Cleaning, organizing, sorting, thrifting -- who has the time to keep up with home maintenance, not to mention maintaining all the stuff we keep in that house. From closets to freezers to gutters and grilling, we've broken these time-consuming tasks down to a manageable list -- tackling one big chore once a month doesn't seem like such a big deal, now does it? First, let's head to the bathroom...
January: Put your pills in order
Happy New Year! You partied like it's 1999 last night, and today your head is begging for some aspirin. You open your medicine cabinet to find only one chipped pill in a container where the label is so faded you can't be sure it's actually aspirin. Make this your first resolution: Clean and organize your medicine cabinet.
Up first, clean. Throw away anything that's damaged, broken or beyond its expiration date -- include not only prescription drugs but over-the-counter medicines, bandages and anything else you have stored in there.
Next, organize. Stock your medicine cabinet with essentials such as bandages, antiseptics, thermometer, nail clippers, tweezers and even your favorite toothpaste -- check out this article for a list of the 10 items you should be storing in your medicine cabinet.
The one thing you shouldn't keep in your medicine cabinet is medicine (humidity is pill kryptonite). Relocate prescription and OTC medicines to a friendlier place, such as a kitchen drawer or cabinet.
February: Match the carpet and the drapes
Throughout the year, you can keep your drapes and carpets looking fresh and clean by vacuuming them, but eventually you'll need to deep-clean both to maintain them.
Some drapes you'll be able to launder in your own washing machine and dryer, depending on how large they are and the capacity of your machines. Other window treatments require dry cleaning, so be sure to check the labels before starting.
Carpets should have regular cleanings that include deep soil extraction with hot water. Not only does deep cleaning remove dirt buildup and stains, but you'll also get rid of dust, mites, allergens and other microscopic pollutants that have been thriving in the fibers.
And if laundering the drapes and deep-cleaning the carpets doesn't seem like enough of a chore, it's also a good time to think about your mattresses: flip, rotate and vacuum (thoroughly, especially if you want to remove not only dust but dust mites).
March: Clean air act
Beware the Ides of March, the March Hare and...dirty air? Exactly so. Spring is approaching, and before you know it, you'll be talking about how it's not the heat, it's the humidity that really gets you. Maintain your air conditioning unit now before the mercury rises.
Cleaning a dirty central air conditioning unit is also a smart thing to do before the weather warms up enough to need indoor cooling. It's important to clean the outdoor unit, paying attention to the condenser coil -- this is where a fan sucks in air (and dust, dirt and leaves along with it) through fins. Indoor coils can reduce air flow when they get dirty, but indoor coils only need to be cleaned every few years (although you should change your HVAC air filter about every three months). Schedule a professional cleaning before their dance card is full.
April: Do you do windows?
In a perfect world, windows would be washed twice a year -- and in that perfect world they'd be self-cleaning, wouldn't they?
Windows should be washed both inside and outside, and screens should be vacuumed (stay safe: vacuum screens from the inside only).
When washing windows, use lint-free micro-fiber clothes (or paper towels) and window cleaner. For a DIY eco-friendly window cleaner, try mixing in a spray bottle:
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 plain vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap (or detergent)
Shake, spray and wipe.
While some people swear by the non-streaking power of crumpled newspapers to clean windows, the pros use a 10- to 16-inch squeegee, window scrubber and bucket -- and if your house is multileveled, consider an extension pole. Use a dry rubber squeegee blade with each window wipe for a streak-free technique.
May: Up in your grill
With May comes Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer -- and the start of grilling season. Whether you're a gas or charcoal grill fan, now's the time to pull out the grill and don the apron. Safety should be of great concern when you're manning the open pit. Always grill at least 10 feet away from your house -- that means don't set it up on the porch, carport or in the garage. This is true for both gas and charcoal grills, which pose a fire and toxin hazard. Gas grills are powered by propane, which is highly flammable. Charcoal grills produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous. An estimated 3,448 people were treated in the emergency room for grill-related accidents in 2006.
June: Dirty duvets
Make haste while the sun shines: Now that summer is upon us, there's little need for winter's heavy blankets, quilts and flannel sheets. Clean your linen closet, starting with thrifting linens that are gently used and no longer in use and discarding any items that are threadbare and worn out. Then, wash everything you plan to keep and store, sorted by size, for the next cold spell.
Drying a duvet in the dryer can be an exhaustive, multi-hour event. Instead take advantage of the summer sunshine and hang your comforters, sheets and blankets on an outdoor clothesline to dry.
No clothesline? Tackle it as a weekend project. You'll need:
- A shovel
- Wooden or metal poles
- (Or a pre-made umbrella clothesline that includes posts and rope)
- A level
Day one will require hole digging and cement, in which you'll add your wooden or metal post. Use the level to ensure straightness. On day two, after the cement has hardened, you can build out your clothesline.
July: Unleash the skeletons
Tackling your bedroom closets can seem like a big task to take on -- it's more like a weekend project than an afternoon chore. But the payoff is big. Haven't worn something in the last year? Time to recycle it. A reasonable goal is to leave about 15 percent of your closet space free for new purchases.
When storing seasonal clothing, take a tip from professional organizer Diane Albright, who helped Kate of Jon & Kate Plus 8 get organized:
- Sort everything into piles.
- Pack seasonal clothing or other items you plan to keep into boxes.
- Label each box (on both the front and back). Use index cards or splurge on a label maker -- either way you'll save aggravation.
- Store on shelving in the closet, or move to storage space in your attic or basement.
Having trouble working with the closet space you have available? Consider this tip from Clean Sweep (episode "The Toy Factory"): Add custom shelving to your existing storage space. Custom shelving will make use of wall space and the space near the ceiling. Some closet-organizing projects are DIY, but it depends how customized you want to get -- custom closet organization can be designed to suit your personal needs.
August: Shred it
Identity theft is one of the most common forms of consumer fraud in the United States. You can help protect your personal information by routinely shredding old personal documents, anything that includes information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card numbers or other identifying information. Anything that can be used without your permission to open new credit card accounts, bank accounts, loans, utility accounts and even documents such as a driver's license. Believe it or not, one of the most popular methods of gaining access to your information is Dumpster diving -- yes, rummaging through your trash. But also beware of skimming, phishing and stealing.
What can you do? One important piece of deterring identity thieves from your information is to shred financial documents and paperwork. Shred old ATM receipts, checks, tax information, credit card statements, copies of bills and any other papers that contain personal information before you trash it. Buy a personal paper shredder for your home office, or if your needs are light, save your shredding for a community shredding event.
September: Declutter storage areas
With autumn around the corner, it's time to think about storing summer gear and making room for winter accessories. In with the snowblower, out with the mower.
While making the switch, take the time to declutter the garage. When decluttering a garage, sorting is key. Organize by like items: car care, tools, hardware, you get the point. Much like organizing a closet space, remember to label your containers before you shelve them. And remember to get creative with the space -- again, as with organizing a closet, take advantage of all the available space, including the walls and space near the ceiling. Consider installing cabinets and other custom shelving to add storage options that get your tools and other equipment off of the floor.
And finally, what should you do with the stuff you no longer use? Hold a garage sale, post on the Freecycle Network or Craigslist, or donate items to a local charity.
October: Gutter cleaning
Depending on where in the country you call home, by October your foliage may have come and gone and you've been spending weekends raking the yard. Once the leaves have fallen for the season, it's a good time to clean out the gutters and downspouts, or risk them overflowing during the winter.
Maintaining your gutters is important. It prevents water damage to your home's windows, doors, siding and foundation. To do so, you'll need to do the following:
- Remove loose debris with a garden trowel
- Flush each section of gutter with a water hose
- Check the downspouts: If water doesn't flow freely, try to loosen the debris with the hose. Still not clear? Try to snake it out with a plumber's auger.
For safety's sake, work from a ladder below your gutters rather than from on top of the roof. If you're uncomfortable working at heights, this is one chore for which you should call a professional service.
November: Put together the pantry
November kicks off the winter holiday season, and with that comes family and food. Before you're called upon to host Thanksgiving, it's time to get your pantry in order -- that case of tuna and the stockpile of soups have no business next to the Thanksgiving turkey.
Start your pantry organization by removing and discarding any items that have expired, spoiled, or have missing labels or damaged packaging. Wipe off each empty shelf to remove dust, debris and spills (for sticky spills, try an eco-friendly mixture of baking soda, water and elbow grease). Before restocking your pantry, consider a plan: Group similar items together for easy scanning and locating. Follow whatever system works for you, whether it involves grouping canned items together or by food families. If your pantry is large enough to also house appliances, inspect them all to be sure they still work. If any need maintenance, then store only those you use -- if you can't remember the last time you used the rice cooker, do you really need it?
December: When in doubt, throw it out
Make room for storing holiday feasts (and leftovers) with a deep cleaning of your refrigerator and freezer. Before cleaning a fridge or freezer, you'll first need to do a little prep -- where will you store frozen items so they won't spoil as you clean? Keep coolers on hand to temporarily store foods (although keep in mind you can generally leave most refrigerated (perishable) foods at room temperature safely for under two hours).
With the appliance empty and the temperature setting turned to the off position, remove any shelving, crispers and ice bins or trays, and clean them with warm soapy water. Same with the doors and walls -- give them a good scrub with warm soapy water.
Don't forget to clean underneath the fridge or freezer, too. Use your vacuum's brush attachment to clean away any dust or debris that has settled under the appliance as well as on its coils and vents.
To learn more about cleaning and organizing, check out the links on the next page.
Those worn but loved sneaks can look almost new with a few cleaning tips we got from a pro.