Thursday, December 27, 2007

The How-To of “Dry Work”

When you are putting an untidy house to rights, once the rooms are cleared of clutter and debris, you broken the job down into manageable chunks and you have a plan, actually cleaning the rooms is the next step. But what if you literally do not know how to do certain cleaning tasks? What if you have never been shown how to dust or sweep or properly clean a mirror or window? Believe it or not, this is the case for a surprising number of people. Many of us were simply sent to our rooms with the instruction to clean it, but with no instruction as to how.

Dry work first
We do the “dry” work first because we don’t want to stir up dust and clouds of airborne debris that will just dirty up our already-clean areas. We’ll remove all that stuff first.

Dry work is dusting, sweeping, and vacuuming. You can pretty much do it in any order, although sweeping really should take place before vacuuming in order to remove large items from the floor that might choke the vacuum cleaner.

Vacuum cleaners exhaust air as they work and unless your vacuum is one of those expensive new gadgets with HEPA filters and such, you can be guaranteed that a certain amount of fine dust will be emitted with the vacuum exhaust. Knowing this, the most efficient order of doing the dry work in a room is sweep, vacuum, dust.

Let us assume that you have decided to clean your bedroom and you will take the various tasks in their most efficient order. You will therefore start with sweeping.

(Tip: sweep with a broom that has the ends dampened with water This will prevent dust from becoming airborne and settling later onto clean surfaces.)

Your basic task is to sweep all debris to the centre of the room where it can be collected with the dustpan and then discarded.

Starting at one end of the room, put the broom against the skirting boards and use short, sharp strokes to remove accumulated dust, dirt, fluff, and debris. Sweep along the wall and sweep the collected stuff towards the centre of the room. Sweep the entire perimeter, then the open floor, always directing the debris towards a single, central location.

In order to get the room clean, furniture must be swept under and behind. This may not be possible in all cases (you may not be able to move an armoire full of stereo equipment, for example), but to the degree possible, pull items away from the wall (onto the floor already swept) to sweep behind. Leave the furniture out, as you will next vacuum.

In the case of carpeted rooms, sweeping may still be a wise first step. Vacuum cleaners don’t like large items, strings, rubber bands, wads of paper or pet hair, or fiddly things like paper clips, hair pins, or coins. Sweeping up and discarding such items from a rug before running the vacuum can save you considerable aggravation and expense.

If the room has a floor and rugs, remove the smaller rugs from the room…just deposit them outside the room for now (when you are finished cleaning the room you will either take them outside to shake or you will take them to the laundry). Rugs too large to easily remove should be left in place, but their edges flipped back so you can sweep as much from beneath them as possible.

When all debris has been swept to a single location, collect it in the dustpan and discard into one of the plastic trash bags that are in your cleaning basket. Step back for a moment and admire your freshly swept floor and congratulate yourself on having accomplished your goal. Now you are ready to set your next goal:

(Tip: dampen a cotton ball with a fragrant oil or your favourite perfume and place in the vacuum’s tank or dust bag. As the machine works, the exhaust will be scented by the cotton ball and leave a pleasant fragrance in the room.)

If the room has both flooring and large carpets, begin by vacuuming the flooring. This way you will not track residual dirt and dust onto the carpet when you step on and off of it during vacuuming.

Locate the crevice tool (a short tube with a slanted tip). Most upright machines will allow you to disconnect the hose that goes to the bag or tank and connect a wand with an attachment to it. Begin by using the crevice tool to suction dirt from corners of the room and from the tops of the skirting boards and where the skirting boards meet the floor/carpet. When this is finished, switch to the floor attachment and vacuum the floor.

Choose the proper height/attachment for vacuuming a floor. Upright machines usually have a three-level (or more) adjustment that will raise and lower the head for floors (lowest), low pile carpet (medium), and high for a deep pile carpet. If the vacuum is a canister type, there should be a carpet attachment and a floor attachment for the end of the wand (tube). The carpet attachment usually has a roller with brushes attached to it. The floor attachment is usually as wide as the carpet attachment but the suction opening does not have a roller (although it may have a brush).

Vacuum the floor in a regular pattern, in one direction, being careful to empty the bag or cup when full. If there are carpets, flip them back and vacuum beneath them to the degree possible. If there is furniture that can be moved so that it can be vacuumed behind or under, do so.

After the floor is finished, switch to the proper height/attachment for the carpet. Vacuum the carpet in one direction, slowly pushing and pulling the vacuum head over the carpet. Depending on how dirty the carpet is, you can go over a spot once or twice (very light soil) or half a dozen or more times (visible dirt on the carpet). Once the entire carpet has been vacuumed in one direction, vacuum a second time, this time perpendicular to the first pass. In other words, if you vacuumed the room along its length the first time, this time vacuum across its width. The vacuum should be leaving visible marks on the carpet where it has been cleaned, so it is easy for you to

Large area rugs should be vacuumed in the same manner, but with care taken not to suck the fringes into the vacuum. If fringe is sucked in, immediately shut the vacuum off and release the trapped fringe by hand.

After the floors and carpets are vacuumed, step back and look at the curtains, upholstered furniture, and the ceiling. Using the crevice tool, you can remove cobwebs from ceiling corners, and using the soft brush tool, you can vacuum the ceiling where there are bits of hanging fluff. Most vacuums have a small attachment that looks like a miniature floor attachment. This is for upholstery and curtains…and it does a marvellous job of removing embedded dust from them. To vacuum the curtains, put the upholstery tool on the end of the wand and place the tool at the top of the drapes/curtains. Pull the wand slowly towards the floor, repeating the process until the entire curtain has been vacuumed. When vacuuming upholstered furniture, remove cushions and vacuum underneath them as well as the underside of the cushions and the sides and bottom edges.

When the vacuuming is finished, put the vacuum cleaner out of the room, push all furnishing back into place, then stand back and admire your handiwork and the lovely fragrance from the scented vacuum cleaner exhaust.

Dusting is the final bit of dry work. The objective of dusting is to remove the dust from objects so it can be discarded or washed away. And while may seem like a no-brainer, there really are right and wrong ways to dust.

Wrong way: feather and/or lambswool dusters. These items not only can scatter dust back into the air, sending it out onto your freshly vacuumed and swept surfaces, they can cause tschochkes to be knocked over and damaged.

The right way to dust is with a dampened cloth…oiled, if you are dusting wood furniture). Dust will cling to a soft, damp or oiled cloth, rather than be scattered back into the room to land elsewhere. Here’s how to do it:

If there are both wood and non-wood surfaces to dust, dampen a cloth (smooth…not a fuzzy or fluffy or nappy surface) and wring thoroughly. Fold the cloth as many times as necessary to make a size comfortable to hold in your hand. Also fold a dry cloth in the same manner and take a bottle of teak oil.

Remove items from the surface to be dusted. If the surface is wood, pour a small amount of oil onto the cloth (never directly onto the wood!) and wipe the wood in the direction of the grain, lifting the cloth at the end of each stroke to collect the dust onto the cloth.. After the surface dust has been removed, fold the cloth to a clean section and polish the surface with circular strokes, making sure to remove any excess oil. Wipe any other parts of the wooden piece (legs, rungs, skirting, etc.) that are made of wood, polishing away any excess oil.

Now, using the damp cloth, wipe all the articles that were removed from the wooden surface to remove all dust. Replace in their proper place and move on to the next item.

1. Wood that has fancy work (carving, grooves, turned legs or arms) will need a bit of special attention: use a thin edge of the cloth to get into the little grooves and carved bits to remove dust and dirt, then polish with a dry cloth.

2. Wood work needs dusting and cleaning: tops of door sills, window frames, mutton bars on windows, window sills, etc. If the wood is unpainted or unvarnished, it could use oiling, too.

3. Tops of books get dusty

4. Fabric flower arrangements, lamp shades, and the lamps themselves can get dusty, too.

5. Don’t forget the feet of chairs, sofas, display cabinets, and coffee tables.

The absolutely final touch in the dry work is changing linens. If it is a bedroom, fresh bedding is a must. In other rooms it might be doilies, scatter rugs, a table cloth, or towels. Whatever kind of soft goods belong in the room, your last “dry” task is to replace them with clean ones.

When the dry work is finished in a room, the work is nearly finished. Stand back and admire the gleaming wood and spotless accessories and know that, once the wet work is done, you’re done too!

Wet work, of course, is what we’ll deal with next.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Making the Job Manageable

So, you’ve given your house the Laundry Basket Treatment and cleared it of clutter and debris. And you’ve assembled a cleaning basket with all the items necessary to clean. The vacuum cleaner has a clean bag in it, the broom, dustpan, mop and pail are all at the ready…and you just don’t know where to begin. The task just seems monumentally overwhelming and you are tempted to flop onto the sofa with a slab of chocolate and just ignore the whole thing.

There are two reasons for feeling this way: first, few of us were ever actually taught how to clean…we were just told to do it and left to our own devices. Second, contemplating cleaning a whole house…or in some cases, a whole room…can be a frightening experience if you don’t have the confidence that you know how to clean the space efficiently. In other words, if you don’t have a plan, the job looks a lot bigger than it really is!

But there are ways to break even the most overwhelming task into small, manageable chunks that are within your comfort level.

Making a plan, setting your goals
If making a plan seems overwhelming, too, take heart in knowing that the plan doesn’t need to be very specific, detailed, or even comprehensive. There is a simple basic plan that you can use as the starting point of your own: set yourself a series of goals and accomplish them one at a time.

For some people, even this may feel overwhelming. If the idea of making a plan has you thinking “I don’t know how to do that!” then simply make one goal, accomplish it, and then make another one. And the goal you make can be as simple and as small as “dust the blinds in the front window of this room.”

The secret, you see, is to set achievable goals. And the definition of “achievable” is as individual as the person setting the goal. You know the goal you have set is achievable when your gut says “I can do that!” Monitor your feelings: if your mind tells you the goal is achievable but you still feel overwhelmed, then the goal is really too ambitious. Don’t let ideas of “should” or “must” distract you…be true to your feelings and keep reducing the goal to smaller and simpler until you have that “I can do that!” feeling and start there.

Practical matters
Now that you know how to set goals that you can handle, you can move on to the practical matters. The first thing you must do is decide which room you will begin with. You will be most successful if you choose the room that requires the least amount of work. That’s because such a room will allow you to finish more quickly, giving you a feeling of accomplishment much quicker than if you choose a room that needs a large amount of attention. And that feeling of accomplishment is important because it has the psychological effect of making you feel like a winner…you got it done!...which encourages you to continue with your tasks.

Bathrooms and kitchens require a special set of cleaning techniques (which we will eventually cover), so it is best to select something less challenging to begin with. A bedroom, or even an entry hall or closet will be a great starting point, although a study, living room or dining room will serve as well. Choose your room, gather up your cleaning materials, and go to the door of the room.

Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in
You have already cleared the clutter and debris, you’ve assembled your cleaning supplies, and you’ve chosen a room, and you’ve set a goal…so now it is time to actually get going.

The first rules of cleaning:
1. Wear old clothes that you don’t mind getting wet, dirty, or stained. Pant legs should be at the ankle or higher so they don’t drag over wet floors, shoes should be waterproof (like rubber flip-flops, Crocs, or those neoprene gardening shoes). No dangly jewellery, and unless it is waterproof, no watch. It’s a good idea to leave your rings in a safe place, as well.

2. Do dry work before wet. This means you dust and sweep before you mop and polish.

3. Look around the room and choose a task. This will be your first goal, to accomplish that task. Remember to monitor your gut feeling. If you reduce the goal to a small, achievable task and still feel overwhelmed because you feel like the rest of the work is hanging over your head, get a pencil and paper and write down each thing you see that needs to be done. Once they are written down, you have a concrete plan and you are now in control of the work, it is no longer a huge, amorphous undertaking looming over your head. You can now choose something on the list as your first goal, knowing you can choose as many or as few as you want to do in the course of the day. You are in control now.

4. You can only accomplish one goal at a time, so focus on the one you have chosen to the exclusion of others. So, if you have chosen dusting the blinds as your first goal, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the dirty windows you find beneath them…you can make those windows a subsequent goal after the blinds are done (write it on the list if you want).

First decision
Let’s assume your first goal is to dust the blinds in your bedroom. You take a cloth dampened with water (so it will collect the dust rather than scatter it into the air so it can land elsewhere) and with the blinds closed you wipe the slats from side to side. Now, you reverse the direction of the blinds so you can see the other side and, with a clean spot on the damp cloth, repeat the process. Then, just to make sure you’ve got it all, you wipe the horizontal header at the top, you wipe the cords that raise and lower the blinds, and you wipe the wand that you use to twist the blinds open or closed. Done!

You are now at a decision point: you can change to another task in the same room or, if you are feeling confident about dusting blinds, you can go to other rooms and repeat your success. There is no right or wrong choice here, you don’t have to completely clean one room before you move on to another (with the exception of kitchen and bath, which will be discussed later). Some people crave the big satisfaction jolt of standing in the doorway of a spotless room while others revel in the constant stream of little successes. Choose whatever feels right for you, but stick with the task you have chosen so you are on track to accomplishing your goal.

The How-To
So, you’ve made your decisions and your choices, you have a plan and the job doesn’t seem so daunting anymore, but there is just one more little problem…you don’t know how to actually clean. Or maybe you do, but the way you know how to do it is just so time-consuming and arduous.

In the next instalment we will look at some techniques (and plans) for cleaning a room…or a whole house…with the least amount of time and effort expended.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Before you clean, you need supplies...

Once the disorder and chaos in your house is under control, it’s time to clean those areas that have been beneath the clutter. But first…where are your cleaning supplies?

If you are like most people, your cleaning supplies are scattered all over the house. There are some under the kitchen sink, some in the bathroom cabinet, still more in the laundry area or garage or basement. In order to clean efficiently (and that means quickly, getting it over with in as short a time as possible) you need a single, portable repository for your household cleaning supplies…and nothing works better than a good quality rectangular plastic laundry basket.

If you are tempted to think “oh, I know where everything is, I can skip this step,” think again. You need a cleaning basket. That means a basket with everything you are going to need must accompany you to the room…no excuses for leaving the room and getting distracted! Remember how your home got into this condition in the first place: lack of focus on the goal. By putting all of your cleaning supplies in one place, a place you can easily transport from room to room, you greatly increase your chances of success because you will not need to leave the room in which you are working to fetch additional supplies. Leaving the room breaks your focus and if you are distracted by something more interesting or compelling while you are out to get the bleach, you…and your clean up project…can get permanently stalled.

It’s not necessary to use a laundry basket, per se. You can substitute one of those wheeled storage containers or a large rectangular basket with handles or whatever suits your fancy, but nothing works as well for as little money as a laundry basket, and the rectangular shape accommodates more items than round or oval.

Setting up your cleaning basket

The first thing you must do is determine the kind of supplies will you need. For safety purposes, make sure that all containers in your basket are unbreakable (in case you drop them on the floor). Also, label all bottles into which you have decanted liquids: not only will you know what is in them, so will other people. And finally, never use beverage containers for cleaning supplies: you do not want to take the chance that a child will mistake your cleaning solutions for something drinkable!

What your cleaning basket needs:
1. A window cleaner that can be used for windows, mirrors, chrome, and other shiny surfaces. You can opt for one of those blue ammonia-based cleaners or you can mix up a solution of vinegar and water and put it in a spray bottle.

2. Scouring powder: You can purchase one of those chlorinated, bubble-action, super-duper scrubble bubble thingies…or you can put a cheap box of baking soda in the basket

3. Disinfectant: there are a million of them on the market but nothing is cheaper (or more effective) than plain old bleach. Buy a 1 quart bottle of bleach that you can keep in your cleaning basket and refill from the gallon bottle in your laundry area.

4. Degreaser: Add a bottle of your favourite degreaser for cleaning soap scum and those grease marks your kids leave in the strangest places. White vinegar, straight from the bottle, is an amazing degreaser and baking soda sprinkled on a damp sponge does well, too.

5. A bottle of your favourite dishwashing liquid is helpful. It’s amazing what plain old soap will clean.

6. Teak oil: Wood furniture loves teak oil: the oil penetrates and nourishes the wood, keeping it from drying out and giving it a warm, inviting look. Avoid wax build up on furniture by staying away from the aerosol products that spray waxes that seal the wood. What the manufacturers don’t tell you is that the wax should be periodically removed from the wood (in the old days we used to scrub it off with steel wool!), the wood cleaned, and then the wax re-applied. You can get around the whole thing by cleaning and polishing your wood furniture with teak oil on a soft cloth. (Works on wood floors, too.)

7. Water: yep, plain old water. You need something to dampen those sponges with!

8. A couple of rectangular reusable plastic containers (Glad or Ziploc or whatever you have in your plastics cupboard)

9. Rubber gloves. Invest in good-quality, flannel-lined gloves so that your hands don’t sweat inside them and your risk of puncture is reduced.

10. Sponges: two or three cellulose sponges, preferable the kind with the green scrubby thing on one side. If the sponges are not new, dampen them and put them in the microwave oven for one minute to sterilize them…or better yet, sterilize them at the end of your cleaning spree before they are stored.

11. Brushes: Several kinds of brushes are helpful for cleaning, but at minimum, a small stiff brush that can be used for scrubbing away grime, and a large stiff brush (one with a grip like a steam iron handle is particularly useful) for floors and large surfaces.

12. Rags: You will need something to clean with: the most economical option is rags…pieces of old cotton T-shirts, towels, and sheets work wonderfully! Once they have come to the end of their useful lives, cut them into 10” squares and use them for cleaning. They can be repeatedly laundered, and will save you a ton of money on disposables.

13. Paper: For certain tasks you really need paper instead of rags, but newspapers actually work better than paper towels and are much less costly. Save the paper towels for making poultices, where the newsprint might transfer onto the surface being soaked.

14. Toothpicks, cotton swabs: Sometimes the most difficult cleaning is not getting the grime off the door knob, it’s getting the little bits that are stuck in little crevices. These can often be removed using cotton swabs (to apply the cleaning solution) and toothpicks to gently scrub away the offending bits. Keep them in a zippered plastic bag in the basket.

15. Bags: Vacuum bags, trash bags…you need bags. Plastic supermarket bags make excellent liners for small trash cans around the house and are convenient additions to the cleaning basket. If your vacuum cleaner uses bags, this is the place to keep at least one.

What else you will need:
Well, this stuff won’t fit into your basket, but no cleaning effort is complete without

16. A vacuum cleaner with accessories. Not only can you suck up debris off the floor, the wand can be used to suck down cobwebs, and the various attachments are useful for draperies, blinds, and furniture. Sweep floors with a broom before vacuuming to remove large items the vacuum might choke on. You can also sweep carpets for the same purpose and spare your vacuum (and your wallet) the trauma of burning out the motor due to a clog.

17. Make sure your broom is in good nick. If it is worn to a point, replace it.

18. Brush and dust pan: these are not absolute necessities, but they do make it easier to pick up your sweepings and discard them.

19. Mops: You should actually have two mops: one for your floors and another for walls and ceilings. Yes…the easiest way to clean a ceiling or wall is with a sponge mop!

20. Mop pail: some thing in which to mix up a mopping solution

Now, you may have noticed a few things are conspicuously missing:

Feather or lambs wool duster. Feather dusters just scatter the dust around so it can settle back down onto your furniture later. Lambs wool dusters collect the dust better than feather dusters, but you have to leave the room and take them outside to whack them and remove the dust…leaving the room you are cleaning before you are finished with the task at hand (dusting, in this case) is a no-no.

Mop and shine products: these things are not good on all types of floors and they leave a sticky residue behind. Sticky residues attract dirt, which means you have to clean more often.

Carpet cleaner/spot removers: most of these products also leave a sticky residue behind. You end up with dirtier carpets than you began with.

Sprinkle-on carpet deodorizers: a complete waste of money: baking soda does just as well and at a fraction of the cost.

Toilet bowl or bathroom cleaner: Save yourself a ton of money: pour a cup of bleach in the toilet, let it soak, then don your rubber gloves, sprinkle some baking soda on a sponge, and give it a wash. Cheap, sanitary, and fast. (Keep this sponge separate from the other cleaning sponges…use it only for cleaning the toilet.)

Now that you have a cleaning basket, you will need a place to keep it. Best bet is to find a cupboard into which it can be slid, but whatever you choose, do not put in a difficult-to-reach space, and don’t leave it in a place where you or other will be tempted to toss things on top of it (like on top of the dryer).

With your cleaning supplies assembled, you are now ready to tackle those rooms you rescued from disorder and disarray…just how to do it without being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task is our next instalment.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

House a cluttery mess? Try the Laundry Basket Treatment!

Bet you thought laundry baskets were just for laundry, didn’t you? Well, they actually have an amazing versatility, not the least of which is their usefulness when blitz-cleaning a messy room.

I used to be the queen of the untidy house. With a full-time job, a husband, three kids, an assortment of dogs and cats, a five-bedroom house, and no maid or cleaner, I was housework-challenged. My husband was firmly of the opinion that housework was “woman’s work,” a sentiment eagerly embraced by the boys, and my teen daughter…well, let’s say that if there was a clear path from her bedroom door to her bed (so I wouldn’t impale my foot on some buried artefact while delivering clean laundry), it just wasn’t worth the effort to tangle with her roiling hormones.

With so much house and so little time to keep it, it was an endless chore to keep things picked up. I also tended to get distracted…I would begin cleaning the living room by picking up dirty glasses and cups and toting them to the kitchen, where I would get distracted by a couple of kid’s sweaters on the table which I would carry to their rooms…where I would get further distracted by attempting to collect dirty laundry from the debris-strewn floors. End result? hours spent running from room to room with little bits of the mess, and none of the rooms ever getting tidied up.

I can remember my mother telling me “clean your room!” and being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task and baffled as to where to start. Helping my youngest child, who suffered from ADD and learning disabilities, to clean up his room taught me a few valuable lessons. First of all, “clean up” is too vague: the task needs to be broken down into smaller steps. And secondly, what do you do with something once you have picked it up? If the item in your hand belongs in the kitchen, can you stay on task long enough to take it to the kitchen and return to the room? And how many trips to the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, etc. are you going to make? And at what cost, in terms of time?

I came across the solution to my untidy house quite by accident. Having a mountain of laundry to do each weekend, I had invested in a stack of large rectangular laundry baskets into which I could sort the various loads and easily carry them to and from the washer and dryer. While upstairs gathering laundry from a bedroom one day, I stuck a few items that belonged downstairs into an empty laundry basket so that I could carry them easily back to their place of origin. Pulling dirty clothes out of another room, I spotted some items belonging to the kitchen and put them into an empty basket for easy removal. It didn’t take long for me to take this to the next level, and in a short time, I evolved a system that has stood me in good stead until this day (those children now have teenagers of their own!).

Here's how it works:

Invest in at least three large rectangular laundry baskets: you can get more, but get them in multiples of three. Boxes will work, but they aren’t as sturdy or as versatile and they exude a subliminal message of “storage” to which you do not want to succumb. The ultimate objective is to put possessions away and throw away trash, not to store the stuff.

Now, mentally label the baskets “Here,” “Another Room,” and “Trash.”

Take the baskets to the first room to be cleaned, put them near the door, and begin. Go through the room, starting at the door, and pick up each item that is on the floor, bed, tables…everything that is out of place…and place the items in one of the baskets. If a basket gets full, do not empty it! This will distract you from your task of removing the clutter from the room. Either pile stuff around it or bring in another basket. If an item is too large to fit into a basket, put it beside the appropriate basket. The objective here is to clear the room of clutter in an organized manner, and in such a way that you will not get distracted by other tasks in other parts of the house.

When all the bits and pieces have been cleared away, take the trash basket outside and empty it, returning to the room with an empty basket. Now, take the basket you mentally labelled “here” and remove each piece and put it in its proper place in the room. You will now have two (or more) empty baskets.

Now, go through the “Another room” baskets and sort the contents into the baskets you just emptied. Perhaps you’ll have “Kitchen,” “Family Room,” and “Kids’ Rooms” baskets. Maybe you'll have "Upstairs," "Basement," and "Patio" baskets...mentally label the baskets according to need. Now take those baskets to the appropriate spaces.

Chances are, each of those spaces need the Laundry Basket Treatment, too, so just put the baskets down at the appropriate doors and mentally label them “Here.” Bring in two empty baskets for the trash and things that belong in another room, and repeat the process in each room.

You’ll notice that no dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or other cleaning has been done…there is a reason for that. It is important to stay focussed on the immediate task…removing clutter and restoring order to the rooms. Cleaning, which is actually a different set of tasks from restoring order, can be done after each room has been relieved of its accumulated clutter. Order brings a sense of calm, disorder brings a sense of chaos, and if you are feeling unsettled and anxious, it scatters your energy. Hence the importance of focussing intently on only one task…restoring order to a space through the removal of those things that do not belong in it and putting the remaining items in their proper places.

When your whole house has been restored to order, then it is time to clean. We’ll talk about that next time.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Saving More Money: 25 Cheap Tricks with 1 Ordinary Product

We all now know about the magic of that neglected superstar of cleaning, white vinegar. But what we may not know is that there is another economical, versatile product lurking in almost every home, something that’s cheap to buy, easy to use, is totally non-toxic, and has a variety of practical uses. What are we talking about? Sodium bicarbonate or ordinary baking soda!

Baking soda has a multitude of uses in cleaning and deodorizing. It is a very mild abrasive, which makes it useful for cleaning items that you don’t want to scratch, like the interior of your refrigerator, and its ability to absorb odours is legendary. Here are just 25 of the many things you can do, cheaply and easily, with plain old baking soda:

Stinky stuff:

1 Deodorize and clean cutting boards: baking soda is safe to ingest (indeed…we use it in cooking!), so it is safe to use on food preparation surfaces. If your cutting board is retaining odours despite a good wash with soap and water, sprinkle baking soda on a clean damp sponge, scrub the cutting board, and rinse clean. (To ensure the sponge is clean and germ-free, microwave it for one minute before using it.)

2. Garbage disposal odours: Pour about one third of a cup baking soda into the disposal followed by one or two squirts of dish washing liquid. Turn on the disposal for 15-30 seconds (with cold water running). If the odour persists, repeat the procedure, this time adding half a lemon (peel and all) and run the disposal for 60 seconds.

3. Refrigerator odours: Simply tear the top off a box of baking soda and place it near the back of the fridge. Replace monthly. (Don’t discard the used baking soda, though…you can re-use it for cleaning!) Once a month, clean the fridge with a baking soda solution (see below).

4. Freezer odours: sprinkle baking soda on paper plates, one for each shelf or basket. Leave the baking soda in the freezer for 24 hours, then remove and discard.

5. Vegetable crisper/meat keeper: If your refrigerator drawers have an aromatic life of their own, try sprinkling a thin layer of baking soda on the bottom of each drawer. Cover the baking powder with a piece of paper towelling to prevent baking soda from transferring to the food. In crispers, this can help keep vegetables from wilting. Replace monthly.

6. Lunch bag: has your zippered lunch bag developed a kind of funky odour that washing can’t seem to remove? Wash the bag, dry with a towel, then sprinkle ¼ cup of baking soda inside. Now zip it shut and shake thoroughly. Allow to sit overnight, then unzip and wipe clean inside. Smell will be gone!

7. Plastic ware, including baby bottles: if you have ever had milk or formula sour in a baby’s bottle, you know how difficult it can be to get the smell out! Soak the offending item in a baking soda solution overnight, then wash and rinse clean. No more sour milk smell!

8. Diaper pail: you’ve done the ecologically friendly thing and gone with cloth diapers…now avoid harsh chemicals and deodorize your diaper pail with baking soda. Sprinkle a little in the bottom of your clean, empty diaper pail and sprinkle a bit on each diaper as you add it to the pail. Not only will the odour be controlled, the baking soda will help clean and deodorize the diapers during laundering, leaving them sparkling clean!

9. Cat litter box: just as baking soda does is great job neutralizing diaper odours, it can help with your cat’s litter box as well. When preparing a fresh litter box for your cat, sprinkle a layer of baking soda in the bottom of the box before adding the litter. It will help absorb odours and, as kitty scratches in the box, it will be mixed with and spread throughout the litter.

10. Stinky shoes? Smelly feet? Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of baking soda in each shoe. Tap the shoes together to distribute the soda throughout the shoes. Allow to stand overnight, then dump the soda out and discard. Be sure to tap the shoes firmly to dislodge any clingy bits. Done regularly, your shoes will cease to retain odours and the residual baking soda inside the shoes will help deodorize your feet as well.

11. Mops: has your spaghetti mop taken on a sour smell? Rather than discard it and spend money on a new one, try this first: make a solution of 1 cup baking soda, ½ cup salt, one quart warm water. Soak the mop head in this solution for half a day, then rinse in clear water and wring dry. To prevent the mop from souring in the future, rinse thoroughly then allow to fully dry before storing.

12. Vacuum cleaner pumping out funky air? Add ½ to 1 cup of baking soda to your vacuum cleaner’s bag or dirt cup before using.

13. Pet beds: Vacuum regularly and sprinkle with baking soda. A sprinkle on Fido, brushed in, won’t go amiss either.

14. Garbage cans, trash bins: by their very nature, these items are prone to collecting odours. After collection, wash out bin with garden hose, turn upside down to drain thoroughly, then sprinkle a layer of baking soda in the bottom. Once a month or so, clean the inside of the bin with a baking soda solution (see below).

Cleaning stuff:

15. Fridge Cleaning: remove everything from the refrigerator, including the shelves, bins, and door shelves. Make a solution of ½ cup baking soda to 1 quart warm water and pour into the bins to soak the bottoms. In a bowl, make a solution of ½ cup baking soda to 1 quart warm water and carry it to the fridge with a fresh sponge (microwave for 1 minute to kill germs if it is not a new sponge). Wipe down the inside of the fridge, with this solution, during with a soft cloth as you go. Wash shelves, door shelves and bins with a warm baking soda solution, rinse, dry with a soft cloth, and return to the fridge. Restock the fridge, discarding items as necessary and wiping jars and bottles with a baking soda solution before returning them to the fridge. Place an open box of baking soda at the back of the fridge to retard odours.

16. Battery posts on your car: if your car is difficult to start and the battery has blue-green corrosion around the posts, a solution of baking soda may remedy the problem for you. Corrosion on battery posts can retard the flow of electricity from the battery to your starter, making your car difficult to start. Clean the posts with a solution of baking soda, but be sure to wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the corrosion. Rinse with clear water, dry with paper towels (not cloth or reusable wipes).

17. Cleaning garbage bins: Rinse bins with garden hose. Make a solution of 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup salt, and 2 quarts warm water. Pour into bin and wash interior of bin with a mop. Stuff that is stuck to the bin can be scoured with a sponge: sprinkle baking soda onto the sponge and use as an abrasive. Rinse thoroughly with garden hose, turn upside down to drain. When dry, sprinkle a generous layer of baking soda inside to absorb odours.

18. Jewellery: Jewellery can be cleaned with a paste of baking soda and water and an old toothbrush. Even costume jewellery can be cleaned as long as the paste is not left on long enough to soften the glue that holds the “jewels” in place.

19. Cleaning stains from marble: some people don’t realize until it is too late that marble is porous and it stains. It makes beautiful kitchen counter and table tops, but it can be a chore to keep clean. If you find stains and discolorations on your beautiful marble, or if your bisque figurines have been dulled with accumulated grime, try cleaning them with a baking soda solution: 3 tablespoons baking soda dissolved in 1 quart of warm water.

For stubborn stains on marble, make a paste of baking soda, a squeeze of lemon juice, and water. Scrub affected area with a circular motion and rinse with clear water. If the stain persists, make a thick paste of lemon juice, water and baking soda, apply to the stain, cover with plastic and allow to work for 24 hours. Remove the paste (use a wood or plastic spatula if it has dried…never metal) and rinse area with clear water.

20. Oil stains on garage floor? Baking soda will leach oil out of concrete! Sprinkle a thick layer of baking soda over the stain and allow to sit for 24 hours. Sweep up the baking soda and discard. Repeat as necessary.

21. Burnt or scorched food stuck to a pan? Moisten the affected areas and apply baking soda thickly. Allow to stand overnight, then scrub clean.

22. Sludgy drains? Try putting a cup of baking soda down the offending drain followed by a cup of white vinegar. Wait 2 or 3 minutes, then flush with water.

23. Bathtub rings: dry baking soda applied to a damp sponge acts as a mild abrasive that will quickly remove those scummy bathtub rings.

Other uses:
24. Take the discomfort out of bee, wasp, and hornet stings: Make a thick paste of baking soda and water and apply to the sting. Leave on for at least five minutes.

25. Fire safety: Keep a box of baking soda, preferably already opened, anywhere you use open flame or the danger of combustion exists. Ideal places are near the kitchen stove, the fireplace, and the barbeque. A box in the workshop can be a lifesaver if a spark from grinding or sanding goes awry. It’s not a perfect substitute for a fire extinguisher, but certainly better than water, which can spread grease fires and conduct electricity in electrical fires.

Saving Money: 12 practical uses for one inexpensive product!

Did you know that one of the most useful…and economical…items you can have in your cabinet is a half gallon bottle of white vinegar?

Seriously! Take a look at some of the things you can do with it…

1. Windows: A solution of white vinegar and water (about 50/50) and some old newspapers will get your windows and mirrors just as clean as those blue window cleaners and paper towels, and is much kinder to your pocket.

2. Glassware and crystal: Other glassware, like stemware, glass vases, even your spectacles, will benefit from a quick polish with some white vinegar and a bit of newsprint, and is non-toxic as well!

3. Sunburn: got a painful sunburn? Compresses of white vinegar…or just stand in the tub and pour the vinegar over your shoulders and back…takes the sting right out! You will smell like a salad, but you won’t hurt nearly so much!

4. Boiled eggs: do you have a problem with eggs cracking when you boil them? For every dozen eggs you are boiling, add half a cup of white vinegar to the water. If the eggs crack, the white stuff will not leak out.

5. Poached eggs: tired of all that filmy floaty stuff in the water in your poached egg pan? Add a tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of white vinegar to the water before you slip the eggs in. The eggs will not have a vinegar taste, but they will look lovely and compact.

6. Souring milk/cream: does a recipe call for sour cream, soured milk, or buttermilk and you don’t have any? Pour out the requisite amount of liquid and add vinegar in a ratio of one tablespoon of vinegar per cup of liquid. Stir quickly and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Voila!

7. Urine smell: puppy have an accident on the carpet or tiles, and now keeps coming back to that spot? Soak the area with white vinegar, straight from the bottle (do not soak wood or laminate floors). Remove excess moisture with folded towels. Repeat as necessary. Vinegar neutralizes the ammonia smell that sends a “Here’s the toilet!” message to dogs and cats.

8. Cat squirt: got one of those cheeky cats that simply will not stay off the couch or kitchen counter tops? Fill a trigger-spray bottle with a solution of water and white vinegar. You can start with a 50% solution, but if the animal is recalcitrant, you can increase it up to 75% vinegar. Set the spray on stream (as opposed to mist) and keep it with you. When the cat misbehaves, shout “NO!” very loudly and squirt the cat. The vinegar will not harm the cat, but cats hate the smell. Eventually the cat will associate the command “NO!” with the wet smelly stuff and then you won’t need the squirt bottle any more.

9. Coffee machines, steam irons: Coffee machines, steam irons, and other appliances that use water are prone to developing deposits that clog them up and produce icky tastes. Shower heads are also prone to clogging with scale. Run your coffee machine with a 50% solution of white vinegar, then rinse thoroughly and run again with pure water; fill your steam iron with a 50% solution of white vinegar and press the button to get the steaming action to go. Hold the iron over an old towel or some newspaper, as it will spit and sputter. For showerheads, soak the showerhead in pure white vinegar and clear out the holes with a toothpick or pin. Rinse thoroughly. Caution: vinegar is an acid and may corrode some shower head finishes, so test first on an unobtrusive spot.

10. Copper and brass: Assuming your old copper kettle or brass gewgaws aren't covered with a protective coating, vinegar can clean them like magic. Just add salt. Yep, a little vinegar to cut the oxidation and a little salt for grit, plus a little elbow-grease from you and your copper and brass goodies will shine good as new. This is especially good for copper-bottomed pots as it is non-toxic, user-friendly, and best of all, cheap!

11. Jewellery cleaner: Soak your fine jewellery (diamond rings, gold studs, etc.) in vinegar to dissolve the dulling film they pick up from soaps, conditioners, even oils from your skin. For costume jewellery, test first on an unobtrusive spot to make sure it will not discolour, and use with caution on costume pieces using glue.

12. Removing soap scum: Vinegar cuts soap scum. If you have a serious build-up, it may take several attempts to remove it all, but once it is gone, wipe down your tub, shower doors and bathroom windows with vinegar and newspaper to keep them sparkling. Vinegar will even keep your shower curtain free of soap scum and mildew: just spray it weekly!

As you can see, white vinegar is truly a versatile product, good for more than making salad dressing or pickles. So save yourself a little dosh the next time you cruise through the supermarket: skip the cleaning products aisle and head for the white vinegar!

22 Ways to Pinch Pennies and Make your Money go Further

Like it or not, food prices are going up. It’s inevitable, after all…everything goes up eventually…but for some reason prices have this nasty habit of going up faster than salaries.

Economizing at the grocery store (along with reducing electricity and fuel use) is an effective method of belt tightening, but a surprising number of people just don’t understand how to shop in such a way to reduce their costs. Here are a few tips:

1. Stick a piece of paper to the refrigerator door with a magnet and put a pen on top of the fridge. Each time you run low (don’t wait until you are completely out) on something, write it on the piece of paper. At the end of the week you will have a list of the things that you need to buy at the store. Stick to the list (with the exceptions noted below).

2. Buy items you use a lot of in bulk quantities. For example, buying toilet paper one roll at a time is the most costly way of doing it. Buy the largest quantity you can (9 or 12 roll pack of TP, for example), especially when it is on sale. This does not apply to perishables unless you can freeze them: you can freeze butter, for example, but not apples.

3. Stock up on things that are on sale and will not spoil before you use them: toilet paper, pasta in sealed cello bags, rice, sugar (if you can store it in air-tight containers), cleaning and laundry supplies. When possible, shop at warehouse-type stores card and buy such items as laundry soap and bleach in large containers. Skip expensive pre-treating compounds and use a paste of laundry soap and water to treat stains.

4. Reduce your use of chemical cleaners: use white vinegar (and newspaper) to clean glass and mirrors, to polish surfaces. Use salt and vinegar for scouring brass and copper. Purchase a store-brand multi-purpose cleaner in large containers for general purpose cleaning and decant into smaller spray bottles. Buy kitchen liquid soap in a gallon-sized container and decant it into a smaller bottle for daily use. Use laundry bleach to clean your toilet and shower. Teak oil is much less expensive than such things as Pledge and your wood loves it better: use it for wood furniture (indoors and out), natural wood floors, door and window frames.

5. Canned foods that you use frequently…tuna or canned fruits and veg…purchase in quantity when they are on sale or buy in quantity. Do not, however, purchase large cans unless you can use the entire contents in a day or two, otherwise the product will spoil.

6. If you use zipper-type plastic bags, buy the best brands and wash and re-use the bags. Cheap bags don’t last and ultimately cost more in the long run (because you have to keep replacing them).

Convenience is costly
7. Wean yourself away from disposable stuff. Instead of paper towels, buy reusable wipes and run them through the laundry. To keep them from shredding in the wash, cut the leg off an old pair of pantyhose (surely you save those things…don’t we all?) and put the wipes inside the leg, knot it shut, and toss in the wash with your jeans.

8. Give up expensive habits: stop smoking; stop take out; make fast food a treat rather than a regular alternative to cooking. Stop buying soft drinks…make them an occasional treat rather than a part of daily life. Water is better for you than coffee, tea, or cola, anyway. Not bottled water…tap water. Water quality questionable? Boil the water and store it in clean containers for drinking.

9. At the store, buy seasonal fruits only. Out-of-season fruits and veg, no matter how tempting to your taste buds, are a disaster to your pocket.

10. Think before you buy…learn to calculate the cost per unit so that you can intelligently compare prices…you could get some big surprises! You would think that it would be cheaper to buy whole fruit and cut it yourself rather than buy fruit already sliced, right? Well, if pre-cut strawberries and whole strawberries are the same price, the cut berries are actually a better buy because you aren’t buying any waste. It isn’t until the cut strawberries cost more than the whole berries (with green tops on) that the whole berries are the better buy.

11. The same applies to meat, where there can be a lot of waste. Meat should be purchased on a “cost per serving” basis rather than “cost per pound.” You see, if you buy cheap hamburger, you are buying a lot of fat that will be rendered out during cooking, reducing the amount of actual meat per serving. Look at a piece of meat and try to figure out how much of it is fat, gristle, and bone…you will pay for these bits at the same price you pay for the meat, but you will throw that stuff away. So, if you pay $7 for a pound of meat that is 50% waste, you are actually paying $7 for half a pound of edible meat, or $14 per pound for the meat. Rather than throw away half of your money in the form of bones, fat and gristle, buy a smaller quantity of a higher quality meat…save money and improve the quality of your meals.

12. When meats are on sale, buy a larger quantity than usual then, at home, cut the extra into serving size pieces and freeze. Wrap in foil or put in zipper freezer bags, both of which can be cleaned and re-used. When available and on sale, buy large quantities of chicken parts and make up meal-sized packets for freezing.

13. Do your meal planning in the market: upon entering, go directly to the meat department to see which meat/poultry/fish are on special. Choose your meats for the week, deciding at the time of purchase what you are going to prepare with each one. Then, go to the produce department and collect the necessary produce for the meals, concentrating on the items on sale. Stay away from specialty produce, like endive and baby corn, and concentrate on staples like potatoes and carrots (the cheapest ones, not the peeled baby carrots!), and flavourful items like onion and garlic.

14. Cook things that the leftovers can be the basis of another meal. Make a bigger beef roast than usual, serve only two-thirds of it. Keep back the other third for the basis of a stew the following day. Serve a roasted chicken, then use the leftover bones, skin, and meat as the base of a chicken soup or stew the following day.

15. Take advantage of inexpensive meats like smoked ham hocks that can be used to flavour a pot of dried beans, split peas, or lentils and make a delicious, filling meal at a remarkably low cost.

16. Make meatless meals out of seasonal vegetables: leek and potato soup, or even just potato soup. Eggs…omelettes, for example, or frittatas…are not just for breakfast, you know.

17. Make hamburger go further by making dishes like spaghetti sauce, chili con carne or tamale pie. Make a meatloaf, meatballs, or hamburger patties using bread (soak in water and wring out) or oatmeal as an extender.

18. Eliminate brand name cereals: buy store-brand cereals and make cooked oatmeal (not instant) for breakfast. Liven up the flavour with a drizzle of honey, some sliced fruit, or a spoonful of jam.

19. Pack lunches for family members. Peanut butter is an excellent source of protein and most children love peanut butter sandwiches. A piece of fruit, a tub of store-brand yoghurt, and a bottle of fruit juice (not those expensive juice boxes…decant juice that you buy in large containers into smaller plastic bottles), and perhaps one or two cookies makes a fine lunch. Instead of expensive cold cuts, make egg or tuna salad (lots of protein, inexpensive). And buy cheese in blocks rather than slices, and use a cheese slicer to cut sandwich-sized slices.

20. Shop at a low cost supermarket…you can save hundreds by staying out of the premium, high-end stores.

21. Don’t waste precious fuel by driving from one market to the next to take advantage of every market’s sale. Spending $1 on gas to save a nickel on peas is penny wise and dollar foolish.

22. Whenever possible, grow your own: tomatoes can be grown in pots on even a small balcony, and you can plant a dwarf lemon or orange tree in a half barrel…and then plant leaf lettuce (which you will harvest by cutting leaves carefully off the plant, allowing it to grow even more) in a circle around the tree trunk. Voila! Free salad!

Not all of these suggestions work for every household, but employing as many as you can will surely reduce the amount of money you fork over to the market every month.