Posts Tagged ‘cleaning’

15 minutes to Zen

Wow, I got a great, unexpected response to my last post, Simple Pleasures, where I talked about my desire to live a less cluttered, more purposeful life.  Most of you did not post, but many of you emailed me or convo’d me through to talk to me about having the same desire.

I thought since there are so many of us of the same mind, I’d share something else from the book “Sink Reflections” that was an epiphany for me (and I’m not exaggerating!)

I was brought up – intentionally or not – to believe that if you are going to do something, you should do it right.  It’s not a bad standard, unless you make “right” to mean “perfect.”  I’m certain this was my own interpretation of the saying and not something my parents told me; I rarely remember them being exacting about my performance, and usually only when it was sub-par.

So as a newly married housewife, I found that doing it “right” meant making everything look perfect – not too hard when it’s just you and hubby in a 720 square foot house!  Child #1 came along and it was slightly more difficult, and then #2, and then #3 and perfect was just a ghost of a dream.  When vacuuming “right” means that every single thing is picked up off the floor and the furniture is moved…well, let’s just say I haven’t seen the entire floor in probably a year, even though I’m constantly picking up toys and clothes and mopping up spilled milk.

My solution (thanks to the FLYlady)?  “You can do anything in 15 minutes.” 

She doesn’t mean it literally, but think of it this way: you got into the mess you are in bit by bit.  You can get out that way, too.  I spend about 15 minutes with my daily keep-up tasks: running the dishwasher, switching over one load of laundry, picking up stuff that has accumulated in places that were clean, sweeping the floor.  I also wipe down the sink with a washcloth and swipe the toilet seat and back down with a bit of toilet paper (I’m working on something reusable for this!)

Some of those I can do while I wait for something else.  I can load the dishwasher in the time it takes for my coffee to brew.  I can throw in a load of laundry or switch it over while I’m browning meat for dinner.

Then I spend 15 minutes doing other chores – once a week I dust, or change sheets, or wipe down the appliances.

Finally, if I have the time, I try to take 15 minutes to declutter: a couple times a week I work on decluttering an area or cleaning up a

30 to 45 minutes a day, and my friends and husband have noticed a difference.  I feel more at rest.  And I’ve learned that vacuuming up only what I can see is good enough – that’s where most of the junk is anyway!

This was a pile of boxes twice as big - now it's easy to find what I need for WeeEssentials and Dyeing To Spin!


And what was the epiphany?  That I can clean my house daily in half an hour!  It’s not perfect, or anywhere close, but I don’t expect it to be anymore.  It’s clean, fairly picked up, and I’m keeping up.  And as I get rid of the things I don’t use or don’t love, I’m finding I get more and more cleaning done – some days I get done early now!  Pretty cool, huh?


Waste Not, Want Not – Phantom wastes that suck you dry…

Tuesday I received both the quarterly water bill and a shock.  For the month and a half since we turned on the water – and a month of residence – our water bill was nearly $130!  This is only for the city water that comes into the house – it’s disposed of into a septic system we own.

I immediately picked up the phone and called the Local Water Company.  The kind woman on the other end agreed – this water bill was enormous!  She sent out a water meter reader, who told us we had a leak.  A bad one.

Next up – a plumber.  He and my husband immediately found the problem – an outside spigot was cracked so badly it was basically running like a faucet.  Another $129 later, and the spigot has been capped until we make some changes to the location.  Thankfully, the current location was several feet from the house (it was put in early on in the house’s life, around 1905, and still has the original pump handle.)  So we don’t anticipate any foundational water damage.

Now, inside the house we were clueless.  The plumbing inside is working beautifully.  That water bill, though, was a wake up call.  What else are we missing?  What else is draining our financial and physical resources?

Since then, we’ve made some changes to our house to curb electricity use.  To be honest, much of this house, including the heating system, is so well ventilated that you could blow out a candle from one end to the other.  (Our bill last month for electricity, which includes all systems, was about $335.  If you remember this post about the house, you’ll understand how much work we’ve already done!)  So this weekend, my husband got under the house and taped up a lot of falling insulation and weak spots in the tubing, my father shoved insulation in the back door jamb and put a rubber threshold on the bottom where it was still drafty, and we closed a sneaky upstairs window that managed to open itself up when we weren’t looking.  We need to remember to lock those windows, especially when we have wind storms!  The guys also worked on some areas that needed to be spackled and painted where there used to be doors to the outside, which added a more effective layer of insulation against the cold.

Already that’s made a lot of difference in just the feel of the air.  Our bedroom isn’t as cold as it normally is, despite nearly record-breaking cold outside.

We’re already looking for more “phantom” wasters – those things you don’t even notice that suck energy or money from your wallet.  Other random phantom wasters?

* Paper towels (put your cloth towels in an easily accessable place with a designated bin for dirty rags)
* Uncaulked window frames  – it’s amazing how much air can come through between a frame and the wall if the window is improperly insulated or on a windy side of the house!
* Hot water heaters set too high – they should be set at 120 degrees F.  Better yet, buy a water heater timer that will turn off the heater during times you never use hot water – like while you sleep.
* Disposable diapers and menstrual pads – name brand can cost up to $0.30 a piece – and you may use several a day!
* Commercial floor cleaners – many of them, like the Swiffer Wet Jet, use a solution that never rinses completely clean.  That means that it feels sticky and collects dirt quicker.  Not to mention the disposable pads!  Instead, use a vinegar and water solution with your own homemade wet jet cleaning cloths.
* Warming up your car – unless you have a very old model, it’s not necessary to warm up your car more than a couple minutes.
Sometimes the phantoms can be hard to find because they are just that – phantoms.  If our water bill hadn’t been so shocking, I would never have questioned it, and I could have been wasting both water and my money.  Sometimes we just need to have it pointed out to us – do any of my readers have any stories to share that will help us all find those phantoms?

A New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year!
I normally don’t make resolutions on New Years –  I figure if I’m going to make a change, I might as well start right away, whether it’s the beginning of the year or the middle.  But this year, a few things have been nagging me, and I plan on paying attention to them!

So my New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Find out how this county recycles.  My husband is a reluctant recycler, to say the least.  When he signed up for garbage service when he moved in, he asked about recycling.  But we live in the county outside city limits, so there is no curbside pickup.  For my husband, that was the end of that.  I’ve let it go for a while, but I feel like I need to get back on track.

2. For the past month since I moved into the new house, I’ve been slow to unpack and declutter.  We moved from a 2100 square foot house with ample storage spaces (and a basement) to an 1800 square foot house with 2 small closets, a kitchen laid out more for looks than functionality, and an unfinished upstair.  I don’t want to store a bunch of junk upstairs (especially since it will become three more bedrooms and a bath soon) so as I unpack I’ve had to really think about what I want to keep.  Hello, Freecycle!

Those are my current goals.  I don’t want to get them done by the end of 2010.  I’d like to complete them as quickly as possible! 🙂

What are some of your New Year’s Goals?

Review: Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent

One thing about my family: we go through lots of laundry.  Clothing, sheets, towels, quilts, mattress pads – if my boys don’t spill food or pee on it on a daily basis, we’re doing better than normal!

When I got to Minnesota, I intended to go out to buy our own laundry detergent, which was reinforced by the nearly overwhelming smell of my mom’s fragranced detergent (no offense, Mom.  I think I’ve gotten sensitive!)  I ran over to the local grocery store to get something that wouldn’t knock me off my feet with chemically-perfume smell and discovered Seventh Generation’s Blue Eucalyptus and Lavender Laundry Detergent was on sale, making it about the same cost as what I’d normally buy.

I really like that it’s concentrated (especially since I have very limited space right now) but more than that, I liked that there were no perfumes.  There were only essential oils scenting the detergent, which means that it smells really natural and clean compared to the flowery perfumes put in most commercial detergents.


Photo from

But did it work?

So far, so good.  We’ve gone through about half the bottle in the past week and a half (I told you we go through a lot of laundry!  But we’re also washing some of my parents’ stuff, too.)  I’ve washed regularly soiled clothing, pants and shirts with mustard and red sauce stains, pee-soaked sheets, and even four versions of vomit from Thing Two’s bedding and clothing (he was coughing so hard he threw up last week.)

We did use Shout! for some of the stains, and while Seventh Generation is no miracle worker as far as stains go, it’s another case of me being impressed that a plant-based cleanser not only works as well as the petroleum based cleaners out there, but even slightly better!  Our clothes are coming out with no detergent residue, fresh smelling and clean.  Even stain removal was more than comparable to petroleum-based cleaners.

I definitely recommend it.  It’s a great alternative to other detergents.  I’ll actually be reviewing two more laundry products coming up soon – so keep reading!  There are so many great alternative detergents, I’m sure I’ll cover one you’ll enjoy!

Simplicity at Home, Part 2 – Where does this stuff go?

A few days ago, I talked about a simple way to start conquering clutter in your home.  I have it easy – I just have to pack up my whole house, separating the things I want to keep from the things I don’t want any longer!  Most of you, I wager, don’t have it so easy.  (LOL.)

Today I wanted to cover what to do with that stuff.

Okay, let’s say you’ve already had a garage sale, so a lot of the good, usable stuff is gone.  Some of the items (like used printer cartridges and old sneakers) are probably best left out of the sale, but you hate to throw them away.  What do you do?  Where does this stuff go?

Well obviously, the next bet might be freecycle.  In any given city, it’s likely you will find a new owner for your cracked aquarium, your well-worn (and moth-eaten) wool coat, and your legless coffee table.  But if you have no takers, here are some other options:

Ink Jet Printer Cartridges: Many office supply stores will accept used printer cartridges for refill.  If you don’t want to refill them, get a credit toward purchases at their store, instead!  I have been told that both Staples and Office Depot will give you a $3 store credit for each cartridge you relinquish – up to 10 a month.  That’s $30 in your pocket to use for school supplies, office supplies, and other household necessaries!  I’m about to try this – I have well over 20 cartridges saved up – so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Unusable Clothing: Drop them off at your local Salvation Army anyway.  They recycle clothing that is too torn, stained, or otherwise unwearable into other products.

Magazines and Books: You can always trade them at for other books, but if you don’t want to wait, give them to your local library for their fundraising book-sale.  Or you can offer them to your local nursing home – residents are always grateful for new reading materials.  Family friendly magazines can be dropped off at your local elementary school office (with permission, of course) for teachers to grab for art projects.

Egg Cartons, Baby Food Jars, Shoeboxes and other clean “trash”: Again, teachers love this stuff.  Especially elementary school teachers.  These items, and many others, are great supplies for wonderful art projects but aren’t always easy to find.  I once taught elementary school myself – these kinds of items are worth their weight in gold!

Personal Care Products (Including partially used ones): I put some personal care products up on Freecycle, many lotions and shampoos were partly used, but didn’t work for me.  I had someone pick them up for their own personal use, but I also had someone who was an employee of a local nursing home who was interested in them for the residents there.  She said it wasn’t technically allowed (at least not the used items,) but often the residents would run out of what they needed.  Ask around a bit, and you may find someone willing to take them – a nursing home, a women’s shelter, or the family down the street with lots of kids!

Any other suggestions for creative locations to give things away?

If You Do One Thing Today…Your Swiffer Mop

If you do one thing today…

Trade your disposable Swiffer covers for reusable Swiffer covers!  It’s super easy to cut up an old towel (use a disposable Swiffer cover as a template if you have one.)  If you know someone with a serger, get the edges serged, or turn the edge slightly and sew along the edge with a zig-zag stitch.

The towels fit into the little gripper holes just as well as the original disposable covers, and they can be thrown in the wash with all your unpaper and other towels.  Plus they’re scrubbier!

Reusable Swiffer Mop Covers

Reusable Swiffer Mop Covers

Homemade Laundry Detergent

The last bottle of laundry detergent I bought was awful!  The green label and the “rain fresh” scent promised much more than it offered, instead making me wrinkle my nose as I put it into the washer and pray the clothes wouldn’t retain the scent.  (Thankfully, my prayers were answered!)

Just a week before this, I had decided to try making my own detergent.  It was a simple recipe:

1 bar of Fels Naptha, grated (I then put it in a food processor to make it even finer.)

2 cups of Washing Soda

2 cups of Borax

Mix everything together.  I added several drops of eucalyptus and lavender essential oils, just for kicks.  I didn’t expect the essential oils to last through the wash.

Use 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons for a full load. Each batch makes about 4 1/2 cups of detergent, so that’s about 28 loads a batch (at 2 tbsp a load.)

I was surprised to find, when I cuddled up under a quilt that had been washed in my homemade detergent that it still smelled like the essential oils.  My husband agreed when he smelled it – he really liked the detergent!

The Cost:

1 bar Fels Naptha: $1.09

1 box Borax: $3.99

1 box Washing Soda: $2.99

Total: $8.07
This is actually a misleading number, because I only used two cups of each the borax and washing soda.  I believe with what is left, I could make 3 more batches, but I didn’t have more Fels Naptha.

%d bloggers like this: