Slow + Steady Cleans the House :: Week 4

I'm going to take it easy the next two weeks because of the Thanksgiving holiday so there won't be any in-depth cleaning posts or polls, but I wanted to leave you with something that has been very helpful to me and is better for my family :: homemade cleaners. I hope you'll consider using them too.

The health risks of using commercial, chemical-based cleaners always bothered me, especially since having Ian and Maya. It took me awhile to switch over to greener cleaning products, but I've been very happy since doing so. With a little elbow grease these products clean just as well, if not better, than the store-bought stuff.

My essential "cleaning kit" includes the following :: Dr. Bronner's peppermint Castile soap, Costco-sized white vinegar + baking soda, borax, essential oils, scrubbing brushes, old toothbrushes, and microfiber cloths.

[My cleaning supply carrier full of stuff that rarely gets used.]

A book that really helped me is Green Up Your Cleanup by Jill Potvin Schoff. I use several of her cleaning "recipes" instead of store-bought cleaners ::

2 teaspoons borax
hot water
1/4 teaspoon liquid Castile soap

Put the borax in a 16-oz spray bottle, fill it with hot water, and shake until the borax dissolves. Last, add the Castile soap. Spray on surfaces like counters and walls, let is sit for a little bit, and wipe off with a clean sponge or microfiber cloth.
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap (optional)
3-8 drops essential oil like lavender, lemon, peppermint, and tea tree (optional)

Fill a spray bottle with vinegar and water, and shake gently. You can add essential oils to cut the vinegar smell. According to the book, you should use the liquid dish soap in the glass cleaner to dissolve the buildup left behind by commercial glass cleaners. Once that buildup is gone you can omit the soap.
BAKING SODA SCRUB <-- love this stuff!
2 tablespoons baking soda
liquid dish soap or Castile soap

Put the baking soda in a wide-mouthed container (I used an old reusable Ziploc sandwich container) and add the soap a little at a time until you have a foamy paste. Apply the paste to what you want to clean with a rag, sponge, or brush and let it sit for a little while before rinsing with vinegar. Spray the vinegar off with water. You can keep the scrub in the container for awhile with the lid on it. But I've gotten so lazy that I just squirt some Castile soap on whatever surface I want to clean and sprinkle on baking soda before scrubbing away.
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon (about 25 drops) tea tree oil
1/4 teaspoon (about 25 drops) lavender oil

Fill a 16-oz spray bottle with water and then add the essential oils. Shake gently before each use. Spray on surfaces and leave to dry.
Schoff has a few other "recipes" I haven't tried yet, like laundry soap and dishwasher soap, both items I still buy at the store (although I try to buy the "green" option, whatever that means). And I still buy toilet cleaner at the store. Every once in awhile I try to use baking soda to scrub the inside of the toilet and then I spray it down with the disinfectant. I'm not sure which is more effective, seeing as my toilet always seems to be dirty ... I'll just have to keep experimenting.

And I'm leaving you with one last "miracle" cleaning tip (which I read about in a Japanese baking soda + vinegar cleaning book) :: you know that oily buildup that accumulates on stuff near the stove? I've always had a heck of a time scrubbing that crud off my teapot, which I leave on my stovetop. I used abrasive cleaners and hot water and nothing ever worked. Until I read that baking soda alone could clean it up! Sure enough, all you have to do is sprinkle baking soda on the item and scrub with a dry brush (I usually use an old toothbrush) or even your fingers. The oily residue just balls up and crumbles off. Once you're all done rinse it with water.


Slow + Steady Cleans the House :: Week 3

This week I tackle the dreaded laundry monster. Laundry, to me, is a mystery chore :: it's not an extremely difficult task (after all, the washing machine + dryer do most of the work) but it still doesn't get done often enough; all of us seem to wear the same clothes over and over again but the mountains of laundry seem to get larger and larger; and where do the darn single socks disappear to?!

[image from Shirt.Woot]

Everyday I am faced with some kind of you-still-haven't-finished-the-laundry reminder :: we have stacks of clean clothes in the living room that need to be folded, put away, or washed again because they've been sitting there for god knows how long; and we have way too many laundry hampers around the house full of dirty clothes and linens. And we can't forget about the washer that's full of dirty clothes and the dryer that hasn't been unloaded yet.

It's clear that we haven't found a laundry system that works for us. I'm hoping that if we have an actual plan we can conquer laundry. So, what do you do?

I'd love to read about your laundry process, so please feel free to leave comments as well.

In an absolutely perfect world, someone else would take care of my laundry for me, but that ain't ever gonna happen. So I've been thinking instead of what would be a more ideal situation. Unfortunately, that entails some major renovations to our house so I had to scrap the idea. (Honestly, I would rather have an office/craft room or a nicer bathroom but more square footage for a laundry room would make things so much easier!) So now I'm down to being realistic about our laundry solutions. Boo being realistic!

First, I think we're not using hampers well. Before we had kids we kept two hampers, one for white clothes and one for colors. I did the laundry when they got full, and the clean clothes got put away because I needed the hamper to be empty for the new dirty clothes. But then, somewhere along the way, we started accumulating more and more laundry baskets and hampers. I think that was the major mistake.

Now that we have enough baskets to leave our clean clothes in, I don't bother to fold and put the clothes away. Instead, we just pull clean clothes out of the basket to wear. And because we have the dual system of throwing dirty clothes directly into the washing machine and putting some dirty clothes into hampers, the whites and colors don't get sorted and some clothes don't get washed for a long time (i.e., the washing machine fills up more quickly than the hampers fill up so the hamper clothes get neglected).

As a solution, I'm really liking the idea of these laundry baskets by Rubbermaid :: Stack'n Sort baskets, which were mentioned on the Real Simple Home & Organizing blog. Each member of the family would get two (whether for whites + colors or for clean + dirty). Once we have the hamper situation squared away we'll stop putting clothes directly into the washing machine.

Second, I think a laundry schedule would work for me. Otherwise I go much too long between washing towels and sheets. Writing laundry into my weekly schedule might help me to be more efficient about getting it all done. My plan is to start laundry in the morning on the days I go into work late (Monday and Thursday) and do a load (or two) of linens during the weekend. If there's a lot of laundry that needs to be done, I might do a load on Wednesday (when I come home early from work) or on Friday (my day off). With this schedule I might end up doing a load everyday (!) but at least I've scheduled specific times to get it done.

Third, "doing laundry" means sorting dirty clothes, washing + drying, folding, and putting away. It's the whole package and needs to be done as a whole package. Going back to my last point about scheduling laundry, I need to make sure I have enough time during that day to complete the entire process.

And last, Rupert and I are trying to get the kids involved. We obviously can use all the help we can get! Currently, the kids put their dirty clothes in the washer and they sort the clean clothes. For the most part they do a good job, but it dawned on me that they pay very little attention to what Rupert and I wear; it's not uncommon to find Rupert's shirts in my pile and vice versa. I'm sure with some more practice they'll get it one of these days. As they get older I'll have them take on a bit more of the laundering process.

Laundry is definitely a chore for me, so I was surprised that no one chose laundry as one of their three worst chores in last week's poll. Cleaning the kitchen came in first as the worst chore, followed by dishwashing and dusting + vacuuming (a tie). As I've been thinking more and more about cleaning in order to write these blog posts, it's becoming clearer and clearer that having fewer possessions would make cleaning much easier and go by much more quickly. (I think a decluttering post will be in the works for posting in the near future.)

As for the follow-up poll about how often people spot-clean, it turns out people are kinda split on this one. One person answered "weekly" but two others answered "once every two weeks," and another two, "when it gets disgusting." I wish the two people who answered "other" specified their frequency. I am definitely not a weekly spot-cleaner -- the days just seem to fly by before I can get the cleaning supplies out -- so I'd have to say I wait until things get disgusting. When I write it out like that for all the world to read, it makes me feel pathetic. Gotta work towards spot-cleaning a bit more frequently ... or at least train the kids how to do some of it!


what I made for dinner :: mini honey-mustard meatloaves

I don't know about you, but I grew up with fabulous meatloaf. My mother makes an amazing meatloaf with some surprises inside :: she would often stick an entire sausage (like a bratwurst) or a hard-boiled egg inside the loaf. It may sound weird, but it's delicious! And her meatloaves were always moist so I never had the aversion to meatloaf that many people seem to have.

Fast forward to college, sophomore year. I attempted to make a meatloaf and I didn't have a recipe. That was a disaster and a memory Rupert seems to have erased from his memory (thankfully).

I think I was traumatized by that cooking experience and I've been very reluctant to make meatloaf for the last 10+ years. But I think I've found a recipe that will help me add meatloaf to my cooking repertoire :: Mini Honey-Mustard Meatloaves from Martha Stewart.

The recipe is not perfect as is, but it's a good start. Rupert was surprised at its moistness, a big plus. Adding cheese to the meatloaf mixture and the top of the meatloaves helps, no doubt! But I found that it's too fluffy, a result from perhaps too much panko breadcrumbs. I don't want the meat to be too dense, but I also want it to still taste like meat; next time I'll reduce the amount of breadcrumbs to a quarter of a cup. The recipe calls for honey-mustard but I didn't have any so I mixed some honey into regular yellow mustard. Next time I may use a Dijon or seedy mustard instead to give it deeper flavor.

One warning, because of the cheese, the meatloaves expel a lot of grease (I also used 80/20 ground beef so there was a lot of fat in the meat too). Be sure to use the cooking pan that is appropriate for you. I used a rimmed baking sheet lined with Silpat and it required a lot of cleaning. Placing the meatloaves on a rack in a deeper baking pan might be better ...

I served the meatloaves with curry roasted cauliflower, which was a hit with everyone. I just cut up a cauliflower, doused it with some olive oil and sprinkled salt, pepper, and a little bit of curry powder on it. I think I roasted it for about 12 minutes in the oven while the meatloaves were cooking. Be sure to toss them midway through the cooking time so they don't get too dry.


Slow + Steady Cleans the House :: Week 2

I'm now starting week 2 of Slow + Steady Cleans the House and I haven't done a lick of cleaning in the last seven days. Why am I not surprised?

cleared off dresser + reorganized bookshelf
[Cleared off the top of the dresser + reorganized my books.]

Actually, I partially decluttered our bedroom last weekend but what I didn't get cleaned up is still on the floor. That's my problem :: I lose steam part way through an organizing or cleaning project and I'm left with a bigger mess than when I started.

the floor, which is not cleaned up at all
[What was on the dresser is now on the floor.]

So, why did I not finish? Let's analyze this for a moment ... I've read enough organizing books to know the basic guidelines, and I clearly did not follow them ::
  1. Make a commitment to organizing + cleaning as a family --> So far I'm the only one on board. I also started cleaning the bedroom by myself to surprise Rupert but I should probably enlist his help next time.
  2. A place for everything, and everything in its place --> There was a lot of useless junk on my dresser that I got rid of (including some old poetry medals I won in middle school), but I still have too much stuff to store in an orderly way. I have to work on minimizing and finding a proper place for everything instead of just leaving stuff on any available flat surface.
  3. Touch items as few times as possible --> I need to remember that the extra 10 seconds to a minute it takes to properly put things away is worth not having junk all over the place all the time.
  4. Changing behavior takes a long time; I will have to repeat an activity for more than three weeks before it becomes a habit --> I should spend some time each week doing the same cleaning/organizing activity so that it becomes a regular part of my routine.
  5. Cleaning + organizing are more mental exercises than physical acts --> Most importantly, I will have to think about my possessions, the reasons why I keep certain items, and my motivation behind mindless shopping.
So, my goals for the following week are to finish picking up the junk on the floor in the bedroom, and to go through guidelines 1 ~ 5 everyday.

All right, down to some business :: Last week's poll results surprised me. I asked what your cleaning methodology is and I thought for sure that most people cleaned a bit everyday or weekly. Most respondents are like me :: they clean before company comes over. Or, as my mother-in-law mentioned, she hides stuff before company comes over. Valid point -- cleaning and hiding are two different things.

Of the 13 respondents, six said they clean before company comes over; four have a housecleaning service; and there was one respondent each for seasonal cleaning, monthly cleaning, and feigning housecleaning ignorance. But, surely, people must do spot-cleaning every once in awhile. Otherwise, everyone's house would look like mine and I know for a fact that they don't! So let's get a bit more specific here ... and be honest!

OK, but this week's official poll is actually about your three most dreaded chores.

I had a hard time just picking three!


48 months.

Maya + Hello Kitty
Maya @ 48 months :: November 4, 2009
[the last of my what-started-as-weekly-and-is-now-monthly posts about Maya]
  • Visited a real pumpkin patch for the first time in Ventura. This was a tradition we started when Ian was little, but we stopped going after a few years so we'd like to resurrect it.
  • Her counting to 20 is definitely getting better ... finally.
  • She was a mermaid princess for Halloween and went trick-or-treating with her friend M (for two blocks before she got tired). She definitely loves her candy ... but she separated out the chocolates for me and Rupert to eat.
  • From Rupert's Facebook :: "I'm shooting zombies out of my butt." -- not the words of a normal 3 year old.
  • And calling bad guys (Biff from Back to the Future Part II) "poop heads."
  • She's not very good at pluralfying nouns. Appropriately for October :: "ghostes" + "leafes"
  • First parent-teacher conference :: academically moving along quite well, but socially it turns out she's a lot more similar to Ian than I originally thought.
  • Rupert *still* spoonfeeds her cereal in the morning but she promised me that once she turns 4 she'll eat by herself (which she is totally capable of doing). Now, we have to make sure Rupert goes along with the plan.
  • She has this thing about not wanting to be on the freeway because "it's boring!" If we're going somewhere she doesn't recognize the first thing she asks is, "Are we going on the freeway?" Then she asks, "Are we on the freeway now?" And finally she asks repeatedly, "Are we off the freeway?"