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A time to de-chametz our lives

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What do chametz, COVID-19, and Netflix tidying guru Marie Kondo have in common? They’re all contributing to the current cleaning craze. As we comb our houses for chametz, it’s the perfect time to sweep away our physical and psychological clutter.

Not just the season of our freedom, Pesach is also (unofficially) the festival of cleaning. Not only do we rid our homes of chametz, but the word “seder” literally translates as order. “Cleaning for Pesach is a good springboard for looking at all the aspects of your home,” says Leanne Mendelow, a cleaning expert who is one of the first certified KonMari™ consultants in Africa.

“When one starts a project like the cleaning of chametz, it sparks an excitement to carry on and get one’s home in order,” says decluttering and home-organisation expert Mandy Cohen.

Pesach cleaning offers an opportunity to give every room a spring clean, bringing order to our lives and freeing up space for us to focus on the things that really matter.

It’s not only Pesach that’s made cleaning up a hot topic. Largely confined to our four walls during the various levels of lockdown, we’ve also faced unprecedented uncertainty during COVID-19. That’s why many of us have tried to create order inside our homes as the world outside seemingly spins off its axis.

“Cleaning during COVID-19 has allowed us to relieve anxiety by taking action,” says clinical psychologist Amanda Fortes. “This makes us feel like we’re doing something about the problem. It gives us a sense of being in control of a situation over which we have none.” Although we can’t control COVID-19, we can control the mess. And there are numerous experts who can help us to do so.

“Turning chaos into calm has always been a passion of mine,” says Mendelow. When she discovered renowned Japanese organising consultant and author Kondo’s Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, Mendelow decided to channel her passion into a business. She travelled to the United States shortly before the COVID-19 crisis made such endeavours impossible to train with Kondo and her team.

Kondo’s method of tidying is rooted in the idea of keeping only items that “spark joy”. This idea is the final element of her six steps to decluttering. These steps include committing to the process; cleaning by category and not by location, for example, organising the books in every room; and discarding items first and then organising what’s left.

Everything, be it toys or foodstuffs, is then arranged into categories, the root of efficient tidying. “Everything goes back in its place and has a place to go back to,” says Mendelow. That’s what makes the method so sustainable. There are no more family arguments over where things go or stress about lost items. There’s a sense of peace that comes with instilling order in your home.

“Cleaning up has been proven to make you feel lighter and calmer,” Cohen says. Ultimately, it’s about what suits your specific needs. “I don’t use a ‘one-size-fits-all‘ approach when it comes to organisation. I customise a system that will work for each individual, which should help them keep their spaces organised,” she says.

“When I start the decluttering process, I always ask my client which room in the home is causing the most distress. That’s where the cleaning up begins. It’s rarely a simple process. Whether or not you’re a hoarder, you’d be forgiven for feeling a good dose of Jewish guilt for getting rid of your things, whether they be clothes, kitchenware, or sentimental items.”

Throwing items away involves a heavy dose of decision-making, which can be daunting, says Cohen. “Uncertainty makes us keep things that in all probability we won’t use or need in the future.” She guides clients in deciding what to get rid of, and whether to sell or donate items.

“If something doesn’t bring you joy, don’t feel guilty about it, just say goodbye to it with gratitude,” suggests Mendelow. Be mindful of how it once served you, but recognise that it no longer has a purpose in your life. By being honest about whether the things you’re holding onto are bringing value and upliftment to your life, you free yourself from the weight of unneeded possessions.

While it’s rooted in a practical prohibition, clearing the chametz in your home before Pesach also has psychological and spiritual implications. It inevitably brings us closer to G-d and to our purpose in life. “Chametz – in comparison to matzah – represents the ego, the inflated ‘I’, the sins and wrongdoings that I tend to commit because of my sense of entitlement, self-dependence, and so on,” says Rabbi Yehuda Stern of Sydenham Shul.

“Today, we aren’t living in Egypt, but we all still experience a sense of slavery and addiction to elements, character traits, and social pressure that we know is not ‘us’,” he says. “Every year, as we clear out the chametz, we are able to release ourselves again from the negativity it represents, and to return to our true selves which will be free to behave as we choose based on the morals and values that Judaism teaches us.

“The theme of Pesach centres on the ideas of spiritual freedom, overcoming personal limitations, and ridding our homes of chametz,” says Fortes. “These ideas have so many connections to the psychological concept of letting go. For many of us, bondage represents the mental and emotional ties to the past from which we long to break free. Decluttering and discarding outdated objects creates space, induces the letting go process, and brings a sense of freedom and openness for what comes next.”

By ridding ourselves of the vanity chametz presents, and by letting go of the clutter in our homes and by extension, our lives, we attain the kind of freedom that cannot be confined by anything – even a pandemic.

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