The reasons behind why we spring clean are rooted in two competing cultures, Jewish and Iranian. A third, the Chinese, also have a similar custom. All of these traditions extend far back into the distant past.
In Iran, the new year arrives on March 21, the day of the vernal equinox on the solar-based calendar. Iranians' celebration of the new year lasts two weeks, and the festival's customs, rituals and symbolism are rooted in the culture's ancient pre-Islamic past [source: Zarrinkoub]. The new year, Now Rouz, is a time of regeneration for Iranians; they use symbols like burning and planting to signify renewal and optimism for a new season. It's also a time for refreshing and reinvigorating life, and that includes Iranians' houses.
While spring cleaning in the West is undertaken in a loose manner collectively, it's much more codified in Iran. The ritual, which is done sometime in the two weeks preceding Now Rouz, is called khaneh takani ("shaking the house"), and the custom lives up to its name. Iranians traditionally buy new clothes to wear during khaneh takani. Every bit of a home is scoured and cleaned; nothing is spared. Rugs, drapes, bedding, knick-knacks, floors, ceilings -- everything gets a good cleaning. Fresh scented flowers are brought in to renew the house's vibrancy. Once the house is shaken, the new year -- and spring -- can arrive.
Next, we'll take a look at some other possible origins of spring cleaning and see how they measure up to what we do today.