The Big Spring Clean Chez Moi (& Chez Toi)

A few days ago, I started to tidy up my Paris place to prepare for a visit from some New York friends. My apartment is only 258 square feet (24 square meters) so it doesn’t take long to give it a once over. While dusting the wall heater, I noticed a small smudge on the wall above, so decided to buff it out. But when I did, I created a bright white spot on the wall, like the sun breaking through a layer of haze. Excuse me?

The wall had looked perfectly clean. All my walls did. My apartment is always pristine and in order—it has to be because it’s so small—and it had just been renovated two years before so it still looks like new. But there it was, evidence that my perfect white walls were actually smothered under an insidious veil of city soot.

Oh no. I didn’t want to deal with this now. Maybe if I gently brushed at the edges of the bright white spot I could blend it in with the rest of the wall. I tried, but the spot only grew bigger. The more I rubbed, the bigger the spot became. Even as I cleaned, I was creating chaos in what I thought was the order of my home. That damned white spot! Soon, I was climbing the step stool, frantically blending ever upward toward the ceiling, but I was only making it worse, my frustration leaving long, angry streaks across the wall.

Well, I’d done it. Why couldn’t I leave well enough alone? I’d uncovered the truth, the mess, and now I needed to get rid of all of it. There was no way to do this by halves, no shortcut I could figure to make it manageable. The only way out now was to roll up my sleeves, get on a ladder, and take charge.

They say when cleaning up or clearing out, it always gets worse before it gets better. You have to upturn your life, create chaos in order to clean the slate for something better, something new and fresh.


What about you? How is the state of your house? And by “your house,” I mean you. Are you trying to convince yourself everything is fine, like my wall that only looked clean? And like my wall, is there  something you’re trying to gloss over that’s showing you all is not as it seems? Well, it might be time to clean house.

That could mean to literally clear out the clutter in your home, which might be all you need to do to clear your mind, and reset. Or, it could be that there are people or situations in your life that need to be cleared out. This is much harder to deal with, but even more necessary if you really want to have the life you want.

How do you know when someone or something is toxic to your happiness and success? When you feel bad about yourself around a certain person, or held back somehow. Or your life seems disrupted in an unhealthy way.

Sometimes you have to create chaos in order to clean the slate for something better.


“Toxic” people are not evildoers lurking in the corner licking their chops waiting to pounce on poor little you. They’re people like you, and often good, lovable people. It’s not their fault you’re unhappy; they’re just being who they are. But there’s something about how they interact with you that’s toxic to you.

The dirty truth: We use others to bludgeon our own happiness, to hold ourselves back. That’s what makes them toxic. If we see someone as “critical,” “angry,” “selfish,” etc., and that causes us pain, it’s because they’re reflections of the same negative qualities in ourselves, and they amplify the doubts or self-loathing festering inside —which makes them very efficient tools for self-abuse. So, until you have the ability to find the emotional distance you need (therapy is enormously helpful), you may want to be proactive and clear those people, or situations, for now.


It all begins and ends with you. You can take charge of your role in how you are affected by others, and really begin to own your happiness. You could start with a simple exercise like this:

  1. Visualize your ideal life in detail: what you’re doing, how you’re living, how you look, how you feel, etc. You may even choose to create a vision board. For the moment, focus only on yourself. 
  2. Notice how this makes you feel, e.g., proud, validated, peaceful, invincible, etc. Allow this feeling to sink in and take hold.
  3. Once you’re secure in the vision of your ideal life, start adding the people you know into that picture. As you add each person, pay attention to how you feel. The toxic ones may create a sense of doubt or inadequacy—or they may be completely absent from the picture. Now you know who, or what, is toxic to your success and happiness.
  4. Finally, visualize “toxic'” people becoming supportive, or toxic situations going your way—because in the end, they are all really reflections of you and your life.

Once you work on yourself and realize you deserve a better, fuller life, you can’t ignore the toxic situations or people around you, because those entities won’t serve you anymore. You’ll be able to let them go with love, if that’s what you need to do. Ultimately, you’ll no longer want to pretend everything is good enough, because good enough won’t cut it anymore.

Out, out, damned spot. The wall, finally clean. (Don’t look too closely!)

Like that white spot on my wall. Once it revealed itself, the dirt became unbearable. Four hours after I scrubbed that sooty spot to reveal the bright truth beneath, I had surrendered to a full spring clean, scrubbing all my walls, and my floors, too. I uncluttered counters, turned mattresses, shook out the rugs. Every surface, corner, or ledge had been buffed, cleared out, or wiped. I even vacuumed the curtains. I was exhausted afterward, but I basked in the glow of the clean new world I had created. Are you ready for your spring clean?


Want to clean house without toxic or harsh chemicals? It’s totally doable! Hey, I’m no expert; I get most of my tips on the interswebs like everyone else, but I’m a convert because it’s easy—and cheap. None of these substitutes require any more time or work than chemical-based cleansers, in my opinion, and a few may work better.

White Vinegar: Magical stuff. In Paris, we have very hard water that leaves water stains and white scale on everything. I keep vinegar in a spray bottle and zap it away. My electric tea kettle gets encrusted also, but I just boil a small amount of vinegar and water, and it lifts out without wiping. (Rinse well afterward.) People also use citric acid for this, but vinegar works just as well for me. I also clean my mirrors with vinegar. Streak-free every time. (Note: Not for marble or other stone surfaces. Opt instead for rubbing alcohol.)

Baking Soda: I buy this in giant bags because I go through it so quickly. I scrub the sink and shower with it. It’s gentle, gets things sparkling and smelling fresh. Or you can combine it with 3% hydrogen peroxide to remove stains from white clothes. Make a paste, pack on the stain, and let sit until the stain lifts. Then toss in the wash (rinse or not). This mixture doesn’t yellow your whites like bleach can. Make sure to test on fabric, and check the garment’s washing instructions before using.

Lemon: For mold, grease, deodorizing. I put it directly on moldy spots in the shower or sometimes mix it with baking soda. Easy and effective. You can also mix lemon with salt as a gentle scrub your copper pots, or your wooden cutting board. (Note: don’t use bleach on mold. It actually promotes growth. Lemon or hydrogen peroxide work best.)

Castile or other plant-based soap: Replaces most other tallow-based soaps or cleansers. Great for grease.

Microfiber cloths: I love these, and use them in place of paper towels most times. Damp or dry, they pick up dust like a Swiffer (but way cheaper), plus, they buff my faucets, mirrors, and my laminate kitchen cabinets without scratching. I like these.

Nail brush: I keep one in the shower, not to clean my nails, but to scrub the grout when I see some mildew creeping in. Paris is a moldy city and you have to keep ahead of it. A toothbrush works well, too.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (non-toxic according to P&G): Obsessed. I am officially scuff-free forever. No cleaners or solvents needed. I also discovered it eradicates water stains from my stainless steel sink without scratching. I’ll never again have to buy stainless steel cleanser, or those super toxic lime solvents.

Scrubber sponge + elbow grease: This one is a no-brainer. Most things come up with these two things and zero cleanser, for example, water spots on my shower door.

Here are some fabulous task-specific tips using non-toxic cleansers from

Make your own non-toxic laundry detergent! I’m going to try. Here’s a great recipe from Jessi at Practically Functional

I love this line of products from Starwax, called “The Fabulous…” I find them in my local housewares store, La Drogerie Parisienne, or in the Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville (a.k.a. BHV).

*Note: I’m not a cleaning expert. This is friendly advice. You should test all cleaning solutions on a small, hidden spot to assure best results, and wear rubber gloves to prevent any allergic reactions. When in doubt, leave it out. 


Learn more about the journey that led to My (Part-Time) Paris Life in my memoir of the same name, ON SALE NOW

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12 responses to “The Big Spring Clean Chez Moi (& Chez Toi)

  1. Dear Lisa,

    Thank you this article is exactly what I needed. I want to declutter my life,do a reset and the universe heard me.

    Merci beaucoup!

  2. I love your posts too! Coming to Paris in May, can’t wait.
    I do like the idea of leaving toxic people behind. I can think of one person specifically :).
    But I’m not convinced these people are always reflecting some part of myself…can they ever just be plain old nasty? 🙂
    Enjoyed your non-toxic cleaning solutions too. I try to clean without using chemicals and when I read this, it keeps me motivated.
    Take care

    • If you feel someone is not kind and you can move on from them, do so. Sounds like you may have outgrown them. If you can’t move on from them, be kind to them. Change how you react to them and watch them change. I believe no one is just plain mean or nasty. Every soul is struggling to get through their pain and find joy. Happy cleaning!

      • Too true, every soul is struggling. Just hard to remember when you’re on the receiving end :).
        I shall try to be kinder to her (sister-in-law so I’m kind of stuck with her). Honestly. Even if it kills me :).

  3. HI Lisa, thanks so much for the cleaning tips with special note of what works in Paris. Had no idea bleach was bad for mold. Your wall looks great. Thankfully , no toxic people in my life but the house does need decluttering.

    Lynn H

    • A mold remediating company told me about mold/mildew and bleach. (As you know, I have had mold issues after my leak.) They use a hydrogen peroxide solution. Have fun decluttering! I’m going to do it, too.

  4. I had a rush of blood to the brain last weekend, our first chilly days and Autumn is arriving; and took everything out of my family bathroom cupboards. My daughter worked for a large cosmetic firm so it was crammed with product (20 foundations in every shade from albino to 6 months on a tanning bed!) & dozens of creams & potions. I’m 70 so won’t get through half of them before I die! I got 1/4 through and suddenly I was over the whole idea…as you said! Finally I finished it & felt much better. All that remains is the box containing 60 lipsticks, which I can’t bear to part with!!!

    • Your comment made me laugh out loud. You’re hysterical, Julia. Me, too, I horde beauty products! That’s one of the things I have to deal with when I get back to NYC. Clearing out that stuff. So hard to part with. But sometimes that ol’ expiration date is the ultimate motivator! Have fun with those lipsticks. If you wear a different color every day and rotate you’ll get through them all! 😉

  5. Finally living on my own after more than 30 years made a big difference for me. My home is always clean and tidy, and I never have to come home to a mess that someone else made.

    As to white vinegar: It’s the best. I use it instead of fabric softener in my laundry. It strips away the excess detergent (I don’t use very much of that, though) and keeps my clothes extra clean and fresh. (It’s also great for the washing machine!)

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