Raising the Bar With More R’s: The Mitzvah of Spring Cleaning

Spring is the season when we start to see new life after the cold, dark winter months. Many start preparing ground for growing gardens while others begin rifling through closets to dispose of the clutter. Regardless of the task, we can use these seasonal projects commonly referred to as “spring cleaning” as a means to elevate our actions by expanding upon to a commonly info-graphic and connecting to the Jewish values inherent in mitzvot.

One of the goals of spring cleaning is to decide what is valuable enough to keep and what we can do without. What will become of what we do not want? It is likely that some items can be reused or donated. Unfortunately, most of it will end up as trash. As a means to curb how much is trash is disposed of in landfills or incinerators – both of which have significant detrimental environmental impact – our modern, fast-paced and mechanized society has fixated on one solution that appears to be the quickest fix and easiest to implement: recycling. Yet, we continue to increase the amount of waste produced per person (closing in on 5 tons per person per year in the U.S.), so that even increased recycling rates put little dent on waste collected from our over-consumption.

Recycling programs have been around long enough for most of us to recognize the symbol that has become synonymous with the act: the triangle composed of three arrows that are moving in the same direction, creating a closed loop. What you may not know is that the graphic actually symbolizes the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Take note, the order is important as it is prioritized by the most desirable action first. Ideally, recycling should be the last resort, because it takes a substantial amount of energy to re-manufacture items from used materials. Additionally, because the other R’s (reduce and reuse) have largely been ignored, we find ourselves in a bigger predicament. The result of a successful 3-R program should demonstrate migration towards less waste. But the problem lies with the amount of “stuff” we purchase then throw away – or recycle. The question then remains, how can reduce our initial consumption and amount of “stuff” we own? By using the assessment we employ during spring cleaning about the worth of what we own, maybe we can improve upon the cycle of R’s to eliminate how much we have to begin with Maybe by adding a few more R’s to the cycle, we can begin to move closer to a reduced (or zero!) waste society:

  • Refusewhat you do not need.
  • Reducewhat you do need.
  • Reusewhat is not disposable.
  • Recyclewhat you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse.
  • Rot(compost) the rest.

Not only would these actions reduce the negative impact on our environment, but they would provide a healthier living and working space and prove to be financially impactful as well. In addition to providing the means for creating a more sustainable lifestyle, spring cleaning projects can connect to Jewish values and mitzvot such as donations/charity (tzedakah), not wasting/destroying (ba’al tashchit), protecting our health (ush’martem et nafshotaichem) and our obligation to protect and cultivate the earth (l’ovdah u’l’shomrah).

Using spring cleaning to assess our purchasing, consumption and disposal habits can prove to be constructive, enriching and meaningful. In Judaism there is a concept called hiddur mitzvah which translates to embracing a mitzvah with complete enjoyment, fulfillment and devotion in order to experience its full beauty and meaning. Spring cleaning is not in itself a mitzvah, but by extension, if we consciously choose to connect mitzvot to this seasonal ritual, we can in turn, bring increased meaning and satisfaction to both.

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