Write down the chores you hope to accomplish, listing them by room or by specific task, says Norma Lash, an extension agent in the Fulton County, Pa., office of Penn State Cooperative Extension Service.
List the tasks in the order of their importance. If you don't get to the bottom of the list, save those jobs for later in the year, she says.
"It gives you a good feeling to cross things off," Lash says. "It makes you feel more organized."
The way a house smells is half the battle, says Curtis Pietro, owner of Merry Maids, a Hagerstown service that cleans homes in Washington County and Franklin County, Pa.
"If it smells clean, you'll get the overall impression that it is clean," Pietro says.
Pietro advises people to freshen the rooms guests are likely to visit, such as the kitchen and bathroom. A light citrus scent is good for kitchen and bath areas, and cinnamon works well in living rooms.
Don't feel guilty
So how did this guilt-laden spring tradition begin?
Heloise's theory, based on research she's done from how-to books dating from the 1880s to early 1900s, is that people kept their homes closed up in winter. They used fireplaces, coal and oil lamps, and when winter was over, their homes needed a thorough cleaning.
"The house really did get dirty," Heloise says.
Customs such as taking rugs outside to beat the dust out of them were passed down, she says.
"It's a guilt thing; it came from a different generation," Heloise says.
Forty years ago, most women didn't work outside the home, and they had more time to do spring cleaning, Heloise says.
But some people still are programmed to think they have to clean in the spring, Lash says.
"We feel that to be a good homeowner or renter, that's one of the traditional things we need to do," Lash says.
Heloise says that whether to do spring-cleaning is a lifestyle choice. She advises consumers to use the system that works best for them, whether it's doing the work themselves or paying someone else to do it.
Heloise, a San Antonio resident, says she prefers to do heavy cleaning in the fall because more dirt comes into the house in the summer.
Heloise, whose column "Hints from Heloise" is featured in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and in 20 countries, receives thousands of letters, e-mail messages and faxes from readers every month. She says many ask about stains and odors, the same as when her mother did the column 35 years ago.
"The technology has changed, but the questions haven't," she says.