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Passover Cleaning for Dummies

March 30, 2014 | by Dina Coopersmith

5 tips to allow even the worst housekeeper to get to the Seder with no obvious signs of PTSD.

If you love cleaning, organizing, scrubbing, shining and dusting, this article is not for you. Just ignore it and go back to having fun with your Windex and Mr. Clean.

But if you’re like me and the thought of house-cleaning and organizing closets and drawers for a solid month strikes terror in your heart, and you scramble for any other project to distract you from this massive task till the last minute, read on.

I do not enjoy cleaning and organizing and I am not a good housekeeper, but my brain is rather linear and solution-oriented, so over the years I have come up with some tried and true tricks to allow even the worst housekeeper to get to the Passover Seder with no obvious signs of PTSD.

1. Get help:

Delegate to everyone possible, as well as hire as much professional help as you can afford. Now is not the time to scrimp; see it as a substitute for trauma-therapy.

If you are planning to host students and singles for the Seder or for other meals on Passover, ask them in advance if they could contribute a few hours in the weeks prior to Passover to help you clean out a drawer or a few shelves in your pantry.

I am not referring to your own children or spouse when I say "delegate". They can and should be included in the cleaning of their own rooms or possessions, but they are not to replace real cleaning help that you can rely on to get the job done with your exact specifications.

2. Get out:

Make sure to get out at least once a day for an activity that has nothing to do with cleaning: work out at the gym, attend a Torah class, meet a friend for coffee. Don't feel guilty about this and don't let comments such as: "Oh, you must be going away for Passover" make you nervous.

3. Get spiritual:

Use Passover cleaning as a metaphor for more spiritual pursuits. As you scrub the fridge or clean through a drawer, imagine that you are ridding your mind of grime and excess, bad tendencies, pettiness, anger, jealousy, etc. (I've never done this myself, but I feel like the idea has a lot of potential.) If you are not so spiritual, perhaps just imagine you are a slave in Egypt and how wonderful it will be when God redeems you!

4. Get intellectual:

Download as many classes as you can on to your mp3 or computer and listen to them as you clean, bleach, boil and blowtorch, and as you cook and bake. To this day I associate the last few days before Passover with the loud booming voice of Rabbi Avigdor Miller playing on the old tape-recorder my father situated in the kitchen to survive the heavy koshering jobs. And if you prefer good music in the background instead of classes, go for it!

5. Get focused:

It is key to remember that the focus for Passover cleaning is on chametz removal, not spring-cleaning. You will survive this and after Passover you can do the other jobs you didn't have a chance to finish.

If you prioritize and stay organized, it will give you a sense of control, much needed for sanity. Get out your datebook and count backwards from the Seder night the amount of days you need to cook, and assume you have to have the entire kitchen completely "switched over" by the day before. (Switched over is that state of bliss when the kitchen is completely chametz-free, Passover pots and pans, dishes and cutlery all brought out of their year-long storage areas, all Passover food and ingredients bought and accessible, all surfaces in contact with food covered, all ovens and stovetops cleaned and kashered.)

Say Seder night is Friday night:

Thursday (1 day before Seder): Cook soup, Seder food, shop fresh veggies and fruit for the week.

Wednesday (2 days before Seder): Defrost meat, cook and bake meat and chicken dishes.

Tuesday (3 days before Seder): Shop dairy, cook, bake and freeze.

Monday (4 days before Seder): Shop fresh veggies and fruit for cooking, cook and bake desserts and freezable side dishes.

(During these days you can have your kids or other help clean living room and dining room furniture and walls)

Monday. (4 days before Seder): Switch Over kitchen

Sunday (5 days before Seder): Clean out pot drawers

Sat night (6 days before Seder): Cutlery drawers and other kitchen drawers. 

Friday, (7 days before Seder): Shop for dry goods.

Thursday (8 days before Seder): Spice closet and shelves in food pantry

Wednesday (9 days before Seder): Clean out other cabinets (island), dish closets

Tuesday (10 days before Seder): Clean freezer and fridge

Monday (11 days before Seder):  Clean spare freezer and order meat and chicken

Up until 12 days before Seder, feel free to spring clean to your hearts content! Oops, that's tomorrow...

Of course, everyone has their own pace and personality and this is just an example of what works for me. A friend of mine said she does the whole kitchen in three full days a week before Passover and then goes away on a family vacation for two days, comes back refreshed and energized two days before Seder night and cooks from morning till night.

As long as you do the things you like to do most of the time, while leaving yourself the time you need to remove the real "chametz" from the main food- areas, you should be able to stay above water... maybe even have fun!

Happy Passover cleaning and don't let anyone call you a dummy!

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