Count me in as a frequent and shameless indulger in home decor websites. It’s the cleanliness of the living spaces that has me hooked. How dismaying to see everyone else’s kitchens spotless, orderly, not a dirty pot in sight; bathrooms with white tile floors one can eat off. I just can’t seem to get ahead of the dust, the slipcovers in constant need of a tuck. How lamentable my home falls so short, but Passover offers the possibility of redemption.
As the saying goes, carpe diem, seize the day. Actually, in the matter of Pesach cleaning, it’s seizing 30 days. To achieve the standard of clean that eludes me the rest of the year involves a deep dive, planned and executed with the precision of an FBI raid. Five weeks before the holiday of matzah and funky sponge cake, the monumental task begins of turning my house upside down and inside out. I’m an old hand at this, having made my first Pesach in 1977 as a newlywed dumb enough to shock herself badly while cleaning an electrical outlet.
So permit me to share my expertise and tips for getting through this, the season of cleaning that is different from all other seasons.
Cleaning Responsibly is Job 1: A bottle of Windex is safe but don’t get too creative with the tools. I used the pointy end on wooden kebab skewers to flick hametz from between pine plank floors, circa 1895. Well, back then these skewers may have been the only tool available to Mrs. Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, but they cost me a trip to the ER, on a Sunday night yet. “What happened?” asked the triage nurse. Wasn’t it obvious? “Poked myself in the eye.” I volunteered that it happened while cleaning for Passover. No one else waiting for medical treatment was impressed.
Get a Jump: Nothing says “Passover in the Headlights” like the last night of Hanukkah, when the fading glow of the candles bids farewell with a nod and a wink. In the darkness, I do the mental arithmetic on how many weeks left before Home Makeover, Pesach Edition gets under way.
Shop Early: Create a clean space in the house for Passover products that are kosher year-round and buy when they catch your eye on sale, such as plastic covering for the counters, aluminum pans, rolls of tinfoil, bags of sugar, bottles of grape juice. Just the sight of them huddled in a corner will keep your cleaning schedule running as efficiently as Mussolini’s trains. In other words, on time.
Trust Murphy: There should be a special place at the seder table for Murphy Pure Vegetable Oil Soap. It’s been my trusted cleaning companion since a mikveh lady tipped me off to the brand more than 40 years ago. It so happened she’d never heard of Gloria Steinem, while I was equally clueless about Murphy. Guess what? In my post-feminist era, Murphy is my choice for empowerment.
Stay Motivated: Cleaning is a solitary affair but it’s hard to maintain the cheerleader spirit. So keep it moving with music. My preference is classic rock, (The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” annually kickstarts the cleaning). If classical music is your thing, opt for leibedik pieces (Mozart is a lively dude), klezmer or Broadway showtunes. Believe me, Ethel Merman belting out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” can drown out a vacuum cleaner.
Break Frequently: This is not an excuse to slack off, check the markets or head to the kitchen for something you want but don’t need to eat. What’s the point of burning calories jumping up and down a stepladder if they’re going right back to your hips with yet another cookie? Take timeouts from cleaning every hour or two to give your back a break, and go ahead, check stock quotes.
Reward Yourself: Short of throwing in the towels and pails of water for a last-minute reservation to a kosher hotel, the cost of which will wipe out the year’s profits on your favourite stock, consider treating yourself to something nice. You’ve earned it.
Create Diversions: Hosting one or both seders is your ticket to the Woodstock of Jewish festivals. Traffic is bumper-to-bumper at the dinner table, vibes are good and feelings mellow from all the carbs and wine consumed, and everyone is rocking to the escape from slavery and the joy of freedom. So as you perch on a ladder to zap another cobweb, consider the Seder menu. It’s fun, it’s free and you may surprise yourself by cooking something esoteric that seemed a no-brainer while you were hanging from the ceiling.
Take a Bow: On the eve of yom tov, stop for a minute to survey your gorgeously clean, magazine-worthy house. Remind your tired muscles they’re now on R&R and repeat after me: Thank you, dear God, for the strength to get here. May we all live and be well, and do it again next year.