The new book Simplicity at Home shows us how to clean with citrus peels, plus a sink-scrubbing trick using apples.

By Yumiko Sekine
February 10, 2021
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In the U.S., we often talk about spring cleaning, or our efforts to get our homes in order after a winter spent hibernating and before summer arrives. But a new book has us rethinking spring cleaning in favor of oosouji, a Japanese custom of cleaning the house to greet the new year. This tidying up tradition is detailed in Simplicity at Home: Japanese Rituals, Recipes, and Arrangements for Thoughtful Living by the founder of Fog Linen Work, Yumiko Sekine, in collaboration with Jenny Wapner. We may be a little late for New Year's, but why wait for springtime for a fresh start? The cleaning tradition, described in the excerpt below, along with a homemade cleaning solution crafted from citrus peels, is exactly what we need for a clean slate in 2021.

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Credit: Chronicle Books / Photography by Nao Shimizu

Just before the very end of the year, many Japanese people do a deep cleaning of their houses to welcome the New Year. This ritual, called oosouji, dates back to the eighth century Heian period, when it was known as susu harai. The deep cleaning was accompanied by placing pairs of pine branches, or kadomatsu, at the front gate. All of this was done in anticipation of a visit from Toshigamisama, the god of the new year, who, according to legend, would go from house to house on December 31 bestowing good fortune and giving everyone the gift of another year of life. When the house is clean and ready for the new year, a braided straw rope called a shimekazari is placed across the top of the entrance.

Oosouji is more than just cleaning and decluttering; it’s about letting go of unwanted things, bringing order to chaos, and welcoming the new year with a clean slate. Businesses practice oosouji too. It’s a chance to close up accounts, archive old files, and even resolve outstanding conflicts. Even schoolchildren perform oosouji by cleaning out their desks and backpacks.

In oosouji, there is a focus on minimalism, on cultivating a more pleasing environment with fewer things, but ones that have more meaning and significance. At our office, when we start making plans for December, the first thing we mark on the calendar is our cleaning day. On the last workday in December, everyone arrives in jeans and T-shirts, and we clean the office from top to bottom. It feels so good to clean with everyone working together, knowing that once we’ve finished, we’ve also finished our work for the year.

Credit: Chronicle Books, Photography by Nao Shimizu

Recently, I’ve decided that I want to make my cleaning more environmentally friendly by using natural cleansers, like the peels of mikan oranges, apples, and other fruit, instead of synthetic detergents. Orange peels have an oil call limonene and apple peels have malic acid, both of which cut through grease and condition wood surfaces. These natural cleansers smell fresh and are safe for kids and pets.

Credit: Chronicle Books, Photography by Nao Shimizu

For a homemade orange cleaner, in a small saucepan, combine the peel of one orange for every 1 cup [120 ml] of water. Bring this to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Once it cools, transfer to a clean spray bottle. It will keep for up to one month. Use throughout the kitchen and on wood.

For apple peels, the process is even easier. Using a large piece of fresh apple peel, wipe down the inside of your sink or countertops. You can also add apple peels, along with a bit of water, to dirty or stained aluminum pots. Just boil this mixture for 15 minutes or so. It will cut through even baked-on grease.

Reprinted from Simplicity at Home by Yumiko Sekine with permission by Chronicle Books, 2021