The New Year may technically start on January 1, but for many of us, it begins with the first whiff of fresh grass and melodic song-song of birds. Ah, spring. And there’s no simpler way to start fresh than by the cathartic act of cleaning, purging, and organizing.
To do so, though, you first have to change your thinking. “People should see cleaning not as a chore but as something that’s really good for them,” says Deanna Hains, president of Zen Home, a green home cleaning service in New York. “We underestimate how important our home environment is.”
A cluttered home often equates to stagnation at work and in life, she says. “Chaos in the home equals chaos in other areas of life. I know that when I get up in the morning and walk into my living room, it makes me happy. People will have a completely different experience during the day based on what they’ve woken up to.”
Zen Home’s “consultants” not only clean but they change a space’s entire aura, organizing bookshelf content, arranging coffee table clutter, using a chamomile-lavender linen spray on sheets, and burning essential oils such as jasmine, lavender, and lemongrass so the home smells gorgeous when clients return. “It’s like taking your home to the spa for the day. Not only will your home be clean but it will look different, smell different, and have a different energy.”
Here are a few tips for a cleaner, more organized living space—and a better life—this spring and beyond.
• Be wise about your time. “If you have 15 minutes, wipe down the counter. Organize magazines and mail. If you have more time, organize the closet,” says Monica Nassif, founder of Mrs. Meyers Clean Day products, inspired by her mother, Thelma Meyer, who raised nine kids and always kept the house clean. “It’s not about perfection. It’s about being practical and more realistic.”
• Clean briefly, but regularly. Letting disorganization and dirt accumulate is the biggest mistake that people make, say both Deanna Hains and Thelma Meyer. “Get to a stain quickly and clean as you go. That works for clothing and for your house,” Meyer says. Cleaning a little every day is far more manageable than attacking three months worth of mess.
Also related: Occasionally scrub and fan-dry the area under the kitchen sink, or wherever you keep cleaning supplies; the area is often a habitat of mold and grime. You’ll be more motivated to clean when you don’t have to face the Monster of Grossness.
• Get efficient. Everyone knows to clean from top to bottom, but many forget. Remember so that you don’t have to redo your hard work. “If you have a desk with shelves above it, clean the shelves first, then the desk,” Hains says. And invest in a few cool tools that get tasks done better and faster. For example, there are toothbrush-like apparatuses to clean tile grout and extendable Swiffers for hard-to-reach areas so you don’t have to go up and down a step ladder. "The biggest mistake is using too much product," says Kipling Wagner, assistant marketing manager at Ecover.
• Buy scented, healthy cleaning products to make chores a touch more enjoyable. We’re addicted to Mrs. Meyers Clean Day for their absence of harmful chemicals and their soothingly divine scents, which come naturally from essential oils like lavender, geranium, and orange blossom.
Hains adamantly advises on the use of eco-friendly cleaning products, which reduce indoor air pollution, create a healthier home for everyone, and are just more pleasant to use. She founded Zen Home after her cat became sick from a traditional floor cleaner she had used. “And I had an epiphany: How could I be so conscious of what food I put in my body and not what I use in my home?”
For those folks who are green cleaners, but forget to “green” their laundry and want their whites whiter, she recommends several chlorine bleach alternatives: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Chlorine-Free Bleach, Biokleen Non-Toxic Oxygen Bleach Plus, and Ecover Non-Chlorine Bleach.
• Organize with savvy. “If you have anything that has to be seen, whether it’s spices or items in an office area, the best way to minimize the clutter and make the room look better is to organize by height -- tallest to shortest,” Hains says. Get some beautiful or funky storage boxes for stuff like magazines and toys. There are a plethora of creative storage boxes—as well as storage coffee tables and ottomans—so finding one that fits a room’s color scheme shouldn’t be tough. Wagner adds, "Storing sweaters in wood boxes is helpful for preventing moths and mildew."
• Learn how to purge. Adopt the Zen philosophy of less is more. “If you haven’t used an item for over a year, get ride of it,” Hains says. “Don’t hold on or become attached to things that you really don’t use—other people may use it with pleasure. Donate it or give it to a friend.” Or, make a few easy bucks—not a bad thing in this economy—by having a garage sale or dropping off clothes at Plato’s Closet (a chain consignment store), which pays for nicer, brand-name gear as well as DVDs and almost-full cosmetics.
• Organize closets according to color. Though it sounds OCD, it’ll add a mood-boosting rainbow splash and make finding pieces and selecting outfits easier. Plus, you’ll be more likely to keep the closet organized.
To permanently prevent mustiness, check out a new organizing system by Febreze® called Closet Renewables™. The system consists of 12 different organizers, such as an over-the-door shoe refresher and hanging sweater refresher, with built-in freshness inserts that keep clothes smelling laundry-clean for a full season (up to 90 days). The inserts use unique Febreze® technology that absorbs bad odors while releasing their pleasant scent.
“Usually, when you have an odor-eliminator and you pair it with a fragrance, it would typically eliminate that fragrance,” says Nick McKay, CEO of BrandScape, which helped develop the closet system. “The magic of this technology is that it targets specific mal-odor molecules—body odors or smoke odors have a defined molecule size—and it repels the fragrance but absorbs the bad odors, which is really cool from a science prospective.”
• Enlist the kids! We can’t emphasize this enough. Even young children can be taught how to wipe up a simple spill, pick up toys, and make their beds. Older ones can dust, vacuum, and help with dinner.
“Everybody had to pick up their toys at the end of playtime or before they went to bed,” Nassif says. “Kids should be able to learn to do those very quickly and at a young age. I also remember doing the dishes—but if you helped with the cooking, you didn’t have to help do the dishes.”
Make a short chore list for kids and reward them when they complete tasks. “With our kids, if they wanted to go to their friend’s house, they had to do their work first,” Thelma Meyers says. “Parents today think they have to please their kids. You’re not in it for pleasing. We raised nine successful kids and didn’t please them all the time. We taught them to learn how to be responsible and take a place in life.”
And if you get overwhelmed? Try Thelma Meyer’s simple strategy. “Take some really long, deep breaths until you can handle the situation a little better.”