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Posts Tagged ‘Cleaning’

  1. Train the Kids to Be Self-Sufficient

    May 28, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom


    There are two schools of thought regarding how much help to expect from your kids around the home front. There is somebody in my life, Exhibit A, who believes the children have their “work”: Do well in school and their extracurriculars. Exhibit A believes that the parents’ jobs are to provide the environment necessary for the children to eat and remain in clean surroundings, while also bringing in the literal and figurative bacon to sustain the operation. The children are freed from the burden of maintaining household cleanliness as well as from creating food for themselves or the family, so they can focus all their efforts and energy on their own “work” of getting a 4.0 at school and doing well on swim team.

    Then there is the other school of thought, where the parents believe that all members of the family contribute according to their ability to keep the household in order, secure food and prepare it, bring in an income if possible and still do their best in whatever their occupational “work” happens to be – school, employment, infant care, homeschooling, college or other.

    I subscribe to the later. I guess that makes me Exhibit B. There are 3 main reasons why I believe children must do some of the work around the home:

    1) It trains them to be self-sufficient

    2) It trains them to consider the needs of others

    3) More skills are always preferable to fewer skills

    First, it trains them to be self-sufficient. It is never far from my mind that I’m not just raising a bunch of babies, I’m growing the future adults of the world. I think any typical 13-year-old should be able to competently make a complete meal from scratch and with a fair amount of complexity.  But I don’t expect them to wake up the day they turn 13 and be magically able to do so.  They learn first, when they are 11 and 12 (or younger) how to make cookies, how to make a salad, how to prepare vegetables, how to assemble a sandwich.  By the time they’re 12, they are on their way to being able to make an easier meal – say, spaghetti dinner – with little help and advising. I keep helping them until they can comfortably make a main meal with a couple of sides with little more than a cursory glance from me from time to time, or a suggestion from the wings on how to chop more efficiently, or how much olive oil to use, say.

    I don’t want my kids to enter adulthood with no idea how to put together a meal or make a thing in the world that doesn’t pour out of a can or come in a microwavable tray. By the same token, I want them to have good skills for cleaning up the same kitchen efficiently and well. (Although the “treat” in my house is that if you make the meal, you are excused from clean-up duties.)

    Second, it trains them to consider the needs of others. In my opinion, Exhibit A is training the kids to grow up thinking that their work is all that matters, that what keeps them busy excuses them from extending a helping hand to a spouse or a roommate who might be doing quite a lot to keep the household running. Now, I will grant you, it’s entirely possible that kids growing up with Exhibit A’s school of thought will still manage to get a clue as adults and will in fact, not turn into self-centered loafs. Human behavior is never simple. They might marry straight-shooter spouses who will tell them to get their two good legs in the kitchen and help clean up. Or maybe they’ll find God or Buddha or a Cosmic Being who reinvents their mind and makes them want to help out because they’re just so full of loving philanthropism. One never knows. But – generally speaking, you are training them when they’re little in what to expect when they’re big. If the message they hear for 18 years is, “Gee, Johnny, your Algebra and European History and All Star game is so much more important than anything I’m doing to put clean clothes on your back and provide edible meals for you every day that I’ll just manage all the grunt work of life so your way will be clear to do spectacular things,” how are they likely to think when they’re grown? As Stephen Covey says, Begin with the End in Mind.

    Third, aren’t more skills better than fewer skills? I mean, wouldn’t you prefer to be confidently able to clean a bathroom, whip up some French Toast, and mop the kitchen quickly and well, rather than sitting helplessly by, hoping you can stretch your meager budget to cover pizza and a cleaning lady because you’re inept? Hey, in a perfect scenario, sure, I’d probably like to be so wealthy that cooking and cleaning are completely moot. I’d have a personal chef who makes me awesome dairy-free, healthy dinners at a moment’s notice, and a stout British nanny who slips soundlessly into the bathroom before I wake, such that there are fresh roses by my vanity and a fluffy organic cotton towel hanging on a heated robe rack, ready for me to shower whenever the thought happens into my mind…sigh. Yes, that would all be very well and good, but here on my regular-people street, all the cooking and cleaning happens (or doesn’t) on my own watch. Fortunately, my childhood left me with no illusions that I was the center of any universe. I’m giving my children the gift of many skills; should they not need them eventually, well, bully for them, but since there’s a good chance they will, I’m happy to equip them.

    So, I say, equip the little buggers. They’re probably going to need it when they leave the nest and in the meantime, it gives you 30 minutes to put up a blog post.


  2. How to Keep Your House Clean

    May 3, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom

    “How do you keep your house clean?” I have been asked this a lot of times in my adult life, especially since I became a mother. There are a few contributing factors besides the obvious one, which would be that I clean it.

    1. Big houses look clean more easily than small houses:  People often think the opposite. In one sense, it’s true that a big house has more surfaces to clean, and clearly it takes longer to clean five bathrooms than it would one or two bathrooms. But in a big house, there are more places for things to spread out or be stored, while in a smaller house, more things are bound to be right in your line of vision, which seems messier. If your house is on the small side, it is even more important for you to reduce clutter in order to feel freer.

    2. Reduce visual clutter: “Messy” and “dirty” are not the same thing, but they are close buddies who travel together.  Some people think that if a room is messy, it’s okay as long as it’s not actually dirty. This is a myth. If it’s messy, it will soon be dirty by default, because it is so hard to clean in a mess, most people don’t do it. When people remark on my house being clean, the main thing they are responding to is lack of visual clutter. It’s not like they went around sniffing the toilets to see how clean they are.

    What contributes to visual clutter?  The state of your horizontal surfaces factor into this heavily. Do you have a lot of knick-knacks? Do the kids strew their belongings everywhere? What happens to their school papers, hats, jackets, baseball gloves, books, water bottles and stuffed animals when they walk in the door?  You must train them not to walk in like a tornado of junk and shed it everywhere. (This is not easy. If they are already teenagers, you might just have to bide your time for a few more years instead.)

    Process papers quickly. Throw away the junk mail very soon; pay the bills very soon; process everything to complete.

    3. Reduce hidden clutter: 

    This means your closets, drawers, pantry, etc. Just focus on one if it’s too overwhelming to consider them all. Pick one closet that would greatly improve your life if it was not stuffed to the rafters. Spend 30 minutes (or two hours) pulling down everything and deciding whether it’s giveaway, throw away or keep. If it’s throwaway, put it in a trashbag and take it out of the house. If it’s giveaway, put it in the car to take to a charity, or call a charity right away for pick-up. Or list it on Freecycle. Whatever. Just get rid of it instantly, so you don’t start thinking about what you banished and let it creep back in . Aim to have at least one shelf completely clear. Remember that Feng Shui thing I said before about keeping an open shelf.

    4. Use routines to keep clean going: 

    Set up a particular pattern you can stick with pretty closely for when you will empty the dishwasher, do the laundry, pay the bills, make the bed, and so on. I empty my dishwasher in the morning, so it will be ready to accept dishes throughout the day. We run it in the evening after dinner, no matter if it’s full to the top or not. If I waited until it was always totally full before running it, then it would run at odd times and be full of dishes at times inconvenient to empty. I do the laundry on a regular pattern, too; usually Wednesday and Saturday.

    5. Train the kids: 

    I have a friend whose philosophy is that the children have their schooling and their sports and activities and therefore should not help with the house or the meals. I disagree with this view. Children will one day have a place of their own (sometimes it may seem that day will never truly come…) and they need to know how to take care of their things and prepare food. Besides, even with schooling, sports and activities, kids still have some time to contribute to the household, even if it’s mainly on the weekends.

    It can also be a problem if you are too picky about how everything must be carried out. Don’t do that – and that’s coming from someone who is a perfectionist with a smattering of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  If it’s going to make you nutsy, give them jobs that won’t make a gigantic big deal to you.  My boys sometimes have jobs like pick up all the branches and sticks in the yard, fill the birdfeeder or groom the pets. It’s not going to make me crazy if they don’t do it exactly perfectly. I leave bathroom mirror cleaning strictly to myself. 😉

    6. Make it simple to clean

    How many times have I heard this in my life, “Well, I’m not spending hours a day cleaning my house; I’m out taking my kids to the park or reading to my babies or going to Disneyland.” In other words, the speaker feels badly that they don’t keep their house orderly, so they create a false dichotomy as if there are only two possible choices: enjoy your family and have a trashed house or be a militant shut-in who scrubs the floor 10 hours a day.  Though my house is pretty clean and orderly most of the time, I spend a minuscule amount of time actually cleaning it during the week (more on the weekend) and I still go on many park days and library runs. (Although I’ve never been to Disneyland.)

    If you have obeyed the clutter rules and you have trained your kids to help, you will only need to spend about 30 total minutes a day during the week and perhaps 2 hours on the weekend to have a house that looks good and is reasonably clean. If your house is small and you’re very ruthless about clutter, it could be less. If you’re determined to dust around a ton of stuff, it will be more.

    Here’s another thing that matters: pets. Blue Collar Guy grew up on a farm, so in his mind, there was a place for animals. It was called the barn. He did not grow up with dogs and cats sleeping on the bed. When I first met him, it was pretty weird to me. After a couple of years living without indoor pets, though, I could really see his view clearly. Pets should be outside as much as possible, if you live in a space where it’s possible. Our dog and cats sleep in the garage at night, or during inclement weather.  The rest of the time, they have a yard and ten acres to explore. I don’t need to clean cat hair or muddy footprints off of anything. I will say, though, that I know people love their pets and I have no expectation that you’ll turn your pets outside if you were sleeping with a Labradoodle on your bed up until now. That’s fine. Just know that there’s a price to be paid in cleaning for every pet who spends times indoors.

    7. Lastly, be realistic:  The people who remark about my house are invariably seeing it when I was planning to have guests. It doesn’t look that way 24-hours-a-day (or 25! 😉 ). I do maintain the house with a continuous eye to order, but it’s not neat as a pin from sun-up to sun-down. There are five people living here and two of them are not going away for school every day. There are constant minor messes from food preparation, science experiments, lego engineering and artistic inspirations. And mail. God, how I hate coping with the mail. Just know that because someone’s house is clean when they have you over for dinner does not mean it looks exactly like that all the time.

    If your house is not neat or clean right now, decide to make it that way. Once it’s clean, it’s easy to keep it that way. I expect to be expanding on any or perhaps all of the topics above, so if there’s anything you’d especially like me to speak to more fully, just let me know.


  3. Don’t Throw it All Away, Part I

    January 15, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom

    I was reading the mildly amusing book, “How to Cheat at Cleaning,” by Jeff Bredenberg. He does have a few ideas I agree with, but I was not at all pleased that he encourages disposable cleaning products as a time-saver. You know – wipes for every purpose under the sun, Swiffer everything, disposable toilet cleaning wands and so on. I could not disagree with his position more! These products fail my acid test of Doing a Job Well on five counts:

    • They constantly cost money
    • They are inferior in feel
    • They amount to nothing but trash
    • They are inferior in performance (usually; I’ll expand on that in a minute)
    • They do not greatly reduce cleaning time

    Let’s look at some disposable products one at a time, and examine its relative merits and drawbacks, shall we?

    First, the wipes.  I despise these for my own cleaning at home. Windex Wipes, Armor-All Wipes, Dusting Wipes, Chlorox Wipes and so on. Not a fan. Consider economics. From a quick Google search, I find Windex wipes are $5.99 for a package of 28 wipes. That is a hair more than 21 cents per wipe. By way of comparison, I can buy a one-gallon size refill container of Windex cleaner for $12.99. A gallon of Windex in a spray bottle lasts for thousands of cleaning applications.

    Okay. So maybe you’re a descendant of Sam Walton and you couldn’t care less if you’re throwing two dimes and a penny in the trash every time you wipe a mirror.  There is still my second point: they are inferior in feel. When I clean glass, I use a terry cloth towel (not a “rag” and not – heaven forbid – a scrap of Uncle Bob’s underwear). A terry towel fills the hand and provides a large surface for cleaning. A wipe feels like cleaning with a tissue.

    Third point. You’re buying trash. You’re just buying chemically treated paper to throw away, 21 cents at a time. I once owned a residential clean company (fancy way of saying I was a maid). I still own and use the terry cloth towels I have used many thousands of times.  I still use cloths I bought at Costco in 1996. When I clean any surface, I use my terry towels and the appropriate spray solution (sometimes glass cleaner, sometimes neutral cleaner, sometimes disinfectant). Then, I throw them in the hamper for the next laundry day.

    My fourth point is debatable, according to the circumstances. There are instances where a disposable product makes more sense. Hospitals, for one. And I have to confess, nothing cleans hair off the bathroom floor half so well as Swiffer dry cloths, so I can’t claim purism. But wipes? Except for some public uses, or to keep in the car for desperate measures, wipes are inferior in performance.

    Wipes do not save time. If you can take a minute to go fetch the wipes, you can take a minute to retrieve a spray bottle and a terry towel. I have them stationed in several locations, so I never need to go far for cleaning tools. In actual use, spraying a surface (or the towel directly) takes no longer than wiping the surface with a wipe.

    If I’m not a fan of cleaning with wipes, it stands to reason I’m not a fan of cleaning with paper towels. I do use paper towels for some purposes – they are hard to beat for cleaning up a really gross, gloppy, multi-textured mess. They are good for covering spaghetti sauce in the microwave so it doesn’t splatter all over kingdom come. But they are not the best option for merely drying your hands (get a hand towel for that), wiping up every tiny thing off the counter and, least of all, cleaning. Terry towels are the thing for cleaning.

    Okay, so maybe you’re convinced but you’re wondering what I mean by “a terry cloth towel.” The terry towels I use were meant to be washcloths. I bought them in bulk at Costco. Other good choices are microfiber cloths (not my personal favorite, but a lot of people do well with them) or former cloth diapers.  The requirements are that they are absorbent, don’t shed lint and are not raggedy. Raggedy rags are impossible to launder and being able to launder them is the entire point. You must always use a cleaning cloth for one application, then into the hamper it goes. I fold mine into quarters and re-fold them as I go, so I’m using a fresh surface. When cleaning the bathroom, use the cloth first on the sink and counter, last on the toilet. ALWAYS launder next!

    Shew, this is getting long and I still have a ton to say. Maybe I’ll call this Part I. Tune in shortly for more ecological and economical ranting.


  4. About the Grout

    January 8, 2012 by 25hoursadaymom

    I was recently cleaning some stained kitchen utensils with a homemade solution I read about on another blog.  The magical homemade cleaning solution is a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. You put a half cup or so of baking soda in a bowl and add hydrogen peroxide until it’s a little wetter than a paste. It’s great for reviving stained cookware and pans. So, anyway, as I was standing at the sink, using it on my vegetable peeler, I looked down and mused about whether this would make the grout on my ceramic tile kitchen floor look better. I decided to try it.

    Wow, did it ever work! Not only did it get the grout very clean, it also raised an amazing amount of ground-in dirt off the tile itself. My ceramic tile has an earthy, mottled pattern to it (camouflage!), so I didn’t notice it was getting…earthier and more mottled over the years. Soon after I started working on that perfectly reasonable sink area, my OCD kicked in and I continued working on the entire floor of the kitchen and entryway from the garage – no small feat. I destroyed two entire sponges and a fair portion of my anterior deltoid before I decided I could go no further with it at the moment. I still have just a half of the entryway floor and another portion behind the kitchen table to finish. Fortunately, running out of supplies gave me a very good opportunity to illustrate with a photo what a difference the homemade solution is making:

    It should be immediately clear to you that the left side of the entryway is where I have worked and the right side is yet to be done. See all that ground in dirt? Who knew?

    My floor does look incredibly clean now, but I can’t make any promises on how soon this feat will be repeated. I’ve been living in this house for nearly nine years now, so I’m thinking…2021?

    Now, for the technical details should you be insane enough to want to do this to your own kitchen. As I said above, you need Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda. I had a large bag of Baking Soda from Costco and two large bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide and I used almost all of each. My kitchen and hallway are about 250 sq ft. total. So, I made up the mixture in a bowl, then used a spoon to pour it into the grout line. I worked in one area at a time, letting it sit for a couple minutes on one area. I used a small scrub brush to really scrub into the grout and tile surface. Cello sponges and a small bucket of water mopped up the messy grey sludge that came up. (GAK!) I changed my cleansing water frequently, as it doesn’t make sense to rinse tile with black water. In the end, I also had to clean the floor to remove any white residue remaining from the Baking Soda.

    It was a ton of work, but man does my floor look good!

    Happy scrubbing.


  5. Out! Out, Damn Spot!

    November 16, 2011 by 25hoursadaymom

    Spots have caused trouble since before Macbeth failed to banish them from his mind. With the birth of  light-colored carpeting, our troubles have only multiplied. (Which, by the way, is why my family room carpet looks like this:)

    Do you know how much coffee has blended into that pattern over the past eight years? Camouflage is a lovely concept.  But, assuming that you do have light-colored carpeting somewhere in your home and assuming that people and/or animals regularly assault your carpeting with coffee, mud, hot chocolate, pee and vomit, you need a strategy for removing stains. A lot of folks use expensive carpet cleaning solutions or frequently have their carpets professionally steamed (which I think is the worst possible solution), but the truth is, most organically-based stains are not hard to remove at all and you don’t need a stick of dynamite to accomplish it. I’ll demonstrate how easy this is with a stain one of my dear crumb-crunchers laid down in the hallway. I’m not sure exactly what made the stain, but I’m pretty sure it was a beverage that went AWOL.

    In order to clean this stain, I use a dilute solution of plain neutral cleaner in a spray bottle. The particular cleaner I use is the incredibly odd Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds, complete with the weird, All-One-God-Love proselytizing all over the label.  Whatever. The soap works anyway.

    I spray a little cleaner over the stained area, enough for it to be wet, but not sopping. Then I use a clean terry cloth, soaked in warm water and wrung out, in a blotting, pressing fashion over the stain. (Do not rub furiously!)

    At this point, you probably have not eliminated the stain, but it may be a bit lighter. Now comes the magical part. Lay the warm, damp terry cloth over the stain, cover with a dry cloth and weight it with one or two large, heavy books.  Walk away for several hours.  I’m not much of  a scientist, but it’s something like “capillary attraction” or some such thing that draws the rest of the juice, mud or pee out of the carpet.  After five hours of capillary attraction, I removed the books and cloths and my stain was gone. Witness:

    I will grant you, this method will probably not work for a serious and non-organic stain, such as marker pen or automotive oil. But it has worked for me even with stains I never imagined would come out, such as the time my daughter, who was a toddler then, threw up a sippy-cup-worth of Prune Juice onto my light grey carpet. (That was my old family room, see? Live and learn.) Prune Juice vomit? The size of Manhattan? I never imagined the humble Dr. Bronners-and-capillary-attraction method would work.  But it did. The sins of an upset stomach – vanished.

    Incidentally, this is also a good method for removing furniture indentations from carpeting if you have rearranged a room or are moving out. Just put warm cloths, covered with dry cloths and weighted down onto the indentations overnight.

    In the morning, remove the books and cloths and…

    Hmmm. Okay, I see what you mean. They are not completely gone in my example. I think it is because this was a Berber carpet, which has very tight fibers. I have used this method with complete success on typical pile carpeting, though. It’s still an improvement however.

    So, there you go. You don’t need to buy a steam cleaner or spray chemicals all over the house because families are messy things. Arm yourself with the strange-yet-effective Dr. Bronners, a spray bottle, some terry cloths and a dictionary or two and your carpet can be stain-free.

    Let me know if this helps you.