Soap, bucket and elbow grease can take you only so far. To clean a home — and keep it that way — calls for dirt-fighting furnishings and a room-by-room war on clutter.
By Bev Bennett

Daily Herald
April, 2004 The acrid smell of vinegar churns up unlikely memories of springs past, when I was given rags and bottles of vinegar and enlisted in my mother’s battle against germs and grime.

I take a pass on the vinegar these days, but a thorough cleaning is still an annual rite in my household, as it is in many.

Ridding your home of its film of dust and eliminating sources of bacterial contamination doesn’t have to be as odious — or odiferous — a task as it once was. The key is to become more efficient. Streamline your rooms to avoid clutter build-up in the first place, and take advantage of products that keep your house tidy.

If that sounds as if it’s easier said than done, here’s a room-by-room strategy. Follow these steps this year and you may have your weekends free next spring.

Place a thick-bristle, indoor-outdoor mat just inside the front door so people don’t track mud through the house.

A shoe rack in the hall will encourage family members to take off their dirty shoes. Arrange house slippers on the rack to make changing easy.

Put a basket at the foot of the stairs and drop in all the things you intend to take upstairs. A full basket will jog your memory.

Living room
The hermetically sealed living room of the ’50s certainly was miss-named considering that no one was allowed to step foot into the space. Thankfully, those days are gone. These days, though, the living room is more likely home to guilty piles of newspapers, clothing and toys.

Purchase furniture and accessories that double as storage space to hold things. For example, buy an ottoman or bench that opens to a storage compartment for afghans or heavy socks. Arrange baskets under the coffee table to stash magazines. Either discard older publications or store them in upright Lucite organizers in your home office.

Choose fabrics that deter dirt and dust or can be washed.

“Velvet drapes may be great, but if they’re stuck with cat hair and the kids’ peanut butter they’re a lot of trouble to clean,” says Tara Aronson, author of “Mrs. Clean Jeans’ Housekeeping with Kids” (Rodale, 2004).

Install blinds or washable cotton curtains instead. Slipcovers are an attractive cover-up for upholstered sofas. Buy loose-fitting slipcovers and zippered pillow covers that can be tossed in the washing machine. To vary the look with the seasons, buy both a winter and summer set of slipcovers and pillow covers. Instead of wool, use a natural fiber rug available in lifestyle stores. Clean with a hose and air dry outdoors.

Although it’s expensive and so luxurious, leather is easier to care for than many fabrics, according to Aronson. Spills wipe up quickly on a leather surface and are less likely to stain than they are with chenille or linen.

Be stingy with your collectibles. Put at least half in storage boxes in the attic. You’ll cut down on dusting and your room will look more spacious.

Arrange your possessions to keep them clean. Don’t put the glass coffee table near the room entrance where it can be a dumping spot. Place a basket there instead.

“Lurking under the sink” sounds like the title of a horror movie, and it may be your personal nightmare. You’re risking a combustible or toxic mess if you shove cleaning supplies, flammable lighting fluid for the grill and recyclable paper bags into the cupboard.

For a household with young children, remove all products to a high shelf. Discard any bottle that’s a quarter-full or less, or any product that hasn’t proven effective to give yourself more space.

Install roll-out shelves so you can see what you’ve got. Place a hanging wire basket on the cupboard door to hold recyclable grocery bags.

Unstuff your cupboards. You’ll have less clutter and reduce the chance of glasses or pots toppling out. Strip down your cookware to those items you regularly use and organize for efficiency.

“Place cupboards close to the dishwasher. Keep only enough table settings for two days. The rest of the dishes should go into a resealable bag so you have clean tableware for company,” says Aronson, whose family, including three children, lives in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Grease, scuff marks and splatters from spills make kitchen walls grungy. Get a big sponge and wash down with a mild liquid soap cleanser.

If you’re redecorating and deciding between wallpaper and paint, the latter is easier to keep clean. Choose latex-based paint in a semi-gloss finish.

You have more options for floors. Hardwood, tile and stone surfaces require the most effort. Concrete, though definitely not stylish, is a snap to maintain, according to Aronson.

Closing the door may shield the bedroom mess from the rest of the house, but you have to tackle it eventually.

To make the tough decisions about the clothes, shoes and odds and ends you’ve crammed into your closet, assign a points system to your possessions, says Sunny Schlenger, a professional organizer in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.

Things that are stained or torn rate a one and should be thrown away. Thing you don’t like or that don’t fit but are in good condition rate a two or three and should be given away. Things you enjoy and use rate a four or five. Save only these, Schlenger says.

Don’t squish clothing and accessories in your closet or you’ll end up pressing garments to get out the wrinkles.

Catalogues and stores offer a wide array of closet storage accessories but be discriminating.

“Think about the kind of container you need first, rather than buying a storage piece and trying to make things fit,” says Schlenger, author of “Organizing for the Spirit” (Jossey-Bass, 2004).

Schlenger prefers clear boxes for under-bed storage and sliding lucite drawers for closets.

The rest of the bedroom requires a general cleaning.

Clean lampshades with electromagnetic sponges to pick up dust and pet hair, says Aronson. Run a sock-covered hand or dust mop along the baseboards.

If your bed is your refuge you won’t want to strip it down. However, you will want to freshen your bedding.

“I put pillows in the dryer with a dryer sheet for 10 minutes. They fluff up and smell better,” says Aronson. “I hate washing comforters. They never get clean and dry. Instead I use easy-to-wash comforter covers.”

Home office
Anyone who thinks computers replaced paper is ignoring the home office. Piles of paper overwhelm desk space. No matter how well arranged, sorting through stacks of letters or bills is very time-consuming.

Create a storage system and you can reduce office work by several hours each month.

Hanging vertical files and ring binders are your best options to organize papers, says Annette Orenstein, who made the transition from the corporate world to a small business several years ago.

“I set up hanging files with labels for documents such as taxes and insurance. Once you have the files putting the papers in takes a nanosecond,” says Orenstein, who lives in Chappaqua, New York.

Buy a filing cabinet on wheels you can tuck under your desk when you don’t need it. If you’re handy you can convert other storage spaces, such as a toy chest or plastic storage cart, to a filing container.

Use binders for information you frequently refer to.

“I have three large binders that help me put my hands on what I need when I need it,” says Orenstein, who created Recipe Bites, a binder people can use to save recipes.

To prevent paper pile, up open your mail with a trashcan within reach. Decide immediately whether to toss or save each letter.

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