Nov 182014
My son, proving Phyllis Diller's famous quote true: "“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.”  He sabotaged my efforts first with baking soda and then maple syrup!

My son, proving Phyllis Diller’s famous quote true: ““Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the sidewalk before it stops snowing.” He sabotaged my efforts first with baking soda and then maple syrup!

As the holiday season approaches, one of the most dreaded tasks is cleaning your house for hosting guests. There is enough to do with all the cooking and decorating but the cleaning obligations can take over your life!

I have been immersed in a fall deep clean of the house lately to get ready for entertaining. Our home always needs a twice yearly scrub-down, including shampooing carpets, cleaning upholstery, dusting, etc. It could probably use it more often but I can only summon the energy twice a year!

There is no secret to making all this scrubbing for company a bit easier. The current popular aesthetic is not only for things to look clean but also to look brand new. If you have an older house, that is tougher to pull off and requires more scrubbing effort. It is hard, back-breaking work but it does look great when it is done and guests love it.

Through a long process of trial and error cleaning my own home, I have come up with a few cleaning tips that are making a big difference in my house.

A Salad Dressing for Leather Furniture

Olive oil and vinegar for cleaning leather.  Who would have thought?

Olive oil and vinegar for cleaning leather. Who would have thought?

My leather dining chairs were crying out for a good clean. After getting rid of all the crumbs and trinkets that our children have managed to stuff into the crevices in the seats, I needed a nice, moisturizing cleaner to reinvigorate the leather. We didn’t have any leather cleaners in the house so I looked online for a homemade solution. I found this one and tried it out. It smells like salad dressing but the vinegar smell does fade within a few hours. The olive oil absorbs into the leather within about a day or so. My husband even noticed how much better the chairs looked after this treatment!

Sandpaper for Deep Cleaning

Sanding sponges, an essential part of my cleaning arsenal now.

Sanding sponges, an essential part of my cleaning arsenal now.

After I discovered that sandpaper does an amazing job reinvigorating toilet bowls, I wondered if sanding sponges could work in other tough situations. I bought a box of them at Home Depot and keep them in the cleaning supplies cabinet. They are terrific for scrubbing crusted on stains off of laminate counters and (when used with very gentle pressure) on hardwood floors. They removed baked on grit from a glass baking dish. They scrub tubs and countertops in the bathroom beautifully too. This is also the miracle cleaner for my oven. It gets rid of grease and burnt food with just water and some scrubbing. No harsh chemicals needed.

One caution with this method, however. You need to test each surface first as the sandpaper can scratch and ruin certain things. Don’t use it on chrome bathroom fixtures as it will scratch.

My "sanded," sparkling oven.

My “sanded,” sparkling oven.

My Miracle Carpet Cleaning Formula

My new favorite "recipe" for carpet cleaning.

My new favorite “recipe” for carpet cleaning.

When you have older rugs and carpets to clean, it can be tricky. Sometimes when the carpet gets wet from the cleaning it can release smells from all the old stains that have ever penetrated the carpeting. The smells don’t go away until the carpet has dried for several days. I have tried all kinds of carpet soaps, laundry detergents and even bleach and had this same problem.

This year, I really wanted to avoid the smells so I tried a new concoction and it worked beautifully! First, I thoroughly vacuumed the carpeting. If there were any stains on the carpeting, I sprayed some Tuff Stuff cleaner on them. I then put some diluted Lysol cleaner in a spray bottle and sprayed the entire carpet. I then sprayed the carpet with a light coat of Febreeze. In the carpet cleaning machine, I put more diluted Lysol in the soap dispenser and no other soaps or detergents. I tried to rinse each area of the carpet twice with clear water as I went. The carpets came out beautifully clean and didn’t really smell of anything. They dried nicely and quickly as well. I used this on both colored and light colored carpeting and didn’t have any discoloration but, of course, if you are going to try this yourself, test a small patch first.

Hope these tips might help anyone else out there scrubbing away! My sympathies!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
Nov 192013
Example of the holiday tidy-ing binge going on at our house.

Example of the holiday tidy-ing binge going on at our house.

My apologies for the lack of posts last week. Instead of blogging, I was in early holiday preparation mode as we had some entertaining to do and a house to deep clean.

As I was in my zealous cleaning state, I had to laugh at all the “How to Clean Your House in 30 Minutes” blog posts I was getting. Allow me to briefly summarize all of them for you.

1. Grab a laundry basket and throw all clutter into it.
2. Hide the laundry basket in a closet or other out of the way space.
3. Quickly wipe down any flat surfaces with a sweet-swelling spray.

We have all been there and have all done something like this at one point or another. What happens when you finally have to take the time to go through all those grab-bags of clutter? It happened to me last week and all I can say is that it takes a lot of time. For me, it ended up being a 5-day marathon getting through my office paper and clutter boxes. It’s a good feeling to go through all of that stuff and get it put away properly but you have to stick with the discipline to keep going through it, piece by piece.

If you are going to be hosting house guests this holiday season, you are probably upping your regular cleaning routine as well. It is one thing to tidy up for a guest who will stay a few hours and another challenge entirely to have people living in your house. In our case, it was time to steam clean the carpets, wipe down all the furniture for fingerprints and grime and dust, dust, dust.

I wish I knew the answer of how to make this all go faster. Maybe it can’t. Here are 3 bits of advice from my recent cleaning escapades, though.

1. Downsize in place. If you have small children in your house who untidy as fast as you tidy, clean first in the rooms that your family can avoid using for a period of time. Start concentrating the family into a subset of your house. If you have multiple bathrooms, tidy up the ones for guests and lock the doors. Have the family share one bathroom until your entertaining is done. Tidy and lock the guest room. Put a baby gate on the entry to any room that doesn’t need to be used and tell the children to stay out of it after it has been cleaned. Plan on eating out the night before your entertaining occurs to avoid having to clean the kitchen and dining areas yet again.

2. Plan extra time for organizing “full” rooms. Typical organizing advice will tell you to unclutter first, then organize what remains. Sounds easy but this simplistic advice doesn’t always cover every organizing situation. In my office, for example, the room was already quite full and all the “easy” organizing spots had been taken. I still had plenty to put away and it all had to be kept and much of it had to be kept in that room. A physical impossibility? It would seem but in the end, with some time and creativity, there were ways to pack further into a seemingly full space without making the room look cluttered and still keeping the organization functional. I was amazed myself at the end result and my husband called it a “heroic effort.” This type of work is challenging, however and takes extra time and extra brain power. Plan at least double the time it would take you to normally organize.

3. Be ready to lose some sleep (or money). We all run full lives and fitting in organizing and cleaning into a jam-packed schedule is no fun. In the end, it generally comes down to losing sleep to do it yourself or losing money to pay someone else to do it for you. Cleaning and organizing are physically strenuous tasks. If you are sick or injured, don’t expect yourself to be able to cope with the lack of sleep and physical strain. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a break and call in a maid service if needed.

A side benefit of deep cleaning is finding all the duplicates of things you keep buying more of because you can't find the ones you bought in the first place!  In my case, the big find was nail scissors.  I certainly don't need any more!

A side benefit of deep cleaning is finding all the duplicates of things you keep buying more of because you can’t find the ones you bought in the first place! In my case, the big find was nail scissors. I certainly don’t need any more!

It’s not too early to start your organizing efforts for the holidays. Have a holiday organizing question or tip? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , ,
May 312013
A chance sighting outside my kitchen window--a doe nursing her tiny fawn.  Spring is here!

A chance sighting outside my kitchen window–a doe nursing her tiny fawn. Spring is here!

It’s the end of May! Time to recap this month’s posts and share some signs of spring.

Guest blogger Christie Maruka provided style tips for wearing white this summer. I have bookmarked this list to use during my closet editing next month. The weather has finally shifted to hot after vacillating from hot to cold. I kept finding myself dressed for the wrong weather this month—the simplest of organizational problems.

Our salmon-colored azaleas are always the last of the azaleas to bloom.  Quite a show this year!

Our salmon-colored azaleas are always the last of the azaleas to bloom. Quite a show this year!

In May I made progress eliminating a lot of the small nuisances around my home. I am helping to build my cleaning and organizing routines by experimenting with different methods to find what works and what is easiest for my home.

The gorgeous pink and white peonies.

The gorgeous pink and white peonies.

May was an interesting month for planet Earth. There were two less than desirable acts of nature. The tornado in Oklahoma was beyond devastating but has triggered so much inspiring generosity. The cicada invasion locally has intensified. The cicadas are now “singing” about 12 hours of the day. “Singing” would imply a pleasant noise, which sadly this is not. Their “song” sounds more like a 10 police cars with sirens responding to a terrible highway accident miles away or a distant car alarm. Apparently the cicadas are both blind and deaf so all they are responding to is the vibrations of this cacophony. When a Baltimore-based contractor came to our house this week, he puzzlingly inquired, “What is that noise?” Apparently, there are few cicadas in Baltimore right now. It is more of a Virginia thing. Even one of our neighbors mistook the singing for an alarm going off. Fortunately, it is mostly a white noise kind of sound.

The red peony which blooms at the same time as the pink and white one creating a sort of Valentine's mix.

The red peony which blooms at the same time as the pink and white one creating a sort of Valentine’s mix.

May was also a month of celebrations. We cherished all the maternal influences in our lives and celebrated the work of The Washington Ballet changing the lives of children in southeast D.C.

Rhododendron in bloom.  The only downside of our garden is that everything blooms at the same time in early spring!  Wish we could spread this out a bit more.

Rhododendron in bloom. The only downside of our garden is that everything blooms at the same time in early spring! Wish we could spread this out a bit more.

Organizational items of note from around the web.

  • Hack Day – In an interesting counterpoint to routines, the Kickstarter blog posted about their company’s annual “Hack Day.” Hack Day is a day with “no rules” to experiment and try new things. They let employees loose to try short 24-hour projects to improve something about their workplace or entertain a particular passion. At the end of Hack Day they share all the innovative projects that have resulted. I love this idea and think it would be a great morale and creativity booster, either in a workplace or in your own home.
  • A clever article from babycenter.com called, “Is it normal that my toddler’s obsessed with organizing things?” caught my eye. The number of occasions my children have displayed this behavior can probably be counted on one hand. They are generally solidly in the disorganization column. However, in light of our past discussions on OCD, I thought this quote from the article was worth sharing as a helpful measure to us all on distinguishing organization from OCD:

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), on the other hand, is debilitating rather than empowering. Instead of using organization to gain an understanding of her world, a child with OCD uses her compulsion to keep the world — and the extreme anxiety and fear that it causes for her — at bay.”

–Penelope Leach, child psychologist, quoted in “Is it normal that my toddler’s obsessed with organizing things?” babycenter.com

Itea bud with cicada carcass.

Itea bud with cicada carcass.

Finally, this month, I have had a chance to think a bit more about my theme word for the year, “routine.” I have continued my diet and exercise routines and will give that progress report tomorrow. This month, my big breakthrough about routines, however, was inspired by my fitness routine. If I slack off my exercise routine for even one day, I notice a huge difference in my strength and stamina and my general well-being. I don’t think I am addicted to exercise because it still requires a huge amount of willpower on my part to even do it, but this fitness experience has taught me a couple of key lessons.


1. Many goals that are worth achieving require constant daily attention.
I also like to think of this insight as “Everything is like a muscle.” You could exercise one every 90 days for 2 days at a time, for example, but would you really gain fitness that way? 8 days of intense exercise per year is certainly better than nothing but it is hard to see how you would really make forward progress with that method. Almost every skill you can think of requires practice and mastery on a daily basis. Routine is the way we prioritize the endless list of things that we could be doing into a structure that reflects what is important to us.

2. Routine does not have to mean mindless repetition; it can be an indication of how well you know yourself. Everyone’s life becomes overwhelming at one point or another. When catastrophes happen and things get off track, it helps you keep going to have a routine that you know works for you to fall back on. For example, there were a few days this month when I had so much going on that my diet and exercise slipped. Since I know what the routine is that works for me it was easy to say to myself. “Ok, today is a new day and here is the eating and exercise plan.” There was no stress about what to do or how it would work out. I had a tested routine to get started with. The key is to personalize the routine. You can’t just adopt someone else’s plan. You have to experiment and find what works for you.

3. Routine in one area becomes motivation for routines in other areas. I am glad that the fitness routine is the one I figured out first. It has been rewarding to put energy into something that then gives me energy back. I have more stamina to tackle all the aspects of my life and now my job is to figure out how to best focus that extra energy. If you are struggling with setting routines in your own life, look for something you are already doing routinely to inspire you to take that same dedication and energy and apply it to something else.

I hope you take some time to think about your month—what went right and what went wrong and where you want to go for June. For many people, June is a huge transition month when schedules and routines have to change. Don’t let this time of year frustrate you. Identify the routines that can stay the same for you and the areas that will require flexibility and change.

On to June! As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
May 292013
North versus South at the 150th anniversary of the Chancellorsville battlefield earlier this month.

North versus South at the 150th anniversary of the Chancellorsville battlefield earlier this month.

Everyone loves Memorial Day weekend. It’s the first long weekend before the start of summer and the transition point for many people from the day-to-day grind of regular work and school schedules to the excitement of summer activities and vacations.

We spent the weekend at home continuing the war on dirt in our home. Two of these involved scrubbing out some of the toughest areas to clean in our home. When you have older surfaces in your home, you have to work a little harder to keep them looking good. While they may not attract dirt any faster than newer items, even a little dirt just looks worse on older surfaces.

The first problem area was the carpeting—particularly on our stairs. It is time to replace this carpeting. It was time to replace this carpeting when we first moved into our home, actually, but there were other areas where we needed to spend the money first. In hindsight, with three small children in our home, it was a good choice to wait on replacing the carpeting! They have been very hard on it and the fact that it is old and worn out reduces our stress level when they inevitably spill something on it.

To keep the carpeting in minimally passable condition, we do need to steam clean it at least once per year. This is a major pain. Over the years we have experimented with various carpet cleaning solutions. While I have yet to find a “magic” solution that seems to remove all stains with ease, I have found that laundry products tend to do the best job for me on the carpet and don’t smell as bad as most carpet cleaning products.

For tough carpet stains, we spray with a spot remover like Shout or Tough Stuff and let it soak in for a bit. We then put a small amount of laundry detergent in the soap compartment of the carpet cleaning machine, wash the carpet and rinse well. This time around, I heard good things about using Oxy Clean for carpet spot removal so I gave that a try on my stairs.

This is a great project to get some help with from your children.  They love to spray!

This is a great project to get some help with from your children. They love to spray!

After the Oxy Clean solution had sat for a while, for the heavily soiled areas, I used a brush to give it a little extra scrub.

After the Oxy Clean solution had sat for a while, for the heavily soiled areas, I used a brush to give it a little extra scrub.

I found some remnants of our bathroom remodeling.  Paint rarely comes out of carpet after it has dried.  The only option is to carefully snip it out.

I found some remnants of our bathroom remodeling. Paint rarely comes out of carpet after it has dried. The only option is to carefully snip it out.

Carpet cleaning the stairs works best as a two-person operation. The carpet cleaning machine is so heavy to lug upstairs as you clean. With my husband lugging the machine while I cleaned, it went far more quickly and we weren’t totally exhausted by the end.

Carpet cleaning is one of those thankless tasks. It doesn’t always make a huge visual difference and it always takes a ton of work. Freshly cleaned carpet feels good beneath your toes, though!

Before and after carpet shampooing.

Before and after carpet shampooing.

A clean entry.

A clean entry.

I also used the Oxy Clean to bleach out the grout in our hall bathroom tiles. This was a lot of work. We had to spray then wait then scrub then rinse.

You can mix the Oxy Clean in different concentrations.  If you put a lot in, this is what happens!  Kind of a cool chemistry experiment, though.

You can mix the Oxy Clean in different concentrations. If you put a lot in, this is what happens! Kind of a cool chemistry experiment, though.

At first, it didn’t look like it did much but after the grout dried overnight it was sparkling the next morning.

Before and after Oxy Clean bleaching of the grout lines.  Apologies for the bad lighting in the first shot.  You only get one chance to take the "before" picture.

Before and after Oxy Clean bleaching of the grout lines. Apologies for the bad lighting in the first shot. You only get one chance to take the “before” picture.

The only downside of the Oxy Clean was that it leaves a lot of residue. I had to rinse the floor again in the morning when I noticed my children had white powder all over their feet from the bathroom tiles.

While we were busy scrubbing, we forgot about the best tourist event of the year here in Fredericksburg — the nighttime luminaria at the Fredericksburg battlefield. I forgot that it is usually held the Saturday evening before Memorial Day. I am penciling it in my calendar for next year.

We did watch the movie “Lincoln,” over the weekend though. I know we are behind the times but it was a fascinating interpretation of President Lincoln. I had no idea he had such a folksy, disarming temperament. From the grand Lincoln Memorial and the bold nature of his famous speeches, I had the impression that he would be more of a loud and serious person. Clearly, his heartfelt nature served him well.

We have been learning to view the Civil War with new eyes in light of the 150th anniversary events that we have attended. In December, it was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. A huge number of reenactors brought the terror, excitement and sadness of conflict to life.

A scene from the reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 2012.

A scene from the reenactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 2012.

Flags, fire and smoke at the Battle of Fredericksburg reenactment.

Flags, fire and smoke at the Battle of Fredericksburg reenactment.

If you have the chance to attend any of these events, you should. They are not all that well publicized so you have to seek them out. There is a listing by state here.

Finally, this Memorial Day, I found myself often thinking of the brave and strong women who have forged careers in the armed services despite what we now know to be a high risk of rape. The documentary “The Invisible War” was positively shocking to me. I am glad to see policy makers and particularly the President paying attention to this issue.

For us, it was a weekend full of hard work and reflection. We send our thanks to all who serve and have served this country in the armed forces.

Any weekend news to share?

*I have no affiliation with Oxy Clean or any other product mentioned here.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
May 102013
"Faucets."  Photo by Phil Roeder.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Faucets.” Photo by Phil Roeder. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

You may sense a bathroom theme in my cleaning posts. Some of my most difficult cleaning challenges are in my bathrooms. Hard water creates a lot of problems for us. Also, we have higher expectations for the cleanliness of the bathrooms–as the rooms in the house where we go to clean and groom ourselves.

So, now that I have gleaming toilet bowls and sparkling glass shower doors, there is one more problem to address – water-spotted chrome.

Too much hard water had water-spotted our new chrome surfaces.

Too much hard water had water-spotted our new chrome surfaces.

Chrome is supposed to be shiny and reflective and bright. That’s why designers use it as opposed to other, duller finish choices. So, it’s a big bummer when your chrome is not mirror-like.

A quick wipe with bathroom cleaner was doing nothing for my chrome. So it was time to dig deeper on a cleaning solution.

This site suggested a paste of baking soda and vinegar. You often read that you can clean just about any surface in your home with just the right combinations of baking soda and vinegar. I like the concept of this approach.

I mixed the baking soda and vinegar together

The bubbly mix of baking soda and white vinegar.

The bubbly mix of baking soda and white vinegar.

and applied it to my chrome surfaces with an old toothbrush.

Brushing on the baking soda and vinegar paste.  Not the most convenient application.

Brushing on the baking soda and vinegar paste. Not the most convenient application.

Results? Disappointing. This helped a bit in restoring some shine but did not get rid of most of the water spots.

After the baking soda and vinegar treatment the chrome shined a bit more but you can still see most of the water spots.

After the baking soda and vinegar treatment the chrome shined a bit more but you can still see most of the water spots.

Apparently you can vary your application of the baking soda and vinegar perhaps soaking cloths in vinegar and wrapping them around your chrome to soak for hours. This was just too much work for me. I did not want to spend that much time on this project so I went looking for a quick fix.

Since the auto glass water spot remover had been such a quick and reliable product for the shower door glass, I looked for something similar for the chrome. In some auto forums, I found that many automobile enthusiasts swear by a creatively spelled product called Nevr-Dull.

2013-05-10-nevrdull

When I opened the can, I was surprised to see this

Inside the can is a bunch of lightweight material with chemicals on it.

Inside the can is a bunch of lightweight material with chemicals on it.

They call it “wadding.” The cleaning chemical is saturated in the wadding. You just pull off a piece and use it on your chrome.

2013-05-10-wadding-progress

And the results are amazing!

My Nevr-Dull shining chrome.  Wow!

My Nevr-Dull shining chrome. Wow!

Before polishing with Nevr-Dull and the brilliant after.

Before polishing with Nevr-Dull and the brilliant after.

So easy and so quick. It is addictive. I started shining up all the metals in the bathroom.

The top knob has been shined with Nevr-Dull.

The top knob has been shined with Nevr-Dull.

This is definitely a cleaner worth adding to your arsenal.

Do you have a tip for removing water spots from chrome? Please share in the comments.

*I am not affiliated with Nevr-Dull.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
May 092013
"Master bathroom."  Photo by snikrap.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Master bathroom.” Photo by snikrap. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

Clear glass bathroom shower doors are the latest trend. They look clean, classic and add light to any bathroom space. There is hardly anything negative to say about them . . . . except when you go to clean them!

When we upgraded to a glass shower door in our new master bath remodel, we actually thought that it would be less work to maintain. We paid a little extra when the glass was made to have it coated with something that would make it easier to clean. In our minds, we thought a quick spritz of Windex and it would be fine.

What we didn’t realize was that glass that is dirty cleans up relatively easily but glass that is constantly exposed to water suffers from more troublesome stains. In our case, hard water stains. However, children that like to “paint” on the glass with body wash and shampoo probably don’t help things either.

Our brand new shower door began to look very aged after just a few months. It was becoming almost opaque. Granted, we could be more diligent in our housekeeping efforts but still, this seemed a little ridiculous.

After Windex and Comet, this was the scene we faced in the shower each morning.

After Windex and Comet, this was the scene we faced in the shower each morning.

I scrubbed the glass with Comet cleanser and got more of the water stains out but it still looked pretty terrible. I noticed that if I scratched at a spot with my fingernails, however, that it would come off. So, I knew there had to be some cleaning solution that would work.

A little searching found this site with numerous options for glass door cleaning. The first tip was to try Bounce fabric softener sheets. Since we had a ton of these lying around, I wanted to test this out.

Interestingly, there must be some sort of soap-like substance in these sheets. Just wet the dryer sheet, wipe and rinse.

The "soap" generated by a Bounce dryer sheet.

The “soap” generated by a Bounce dryer sheet.

This solution did make a noticeable difference and was cheap!

After cleaning with a wet Bounce dryer sheet.  Much improved but still many visible spots.

After cleaning with a wet Bounce dryer sheet. Much improved but still many visible spots.

But it wasn’t quite enough. If your doors aren’t too dirty or you clean regularly, this might be enough for you.

Bounce dryer sheet - before and after.

Bounce dryer sheet – before and after.

The next tip I tried was cornstarch. I made a paste of cornstarch and water and used it to scrub the door. This was difficult to apply and honestly didn’t make any difference. If Comet hasn’t worked for you, the chance that cornstarch will, seems pretty low as well.

2013-05-09-cornstarch

But cornstarch is a mild abrasive and a “green” cleaner so it was worth a shot.

I was getting tired of cleaning the shower door at this point and needed something that would for sure work. The next tip I tried was to look for a water-spot cleaning product at an auto supply store. I have had great luck with auto detailing products for our cars so I had a lot of confidence in this solution.

Trying a glass cleaner from the auto supply store!

Trying a glass cleaner from the auto supply store!

It goes on like car wax or silver polish and you have to rub a bit. There are thankfully no harsh fumes.

The magic green liquid of the water spot cleaner.

The magic green liquid of the water spot cleaner.

And it worked! It took out 90% of all the spots. The ones that remained were so light they could not be captured by my camera!

There are some tiny spots still left but they are so small they cannot be captured by my camera.  I end up focusing on spots on the window outside instead!

There are some tiny spots still left but they are so small they cannot be captured by my camera. I end up focusing on spots on the window outside instead!

There were still a few spots that would not come out even with this product, near the door handle though, but they don’t distract from the overall gleaming look! Overall, I was very impressed!

A few stubborn spots still won't come out but we'll just live with these.

A few stubborn spots still won’t come out but we’ll just live with these.

If you are considering a glass door upgrade for your bathroom, just keep this cleaning obligation in mind. A few times a year you might have to “polish” the door and perhaps use a dryer sheet once a month. To me, this is a small price to pay for the light and appearance the glass door gives to the shower area.

Have you struggled with cleaning glass in the bathroom? Did you find a solution that works for you? Please share in the comments.

*I have no affiliation with Mother’s Polish or any other product mentioned here.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
May 072013
Armed and dangerous . . . to toilet bowls!

Armed and dangerous . . . to toilet bowls!

This month I am focusing on spring cleaning around my home and garden. I am slowly making progress forward. Part of what holds me back is a perfectionist tendency that when I am done cleaning something I want it to really look clean! It doesn’t seem like such an unrealistic expectation but when your home is 24 years old and you have a lot of degraded surfaces, it can be more challenging than you would expect.

This week, I am going to share three discoveries that made me smile and love my home more. I hope they might help you do the same.

When we first moved into our home, we inherited toilet bowls with rings in them from the prior owners. We have tried every type of cleaner imaginable on these toilets from toilet bowl cleaners to calcium, lime and rust remover, to porcelain restorers to Comet cleanser to baking powder and vinegar to scrub sponges and lots and lots of elbow grease.

Nothing touched these stains.

So, we cleaned the rest of the toilet the best we could, forgot about the rings and looked forward to the day when we could rip out the toilets and put new ones in.

Before: even the most powerful cleaners didn't touch these toilet rings.

Before: even the most powerful cleaners didn’t touch these toilet rings.

This spring, for some reason, I had a Dave Ramsey, “I’ve had it!” moment with these toilet stains. I just hated them and wanted them gone. So, I went online and researched how to get rid of them. There had to be a way!

The first site I stumbled across suggested a simple material that we have tons of . . . .

sandpaper!

First, flush the toilet and then turn off the water supply line when the toilet tries to refill so you keep the water level down.

Step One: Flush the toilet and turn off the water supply valve as the toilet tries to refill.

Step One: Flush the toilet and turn off the water supply valve as the toilet tries to refill.

Put on some sturdy, waterproof gloves and grab your sandpaper. I started with 220 grit (fine) sandpaper and scrubbed carefully just in case it scratched up the bowl. I didn’t want to make it worse!

2013-05-07-220grit-gentle

To my amazement, I was seeing some progress but I needed a little more firepower. So I upgraded to 150 grit (medium) sandpaper, scrubbing lightly at first then gently increasing the pressure.

2013-05-07-grit150

Wow! Wow! Wow! I about fell over from the shock! A gleaming, bright white toilet bowl, finally!

After: The bowl is so bright I gotta wear shades!

After: The bowl is so bright I gotta wear shades!

2013-05-07-beforeafter1

I had to spruce up all the toilet bowls in my house.

My new spring cleaning ritual, sanding the toilet!

My new spring cleaning ritual, sanding the toilet!

The best type of sandpaper for this task is a sanding sponge because it can get wet without disintegrating.

A sanding sponge is the best for this water-logged scrubbing task.

A sanding sponge is the best for this water-logged scrubbing task.

Due to our hard water, we will keep a sanding sponge with our toilet cleaning supplies for a quick scrub during our bathroom cleaning routines.

Have you sanded your toilet yet? It’s cheap, green, relatively easy, not that yucky and will make you feel like the most powerful person in the universe!

Have a cleaning challenge or cleaning tip? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , ,
Jan 282011

Isaac Israëls, "Maids from Amsterdam." (~1900). From the Wikimedia Commons.

This month at Ruly we discussed cleaning–the routine tidying and sanitizing tasks that everyone has to do every day to one extent or another. The focus of this month’s discussion was to consider cleaning from a variety of perspectives and find new insight to inspire our own cleaning strategies.

For me, the two posts this month that had the biggest impact were Don Aslett’s low maintenance home design ideas and the discussion of Hilton hotels cleaning strategies. Why? It seems an odd combination to me too but these two posts gave me the insight I finally needed to figure out our master bathroom remodeling plan. This is a project that has been in limbo for years now as we saved money and dreamed big. The two key insights these posts gave me were to think low maintenance first (I want to spend more time enjoying the master bathroom than cleaning it.) and to focus on a 10-year replacement timetable. Voila! The pieces fell into place. I zeroed in on the materials and came to the realization that we don’t need to save for the “perfect” solution, just the 10-year solution. Of course, if our design can last longer than 10 years, so much the better!  With these ideas in mind, some creative shopping and design, we came up with an extremely budget conscious bathroom remodeling plan. Over the next several months, we intend to start implementing it.

We reviewed cleaning tips  from the Queen of Clean and professionals in the hospitality industry.

We discussed social expectations about cleaning, both when entertaining guests at your home and at the office. Mary Randolph Carter offered the most relaxed perspective, indicating that you should take some minimal routine cleaning steps but focus most on creating an inviting ambience and living the most interesting life possible to entertain your guests with stories and experiences.

In the comments on the cleaning at the office post, Lou shared a particularly terrible anecdote:

My boss came in my office one morning and started running her hands over the wooden arms on the three chairs that were for guests. ‘Did you feel how smooth these arms are now? I had the custodian wash them. They’re not sticky and greasy to touch anymore.’ I also had an artificial ficus tree near the door—and she could not pass by it without dusting off a leaf or two. I simply thanked her, but I really wanted to chew food with my mouth open in front of her.

Ruly Ruth offered a perspective on minimum cleaning standards for your home to comfortably entertain guests.  The comments on this post were fascinating and also somewhat anxiety inducing. The message of the comments seemed to be. “Of course your house doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, just so long as your definition of clean includes _________.” By the time you satisfy everyone’s laundry list of irritations, you are back to the perfectly clean house. It can be very frustrating.

When I have seen similar posts about cleaning for guests on other blogs, it is always the case that many people are of the string opinion that they simply can’t stand to be in someone’s dirty home.

One of the most difficult times in life to keep your home up is when you are caring for small children. It was sad for me recently to read a comment on a mothering blog where a mother said that she just couldn’t cope with the cleaning pressures when her children were small (nor could she afford a cleaning service) so she and her husband basically isolated themselves from society until their children grew old enough to help. She was glad to finally get her life back. You would think that every young mother would sympathize and not be so judgmental but not every young mother struggles with this problem. From the comments on Ruth’s post you can see that some are cleaner than the Queen of Clean!

Ruth’s post and comments foreshadow next month’s topic. But that’s all the hint you are getting for now and will just have to come back Tuesday to discover what we are getting into next!

Finally, this month we also discussed New Year’s resolutions, posting a compilation of New Year’s goals from around the web.  If you have not yet finished your 2011 goals (or the goals you initially set have already been abandoned), this weekend would be a good time to sit down, reflect and finalize them.  Real Simple sent out a great tip recently that you might consider adding financial savings to your goal list, setting aside a small amount of money each month.  The money can be used either to help you achieve a goal, like remodeling, or as a reward for achieving your goals, like a vacation or shopping indulgence.

What posts were helpful to you this month? What cleaning topics would you like to see explored further in the future? Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with:
Jan 262011

To give the contrarian perspective on this month’s cleaning theme,  I was intrigued by the title of Mary Randolph Carter’s latest book,  A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life. Unexpectedly,  this is one of my favorite organizing books of all time!

Who is Mary Randolph Carter?  Carter,  as she is known to friends,  grew up as one of nine children in the historic Monument Avenue neighborhood of Richmond,  Virginia.  Her childhood role in the family led ultimately to her future career:

“When I was growing up, I was in charge of ambience.  Possibly the task fell to me because, of the nine of us, I was most helpless in the kitchen and had a knack (along with others) for pulling a room together. To create a mood for rooms already burdened with the character of so many years of living was more of a supporting role for sure.  My task was to garnish each, in summer, with cut herbs from the garden, and in winter, pewter pitchers filled with holly, bayberry, and branches of magnolia; to light candles tipped into tin chandeliers dangling from the dining room ceiling and in the wobbly silver and pewter candlestick holders scattered everywhere; to see that fires were crackling; and to ensure that Frank Sinatra crooned out a welcome as the first guest walked through the door.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

She went on to become Vice President of Advertising for Ralph Lauren’s Polo brand and supervised all of the brand’s photoshoots. She has written several books on interior design and a series of books on “junk.”  She has a website at carterjunk.com chronicling her “junking” activities.

First of all, this book has one of the most beautiful layouts I have seen.  It feels like an art book as you page through it.  Carter takes us to visit eight of her close friends and family and lets us in on how they live interesting lives while surrounded by lots of stuff.  Many are professional artists whose homes serve a dual role as studio space.  Every single one of these people has a creative bend in some way.  Most are surrounded by lots of physical objects and some have lot of animals. One home housed 4 dogs and another 8 cats!

The biggest challenge to describe to you is the main point of this book.  I am not sure there is just one.  Based on the title alone, you might think it is entirely about how you can be as messy as you want to be and have the freedom to do whatever you want in  your own home.  It is,  but not entirely.  Even Carter and all her friends acknowledge there are limits on how you have to keep your house.  She wants you to make your bed every day and never leave dirty dishes or party debris sitting overnight.  She wants you to make extra effort to set out candles, put on music and whip up great food when guests come over.

There are a couple of key messages I took away from this book that make this a standout from most books on organizing and interior design:

1.  All mess is not equal.  There are those that know how to give their homes an “it” factor by displaying treasures in a beautifully cluttered way. This type of display is often more appealing to the eye than a sterile,  plain,  perfectly organized home.  Carter is queen of this style.

“There is mess and there is clutter.  If you grew up with the former . . . you probably make no distinction.  Clutter vigilantes contend that clutter is always a mess;  clutter connoisseurs contend that clutter is liberation from the rigidity of over-organization.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

2.  We all suffer from a continuing tension between wanting tidiness and wanting to surround ourselves with treasures we discover.  For Carter and her friends you tend to see a perfectionist all-or-nothing streak where they either want lots of artful clutter or a zen-like space with none at all.  The tension is ongoing and unresolved with some moments calling for clutter and others for zen.

“I have always worked in the comfort of personal clutter both at home and at work.  . . . When colleagues pass by my office door . . . I hear them whisper ‘Oh,  this is Carter’s office–she’s creative,’ as if that is the best excuse they can offer for what lies inside.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

Just how cluttered is her office?  If you want to see pictures of Carter’s office you can click here to view them at theselby.com.

Yet even Carter has her limits and you will be shocked to see the studio she creates for herself at the end of the book.

3.  The biggest lesson in this book though is that too much organization and tidiness is not human.  Rather than making us feel relaxed it makes us feel tense, inadequate, and nervous about messing things up.  When you aim to clean to welcome others into your home, give them a little artistic mess to relate to.  Let them see your human side.

As Italian photographer Oberto Gili shares:

“[T]hough he understands the hygienic case for cleaning,  he hates everything about it,  mostly the sound of the vacuum cleaner.  . . . He tries to do a little cleaning up when company is coming,  but if he can’t get to it,  well,  a little mess isn’t so terrible.  ‘If someone comes to my house it’s because he or she truly likes people,  and I try to make my home as friendly as possible.’ And that he does by allowing friends to share his life whether at work or at play, perfect or imperfect.”

–Mary Randolph Carter, A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life

Come visit Oberto and he will treat you to handmade pasta while you peruse his latest photography stills stacked in artful boxes around his home.  Sounds pretty heavenly,  eh?  I wouldn’t notice his lack of cleaning either.  If you can’t be tidy, be interesting!

This book has tips and ideas mixed in with stories, beautiful photography and charm.  It would be a delight to meet Carter and all of her friends. They have amazing and interesting lives which they reflect in their avant garde homekeeping.

Even if you disagree with the basic premise of this book and your own style leans toward a sterile zen-like space you can learn a lot from this book about creating warmth through picking the right combinations of beautiful objects.  Accessorizing a room is a complex art and this book has many inspiring photographs to show you how.   You don’t have to take it to the extremes of some of the homes profiled. Most of the homes you will encounter are not hoarders’ paradises but rather relatively tidy homes but with lots of visual interest.  I know my own home could benefit from these tips and I intend to return to this book again and again for inspiration.

Do you agree that a welcoming home needs a little artful clutter or does Carter’s style turn you off?  Please share in the comments.

Posted by anne Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jan 182011

How clean does your house need to be for entertaining guests? That is the million-dollar question. I’d like to present general conventions. On a daily basis, your house should be as clean as you need to normally function. I would like to think that the bathrooms and kitchen are cleaned weekly, and the house is vacuumed at least weekly if you own a cat or dog, but for some that isn’t nearly enough and for others that may be over-the-top. Dusting for a lot of us is every other week or possibly even longer, unfortunately—but true!

Now for those of us with little ones, we meet an impromptu friend at the park. And we say “How about popping over for a playdate?” How clean should your house be? Around my friend-circle, the above conventions seem to apply—but don’t stress if the beds aren’t made or the floors aren’t picked up of all toys—you are, after all, there to entertain the kiddos. Make a cup of coffee, grab a piece of couch and sit back and enjoy mommy time! Never feel your house needs to be perfect to have someone over! They say those with the richest lives have great friends and food and good music in their lives….they didn’t mention an immaculate house.

However, for a formal party, be it dinner or cocktail—the house must be clean and presentable—as in the whole house! Especially if people have not been there before. Most of us are curious to see housing layouts, bedroom decor, home decorating styles…the beds must be made. The rooms are picked up, and the bathrooms and kitchen cleaned. The house should be dusted, and the carpets vacuumed. All wood floors and other flooring surfaces should also be cleaned. Even the laundry room should be presentable! If it’s close friends, then the main areas need to be perfect and the others can slide. But in general, yes—the house should be ready to show!

With little children this can be a huge challenge. I asked my girlfriend when she went back to work if she’d hire a maid, and she replied, “No, my shoe budget comes first!” It made me smile (yes, she’s serious!) And put life into perspective. Some, like my girlfriends Angie and Catherine, are addicted to cleaning! They love it! They have it down to a science. Then there are those like me who don’t mind it, but are not necessarily passionate about doing the cleaning. It’s absolutely necessary, but not my favorite activity. I don’t mind it, per se, but given cleaning or something else to do—I’d probably pick something else.

So what do I feel that I have to clean? The bathrooms, for me, are a must! So many germs and different bacteria can reside in there, and they must be kept away as much as possible. And the kitchen must be on the cleaner side—absolutely! That’s where your family’s food is prepared. And to me, that says it all—even my microwave must be cleaned almost daily. That’s a pet peeve of mine, and dishes are done daily. They used to be done the minute they were dirty—now I have a 20-month old and priorities have shifted. (In the time it takes me to do the dishes she could crash the computer and call 911 AGAIN!)

So clean your house, make a plan and try to stick to it. The cleaner it is, the more you’ll enjoy it. But don’t stress it. It’s just not THAT important!

Do you agree with Ruly Ruth’s entertaining house cleaning guidelines? What entertaining “rules” do you abide by? Please share in the comments.

Posted by ruth Tagged with: , ,
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