Cleaning for Passover without the Stress

Yes, February is way early to begin getting ready for Passover. Or is it? True, the first Seder is months away on April 22. Stores in Louisville won’t even start putting out Passover groceries ’til March.

We can put off cleaning the house till it’s really spring cleaning. And then we can exhaust ourselves in cleaning, cooking, hauling dishes and serving platters out of storage, planning guest lists and where to bed-down the out-of-towners and wonder “why me?”, “whose freedom are we celebrating here?”

By Seder night, we’re achy, angry and too tired to enjoy the signs and wonders, never mind the food we slaved over. Feast of Freedom? For whom?

If you find yourself in a love-hate relationship with Passover, or wanting to love it, but hating every moment, this might help. It’s the first of two articles on letting go of the misery and letting in the joy of Passover.

So start now, even though it’s still winter, and first of all, liberate yourself. Free yourself of old habits and outdated expectations. The work won’t go away but the stress and the resentment can. I don’t promise that my method will make you and your family happy as freed slaves. You might all still grumble like the Israelites in the wilderness. But I do enjoy the process and I’m happy to share my approach.

In short, I simplify (more about that later), do a bit at a time, and recruit help. Not with cooking (kashrut, you know), but with everything else. And if you can share out the cooking, good for you! Above all, I encounter the season with deliberation and with finding meaning in each moment. That, my friends, elevates work to service. Or at least I hope it does.

Today, I’ll tell you about cleaning. Next time, about eating.

I’ve developed a plan for getting the house ready for Passover, and you can be sure we clean from top to bottom. But I don’t do it all myself. Here’s my advice:

• Make a plan for the cleaning, shlepping, food buying and cooking.
• Spread it out. Do a bit each week so there’s not a pile-up of work at the last minute.
• Delegate. Recruit the family. Hire a house cleaner, cleaning service or young person if you can. Yes it costs, but to me it’s worth it.

My Passover cleaning takes an extra hour a week for six weeks. We start with the upstairs. We do closets, cabinets and shelves, light fixtures and fans first. Then floors and windows, baseboards, doors, all that stuff. Then blankets, rugs, whatever needs laundering.

Next is downstairs. Closets, cabinets and shelves, light fixtures and fans et al. Then furniture and bookshelves. Then floors and rugs.

Basement, porch and garage in turn.

Kitchen last, but still a couple weeks before Seder so I have time to cook. I prepare a part of the kitchen for Passover, leaving an area for everyday cooking. Plastic tablecloths and dishpans help me keep things separate.

I’ve simplified the kitchen change-over. I used to pack up everything and haul it to the basement, then bring up all the Passover dishes and glassware and pots and cooking implements and put them away. I don’t anymore. I empty just a couple cabinets, shifting everything in them to other cabinets which I then label hametz.

I bring up from the basement only as many sets of dishes as I think we need, only the pots I’m using, cookware, food processor etc. And then when I’ve made the soup, the stockpots get washed and put back in the cabinet in the basement. Ditto the food processor. Once I’ve made the charoset, I won’t need that piece of equipment again till next year. I manage with two skillets, two pots, one strainer, two sharp knives, a couple cooking spoons, and then I wonder why I don’t live so simply all year.

That’s your new Passover mantra: Simplify. Whatever it is you’re doing, if it’s just because you’re used to doing it, that doesn’t mean you have to do it this year. I learned that from an Orthodox Jewish newsletter 22 years ago.

Your great grandma might have taken each book off the shelves and shaken it to remove any crumbs lurking between the pages, but if you don’t munch cookies while reading, you don’t have to do that!

As for scrubbing the floors to remove every atom of hametz, remember, if a dog wouldn’t eat it, it’s not hametz, so slosh your soapy water and don’t obsess over every last bit of dust.

Passover wasn’t meant to be complex. It wasn’t meant to be about things. It was meant to be about what we can shed – if we can live for eight days without bagels, there’s a lot we can set aside for the this time.

And when we set aside our obsession with things and the tasks that things demand, we open time for appreciating how the weather is warming (not yet, but it will), the new plants are pushing their way up in the garden, the greedy birds are crowding the feeders and singing as if their lives depended on it. And if we’re blessed, loved ones are nearby.

Don’t obsess. Simplify. Recruit help. You can do it. I believe in you. And next time, I’ll share with you how to eat well during Passover. It’s not all matzah. I promise.

Leave a Reply