Ask most people what they associate with Pesach, and they'll tell you they think of the hard work of cleaning, organizing, and shopping for the holiday. To our great merit, we all try to diligently prepare our homes, but in the midst of it all, we can miss out on the great holiness involved in readying ourselves for this festive holiday. Every crumb we sweep, every backpack we wash, every car seat we vacuum, and every potato we peel can be done joyfully, as we prepare our homes for Passover.

The trick to being joyful instead of stressed out is proper planning and organization. You?d be surprised by how much holiday preparation can be achieved one to two months in advance. Starting early can really help avoid the common pressures. You can also plan purchases of food, clothing, and kitchenware to avoid the holiday rush.

It?s a mitzvah to review the laws of Pesach before getting started. This is easily accomplished by attending a class or by reading a guide like Passover Cleaning Made Easy. While relearning the laws, be sure to write down any questions that arise and address them with your rabbi. Any kashrut-related questions can also be asked by contacting a reliable certification agency, like the the Star-K in Baltimore, which has a hotline at (410) 484-4110.

Following are some tried and true tips that you can start implementing many weeks in advance, to get the ball rolling and move your family into the Pesach spirit.

(1) Cobwebs and curtains are not chametz. While it's nice to have sparking walls and dust-free window coverings to beautify our homes, it is not vital to clean these areas before Pesach. The mitzvah of Pesach cleaning is to remove chametz from our homes -- not dust. You don't gain spiritual reward for staying up until midnight sweeping the corners of your ceiling. Instead, focus your efforts on the areas you know contain chametz, like the toy box, china closet, car seats and kitchen drawers. Save the spring-cleaning for another time.

(2) Start cleaning as early as possible. Dedicate Sundays to clean your basement, bedrooms and cars. After those areas are clean, declare them ?chametz-free zones.? If your children need a snack, give them rice cakes or (kosher for Pesach) "tam tam" crackers. Then a simple vacuuming is all that will be required to tidy up again just before Yom Tov.

Your family can feel like a team coming together to prepare for the holiday.

(3) Involve your children in as many ways as possible. The educational aspect of Pesach doesn't begin at the Seder table. It starts many weeks before, when we teach children to stop eating chametz in certain areas of the house, and when we let them help clean and shop. This is not so easy to do unless we're organized and prepared for how children can slow down our progress. Buy little ones sponges to help wipe counters, cabinets, and their own bedroom dressers. Older children can sweep, vacuum and mop. The oldest ones can help cook and shop. Your family can feel like a team coming together to rid the home of chametz and prepare for the exciting Seders and holiday week.

(4) Review your cookbooks now. Since most cookbooks are full of chametz, research and copy your desired recipes now. Plan menus for all the days of the week-long holiday. Based on your recipes and menus, begin a master shopping list of all the ingredients you'll need. After the holiday, save all these items in a safe place so you can use them again next year. You should also list all paper and foil disposable items you plan to use. After purchasing these items, store them with your Pesach dishes.

(5) Take all new kitchenware to the mikveh now. Mikvehs get very busy in the weeks before Pesach. You could easily wait 30 minutes to an hour for your turn to immerse your new items. Save time and frustration by purchasing and immersing new pans and utensils now; store them with your other Pesach items.

(6) Stop buying chametz. Even if pasta or cereal is on the best sale ever, don't buy it unless you need it for immediate use. Try hard to come up with creative ways to use up the noodles in your pantry. You can buy kitniyot cereals and snacks, made from corn, rice, or soy (check the ingredients!) to eat once you run out of chametz.

(7) Prepare a kosher-for-Pesach cabinet in your kitchen. As you begin to buy holiday staples (nuts, soda, grape juice, potato starch, canned goods, etc.), store them in a specially-prepared Pesach cabinet. Choose a cabinet that's easy to load and unload with your Pesach stuff. It might be easier to empty the pots-and-pans cabinet than the one holding your dishes. You also may find it easier to empty your china closet and put some Pesach dishes there instead of in the kitchen.

(8) Hit the mall. Shop for your new Yom Tov clothes as soon as possible. Winter clearance sales can save you lots of money on new suits and shoes. You'll also enjoy shopping a lot more now, when you're not worried about all the other things you need to accomplish before the holiday.

(9) Look over the Haggadah. Pick a favorite Haggadah with some commentaries that interest you and review it. You'll be ready to contribute a new idea to the Pesach Seder and will follow and enjoy the Seder much more as a result. Begin reading Pesach stories to your children and looking over children's Haggadahs with them, too. Many families reward children with a treat or prize at the Seder if they ask or answer a question about the Haggadah. This promised reward should help motivate them to review the Haggadah with you, even though they may be doing it in school, too.

(10) Remember to be positive and focus on the holiness of your efforts. Never let your husband, or especially children, hear you kvetch (complain) about how hard you're working, how dried out your hands have become, how tired you are, etc. If you must vent, talk to your sister, rebbetzin, mother or friends. Your family will appreciate the holiday much more if they have the sense that you enjoyed preparing for it.

Is It Crazy?

As you read this article, you might think it's crazy to do so much Pesach preparation so soon. I guarantee you won't feel it's so crazy when you go to sleep at a decent time as we approach Yom Tov. You may find that you enjoy checking tasks off your list, and feel proud of your efficiency and organization.

By sharing tasks with your children, you'll be teaching them how to organize and tackle big jobs.

By sharing the tasks with your children, you'll be teaching them how to organize and prepare for big jobs. They'll also learn the importance of the Pesach holiday in your home -- namely, that Pesach planning is too important to wait until the last minute. And by working so hard to prepare in advance, you're ensuring that everyone can be rested and happy when it finally begins.

And here?s one last tip: Pretend that the holiday starts a day earlier. Prepare your home as usual and enjoy a low-key day before Yom Tov. Plan a morning outing with your family and rest in the afternoon for the late night ahead. You can even arrange for a neighbor to drop in and take a family picture, wearing your Yom Tov clothes in front of your beautifully set Seder table. Your whole family will feel refreshed, relaxed, and ready for the best Pesach holiday ever.


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A Sample Pesach Calendar

If you find it hard to get started, try making your own personal schedule, noting which tasks you will complete each week. Here is a sample that you can adapt to your own needs:

7 weeks before Passover:
- Review and copy recipes
- Plan menus
- Make master shopping list
- Buy paper goods and cleaning supplies

6 weeks before Passover:
- Buy Yom Tov outfits for family
- Buy new kitchenware and take to mikveh
- Clean bedrooms
- Begin transition to kitniyot snacks

5 weeks before Passover:
- Clean basement and cars

4 weeks before Passover:
- Begin purchasing Pesach staples
- Clean and stock a Pesach cabinet in your kitchen

3 weeks before Passover:
- Place meat order with butcher and freeze
- Make list of pre-Pesach cleaning jobs and divide among family members. (Set deadlines and offer praise and rewards for completion.)

2 weeks before Passover:
- Buy new toothbrushes and other toiletries
- Buy majority of Pesach foods, including eggs

1 week before Passover:
- Clean out bookbags, diaper bags, pocketbooks, coat pockets, etc.
- Clean main living area
- Empty and clean kitchen cabinets for Pesach use
- Launder Pesach linens

Week of Passover:
- Convert kitchen to ?kosher for Pesach?
- Buy produce, dairy, and other perishables
- Begin cooking
- Do 1-2 loads of laundry each day, as necessary, to make sure it's ready for Pesach

The author thanks Rebbetzin Rivka Winter of Silver Spring, for many of the ideas in this article.

This article original appeared in Baltmore's Where What When magazine.