylvania. “Here, we rent a condo,” she says. “We hand them the key and we’re outta here.”

Bill Itcush, visiting from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, says a lot of the work falls on the menfolk. He handles the outside chores, including window washing and cleaning out the gutters. During the winter, he says, preparation before leaving is key. “I remember once, we came home and the toilet tank had cracked from the cold,” he says. “That took some cleaning.”

Spring cleaning, said Monna Hormel, is a no-win situation. “You wash the windows today, it’s bound to rain tomorrow.” She says the need for cleaning is not what it once was. “We used to take the bedclothes and hang them out the window, and take the rugs and beat them.” She and husband Terry live in Hanover, Pennsylvania when they are not on Marco.

Simplifying is the key to Eric and Deborah Fillinger’s approach, saying, “We’re going through boxes of stuff and giving it to people who can use it. We want to unclutter our home and help others at the same time.” Deborah is an internist in Silver Spring, Maryland, and they are combining a continuing education course with visiting family and friends on Marco Island.

“Shut off the water, clean the house–and use up all the groceries,” says Ernie Coose, listing chores while preparing to return to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with his wife Joyce. “Once we’re there, we’ll turn on the water, buy food and get out and plant the garden.” The couple does everything together, they say, except that she won’t help him wax his car.

“We’ll get an agency in,” says Frances Preston, delegating the cleaning chores for their Marco condo before returning to London, England. Once across the big pond, she and husband Chris will continue to delegate–putting their son, who has been living in their flat, in charge. Immigration laws prevent them from spending as much time here as they would like. “Six months, and we’re thrown out,” says Frances.

“Spring cleaning? We don’t believe in it,” say Dan and Becky Dumbauld. The two will close up their place in Fiddler’s Creek before returning to Indianapolis for the summer. They put bleach in the toilet bowls and cover them with Saran Wrap–to keep a ring from forming, she says–and to keep maintenance workers from using the facilities, he says.

Christina Franklin, a year-round Naples resident, takes a more serious approach, saying, “Windows, inside and out, and we wipe down all the walls with ammonia and water. My two male roommates know mama cracks the whip.” Once, she admits, her enthusiasm went too far. “I scrubbed the walls so hard, the faux painting came right off.”

Another old-school spring cleaner, Marie Cepkauskas, of Eastham, Massachusetts, will wash the house from top to bottom and change the curtains. As in many successful marriages, her husband John will work alongside, taking primary responsibility for the floors and the windows.

“I do my spring cleaning in the fall,” says Dale DeCastro. “I fly down for two weeks in November with a couple of girls and get everything ready for the season.” She and her husband Pete, split their year between homes on Marco Island and East Hampton, New York.

“You’re talking to the wrong person,” says Sue Roller, of Marco and Rockford, Illinois. “I clean all the time. Ask my kids. Some grew up smelling apple pie. My kids smell bleach, it makes them think of me.” Another helpful husband, Bob Roller, says, “I’m the floor man.”

Ken and Fran Schutz, of Naples, will take their spring cleaning outdoors, hoping to deal with the after-effects of freezing temperatures that left their plantings brown and lifeless. “We had a lot of damage. We lost a fan palm, and two coconut palms are just spikes,” says Ken. “Everything burned up in Naples.” The two used to live on Marco Island, until they moved back up north.

“We did some serious spring cleaning,” says Rick Clark. “We’re renovating our whole house. We took everything out, put it into storage and when we’re done, we’ll ‘interview’ each piece before we decide if it can come back in.” Rick and his wife Charlotte are down from Atlanta, visiting his folks at their home in Goodland.

“I’ll do the windows, I suppose,” says Doug Butler, “although I’m a Mac guy–I really shouldn’t do windows.” What he and his wife Betty are focusing on when they return home to Champaign, Illinois, is winter clothes. He explained, “We’ve got piles of stuff to move–hats, coats, boots, gloves–we have to find room for all that stuff. You Floridians wouldn’t understand.”

While spring may be in the air in Southwest Florida, it’s just too early, says Marilyn Sherman. “We’re three months away from spring,” referring to her home in Bay City, Michigan. “I don’t worry about that until May.” With 11 roommates sharing one house, she adds, when the time comes to buckle down and clean, they should be able to take advantage of the adage that, “Many hands make light work.”

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