Tag Archives: cleaning

Ode to a Toilet

17 Apr

Despite the title of this blog, I am not a neat-freak or clean-freak. However, cleaner and neater is generally better, in my view. I just do not have the energy most of the time, and my family has a tight budget.

This week I decided to splurge on some new cleaning supplies to improve general home conditions, and more specifically:  the bathroom used by our teenage boys.

No photos for this post. Trust me, you don’t want a photo.

I try very hard to avoid strong chemicals. They are dangerous. To your eyes, your skin, your lungs, and your general health.

There are safe solutions that work, I promise! 

My big purchase is a Swiffer Bissell steam cleaner for floors. Very small and light and easy to use, for about $50.00, with a swiveling head like the standard Swiffer. I can steam clean behind a toilet without getting anywhere near the toilet. The ultimate goal is for the boys to use it themselves, in their bathroom, but I am taking one step at a time. It looks and smells so much better in there, and I did not need to torture my knees, back, hands…or nose!

Speaking of toilets… I once had a school friend who was part of a Mormon family with eight children. I was at the house only once. The family was very nice, and considering the house held ten people and a dog, it was pretty clean.

Except for the toilet.

It had stalagmites in it. Like in a cave.

Truly, it did. I have never seen anything so filthy or covered in mineral deposits. I was shocked and confused, not to mention disgusted.

Looking back, I think they had just given up on the toilet.

I have a policy of expecting our boys to clean up after themselves. They do pretty well. Except for the bathroom. I suspect they are too squeamish and too gentle to do a proper job of it.

After three years in our apartment, my boys’ toilet was starting to resemble that Mormon toilet to some degree. One of them was ill recently and I knew his face was close to the toilet during that sickness. It is partly his own fault the toilet was so bad, but I felt sorry for him. I think, like the Mormons, the boys had simply given up on the toilet.

I decided to take drastic measures. Either that or we could never allow a guest in that bathroom!

I found an item at the store that looked like it might be useful.  A Pumie scouring stick –basically big block of pumice with a plastic handle. It worked as promised, although I needed to grind down nearly the entire block to clean the one toilet. (Under normal circumstances, it is meant to be reusable, getting smaller with use.) The toilet is clean, white, shiny and nontoxic.

I feel so much better now!



This Mess Is So Big

1 Nov

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!”

― Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

This is untrue, of course.

Charming, but untrue.

This is what children say when they don’t want to clean their rooms, only they don’t rhyme as well.

If you are an adult, and you catch yourself making this kind of excuse to avoid cleaning or organizing, you must remind yourself that you CAN do it. It might take a while, and it might be stressful, but it can certainly be done.

Have some faith in yourself, focus on the goal, and take breaks.

You can do it!

It Was the Best of Junk, It Was the Worst of Junk

25 Mar

I am feeling Less Than Organized this week.

Our move has now progressed to the stage known as settling in.  In other words, we are in, but not settled.  Which box holds my son’s orthodontic appliance?  Where are my sneakers?  These are mysteries to be solved.

I was so proud of my moving file, with my list of address changes all checked off.  Then I realized my car registration had expired because I misfiled the bill.

I have also discovered that my fabulous color coding stickers should have been confined to cardboard boxes, and should not have been used on art or furniture.  It turns out that they don’t peel off very well…even the television has a sticky paper residue.

Speaking of televisions, there seems to be one in every room now, although I have little desire to watch anything, aside from “What Not to Wear” which I can’t resist.  Previously we watched only DVDs and streaming Netflix.  Along with the other rather dubious benefits of digital cable (provided by our new housemate), I have been recently exposed to commercials for yet another television program about the topic of hoarding.  I won’t watch those programs because the hoarders are full of anxiety, fear, and sadness.  The programs are sad; before you know it, I am sad, too.

Surprisingly, there is a happy kind of hoarding.  At least, it may be said that some hoarders are happy.  The happy ones are generally called collectors, and they collect out of a sense of purpose or a favorite passion.

I read an interesting portrait of one such hoarder here: Hoarder of History | Find an Outlet.  This is a blog post about a man who has spent most of his life collecting old cars, and it features photographs of both the collection and the collector.

If you watch a program called “American Pickers”, you may learn about a few more happy hoarders.  This is a show about guys who drive around in a van looking for people with massive collections of funky old junk, like antique oil cans.  The drivers are business men, not hoarders.  The plan is to talk folks into selling some of their junk, so it can later be resold to other collectors at a profit.  Some of the rural collectors are real characters, and they love their junk.

Meanwhile, we have moved in with a family member who is not a minimalist at all. Don’t take that the wrong way; the house is lovely, and clean (or as clean as it can be considering the age, sex, and species of some of the inhabitants).  However, I have spent the past five days trying to figure out how to fit our life into a house that is already full of someone else’s life.  Six televisions, two refrigerators, four sofas…you get the idea.  I am happy to report that our leather sofa fit up the stairs, although the box spring for our bed did not.

My first approach in the kitchen has been to clean out drawers and cabinets, looking for items that can be removed, thus leaving potential open space for some of the items we want to integrate into the household.

Emptying one kitchen drawer turned out to be an especially interesting task.  This one was what most people call a “junk drawer”.

The bulk of the items.

Chewing gum, paintbrushes, seashells, fortune cookies, warranties, fake flowers…those things go together, right?

Selected items.

Money, frilly toothpicks, eye glasses, corncob holders, tape, vegetable storage bags, batteries…

Slivered almonds anyone?

Don’t let this happen to your kitchen drawers!

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

15 Dec

When it comes to organizing, downsizing, simplifying or just plain ‘spring cleaning,’ I think what overwhelms people the most is the sheer number of decisions to be made about what to keep and what to let go of.

With this in mind, I’ve come up with some criteria to help with the ‘stay or go’ decisions.

If you are ever trying to clean out your home and can’t decide what stays and what goes, consider the Three Fs:


…Does it fit in your home?  Does it fit with your lifestyle?


…Does it have a function in your life?  Can you use it?


…Does it bring a feeling of joy to your life?

Ideally, items will meet all three requirements.  This can happen with a really comfortable mattress, a favorite sweater, or a flat screen television.

However, many items will work for only two categories, and are still keepers.  Consider tax forms (small and useful, but bringing no joy at all) and sculpture (it fits and you love it, but it doesn’t do anything except collect dust).

Only one requirement?  That’s where things get sticky.

The FIT of an item is truly essential.  It should fit your life, and fit in your home, even if it means giving up something else to make space.

But… something that fits without being useful or joyful?  Forget it!  So, you need at least two of these requirements filled in order to keep an item.

If you have another system for deciding what to keep, I would love to know what works for you!

A Clean Surface
…Make Space for your Life!

When Your Home Runneth Over

8 Dec

While watching a video about clutter management, I heard a woman describe her family’s habit of bagging up all of their clutter and hiding it whenever someone came to the house.

They hid their reality in a room named: The Overflow Room.

I can’t stop thinking about this phrase.  (To see the video, click here.).  Keeping a room available for hiding sacks of chaos is not a good use of living space, will not solve the problem, and — let’s face it — will most likely encourage more clutter.

If a glass is overflowing, we stop pouring and tip the glass to remove the excess.

If a home is overflowing, the solution is the same.

Obviously, this takes time and commitment, and we can’t actually tip our homes like we can do with a glass, but the solution still applies: stop pouring and remove the excess.

This year, in addition to the new adventure of writing this blog, I started a small business to help people simplify and declutter their lives.  I have always found it a rejuvenating and satisfying experience to make something better and simpler…but not everyone does!

Some people are so resistant to this kind of activity, they can hardly believe that anyone would enjoy it.

You enjoy doing this?

I do enjoy it!      

Shortly before I officially started the business, I helped a friend make her long abandoned home office usable once again.  She felt so uplifted by the result that she wrote a blog post (One Day My Soul Just Opened Up) about the experience of clearing out her office, and why it made such a difference in her life.  Months later, I also helped her with her closet and she created some video blogs, both from before the process, and during and after the process.

Organizing and simplifying are completely normal activities for me, but there are so many people with Overflow Rooms and other much more serious problems who struggle with it every day.  It can be a very emotional experience for people to face up to these kinds of issues.

If you have a problem like this and you think you need some support to deal with it, get support.  If you are too embarrassed to ask your friends or family to help you, hire an organizer.

Start now.  Make space for your life!


P.S.  You can contact me privately through acleansurface at gmail dot com if you need help in the San Jose, CA area, or even if you just need to talk to someone.

* The fabulous photo above is a close up of a framed Marilyn Monroe portrait I have in my home.

Kitchen Sync

1 Dec

I tried to save energy and water.

Honestly, I gave it my all.  But I’m through with that philosophy — at least when it comes to the dishwasher.

For years, I ran the dishwasher only when it was completely full.  I had high standards.  My standards were not as high as say, the super-competitive guys loading the dishwasher in the film Rachel Getting Married, but there were principles involved.  Principles!!

My high standards didn’t pay off. Some water and energy may have been saved, but our kitchen was a freaking disaster.  Every day.

The timing was always wrong.  The additional hours it would sometimes take to get those few extra dishes to fill the machine would knock our entire kitchen out of sync.

The dishwasher would invariably need to be run when it was time for a load of laundry or someone’s shower.  This may not sound like a big problem, but we live in a rented house with questionable plumbing and a crookedly installed dinosaur of a dishwasher.  If we run large quantities of water through the pipes all at once, the dishwasher can’t drain properly, and it leaves a puddle of dirty dishwater on the floor.

It took me a while to figure out why this didn’t happen every time I ran the dishwasher.  Someone even came out to “fix” the leak.  He took one look at the geriatric machine and said, “Aw, come on!”

He did his best; he studied it and changed a seal, but the periodic leaks continued, and I realized it was the plumbing.  If I time the cycle well, it won’t leak.

So, besides waiting for fullness, I had to wait to run the dishwasher until after the shower, or the laundry.  We would run out of clean spoons, cups, bowls and other crucial items.  The used dishes would pile up in the sink, on the counters, and even on the stove (!) before I could get the machine run and emptied.

Sometimes, if the boys couldn’t find an open space for their dishes on the counter, there would be plates ever-so-precariously balanced on the tops of glassware — eek!

Plus, it looked like I never cleaned the kitchen at all.  There used to be five of us in the house, and though we’re down to just four now, we’ve got growing boys, and that means constant eating and constant accumulation of dishes.

Maybe someday I’ll have one of those cool new dishwashers with separate small “drawers” that you can run individually for small loads, or even just a newer, more efficient machine.  Renters can’t be choosers; they can only be practical.

I decided to trade my standard of a full dishwasher for the standard of a clean kitchen.

Now I run the dishwasher once a day. I run it when the time is right, even if it is only mostly full.

Such a simple change, but what an effect.  The sink is empty, the counters are clear, I have space to cook, and there are dishes in the cupboards when we need them. 

I would have given up my high standards sooner, if I had known it would be this much easier.

Get Simple, Baby!

10 Sep

I asked one of my kids if he thought his life was simple or complicated.  He didn’t know what complicated meant, but he said his life is less simple than it used to be.  He meant that life was only “simple” when he was a baby– because he “couldn’t really do anything, so there was nothing to do”.

How simple can life be, for non-babies?  I don’t know, but I’d sure like to find out.  I believe that for almost everyone, life can be simpler and more organized than it is now.

Commit to finding  at least one way to simplify your life this week.  Protect your free time and your home from the clutter of habits and objects that suck all the time and space from your life.  You don’t need to color-code anything, you don’t need to buy anything, and you don’t need to make anything perfect– just make something in your life a little simpler, or faster, or cleaner.

Why Making the Bed Makes a Difference

29 Aug

This year, I renounced my former bed neglect and became a daily bed maker.

Previously, my bed making was sporadic, at best.  “There Is No Point in Making the Bed Since it Will Just Get Messy Again” was my motto.  Well, now I need a new motto.

It’s Peter Walsh’s fault.  In one of his anti-clutter themed books, It’s All Too Much, I read that the bed sets the tone for the room.  (What??  My room has a tone??)  It sounds silly, but it’s true.  I know because I experimented with made bed days and unmade bed days, and there was a distinct difference.

I am typing this while sitting on my bed–and, yes, it is made.

I am sure my mother told me many times to make my bed, but it didn’t stick.  I don’t recall any discussion of the psychological benefit I might receive from bed making…I suspect she was thinking more of the benefit to her.  Anyway, she was right, and now I finally understand why I should make the bed:  because it will relax me each time I walk in and see the made bed.  It sets the tone of the room as “restful”.

With the bed made, I see a place to sleep, rest, sit down, read, or even write.

Unmade, the bed was a place for none of those things.  It was more like a place to unload whatever items I was carrying.  These unsorted items often led to a discouraging sight later on, when I wanted a place to sleep.

Visually, less is more.  A made bed is a clean surface, an open space.

A tangled bed, on the other hand, looks like a stack of dishes that need washing, or 517 emails that need answering.  It looks like work.  It makes us tired just to see those twisted covers.  It might seem that by leaving the bed unmade we are escaping work, but simply looking at an unmade bed can feel like more work than actually making it.

Would you enjoy a hotel stay quite as much if the housekeeping crew didn’t come and make the bed every day and hang the towels so straight?  There is something very relaxing about that, not just because someone else did the work, but because a made bed looks relaxing, like a beach at sunset.

I like the restful feeling.

I haven’t spent too much time thinking about the “tone” of all the other rooms, because I might start to worry that my whole house is off-key.  But my bed is made, and that makes a difference.