I think if we can be honest with ourselves, most women will admit to enjoying Pesach cleaning – and perhaps to even looking forward to it all year long. What better opportunity is there to start digging through closets and drawers and clearing them out, giving both the house and yourself a physical and emotional purging? When else would you tackle the dusty corners on top of cabinets and vacuum behind heavy furniture?
None of the above has anything to do with chometz, of course. As Rabbi Dovid Orlovsky said, “If men made Pesach and women built the sukkah, both would start on erev Pesach.” So just in case circumstances are completely out of control and you have no time to do much, here is what you must do for Pesach cleaning: Sweep the floor, clear off the table, empty out the fridge, and close the kitchen cabinets. Buy some paper goods and ready-to-eat Pesach products, sell your chometz to the local rabbi and you are done.
But for most of us that won’t work. For the vast majority of us, Pesach cleaning is synonymous with spring-cleaning, and why not? If you’re not going to tackle those tasks for Pesach, when will you?
There are two schools of thought regarding when to first pick up that duster and spray: You can start months in advance and eliminate the stress of 20-hour cleaning days, or you can start as close to Pesach as possible and eliminate the stress of constantly reminding everyone not to walk around with chometz. For me, the decision is a no-brainer; everyone should only be eating at the table anyways.
To make Pesach a success, it is best to start from the year before – last Pesach. I like to keep the receipts of the items I bought. Once the holiday is over, I write up a list of things I actually used and the amounts I needed. Pesach is expensive enough without buying excessive products. I keep the list with my Pesach dishes, but accessible so I can go shopping before its time to bring down the boxes. In addition to last year’s list, it’s a good idea to plan the menu for the entire holiday in advance so you can add the corresponding ingredients to the list. Don’t forget breakfast and snacks. Oh, and please, as a personal favor to me, stay away from any packaged cakes and cookies. No 5×7 cake is good enough to cost ten dollars. You can make Pesach munchies yourself for a quarter of the price and they will be twice as tasty.
To clean your house, I recommend sitting down at a desk or table and writing down all the tasks for each room in the house. Take a calendar and schedule when each task should be done. Remember, unless you are the only person living in the house, you should not be the only person cleaning up. Figure out when you have the most physical energy and try to plan chores for that time. Blast some music and consider the scrubbing a cardio work-out! When organizing cabinets and closets, remember everything has a limited shelf life. If you can’t articulate why you want to keep it, then it’s time to chuck it. If your spouse has a hard time throwing things out, then consider doing it when he or she is not home.
Here’s a sample To-Do list that can be modified as necessary:
1. Bathrooms: vanities, medicine cabinets, high shelves, linen closets.
2. Bedrooms: Closets, dressers, under beds, wipe down blinds, behind radiators. carpet clean, wipe down toys, machine wash stuffed animals, purge old and broken toys.
3. Basement: Organize and purge miscellanea. If you have an extra fridge there, clean and line it first so you can start buying and preparing Pesach products.
4. Den: Clean behind and inside couch. Organize and purge files, purge old toys, dvds and whatever clutter is stashed there.
5. Living Room: Clean behind and inside couch. Wipe down bookcase, purge old books, clean out fireplace, wipe behind picture frames, shellac wooden floors.
6. Dining room: Clean behind, inside and the top of china closet. Wipe down chairs and table. If it’s your custom, line the table and any other surface that will hold food.
7. Kitchen: Move chometz dishes out, organize, purge, clean and line cabinets and drawers, wipe and line fridge, wipe down walls, wipe down garbage can. Different halachot apply with cleaning the stove, so consult your local rabbi. Remove any appliances from counter and line them.
8. Vacuum and scrub the car and strollers, machine wash backpacks and dry clean coats! I know this list is extensive. That’s why you need to start in advance. For working moms, I always recommend Tu B’Shevat as an optimal start date to get everything done on a reasonable schedule. (I know its Adar, don’t panic, just adjust the list to fit the amount of time you have.)