Helpful Spring Cleaning Advice From Gothic Novelist Shirley Jackson

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You’d be surprised how many drowned children, abandoned women, and syphilitic men will have died in your current home over the years.

Given the recent changing of the seasons and leap into springtime, we've asked novelist Shirley Jackson to give us some tips on cleaning the filth-lined caves we’ve been living in all winter.

Jackson specialized in gothic tales about the sinister side of small-town life in 1950s America. Mob-mentality, haunted houses, unsolved murders, and the banality of evil were her forte—and her stories were frequently greeted with “bewilderment, speculation and old-fashioned abuse.” Drawing on her three best-known works (The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House), we’ve asked Jackson to share her insights on the centuries-old ritual of spring cleaning:

  1. Embrace the tradition of spring cleaning. You may not know why you do it, but it must be done for it has always been done and so it will always be done. Never question the cleaning, just give in to the gentle sweep of the brush and the delicate glug of the bleach slipping down your throat.

  2. Declutter as you clean. Write the name of every room in the house on a piece of paper and choose one at random. Pile all your possessions into that room, cover the floor, and smother the walls with your belongings. This room is trash and so it must be buried by trash. Then bring out the gasoline and light a match.

  3. Loop in your housemates. Once you have cleansed yourself of the trash room, you can turn your attention to your housemates. The one whose name is chosen is the designated scapegoat of the house. They are the reason the bin is never emptied, they wake in the night to plug the drains full of the hair they rip from their own heads, they smear the clean plates with moldy food and escort marauding dust bunnies into the house. They must be punished. Once you stop their wicked ways, all will be well.

  4. Dispose of old furniture. Ask yourself this: If I spend every night stumbling through the corridors of my home, pausing only to commune with the spirits and beg them for sweet relief . . . do I really need a bed? Getting rid of your bed will give you more space to pace and you’ll have the option to just shut up the room completely (after advising all guests to never, ever set foot in there).

  5. Invest in local art. If you’re looking to spruce up some tired walls, it might be worth checking out local artisans. You’d be surprised how many drowned children, abandoned women, and syphilitic men will have died in your current home over the years. All they need is a little encouragement; inviting an impressionable young woman to stay is usually enough, and they will be happy to scrawl their cries for help and threats of violence across every wall in the house.

  6. Rearrange your cupboards. Many people make the mistake of separating food. Why not mix it up a bit and combine things by color instead of type? Salt, sugar, flour, detergent, rat poison—combine them all in a special tub and see how much space it saves. On a similar note: Have you given proper thought to how many family members you need?

  7. Investigate outdoor storage options. Take all your books outside and nail them to the trees surrounding your property, then bury your broken glass and headless doll collections in the garden. This has the dual benefit of de-cluttering your house and keeping evil spirits at bay.

  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your neighbors are watching. They know what you did and what they need to do. So let them. Let them bring their cleaning shovels and their scrubbing stones. Let their anger wash over your house. You won’t recognize the old place by the time they’re done, and are bound to discover a new use for the cellar.

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