Clean Sweep

A Spring Look at Organizing in Seoul Spaces


Written by Deanne Nguyen


“White, clean, and natural” was the decor concept. For furniture, “online sites like Gmarket and Auction are still the best and cheapest for what we were looking for. Ahyeon [famous furniture market district] was at least KRW 50,000 or KRW 100,000 more than what we wanted.” For that home-y touch? “A candle,” suggests Jem.

 Spring-cleaning: the sound of wind chimes to some but the din of blue bells to others. In the wake of the big seasonal scrub-down, which is likely to take longer than you think, it’s time to consider, out of laziness (or efficiency!), if and how we can avoid it altogether.

Worldly origins

Top-to-bottom clean-outs have mixed origins, depending the region of the world, but they all seem based around the arrival of spring. In an older, vacuum-less time with coal-heated homes, windows and doors were kept closed in cold weather for heat conservation, meaning certain types of cleaning had to be suspended. So in Korea, where such an indoor-inducing winter exists, spring-cleaning is a necessity in order to dust off the devils of winter.

Adapted approaches

However, there are some out there who don’t just do spring cleaning, but something else known as “daily tidying,” each with their own variations.

Enter the spotless loft of Dean and Jem, which they maintain “little by little”—everyday. “We both are really clean to begin with,” laughs Jem (aren’t we all). Dean adds a-matter-of-factly, “It [the apartment] just tells me what needs to be cleaned.” While they’ve “never had an argument over cleaning,” their closets are another matter. “I don’t buy or keep things I don’t use or need,” says Dean. However, Jem’s take is to “cram it all in and try to make it work.” And pink, lots of pink. Safe to say, each still has their own domain.


Dean, realtor to foreigners in the Sinchon and Hongdae area, and Jem, university lecturer and aspiring barista. They run the JK Language Exchange group in Sinchon and hope to open a café together someday.

The concepts of separate “zoned” spaces and minimalism are also true in the house of Jillian and Rob. “We have our own designated spaces that no one is allowed to touch,” explains Rob, who describes himself as “project oriented,” even when cleaning, which is done from time to time. Jillian, however, is like a “family circus,” she says. “I just follow everyone around and clean up after them.”


“We were lucky; the apartment already came with shelves and compartmentalized boxes. For the closet, I just got those drawer organizers from Daiso.” –Jem.

Because they’ve been moving year-to-year since college, they’ve also have gotten into the habit of “containing themselves.” “Everything we have now is multipurpose,” says Jillian. “My clothing, for instance, doubles as decoration.”


Jem’s flexible hours as a professional curriculum developer allow her to indulge in her passions, such as burlesque dancing. Everything but her costumes undergoes a thorough evaluation every three months.

Embracing a system

With our individual quirks and needs, devising our own organizational system seems daunting, but it is by no means unattainable. The applications here are simple. Minimize the disposables to maximize space for the treasured, down to the pencil holder. Also, tidy, not clean, daily—even if it’s just for 5 minutes.


“90 percent of what we have has been free and found.” Jillian and Rob have been slowly “stashing furniture” they find on the side of the road for years. The rest of the decorations are from Craigslist, Costco, Emart, and DIYs from Hongdae art supply stores. “Double sided tape and hooks” are essential.

In a city where space itself can be a luxury, the home is the most valuable thing we possess. Cleaning it means to reinforce that preciousness, reminding us of our good fortune. It should be viewed not as a chore, but rather, as Jillian puts it, a lifestyle ritual.


“We call this the ‘Flow House’ because we (and a roommate) all do poi, which is a flow art, and our other roommate brings the flow of alcohol.” –Jillian.