Sweep Away the Winter Blues

Welcome one and all to 2014!  Aren’t beginnings great?  Hopefully you’re taking it easy this winter, re-grouping, resting, and getting ready for a new semester of teaching.  But before we return to work next week, how about engaging in a classic Japanese new year pastime: cleaning house!

Get it now?  “Sweep Away?”  See what I did there?

That’s right!  How are you supposed to start a new year with your apartment looking like this:

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Ewwwwwww. (Photo credit: bbc.co.uk)

In addition, deep-cleaning your apartment will help prevent bigger problems like run-away mold and bugs when the weather changes this spring.  In some cases, you may even help prevent potentially dangerous situations, especially where heaters and stoves are concerned.  Are you motivated yet?  Then here are some tips to make sure you start the new year with a squeaky-clean home.

Step One: Determine your targets

I don’t want to insult you.  I know you’re regularly keeping up on household chores.  Your dishes have a brief one-hour maximum stay in the sink.  Your laundry is regularly washed and hung up to dry.  Your floors get vacuumed weekly.  So for this post, we’re talking about the big ones.  For example, when’s the last time you deep-cleaned your shower drain?

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Yeah, that one. If you look close enough, you can see all of your worst moments from 2013.  (photo credit: sopheliajapan.blogspot.jp/)

…Or along the same lines, when did you last move your furniture around and clean underneath (looking at you, fridge.)  Does your shoji paper need replacing from that time you left your window cracked during a rainstorm this summer?  Do you seem to recall there being fewer cobwebs around your front door when you moved in?  Exactly.

Here are just a few recommended targets:

-Your stove.  Caked-on foods not only look gross, but can be a potential fire hazard.  Last month I tried to make tortilla chips in my fish-cooker using those gyoza-wrap-things (patent pending) and lit a bunch of splattered oil on fire in the process.  Luckily I was right there, licking my chops as I pictured myself chowing down on a plate of nachos in the near future, so I was able to quickly remedy it.  A regular de-greasing would have prevented this!

-Under big things.  The fridge, couches, your washing machine – anything that doesn’t sit directly on the floor.  Move it away and see what’s waiting for you.

-Kerosene heaters/kotatsu.  These can also be dangerous if not maintained!  Get rid of accumulated dust on the kotasu heating coils, and make sure the oil and air filters are clean on your kerosene heater.

-Drains.  All the drains.

-Deep in your cabinets.  Take everything out of those cabinets and have a look around.  Make sure there aren’t any leaks from  pipes/chemical bottles/old, forgotten de-humidifiers.

-In the fridge.  Remember that tupperware of leftover hummus you made in September when you were really homesick and craving Mediterranean food?  It’s probably sentient by now.

-In the box marked “stuff from my predecessor.”  If you’re like me, you got a lot of sweet stuff left to you from your predecessor.  But you also probably got a bunch of weird, “maybe I’ll use this someday?” stuff.  Chances are if you haven’t found a use for it by now, it’s safe to sell it/donate it/throw it away.

Step Two: Gather supplies

A hero is only as good as his weapon (thanks, Phil!)  Likewise, before you endeavor to scrub your apartment, you’ll need the right tools.  Lucky for us, we live in Japan where 99% of these things can be found at your local 100-yen store.

-Mold Killer (often called “カビ キラー”)

-Floor cleaning wipes and mop (think Swiffer-style)

-Drain cleaner (Usually sold in bright yellow bottles with a picture of a U-bend being obliterated on the front)

-Rubber gloves

-Mask (don’t want to be breathing in all those chemicals, do you?)

-Can of compressed air (can be bought at your local electronics store)

-De-greaser (citrus-based products are especially good for this)

-Disinfectant (bleach, hydrogen peroxide, etc.)

-Your trash schedule (take a good look and figure out when the “weird” stuff can be thrown away, like your cache of old batteries and spent hairspray cans.)

For an added bonus, splurge a little and get:

-Scented fabric softener (your clothes pull double-duty as air fresheners when you hang them to dry!)

-Fabric de-odorizer (like Febreeze)

Step Three: Let’s Cleaning

All that’s left now is to do it.  In addition to some of the targets listed above, here’s some more things to consider:

-Often, airing out your apartment can do wonders (even if it’s mainly in your mind)!  If the weather permits, dress in some layers and open the windows/doors for a little while, to get a good breeze going.

-Futons and linens sometimes get neglected because of how difficult they are to clean.  But that’s nasty!  Consider slipping off to the coin-op laundromat to clean the big items, and don’t forget to air out your futon on those few days when the sun shines.

-Compressed air works great for dusting those hard-to-reach places like kotasu coils, air filters, window tracks, and the like.

-For goodness’ sake, get those bug carcasses out of your light covers.

-It never hurts to spruce up the outside of your apartment.  Sure, it’s not yours per se, and you hardly ever spend time standing on your doorstep, but getting rid of those spider webs, old bird nests, dust, and litter that accumulates around your entryway/staircase can add a lot to your small house.  And I’m sure your neighbors will be thankful, too.

-Never underestimate the power of the soak.  I watched a Japanese show the other day where a woman put a cardboard box in her sink, then put a garbage bag in the box, then filled the garbage bag with warm water and a cleaning agent (didn’t catch what it was) then put a grease-caked kitchen vent fan in it for a good 30 minutes.  Yeah… when’s the last time you cleaned that?  When she pulled it out, the grease slid off like penguins on an iceberg.  Along the same lines, mold killers and drain cleaners work best if you let them sit for a while before scrubbing.

Best of luck to everyone.  I’m sure there are plenty of things I forgot, so what are YOUR tips for cleaning Japanese apartments?  Leave your advice and experiences in the comments section below.  Good luck with cleaning your apartments, everyone — have happy new year!

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