Unlike breathing, there are many life skills that we’re left to figure out on our own. Pumping gas, uncorking a bottle of wine or even… housecleaning. Thank God for my sister Mara. For many years, she worked as a house sitter and caregiver, which means having coffee with Mara is story time. For example, one gentleman loved to play Scrabble; another loved to make beef stew for her Thursday visits. (She doesn’t like beef stew). Another client, a widow, could never let go of magazines. When the tall stacks started to lean in towards each other and threaten to close off the circuitous paths throughout the house, the relatives were called in.
Mara might be a petit, size Small, woman, but she’s big at cleaning houses, which can send you into a panic when she stops by for a visit. Thank goodness she shares her trade secrets. Her work uniform, for example, is nothing fancy: A baggy sweatshirt from Goodwill that doubles as a duster and polishing rag for those missed spots.
When she learned we were opening a B&B in Kodiak, Alaska, Mara mailed a copy of Speed Cleaning, a book by Jeff Campbell. (Jeff was the founder of The Clean Team, a cleaning service in San Francisco). “It’s my go-to cleaning bible,” she said.
The subtitle, “Clean your entire house in 42 minutes with the Clean Team’s unbeatable system that makes every move count,” got my attention. Wouldn’t it get yours?
The Speed Cleaning method is not rocket science. It’s about working smart. The book and website/blog is filled with creative tips that make all cleaning jobs less cumbersome and less frustrating (who wants to spend a sunny day cleaning house?). Adding a dash of efficiency to house cleaning means you’ll have more time to go for a hike, hang out with your cat, wash the car, or relax in the sunshine.
Let me share my collection of spring cleaning tips for the house and the garden, collected from my sister, my weekly garden columns, and the Clean Team:
Spring cleaning in the house
Make every move count. Work your way around a room once, carrying all your tools and supplies with you. I like to keep everyone in a portable caddy. It really helps cut down the time it takes to clean your home. No more wasting energy by zig-zagging around a room.
Work from top to bottom. Don’t fight gravity, work with it! Start at the top and work your way down. One of my favorite tools: A microfiber feather duster. I always thought feather dusters were useless. Nope. As you clean things high up, the dust and bits of grime fall to the lower regions. That way, you don’t end up cleaning an area twice. Besides, you vacuum last.
Don’t clean things that aren’t dirty. This might sound silly, but you’d be amazed how much time is wasted cleaning and dabbing at surfaces that weren’t dirty in the first place.
The right tool: Recognize if the tool you’re using isn’t working. Shift to a more heavy-duty cleaner or tool (such as a retired toothbrush) if the task call for it. Better than expending unnecessary elbow grease.
Use both hands. Remember the famous line, “Wax on…wax off…” from the movie Karate Kid? The new kid on the block, Daniel, learns about focus, paying attention, muscle memory and efficiency as he cleans and waxes Mr. Miyagi’s car all summer. Perfect training for karate.
Whether you’re a martial artist, brain surgeon, or housecleaner, it’s all about being efficient with your tools. So if you’ve got two hands, use both of them. Spray with one hand while you reach for the cloth (100-percent cotton diapers are best) with the other. Scrub with one hand while the other wipes up behind it. It might take a while to perfect the motions, but all motor skills get perfected by practicing them over and over, right?
Pay attention. When you work with full attention on tasks, you’ll be working at the edge of your full abilities and this makes the work more fun. That’s right—cleaning can actually be fun if you concentrate on the task at hand. Don’t be thinking about what’s for dinner!
Concentrate all your thoughts on the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.
~ Alexander Graham Bell
Spring cleaning in the garden
Be gentle. When raking branches, dead leaves and twigs, pay attention to the impact on the grass, nearby plants and shrubs. Snappy and quick often can damage more than heal. Plus, lawns might still be too squishy from heavy rains to hold up against heavy foot traffic and ambitious raking.
Prune and trim. Prune back weatherworn or winter-killed bushes and trees. Trim away brown-ness until you reach viable green. For edible shrubs like currants, gooseberries and any raspberry canes that bore fruit last year, trim before the sap starts to flow. That said, not all trees and shrubs should be pruned early, especially some of the flowering ones like rhododendrons, azaleas, lilacs, and flowering crabapples. Best to prune them after blooming because early spring bloomers set their flower buds the fall before.
Be patient: It’s tempting to dive into the garden and de-winterize perennials by pulling back dead leaves, twigs and old stems. Best to wait a little longer to avoid damaging new, tender shoots and inadvertently removing seeds that are waiting for the right post-winter conditions to germinate. Clear signs of new growth is your go-ahead signal.
The right tool. Gardeners are notorious for grabbing what’s handy or just using their hands to dig a hole. Work smart, remember? My favorite source for quality hand tools is Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. Many of their tools are inspired by wise, Japanese gardeners.
Take action against weeds. Write this on a yellow sticky note and post it on your fridge: One year’s seed is seven years’ weeds.
Divide perennials and donate them to a plant sale or a friend who would appreciate new flowers. Spring is the ideal time for dividing primroses, blue poppies and rhubarb. Try to do this as soon as possible after the plant emerges. It’s amazing how quickly plants recover from this abuse if you catch them early when the weather is still mild and they’re raring to grow.
Going green makes lawn care easier. That’s right. According to garden writer Jeff Lowenfels (who, by the way, has the longest running garden column in the U.S. ) and organic lawn takes less effort than a chemical-ized one. Here’s his article about how to repair an old lawn that has become hard packed and ween away from chemicals.
After my sister sent me Speed Cleaning, I purchased another Jeff Campbell book called Talking Dirt. To everyone we hire to help with the bed and breakfast, I give them these books to study.
And though I’ve yet to clean our house in 42 minutes, I discovered one of my favorite tools called a “Zip It.” It’s a simple tool that clears clogged drains in sinks, tubs, and showers. It’s a plastic strip that has specially designed teeth which allows you to pull the clog out of the drain. Here’s a photo of the tool. I didn’t think you wanted to see the tool in action, cleaning my hair from our bathroom sink…