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6 Simple Tips for Keeping a House Clean Enough

Housecleaning tips that make presentability no prob at all

Housecleaning, who needs it? Well, all of us excepting bachelors who feel comfortable living in squalor. But even if we do clean now and then and get excited about a thrice-yearly deep clean, many of us have trouble keeping things guest-level presentable day in and day out. How, we wonder, do those people who seem to have clean and organized houses – or mostly clean and organized houses – keep things so neat and nice when they work and have children and serve on the board of their volunteer organization and and and. It’s enough to make a girl feel like a slob!

Turns out, though, that it’s easy enough to give the impression of a clean house without having to do a daily deep clean by doing little things that add up. Add up to a clean enough house, that is. A house that is for all intents and purposes guest-ready without your having to put a ton of effort into it. Here are six simple housecleaning tips to get you started on the road to a clean enough house:

1. When you see something out of place, pick it up and put it back when it’s convenient. Really, how many times were you planning on walking past the sneakers in the bathroom? Or the extension cord in the kitchen? Presumably at some point you will visit your closet or the basement – if you know that’s your destination, bring the sneakers, etc. with you. No special trips necessary.

2. Create a “kitchen dump.” Or an X dump, where X is the first room you enter when you get home after a long day in the outside world. On the surface it may be a basket or an upright filer, but at its heart it’s a representation of your desire to cast off the shackles of the working man. What goes ion a kitchen dump? Your keys, the bills that came with the day’s mail, the pine cone your daughter found – anything you’re not ready to put away but want to keep.

3. Clean as you do. Cooking? Then wash a few dishes while you wait for the water to boil or wipe down the counter as soon as something splatters. Fixing a bike? Put your tools back as soon as you’re done using them. And so on. Make clean-up just another part of chores and fun activities, and you’ll be less likely to lose your tools in the backyard or have stains on your kitchen counters. Even more basic examples might include hanging up your towel after a shower or wiping down your dining room table as part of the dinner ritual.

4. Prepare for tomorrow today. Unless tomorrow is a holiday where you are – you lucky thing – you probably have THINGS that will need doing in the a.m. that you will prep for before heading off to bed. Make tidying up part of your prep – nothing complicated, just putting things in their places – and your house will never get truly dirty. And, bonus, you’ll wake up to a nice, neat abode!

5. Do a 15 minute sweep when the mood strikes. Feeling uncomfortable in your environment? Or maybe you’re just a little bored and have a quarter hour to spare. Devote those 15 minutes to doing a quick sweep. That could mean a literal sweep if you have hardwood floors, or wiping down bathroom and kitchen surfaces, folding some rogue laundry, or putting away those dang dishes. Finally.

6. Stay focused on one room, one floor, or one task. Big cleaning jobs can be intimidating, but those big spring cleaning frenzies shouldn’t be a part of a clean enough strategy. Facing rooms full of possessions out of place can be overwhelming, but one room? That’s a snap. The same goes for tasks – maybe you’re wiping down surfaces with a damp cloth. Give all the furniture on one floor a wipe. Trying to do too much is why so many people hate cleaning and breaking big tasks down is the ultimate antidote.

What are your ‘good enough’ cleaning tips? Messy people like me want to know!

Good Clutter vs. Bad Clutter

Is clutter always bad? There are some sources that say so, maintaining that there is absolutely no way to lead a productive, low-stress life if you don’t have a place for everything and everything in its place. Downsizing in the word of the year when it comes to stuff, and the simplicity movement asks us to scale down, maybe even to as little as 10 personal possessions per person. But while clearing out the clutter – physical, mental, etc. – is definitely a good idea, it doesn’t necessarily follow that ALL things labeled clutter are bad for YOU.

Who says, for example, that clutter has to be ugly? We’ve all heard of hoarders by now, but just because stacks of newspaper and bags of bottle caps make headlines nowadays doesn’t mean that clutter can’t be beautiful. If your clutter is a collection of meaningful things you’ve acquired over the years – especially things that make you happy and are cute to boot – then you absolutely shouldn’t feel obligated to stash it all away just to adhere to the popular aesthetic. Still feeling overwhelmed by your stuff, even though you love it? Maybe the answer is looking at your collections or art or photos or whatever it is that gets you going as a challenge. As in, it’s time to ask yourself how to turn ‘clutter’ into something awesome by incorporating it into your space in a different way.

And in a way, your clutter is you, or at least a record of where you’ve been and what has touched you enough to save. I’m not talking about all the stuff that really ought to get put away, like clean clothes, but rather the little mementos of life, like souvenirs from your journeys, letters, gifts from the people you care about, and so on. That book you’ve read a hundred times. The pillow you sewed in home ec when you were 12. That kind of thing. Is it clutter? Maybe, but it’s also the stuff you’ve chosen to keep when you’ve probably discarded plenty over the years. Personally, I don’t think that all that needs to go in the bin just because your home might look a little more spacious if it was gone.

Just make sure that your good clutter isn’t suffocating you or cramping your style. Just so you know, good clutter CAN turn bad – like when it’s getting in the way, making it hard to do what you need to do, or stressing you out. The best way to avoid falling into the trap of keeping bad clutter around is to periodically take a look at your life. Do you need X, Y, and Z? Maybe not. Do you still use, want, or love X, Y, and Z? If the answer is no, consider getting rid of it so it doesn’t end up doing all those things the anti-clutter brigade warned us about.

Cozy Versus Cluttered

Here’s an interesting question: Is cozy a polite way of saying cluttered? Does it have to be? Cozy does frequently stand in for cluttered – it’s an easy way to brush off clutter or to elevate it to a higher status. “These books piled everywhere in my apartment? That’s a sign of my eclectic genius and what makes my home cozy.” It’s like the term ‘lived in,’ which can mean so many things good and bad.

Which isn’t to say you can’t have a lot of stuff without clutter! I think the difference between cozy and cluttered is a feeling more than anything else. Cozy to me means that a space feels inviting – it has signs of life in it instead of being a sanitized space that looks like a catalog or a museum display. A big house with lots of space can still feel cozy, for example. And a big house can be cluttered, too, if all that space isn’t used effectively. A cluttered home will feel different than a cozy one. It won’t be inviting, and all the stuff strewn about willy-nilly can even be a little anxiety inducing. Visitors are afraid to touch anything, for fear of knocking something over or losing their keys.

That’s what cozy versus cluttered means to – what does it mean to you? Can you separate the two terms in your mind, or does cozy always feel a little cluttered to you?

TIP: If you would like to downsize some of your stuff, check out Unstuff Your Life!. It’s not about trading in chaos for minimalism, but rather figuring out the best way to use the spaces you have.

10 Home Staging Basics for the Noob

10 home staging basics

Whenever the topic of home staging comes up, I like to tell the story of my mother-in-law. She was trying to sell her house… a beautiful house, full of beautiful antiques and fine furniture. Prospective buyers would walk through, oohing and ahing, but no one put in an offer. Why? Because all the buyers spent all their time in the house entranced by all the nice stuff.

When did the house finally sell? After my mother-in-law put the majority of her nice things into storage.

Home staging, in case you haven’t maxed out on it watching the home and lifestyle channels, is the art of creating neutral, inoffensive environments that appeal to the majority of people (or at least don’t offend anyone) and don’t distract from the space on display. There are plenty of people making a living staging homes, but with a little trial and error, most people are capable of DIYing it.

Here are 10 home staging basics to help the noobs out there who are looking to sell a house or apartment:

1. Clean EVERYTHING. When The Beard and I were looking for homes, it was hard to see the “good bones” in the dirty ones. After viewing one home, all I could remember was the big pot of nasty… something… on the kitchen counter and the gnarly smell. In another house, the grime everywhere distracted from the house itself. When there’s no dirt to look at, people will look at the space for sale.

2. Nix the CLUTTER. Your stuff is almost as distracting as dirt. Not everyone can afford to put their stuff in storage like my mother-in-law, but put away what can be put away, and maybe start packing whatever isn’t necessary for daily living a little early. Boxes in the basement are less distracting than books stacked in corners.

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The Kitchen Dump

Ever notice how people congregate in the kitchen during parties, even if all the food is in the dining room and you’ve set up a darling little bar on a side table right by the front door? Science has yet to discover why guests will stand for hours in the kitchen while all the chairs (moved into other rooms for just this reason) sit lonely in the living area, but there must be something magnetic about kitchens because it’s not just people who cluster there.

Things mysteriously find themselves in the kitchen, even when the front door is nowhere nearby. I myself am writing this at a kitchen table that has an embarrassing amount of stuff on it – a diaper bag, class notes, a decorative plate my MIL gave us as an engagement gift, craft paper scraps, an non-working cell phone, and a copy of will making software The Beard and I have yet to open.

Can you feel the waves of shame emanating from this post? All I can say for myself is that I’m usually quite the neat freak!

The kitchen dump, you might call it. Rare is the house that does not have an area where mail gets left and keys are tossed, and for whatever reason, this spot is frequently in the kitchen. (Note: If your dump is not in the kitchen, the following advice still stands.) What’s nice about the kitchen dump is that all of those envelopes and your purse and whatever end up in the same place, so if you can’t find the water bill or your wallet is missing there is a good chance it’s there in the dump.

What’s not so nice about the kitchen dump is that it usually looks messy. If you have an unexpected visitor, the contents of the kitchen dump gets crammed into a drawer, leading to further disorganization. And finally, the kitchen dump can become so psychologically overwhelming that cleaning it up it seems impossible.

I’m not suggesting you do away with the kitchen dump, since it serves a purpose, i.e., having a kitchen dump means you don’t have to focus on cleaning and organizing the second you get home. I am suggesting you prettify your kitchen dump. Get some pretty baskets and spray paint them some dynamic color. Put up a few hooks for your keys and even your bags if you have the room. Easy, particularly if you have the space to hide it away in a cabinet.

Hidden or not, make sure you have space for your mail and your briefcase and all the other stuff you typically have in your hands when you walk through the door on a normal evening. If you have the space, you can even set up what one blogger calls a kitchen command center, which is basically a workspace right there in your kitchen.

Have I mentioned I am now working in my kitchen until some renovations get underway? No one needs a kitchen command center more than I do right now.