Beat the House-Cleaning Blues

It’s not difficult to find advice on how to clean and organize, and what products to use for what chore. There’s Mom, Grandma, Mrs. Smith next door, Mr. Jones down at the hardware store, and hundreds of books and articles on the subject!

But the single most common reason why major household cleaning efforts fail — lack of preparation to do the job at hand that leads to frustration, lost time and wasted effort — is often overlooked in advice columns and how-to books.

As with any other human endeavor, planning pays off. So before you dive in to that unspeakable attic mess or tackle that maze of a kitchen cupboard, consider these six time-tested planning tips to make the task easier … and even enjoyable!

1. Do something pleasantly different

Instead of assaulting your senses and the environment with a literally dizzying array of cleaning chemicals, consider taking a morning to prepare some herbal and natural cleaning solutions this year.

Some natural disinfectants include rosemary and lemon, and the leaves and stems of thyme and sage. Cloves, lavender, orange, peppermint and sandalwood also have antiseptic powers.

You can use six drops or so of their essential oils, mixed with a teaspoon of isopropyl alcohol and a quart of lukewarm water.

You can also cook up a great smelling, spirit-lifting disinfectant by culling the leaves and stems of rosemary, eucalyptus, thyme, sage or lavender, and letting the mixture simmer for an hour. Simply strain out the solids and let the mixture cool. You’ll love the fresh scent and the gentle way the solution cleans your spaces!

The sweet, nutty seeds of the fern-like Sweet Cicely plant can be crushed to yield a wonderfully aromatic natural furniture polish. Pulverize the seeds, then scoop up a handful in a soft cloth and admire the gentle way it coaxes shine from wood!

2. Be alone and enjoy it!

You’d never try to clean a keyboard while someone’s typing, or clean your oven while preparing Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a mystery why so many well-meaning people think they can clean a room or a closet with other people coming and going!

If your family members aren’t going to help with the tasks — or you know you’ll drive yourself to distraction trying to keep tabs on who’s doing what — then enjoy your time alone! Turn up your favorite music. Get some aerobic exercise with the bending and stretching you’ll be doing. And promise yourself a treat — anything from a day at the spa to a pint of orange frozen custard — when the task is successfully completed.

3. Survey the damage

Before you lift a hand to whatever particular housework horror you have in mind, take stock of what you’re facing. Nearly every home has clutter that clogs up the cleaning process. Put it away or pitch it.

Don’t despair or get distracted if you’re cleaning up a really cluttered area — such as a table piled high with papers and bills or a bathroom counter crammed with a seemingly endless array of bottles, boxes, tubes, cosmetic containers, jars and baskets of numerous interesting shapes.

Your goal at the moment is to clear the surface so you can clean it. Don’t file, catalog or try to sort the clutter right now. Toss the whole mess into a box, label and date it, and sort it that night while you’re watching TV or listening to music.

4. Look up, look down, look under

Standing in the doorway of the room you’re about to clean, look up to the ceiling, to the furthest corners of the room, then bring your eyes gradually down to the floor, then up again, left to right, top to bottom. Note problems such as leaks, broken or cracked plaster, missing tiles, splintered moldings, creeping mildew.

Eyeball the spots you usually don’t notice: heating baseboards, radiators, windowsills, caulking, curtain rods. Write down anything that needs to be repaired or replaced, and start building a project list.

5. Dress the part

Whenever you’re preparing to clean, get comfortable. Wear old clothes, soft socks and rubber-soled slippers. Consider using a full-length garden apron with pockets, plus a tie-back garden pocket belt to stash a scrub-brush, plastic gloves, tissues and a small bottle of antibacterial cleanser for the odd unpleasant surprise.

If you’ve got long hair, tie it back in a braid and remove jewelry and piercings. Safety first!

6. Let there be light … and heat … and other comforts of home

Make sure all light bulbs work and have at least two that are preferably brand new. The last thing you want is to be suddenly thrust into darkness while you’re up to your elbows in bleach-water or standing on a metal step-stool washing walls.

Check your flashlight and know where to find extra batteries. Keep the room temperature at a comfortably cool, but not cold, level, because you’ll probably work up a sweat and you want to avoid being chilled.

Also, keep a water-bottle handy (you will get thirsty!) and a box of lanolin-based baby wipes, in case you’re called to the door or have an unexpected visitor!

Most important to your chore planning: be ready to work and have a great attitude. Don’t try to accomplish more in a day than you know you can complete, and be proud of your successes.

Remember that if a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, by planning ahead, then doing the job to plan, you’ll have just take one giant step toward beating the house-cleaning blues!

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