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Clear the Clutter: A Room-by-Room Guide to Green Cleaning
Think it’s impossible to see how your brain works? Walk over to a closet or open a drawer in your home. What you see is what you’ve got. While a few of you may be looking at something that could grace the pages of a Martha Stewart publication, chances are most of you are looking at a jumble of products, clothes and knick-knacks that live together for reasons unknown to your rational mind. Coupons, letters, bills and a hand sanitizer shoved into your kitchen junk drawer? Don't get embarrassed — get organized!
The following room-by-room checklist offers the perfect opportunity to cut through the clutter while staying light on the landfills and giving you peace of mind!
Get room-by-room help for the bathroom, the kitchen, the home office and the clothes closet using this step-by-step green home guide.
Helpful hints for getting started
- Get a good night’s sleep before any major project and work at the time of day you feel at your physical peak. A tired mind makes tired decisions.
- Eat a good meal before you start and have lots of water and healthy snacks available.
- Create an environment that supports your best efforts; music and aromatherapy are a couple simple things that will soothe your soul during the process.
- Be sure you have set aside a block of time commensurate with the size of the project. The ideal first pass is five hours.
- Warn family members that you will need some private time, and do not let yourself be interrupted. Nothing is worse than coming back to a disastrous closet when you’ve used all your strength elsewhere.
- If any aspect of getting organized is outside your comfort zone (for example, if you have a large collection of receipts that need to be sorted and you don’t know what to save for the IRS), hire a professional organizer or call upon an organized good friend or family member for guidance.
If we are indeed spiritual beings having an earthly experience, then it stands to reason that taking care of the body is a sacred task. Yet most of our bathrooms are often neglected and/or abused. Let’s see how we can transform this room to a place of peace.
1. Linen check
2. Let go of disappointments
We all invest in products from time to time that disappoint us. We feel too guilty to let them go, letting them live on indefinitely in our cupboards as space hogs. The solution? Host a “Product Swap Party” for your friends. With everyone's hair and skin having such different needs, what disappointed you might be a great find for a friend.
3. Divest in packaging
Are there products you love so much that you purchase them in multiples? Very often the commercial wrapping that comes with these products takes up a lot of space. Recycle the plastic and cardboard.
4. Detangle your haircare
Take an honest look at your brushes, combs and rollers. Pull out any you might not be using. If they're in good shape, remove all excess hair and soak them in a solution of water and baking soda before rinsing, air-drying and donating to a shelter. Exceptions are items with wooden handles, which will waterlog, those with boar bristles, which will curl, and those with rubber cushioning, which will split. For these, remove all excess hair and scrub clean with a good shampoo. Rinse under the faucet and let air dry.
5. Face the bacteria
Check the expiration date on your makeup. Separate out anything that is more than six months old, as bacteria likely resides there. Rinse and recycle all recyclable glass and plastic (making sure to check the number of the plastic, so that you don't put anything on the curb that will ultimately not be recycled).
6. Sort your meds
Take a look at your medicine collection, identify what's expired, then remove the label, and rinse and save the bottles for travel purposes.
Helpful hints for everyday upkeep:
- Keep a sponge handy for quick wipes of the counter every time you exit.
- The mirror gets water and toothpaste splashed at regular intervals. Keep a spray bottle of homemade cleaner and a soft cotton cloth under the sink. Spray and wipe at least once a day.
- Make your own cleaner for the countertop and the mirror by mixing equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar has the added benefit of being both a disinfectant and a deodorizer. The smell dissipates the minute it dries.
- Straight vinegar will clean your bathroom bowl.
- When your counters need a good scrub, use baking soda! Add a little water and you’ll have a natural cleaning paste.
- Remove and recycle the plastic wrap from around your soap. Soaps last longer when they’ve been dried out a bit.
Everyone loves lingering in the kitchen, making this room a magnet for clutter. But the place where you feed your body (and others) should be a mini-temple. Take these six steps to a more streamlined kitchen.
1. Get cracking
Take a look through your plates, pots and pans. If it’s broken, chipped or cracked, it should go. Plates can be broken and used for mosaics or put in the bottom of planters as a filtration system. Dinged pots and pans can go to shelters or be recycled.
2. Clear your counters
Take a look at your small appliances. Are there any that you’ve never even used? If you’ve got a juicer, mixer, bread baker or food processor that sits idly on the counter or in a cupboard, donate it to a women’s shelter.
3. Sweat the small stuff
Take a look in the utensil drawers. Gather all the little cluttering items you do not use and set aside for donation. No longer usable? See if there’s a good recycling option. Do you have Grandma’s rusty potato peeler sitting next to a new one? Send it to a metal recycling center! There are better ways to remember Grandma.
4. Reduce your chemical dependence
Go through the chemical wasteland under your sink. If you are prone to opening multiple bottles of the same product, combine them. If you don’t use it, get rid of it. Most products list a phone number on the back where you can call for specific safe disposal instructions. You can also contact your local government for instructions in keeping with local ordinances. Remember, some detergent and cleaning fluid bottles can be recycled (look for the recycling symbol with the number 2 on the bottom). And when it’s time to buy more cleaning products, shop for good, eco-friendly cleaning options — they’re everywhere!
5. Nip the tupperware tower
Like most people, you probably have a cupboard full of resealable plastic containers. Take a minute to match up all the pieces. Now decide how much you really use. Donate the rest to a women’s shelter or school program (arts classes are often in need). For the future, remember that many plastics can leach toxins into foods, so glass jars (the kind you might get your jam or peanut butter in) are a much safer option.
6. Tackle the junk drawers
No purge of the kitchen would be complete without a peek into the junk drawer. How many items can go back to your tool box? Do you really need that many pens and pencils in one drawer? What about all those odd items like bits of string, push pins for the bulletin board you tossed or those mystery keys? Recycle everything you can, and don’t forget to call your local women’s shelter! They have children who can make good use of supplies like pens, pencils and string.
Helpful hints for everyday upkeep:
- Once you organize your drawers, it’s demoralizing if everything goes flying the first time the drawer is shut. Try a thick drawer liner and a few drawer organizers. You can use your liner on your cupboard shelves as well.
- Food doesn’t last forever. Tie a Sharpie on your fridge door handle and date all leftovers and packaged food. Check the expiration dates on your cans and boxes, even your water. Toss frozen mystery meats after six months. When something has expired, throw out the biodegradable matter and recycle the packaging.
- Some products, like flour, attract pantry moths, which are very hard to eliminate. Transfer items like this to glass containers. Does your fruit soften too quickly and attract fruitflies? Keep it in a wood or wire basket so it can breathe, or store it in produce-saving fresh bags.
- It’s wise to set aside an extra stash of food and water in case of earthquakes, floods and other emergencies. Check the expiration of these products on a regular basis. Instead of tossing the water when it has expired, use it for plants.
The home office
Any work we do is sacred. Each of us is a critical component in the wheel of humanity. If your office is a disaster, chances are that you're not feeling “connected” to your workspace. Don't let clutter get between you and a meaningful experience! The world is waiting for your contribution.
1. Remove what doesn’t belong
Quickly remove all items that do not belong here. If you work at home and have children or pets, it’s easy to imagine your floor is littered with toys. Did you have a snack here a few days ago and forget to return your plate and mug to the kitchen? Do half-empty bottles of water litter the counters? Sweep the room and remove the extraneous debris. Empty the garbage cans and the shredder.
2. Recycle reading
The newspapers you haven’t had a chance to read, the magazines you haven’t made time to enjoy, need to go. Put the newspapers in the recycle bin. Call your local school or retirement facility and see if they need your magazines. If not, recycle them.
3. Weed out your writing tools
Create a central place for all of your office supplies, then assess. Do you have more paper, pens or pencils than you can realistically use in a year? Donate the excess to schools or shelters.
4. Kiss your computer goodbye
If you have working but outdated technology sitting around, call around and see who could make use of these items. Some charities like Goodwill will even take broken equipment, fix it and resell it.
5. Lose some paper weight
If you have stacks of paper everywhere, it’s time to divide and conquer. Take one stack of paper at a time. Sit at a big table if you can, or spread out on the floor. Have an empty bag on either side of you — one for recycling, the other for trash. Go through the pile and immediately trash what's easy and obvious: sale flyers that expired long ago, the obvious junk mail, invitations to parties you missed, etc. Then go piece by piece and create categories. Lay them out separately with a sticky note underneath to identify each and avoid confusion.
Weed out papers that you need to retain, but do not need to see on a daily basis, e.g., tax receipts. Group together all and other archival material — too often we clog our present with the past by keeping old memories front and center. Your closet or your garage are ideal for archival materials, and shifting them to that space will help you make room for your future, literally.
6. Update your files
Now that you’ve got everything sorted, it’s time to file. If you are one of those people who won’t remember outstanding issues if they’re out of sight in a file, consider using binders for your projects. Insert dividers to contain all the various aspects of a project in one area. After you create your new file system, take the time to put it on your computer. Print out a copy and keep it on your desk. Create a reference binder to keep all pertinent information at your fingertips. That way, when you wonder how or where you filed some information, you can let your fingers do the walking.
7. Open yourself to a new office experience
Now that you’ve streamlined, consider your space. Do you have the room set up in a way that makes it easy to work? Do you find yourself walking across the room to reach the printer? Or do you have equipment littering the floor causing you to stoop over all day long to retrieve or use key items? Function is very important. Set yourself up to win!
Helpful hints for everyday upkeep:
- Reduce clutter before it happens. If you know you are going to be working late or out of town for a week, put a temporary stop on your daily newspaper delivery. You’ll be able to catch the news highlights on the web and on TV. Major newspapers publish their top articles on the web each day, usually for free. There isn’t a chance you won’t know what’s going on. Can’t part with that newspaper? Neatly cut out what you wanted to keep and recycle the rest. Also take a minute to reconsider the magazines you currently subscribe to. Do you simply flip through any of them once before tossing in the recycling? Perhaps you’ve outgrown the tone of the magazine and it’s time to cancel your subscription or ignore the renewal notice when it arrives.
- Consider hiring a college student or a retired person for a few hours a week to do things like filing or errands. Maintenance is a key aspect in the ongoing effort to stay organized. However, you don’t have to do it alone.
- Do you like to hold onto old invitations because they offer ideas for scrapbooking? Take a digital photo and create a file on the computer for these images.
The clothes closet
Can’t find anything to wear? Get to the bottom of your clothing crisis by making sure your closet is well put together!
1. Be clothes-minded
Look at your closet and quickly remove everything that doesn’t belong. That means everything but the clothes! What’s in your closet besides clothing? Have the kids’ toys migrated here? Did you put some free weights here hoping they might trigger a desire to work out? Take a minute to return things to their rightful place in your home.
2. Make room for better living
If you usually leave the plastic bags from the dry cleaners in your closet, rip those space hogs off and find out if your municipality will accept them with your other curbside recyclables. Why recycle the bags? Residue from cleaning solvents can be carcinogenic. You don’t want to be inhaling them the next time you wear that garment. Use canvas bags for suits, dresses and gowns.
2. Hang it all
If you don’t have uniform hangers, add them to your shopping list. The wire hanger is a tool meant to provide inexpensive, short-term transport, but it can’t really become a permanent fixture for your closet as it loses shape too easily, leaving marks on your garments. To get rid of the wire hanger problem (as well as the toxic chemical problem!), look into eco-friendly dry cleaners that offer safer treatments and eco-hangers. For hangers that last longer and therefore produce less waste, try wood options.
4. Eliminate what you don't wear
Do the easy part first by making rags out of items that are faded, worn, ripped or torn. That old nightgown will get at least a hundred more uses as a dust cloth. Likewise, denim can be perfect for a good hard scrubbing. Once you’ve separated out what has been damaged beyond repair, you’re ready to let go of things you don’t wear.
This is very tough for most people, so rather than using arbitrary rules like “if you haven’t worn it in six months or a year, toss it,” address the emotional attachment that encourages you to hold on to something you haven’t worn in a long time. Are you holding onto your favorite maternity dress even though your last child is in college? Why not cut a swatch of fabric and put it in a scrapbook next to a photo of you wearing the dress? Unearth the emotional attachment — that’s the key to letting go.
5. Picture your shoes somewhere else
Get your shoes off the floor! Use a cedar shoe rack and get automatic moth protection or an over-the-door hanging canvas shoe bag for exercise shoes. To store the rest of your shoes, go ahead and use the boxes your shoes came in, stacking them neatly and taking a photo of the shoe to put outside the box, so you can find them easily.
6. Straighten your purses
7. Tame your sweaters
Nothing is more demoralizing than a stack of unruly sweaters. Canvas sweater bags let your clothing breathe and look nicer, too. If you have the shelf space, stack your sweaters and use bamboo bookends as shelf dividers. Be sure to hide some cedar drawer liners in between them to keep the moths away.
8. Find a home for small things
9. Pack non-wearables
Souvenir clothing (think baseball caps, tees and dresses that will probably never be worn again) should be packed away. Use space bags to shrink the tees.
10. Embrace change
Is spare change all over your closet floor and dresser top? Now is the time to use it to purchase a piggy bank, or even an attractive dish to place the day’s leftovers in. Once a month, take it to your local bank and cash it in.
Take control of your space with cleaning, organization and design videos on GaiamTV.com! Check out Creating a Healthy Home: A How-to Guide for a Healthier Home and Danny Seo’s Simple Steps to a Greener Home.