(Spring cleaning time is just around the corner. Credit: Thinkstock)
There’s spring cleaning, and then there’s Spring Cleaning. Jan Dougherty, owner of the Arizona-based cleaning service Consider It Done, defines a true spring clean (which, incidentally, she says doesn’t have to occur in the spring) as entailing everything from dismantling and washing light fixtures to laundering drapes to pulling out the stove and vacuuming out the gunk that accumulates back there.
“People don’t really understand what is involved in spring cleaning,” Dougherty says. Convinced that most people don’t understand how to clean, period, she wrote a handbook, The Lost Art of House Cleaning.
If it is indeed true that cleaning is a lost art, we’re guessing that plenty of mistakes are made when people try to tackle the Big Job. Here are some of the most common mistakes… and how to avoid them.
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1. Not knowing which cleaning products and tools to use. Dougherty’s cleaning kit is small but effective. The three products she uses include Krud Kutter (a biodegradable, nontoxic degreaser), white vinegar, and Soft Scrub with Bleach, which she uses to clean virtually any surface in the house. She also has a small selection of rags and scrubbers and even a pumice stone that she uses as cleaning tools.
You might have different favorite products and tools, but you get bonus points for using multitasking products that can be used for multiple jobs.
2. Wearing the wrong clothes. Spring cleaning is like exercising (And it is quite a calorie-burning workout!), so it’s important to wear clothing that’s comfortable, allows you to move, and won’t get in your way. Dougherty’s outfit of choice is cropped leggings, a T-shirt and sneakers.
3. Not having a game plan. “A huge mistake that people make when they are doing spring organizing is that they don’t make a list and don’t think things through first,” says Jennifer Barnes, owner of JB Organizing. “As a result they end up wasting time doing things that aren’t necessary or that could be done by someone else.”
Dougherty’s method is what she calls “the path” – starting at the entrance of a room and working your way systematically along the walls of the room, finishing in the center.
4. Overlooking hard-to-get-to spots. “Often people will clean their house but feel like it still doesn’t smell clean, and they’ll use candles or perfumes to try to get it to smell good,” notes Dougherty. But unless you do a deep clean every so often – i.e. combating the grease that coats the top of your kitchen cabinets, for instance — the house still won’t smell clean.
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5. Not decluttering first. It’s hard (and exhausting) to do a good job cleaning if you’re having to move piles or put away things while you’re dusting and wiping. Dougherty suggests starting the cleaning process by filling a laundry basket with everything that doesn’t belong in that room. Once the surfaces have been cleared of clutter, then start your cleaning.
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6. Trying to get it done in one day. Real spring cleaning, which Dougherty defines as deep cleaning in which you’re moving furniture, dismantling things, washing curtains, and so on, takes a long time. She allows four hours for a living room, as much as five hours for a kitchen. Her advice for the time-strapped? Do a “spring” clean on a different room each month.
Barnes, meanwhile, recommends breaking big projects down into smaller steps, so that you can complete a little at a time and won’t give up if you run out of large blocks of time.
7. Keeping stuff you don’t need. Barnes has a list of questions she suggests asking as you’re deciding what to get rid of: When is the last time I used this? How much would it cost to replace? How much would it cost to keep and store it? She recommends donating items wherever possible rather than trashing it, which helps justify the loss, and finding alternate ways to keep what’s important about an item, such as photographing or scanning kids’ art rather than keeping the original papers.
8. Getting rid of stuff you do need. While for the most part, most people don’t regret the things they purge, we have heard of overzealous declutterers: a friend who hid her jewelry in a boot that she later accidentally donated to Salvation Army, and another who purged her bookshelf and accidentally purged a signed Nora Ephron book. Sometimes it’s enough to find a better home for a meaningful item, where it will be out of the way, rather than getting rid of it entirely.
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