13 posts categorized "Cleaning"

Happy No Housework Day?

April 07, 2014

Denise on BlogHer's Facebook page announced, "Happy No Housework Day!" Not that she is celebrating the day properly. Not that I am any one to judge.

I've had my own very (very very very) tortured relationship with housework. On one hand I love housework; I said once that every essay I write could begin, "I am washing the dishes. I am washing the dishes again." And in this daily task is often a kind of meditative calm that I desperately long for when I'm too busy to wash the dishes (or too busy to wash the dishes contemplatively).

Today is such a day. Too busy for housework, though indeed I will do some, I suppose, thank goodness I have people in life who take so much of the load from me. I can never decide, do I love to do housework? Do I value creating more; writing and painting colors on walls and growing things in the garden?

Continue reading "Happy No Housework Day?" »

School's Out! What to do with that big bag of stuff?

June 15, 2012

I set myself a couple of deadlines today, and naturally, that meant it was time to organize. I spent most of the day doing important tasks like (1) straightening and dusting the bookshelf and organizing the kids' books alphabetically by series (instead of alphabetically by author, as they had been); (2) filing all my New Yorkers by date and culling a bunch of other magazines straight into recycling; and (3) opening and organizing that big bag of school stuff Truman brought home from first grade earlier this week.

It was mid-afternoon when I found the big bag of school stuff Truman brought home from kindergarten. An entire year ago! One of the items, for instance, was a still-wrapped stack of picture books from his kindergarten teacher. Well: it looks like I've had a whole year of failing to organize. We have a bunch of the sorts of things they send home; leftover watercolor paints, pretty erasers and special pencils, tiny notebooks and bags of crayons and colored pencils and safe scissors. Selected art and writing from his in-school work, and a couple of keepsake pictures and little memory "yearbooks."

I can find a home for a lot of it mixed into the regular craft stuff (one area where I've done a good job -- err, my sister has done a good job -- creating a lovely organizational system for the kids that everyone understands and can fix up). I know I should do something, like turn a magazine box into a memory box for each child's yearbooks and start them on scrapbooks of their favorite homework. (I'm going to do this. Really!)

Continue reading "School's Out! What to do with that big bag of stuff?" »

How do you view housework?*

February 09, 2012

photo Sarah Gilbert; guest post MaryJo Monroe

I have one child, who is now 6. When he was a toddler and I was a full-time stay-at-home mom just starting my consulting business, I used to look around my house at the end of the day with guilt and depression, noticing the pile of laundry that didn’t get folded, the dirty dishes still lying in the sink, the toys still sitting out on the floor. And I didn’t have the energy to do a thing about it. But here’s the clincher: The business I was starting was an organizing business. I am a professional organizer.

Continue reading "How do you view housework?*" »

Organizing with kids: A thankless task? How do you stay inspired?

January 25, 2012

I've never been what you might call "great" at organization. I love to have organized spaces, I do -- I even enjoy the process of organization when, from time to time, I put my mind to nothing but. What I don't have much (ever) is the space and time to do that. I have an inspiring idea on how to organize something, or a fantastic open afternoon, or some great reason to get neat and clean (sadly, this is often "I want to take a picture and there is a mess in the background" -- but any port in the storm, right?).

Thank goodness for my youngest sister, Abby. She has been a babysitting rock for me through the years, and would regularly undergo spurts of amazing effort. I would come home from a run or a meeting to see something like the above scene: a transformed space, neatly labeled, using the supplies on hand, no more. This, a little free-pile bookshelf set on an awkward-shaped square table with little plastic boxes and a big plastic box, has been in use for over a year -- I just have to keep it organized. And the boys always know where to find everything.

My sister Abby had a baby this summer, and since then, I've been flying solo. Thank goodness for Asha and her organization chat a few days ago to keep me inspired. I've been trying for months (ok, over a year now) to get a huge pile of paper -- that grows all the time from two boys in school and many reams of writing group notes -- organized. She had the great idea of tackling the pile of papers for just 15 minutes at a time, setting a timer and planning to go back to it the next day. Boston Mama Christine Koh posted a link to this on Pinterest -- a pretty, pretty use for clipboards to organize children's art and papers.

Which comes to the topic of Pinterest. Lately, Pinterest is how I've been staying inspired to keep organized; although I've heard many lament that the site is nothing but eye candy for craft ideas (and none of them actually get done), I've slowly been incorporating the ideas into my to-do lists and -- ok, I'll be honest -- doing things just so I can take photos and pin them. Nothing gets me going like a little repinning!

How do you keep your house organized with all the papers and art supplies and toys? How do you stay inspired? If you, like me, just don't ever feel like you have the time to focus (and, when you do, the kids are busy totally annihilating another room of the house), how do you make it happen? Or do you just throw up your hands over periods of weeks (I'm ashamed to photograph my dining table) and let the mess prevail?

Also check out this huge list of organization resources -- which I haven't yet had time to click through. If I did, I wouldn't have time to keep the pile of papers under control!

Glass jars, reusing, recycling, and getting off the goo: an urbanMamas green thing

June 21, 2010

Olivia posted on Facebook a few weeks ago about jars -- what do you do? Reuse, recycle, avoid? Now that we're trying to keep as many plastics out of our lives as possible, buying food and other grocery items in glass seems like a great option. But oh! That can be a lot of glass.

I've spent a lot more time considering the life cycle of my food packaging than is probably healthy, and after being a sanctimonious recycler for decades, I have finally clued in to what someone on the Shift To Bikes email list this morning called "first order" solutions -- reduce, reuse -- rather than hanging on to the "second order" solution of recycling. (If you're interested, he called truly walkable neighborhoods "first order" solutions with bicycling for transport, second.) I bought some hazelnut butter in a glass jar from People's, on which was stated that reusing the jar by returning it for deposit used 10% of the energy used by recycling a glass jar. I started to think, what if I reuse jars myself? That's got to use even less than 10%, given that the sum total of the energy required is enough to wash it. Which I would have done before sending it to the recycling bin, anyway.

News of the cycle of plastic recycling is even worse; most of America's recycling is shipped to China, where it's processed using techniques that, while not guaranteed to be evil, are certainly far less strictly regulated than those in the U.S. Once done, it's manufactured again into products that we can once again buy, very cheaply, shipped back to us on huge boats. Stories of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch point to both the dumping of trash on beaches and in waterways and the (?) accidental loss of things on their way across the Pacific Ocean. To China and back, or maybe, just straight into the middle of the ocean.

Then there's the oil spill, which only makes everything seem more painful.

Continue reading "Glass jars, reusing, recycling, and getting off the goo: an urbanMamas green thing" »

Garbage-less: An urbanMamas green thing

March 01, 2010


It wasn't hard to reduce the volume of our trash; many of the lifestyle changes I've made over the past few years, like getting chickens (who eat many of our food scraps), composting (the rest of 'em), and changing the way we eat (buying in bulk, cooking from scratch, avoiding plastic, and reusing containers religiously) meant we were already generating far less trash than before. Other things, like our recent tight budget that had me seriously considering every purchase (and thus, its waste-generating packaging) and going out to eat less (no more takeout containers or Burgerville bags) helped, too.

I'm barely even recycling much; I've been reading more about how little of what we recycle actually makes it back into the product stream (newspaper has the best chance, FYI) and how much energy and byproducts are used and spewed to recycle. A glass jar at People's Co-op noted that it takes 90% more energy to recycle a glass jar than to return it for re-use under a deposit return program -- this is probably even a bigger differential for the jars I bring to fill with maple syrup or olive oil. Because of this, I try to stick to packaging that can be either reused or composted.

I still have a long way to go, of course! But today marked the first month I'd managed to generate only one can of trash for the whole month. I'd cut off my weekly service at the beginning of February, and here I was, March 1, wheeling out one 32-gallon can. A major cleaning project had meant it was well-filled, but still! No bags lolling off the side, splitting because they'd been so tightly packed. (And this is even with disposable diapers still in use for Monroe; I have never made the leap to cloth diapers, much as I know it would be a good thing for the landfills and my own sense of responsibility for the planet.)

Here's the thing, though, that bothers me about all this: I'm barely saving any money at all. Weekly pickup for a 32-gallon can is $25.30 (it's a little bit more on the west side). Monthly pickup for a 32-gallon can? $16.45. I reduce my trash by roughly 77%: and I save 35%. There's no every-other-week option and the smaller can, a 20-gallon minican, only saves $3.10 per month of the regular rates. I've looked at rates for other cities that I could find on Google; barely any localities offer the monthly pickup (yay for Portland on that), but in most Washington towns I found, the rates were more sensible, paying per gallon (roughly) for your trash generation.

Of my bills, this is one of the littlest, so it's hardly breaking me to pay the (as I perceive it) $11 more than what's fair. But it seems a little cockeyed to build a pricing structure in a way that seems to give an incentive to produce more trash -- or, put another way, subtly encourages us to produce an average amount of trash. Average is an American who throws away 4.39 pounds of trash every day. Seems as if Portland could strive for better than average.

I know some of you have reduced your trash, too; I heard the story from one woman who, with her husband, only generate a can every six months -- I think they call the garbage company for special pickup on "trash day." Another woman is so focused on trash reduction, her garbage fits in a coffee can. I've mulled over the idea of asking a neighbor to switch off weeks with me; I'd save more that way, even if I had more trash! Crazy. Have any of you found other solutions? Does this (admittedly small) financial incentive misalignment bug you, too?

Post-holiday cleanup that brings joy: an urbanMama green thing

December 28, 2009

For two days, the pile sat in the middle of my living room. The Pile of Christmas (just) Past. Even though we'd done our best to have a holiday low on gratuitous buying -- no new ornaments or lights or wrapping paper, no dollar store toys, no gifts I didn't think would last and be enjoyed for a really long time -- we've still amassed quite a pile of mess. There was the wrapping paper and ribbons from the generous gifts from grandma and grandpa; there were clothes three sizes too big (with gift receipts, phew!); there was the huge box of dollar store toys purchased for us by a well-meaning girlfriend of one of my husband's fellow soldiers. And to top it all off, one of my (favorite) gifts was a full day of help from my mom and sister, cleaning my office/craft room, which had been absolutely destroyed while I worked full-time and Monroe was a baby, and I had never had the oomph to tackle the piles of junk on my own. This had yielded big bags of mixed trash and recycling and things-I-really-didn't-want-to-throw-away.

Last night, we tamed it, and I thought I'd share some of the strategies and info I found for cleaning up after the holidays (while still keeping it green):

  • Reuseables. Foil wrapping paper, ribbons, gift bags (unless entirely made of paper -- most have plastic coating), and most packing materials (like block foam) can't be recycled. I have a system for wrapping paper I'd like to reuse; I cut off the ragged parts and roll it into tubes, then put it into a deep, wide basket in my craft room. It's part storage, part art piece. Ribbons get wound up and put in a quart jar. Gift bags go into a box in the basement. Some packing materials (bubble wrap) get stored downstairs for shipping jars of jam; others (soft foam) go into a bag in my craft room to stuff things like these wings I made for Truman. Packing peanuts can go to shipping stores for re-use; I rarely manage the patience to do this but I mean to one day. I save the prettiest cardboard boxes, especially gift boxes, for things like mailing photos and stickers and crafts.
  • Recyclables. The list of what can't be recycled always seems longer than what can. Metro has a very slow-loading form that tells you where to take a variety of recyclables, and has info on what can and can't. A few highlights: you can take your old Christmas lights to the Zoo through January 3rd for recycling (and get a free piece of fudge); plastic clamshell packaging isn't recyclable at the curb in Portland, but can be taken to a Metro station; plastic containers smaller than six ounces and lids can't be recycled curbside; no plastic bags of any sort can be recycled (and even those that stores will take back are often shipped to China where their fate is uncertain at best); no holiday beverage cups (I put my Starbucks cups in the compost heap where they decompose nicely and just leave a little filmy plastic carcass I remove in the spring); plant and nursery pots can be recycled curbside, as can any bigger-than-six-ounces plastic bottles or containers or buckets (no lids).
  • Trash or give away or compost? I have a cache of toys that are broken or will soon be. One gift in particular, six extremely flimsy plastic cars, will I am sure be broken within days. Should I toss it pre-emptively? I wonder. Another gift, a set of knock-off board games from the dollar store (we already have the far sturdier brand-name versions), I'd rather not keep. But is it worth giving them to Goodwill or am I just adding to their trash pile? I've decided to compost the lightweight wooden paddles for the paddleball games which, as I warned Everett it would, broke within an hour of opening (happened to me, too, when I was his age). If gifts are too flimsy to last, what do you do with them?
  • Return for good. We've decided to take back the enormous clothes a relative bought from J.C. Penney for the boys and get an ice cream maker. We'll buy the boys "new" clothes from a thrift store or the Goodwill Bins and I'll be able to make honey-sweetened ice cream for years. I'm satisfied the exchange will be good for us and will save lots of future ice cream cartons from the landfill.
  • Give up on old clothes. We need room for new clothes and that means giving up on some old clothes that are stained/holey/unloved/too little. My mom convinced me to throw a few things away, but others I saved, cutting up old t-shirts and sweater seams into tiny bits to serve as stuffing for a new toy; saving pretty fabric for handkerchiefs or other upcycling; and putting a pair of pants into the patch pile despite her better judgment (shhh!). Generally very few of the clothes we've finished with are suitable to give away. Three boys! After all.
  • Make room for new toys. I'd already started moving around toys in anticipation of Christmas gifts and as part of my office reorganization. The Legos got a whole new mega-sized jar; I didn't need the old "choking hazard" jar I made when Monroe was tiny, anymore, so the beads and other tiny delights got a new home in my craft room and their jar went to Legos. I'd chosen a few infrequently-used toys to give away, but after a delight-making gift of a new Hot Wheels supertrack, our "tiny transportation" bin isn't big enough to hold all the sorts of things that go into it. I don't know if I should give away a bunch of the toys in it (there will be strenuous objections), recategorize (this one isn't tiny enough, right?), or find a new storage place for the new toy (generally the wrong solution; that's how things get broken around here). What do you do when toys won't fit in your old, painstakingly-organized storage?
  • Green your tree (more). This was the first year we got a live tree, dug in the actual forest for us by my mom and dad. For an investment of one $5 permit (gifted by grandma & grandpa, no less), we have a beautiful big tree to plant in our yard. If you have a chopped-down tree, you can, of course, divest it of its tinsel and other non-compostable ornaments and leave it next to your yard debris bin on a yard debris pickup day on your street, or take it to a charity tree recycling drive (in our neighborhood, Cleveland High School has one). Even better, though, is to reuse your tree in your own garden. Get out your hatchet, chop off all but the biggest branches, and break or cut them up as best you can. Spread them as a top layer of compost, or distribute over the earth of your vegetable garden, or around blueberry bushes and other perennials. Save the trunk and big branches to stake pole beans, tomatoes, and other climbing vegetables this summer. In the garden, all natural material can be turned back into life, after all.

Let's make some green cleaners, mamas

November 01, 2008

Tocl0095 Activistas is throwing a green cleaning party with the Oregon Center for Environmental Health on NE Fremont (at their EcoSafe Home Store).  We're looking forward to learning a thing or two about toxics in cleaning supplies and whipping up a few of our own cleaners, while we're at it.  Hope you can join us on Saturday, 11.15.  Details and RSVP (required 'cause space is limited) on Activistas.

Laundry Days Part II - The Drying Rack

July 31, 2008


Since we've been talking laundry recently, I thought I'd capitalize on the local expertise! 

I actually like doing laundry. There.  The cat is out of the bag.  And I like hanging it out to dry in the summer months even more.  Perhaps it's the slow, methodical process of it all.  Or maybe it's how my 2-YO squirts it with water when it's almost dry.  No, I think it's the way the kids arrange the clothes on the rack.   They love to do it, and can't quite seem to grasp the concept that if you pile (multiple) items on top of each other - while space saving - they just won't dry! 

Anyway.  I'm in the market for a BIG FANCY outdoor drying rack.  Like the kind they have in Australia.  The kind you can stick in the patio table where the umbrella's supposed to go.  BIG.  Like these.  And before I make this enormous and very sexy purchase, I need advice from those who already made the leap.  'Cause I want to get the right one.  The perfect one.  For cheap (natch).  Help!  Do you have one of these fold up thingys?  Where'd you get it?  Do you like it?  Do tell.

Laundry: Do you drown in it?

July 30, 2008

Laundry_2If only doing laundry were child's play, but unfortunately it's my least favorite chore.  No matter how hard I try, the laundry situation can spiral quickly out of control especially with dirty little boys who rarely will make it through the day with nary a stain on their clothes.  On top of this, there's the extra laundry created by the adults who sweat especially in the summer because of the daily bike commute or exercise. Let's also not forget the nighttime accidents that occur on top of towels for baths, showers and swimming. Yes, not everything worn once needs to be be thrown in the wash, but few items pass the "smell" test which leaves little that can be worn more than once without being offensive.

Alright, it's time to air your dirty laundry.  We want to know how you stay on top of laundry.  How do you avoid moving piles of clean clothes from the bed, back to the laundry basket, and then to the floor several times before they get folded?  How do you avoid having piles of clean clothes dispersed all over the house that never make it to drawers or closets? Do you have any strategies for not having laundry take over your lives? Have you found any way to make it less of a chore to do laundry? Photo credit: cafemama.com

Natural Stain Removers...

June 16, 2008

I thought I was a messy person before I had a child.  I now realize that "messy" is relative.  Far be it from me to try to contain my son's shall we say, "artistic expressions", but with a tight budget it is important that I do not have to constantly replace stained clothes.  Being cautions of harmful toxins in many stain removing agents, I am always on the lookout for potent but gentle ways to get those clothes clean.  A reader poses the question, how do you get those clothes looking bright and new using safe and natural cleaning alternatives?  More specifically, Andi asks:

Has anyone found an environmentally friendly stain remover that actually works?  I've tried a number of them and they are no match for the sweet potato and carrot stains on my baby's shirts. 

Anyone have any surefire natural cleaning tips for this urbanMama?

Cleaning Indoor Air

June 06, 2007

We're certain that many are sneezing and wheezing as you read this with allergens in full force.  However, for Amy, she thinks it may be something else lurking in her house.  She writes:

We have a (very amateurly installed) air conditioning unit in our 1920s house. Twice recently, when the temps got unbearable inside (mid 80s), we turned it on for a few hours. Both times, I got a sore throat that led to sinus infection within a couple of days. This last time, my husband got a sore throat followed by a migraine (which he has never had before) the following day. Amazingly, our 9-month-old daughter didn't get sick ... but we're wondering if our ductwork needs cleaning. (All this could be seasonal allergies or coincidence, but we're still leery.) I haven't been able to find reliable information about household air cleaning services - has anyone had their ventilation systems cleaned, and did it help noticeably? Any references for a reputable company? What about air purifiers? DIY solutions? Other ideas? Wheezingly yours, Amy

Permanent Marker Stain Removal Help

May 24, 2007

Let's try to help Michelle out.  We've probably been her predicament.  She writes:

Okay. Breathe. My three-year-old aspiring artist has taken a permanent Sharpie to our light carpet! Surely, I'm not the first mama to experience this...does anyone have recommendations on a cleaner - store bought or home creation? I am open to ANY suggestions!