If you ask people what they call it when everyone seems to get the same impulse to open the house to get everything freshened up, it’s a fair bet that most of them will say, “spring cleaning.” That’s fair enough. But over the next month or so, a lot of householders are going to be heeding a similar impulse, even if there’s no universal name for it.
You’d have to call this underrated phenomenon “fall cleaning”—and this week, at least as far as the astrophysicists are concerned, the triggering event happens on Wednesday. Tuesday marks the last full day of summer, and Thursday, the first full day of fall. In between is Wednesday—a day that begins in summer but ends in autumn. The precise moment of change will happen in the afternoon, so on Wednesday, there will be less autumn than summer. So, the urge to clear the decks for winter may not strike until later in the month (or perhaps not even until sometime in October).
Even though it does lack spring cleaning’s caliber of brand recognition, the autumnal impulse is at least as well-founded as its alter ego. Doubters who query the web with “is fall cleaning a thing?” get an evasive answer from Google (perhaps because it sort of isn’t truly ‘a thing’):
“Fall cleaning isn’t just about tidying up…there are health benefits and more.”
That’s undeniable. After all, at the end of a summertime filled with outdoor activity, most household nooks and crannies will have accumulated a certain amount of debris. Hence the profusion of “Fall Cleaning Checklists,” when, as one prominent site spelled it out recently, “Fall is the time to tackle neglected household chores and get ready for winter.” Duh.
Autumnal checklists differ somewhat from their springtime counterparts, so you won’t find “clean and store outdoor furniture” among the springtime to-dos. Ditto “sweep and inspect chimneys and fireplaces.” But the hygienic benefits that accompany autumn-triggered deep-cleaning activities have motivated householders from time immemorial. The great Maya pyramid at Chichen Itza was built at the precise angle to simulate a feathered snake of sunlight slithering down the grand stairway at the exact moment of the autumnal equinox—as it will on Wednesday. Who’s to say it wasn’t constructed to perpetually remind Mayan householders that it’s time to get their brooms out?