Great Spaces: Cleaning House

Spring may have sprung, but it doesn’t really bloom until you set your jaw and wage the spring-cleaning war on your house. As Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman said, “War is hell.” But when winter hands you lemons, why not squeeze out the juice and use it to clean chrome fixtures?

Heavy Artillery The day before you plan to wage war, stock up on all the essentials. Denise Baron, CEO of Too Little Time lifestyle services in Old City, suggests arming yourself with the right tools: a step ladder, two buckets (one for bathrooms, one for woodwork), a vacuum with attachments, a long feather duster, green scrubbies (scouring pads), a toothbrush for faucets, paper towels, soft T-shirts for dusting, terry-cloth rags for heavier cleaning, and a scraper for removing paint or candle wax.

Cleaning products? Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Scribner, 1999), says to “keep things simple” with an all-purpose detergent, mild detergent, bathroom cleaner and disinfectant, toilet cleaner and disinfectant, abrasive powder or liquid, window cleaner, ammonia, white vinegar, baking soda, chlorine bleach, floor polish or wax, furniture polish and metal polish. Don’t forget a garbage bag (for all that fabulous never-to-be-heard-from-again trash).

Where should you start? “On the ceiling,” says Brad Kiesen-dahl, the executive housekeeping manager of Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Hotel. Four times a year, his housekeeping staff makes a serious clean sweep of the luxury hotel and their method is tried and true: Dust from top to bottom, ceiling to floor, top of armoire to baseboard (and don’t forget the ceiling fans). Dust first with a moist rag to pick up the dust, then finish with a dry one; clean out vents and replace filters; move all furniture and vacuum underneath. The product his staff can’t live without? A tiny brush called a track cleaner—you can get one at any hardware store—for the stubborn dirt in the tracks in the windowsills.

For cleaning tips and tricks (plus advice on furnishings and budgeting) pick up a copy of Better Homes and Gardens’ Making a Home: Housekeeping for Real Life (Meredith Books, 2001). Better yet, hire someone to do it all for you. Too Little Time offers a Metropolitan Lifestyle cleaning service for $28 an hour that you can use throughout the year, or just for spring cleaning. It includes details like cleaning the inside of the oven and microwave, the vents on the fridge, under the bed, even inside the trash compactor.

Now that you have your supplies, cleaning your house begins as all projects do—with a to-do list. And you don’t need to make the list yourself. For a room-by-room list that starts at the front porch and ends with the attic, attending to every drawer, windowsill and baseboard in between, go to (See sidebar on page xxx). You can attack one room a week for 13 weeks—start by gathering your tools on March 31. Or you can enlist the troops and get the job done in a weekend or two. Use a marker to cross chores off as you finish them—the thicker and blacker the line, the more accomplished you will feel.

Clothes Combat
Simply closing the closet door doesn’t take care of the madness inside. To receive the spring cleaning medal of honor, you must let go of what lies within. “Holding on to old things prevents new things from coming into your life,” says Abington professional organizer Jennifer Donohue.

Donohue’s basic training for the clothes closet begins with one rule: “If you haven’t worn it once in the winter season, get rid of it.” If it’s ratty, get rid of it. If it doesn’t match your other clothes, get rid of it (even if you paid a mint for it). If you don’t like how you feel when you wear it, get rid of it. If it doesn’t fit, get rid of it (even if you swear you’re going to lose 10 pounds and fit into those Gloria Vanderbilts again). But, Donohue advises, take your time. “If you empty your entire closet out onto your bed, you’ll get overwhelmed and you’ll stick it all back in,” she says.

Examine your clothes rod one foot at a time. Put the clothes you weed out into a dark garbage bag. (If you put them in a clear bag, you’ll be able to see what’s inside and second-guess your decisions— “the kiss of death,” Donohue says.)

“You need someone there who doesn’t have a personal, emotional attachment to your stuff,” says Annemarie Eggink, an organizing and efficiency consultant, as well as founder and president of O.R.D.E.R. in Cherry Hill. She suggests inviting a friend over to help. “Your friend will ask the tough questions,” she says. Do you really need eight black skirts? Do those colors really compliment your complexion? The following weekend, switch roles and help your friend with her closet.

Instead of selling your discards at a yard sale or taking them to a consignment shop, try the new 7.0 version of the ItsDeductible software. You enter the clothing item, and it spits back the fair market value. Then, call American Family Services (215-765-2900) who will come to your house to pick up your bags and give you a receipt based on your ItsDeductible totals. You can write it all off as a charitable donation. “You won’t believe how much your clothes are worth,” Donohue says.

Finally, reorganize that closet. Group items by category. Put all your work clothes together, all your leisure clothes together, all your workout clothes together. The clothes you wear most often should be front and center on the rod, or between hip and shoulder height on shelves. Your new rule? For every new piece of clothing you bring in, one has to come out.

Don’t stop with your clothes closet. Walk through your house and make a list of other storage spaces that aren’t working. Do you frequently plow through all of the Tupperware in the kitchen cupboard to get to the one or two pieces you use most often? Do you “file” your bills in a pile on the foyer table, next to the pile of school papers? Do you rummage through a drawer full of lipsticks to find the same shade every day?

Add each of those to your to-do list as its own component. (“Clean out Tupperware cupboard” is less daunting than “clean out kitchen cabinets.”)

“Set boundaries for yourself,” says Eggink, who helps clients set up organizing plans. Allow yourself only one shelf of bathroom closet space for your toiletries and makeup. Save only the two most-recent issues of a magazine. And keep only matching silverware and utensils. “Your goal is being able to find what you need, when you need it,” says Eggink.

Operation Chi
Once your house is sparkling clean and your clutter is MIA, there’s one final element you need to attend to—your energy, or “chi,” according to feng shui consultant Ann Molewski.

“You need to change the chi in your house,” says Molewski, owner of Let’s Get Organized in Plymouth Meeting. “Don’t underestimate the value of opening all the windows and front door to bring in fresh air and new energy,” she says.

Instead of just moving the furniture to clean under it, rearrange it, making sure that there’s a clear path from door to door through a room. Change a picture on the wall, and put up something with bright color.

Fill the black hole of your fireplace with a big plant—plants add genuine life to a house. On the flip side, dying or dead plants are the worse thing you can do to your chi. “People hate the thought of letting something go, of putting it in the trash,” says Molewski. “You need to know when to let go.”