Spanning many cultures and reaching far back in history, spring cleaning is an important ritual. The promise of a new season inspires us to wash away the winter blahs by cleaning our homes in preparation for busy summer schedules. The task can be overwhelming, and the most important thing to do before undertaking a big project is deciding where to begin.

For most folks, decluttering is a necessary first step before the “big clean.” It’s much more efficient to sweep, scrub and scour when unnecessary items are out of the way. A simple, but effective, method of deciding what should stay and what needs to go is to ask yourself, “Does this (item) bring me joy? Is it necessary and useful in my life?” If the answer is no, think long and hard about keeping it.

Several factors affect decluttering decisions, including your current season in life (will a child heading off to college soon need those dishes?) and the size of your home. People living in a cute little bungalow have less wiggle room when it comes to clutter than those in a palatial estate.

Deciding what you are going to do with decluttered items is the next step of your big spring clean. It can be tempting to set items aside you no longer need or want in hopes of having a garage sale. But before you put start putting price tags on items, determine how much of a profit you need to make at a garage sale for it to be worth your time. You’ll have to clean everything, determine a price for each item and supply a price tag. You may even have to arrange for childcare during the sale and purchase a classified ad or yard signs, and you’ll still have to dispose of everything that does not sell. Unless you have several high-ticket, valuable items, a garage sale can simply prolong getting rid of clutter with a very low rate of return. One surefire way to cut down on paper clutter is by signing up for Manilla so that all of your bills can be paid online.

Once you have decluttered, you are ready to begin cleaning. Work your way outside in, starting with the garage. Put away ice scrapers, snow shovels, and salt and store them until they are needed again. Drain the gas out of the snowblower, and have it serviced now so you aren’t scrambling during the fist big snow of the year to try and get it running. Bring patio furniture out of storage, and clean it so you’re ready for your first BBQ. Move gardening and landscaping tools out of storage and make sure they are easily accessible, taking note of anything that needs to be repaired or replaced.

You’re ready to move inside the house now, starting with the entry area. Put boots, mittens, parkas, and winter gear in storage after washing them. Move through the house, room by room cleaning as you go. It may be tempting to clean all of the windows at once, or wipe down all the baseboards at the same day; but the sense of satisfaction that comes with cleaning an entire room provides the motivation you need to stay on task.

Your house will soon be sparkling clean, top to bottom. Sit back, relax, and enjoy spring!

Jennifer Rees lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is the author of BigBinder, a blog for parents in Grand Rapids that encourages others to engage in cultural, culinary, and other fun activities and events with their kids.