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Linda's Corner

Cleaning maven Linda Jones shares her tips, tricks and insights with a monthly column for Sandy Wipes.

Renew Your Home: Spring Cleaning Done Right

Part 2 of 2. By Linda Jones, 11 March 2013

    Last week, I gave you guys a formula for de-cluttering, pre-organizing, and cleaning your home for spring cleaning, with a lot of tips and tricks to speed up the process and make it more enjoyable. If this doesn't sound familiar, go catch up right now!

    Today, we look at organization, which for homemaking junkies like me is the enjoyable part! I'll give you some of my greatest tactics and strategies for creating a system of organization, where everything you need is right where you need it and everything else is kept tidy and out-of-sight.

Some of the feedback I got for Part 1 was that it was just too long; I hadn't realized while writing it, but just part 1 of this guide clocked in at almost 7,000 words. You guys also thought I could benefit from some photos, to better illustrate what I was talking about. I've taken your feedback into account for part 2, and hopefully it makes for an easier read!

Step 4: Organization

    A big part of our work is already done - Not only is your home spotless, but we've already gotten rid of a bunch of unwanted stuff in Step 1, and we've even cleaned up our workspaces and other surfaces in Step 2! In a way, Step 4 is voluntary - you can skip this step if you're tired and sick of working - but I feel like the essence of spring cleaning is to not only clean, but improve. Organization can make your home look much more elegant and tidy, but it can save you time and improve your quality of life!

Returning items to their place. In step 2, we stripped all surfaces like countertops, desks and nightstands. Before you just shove everything back onto them, the way they were before cleaning, really stop and consider if these items need to be there. Desks, for example, are notorious for attracting junk that doesn't need to be there.

There are a lot of things that are important to have near the desk, that don't need to be on the desk. Stuff like CDs, pens, important books, cleaning supplies, eyeglasses, et cetera. We're going to build convenient, accessible storage so that all of the things you use frequently can be out of the way when you're not using them, but not so out of the way that it becomes inconvenient to get them. This rule applies not just for the desk, but for all surfaces and work areas. For now, just decide what absolutely needs to be out on surfaces, and keep everything else in a pile nearby so you can get a sense of how much storage space you'll need.

As with cleaning, we'll go room-by-room. Skip around however you like!

The Kitchen

If you cook, having a well-organized kitchen can mean the difference between hating cooking and loving it. The smaller your kitchen, the more impactful these changes will be!

Counter Space: In Step 2, you stripped your counters of everything on them, in order to make them easier to clean. Hopefully you didn't just return everything to the counter once that was done!

There's a fine line between keeping useful tools within reach, and cluttering the workspace. Many people leave frequently-used tools out all the time, so they can grab them when they need them. I like to limit this to 1 mugful. Keep a spatula, whisk and other every-day cooking essentials in a large mug on the counter. If it doesn't fit in the mug, it goes into a drawer.

Depending on your kitchen's layout and counter space, I recommend against excessive "surface decor". Vases, statues and other decorations can often get in the way, and are best placed on mantles, kitchen tables, and other non-work surfaces, with wall decor like paintings used to liven up the kitchen.

Cabinets: Spend some time thinking about how best to arrange the dishes in your cabinets. Dishes you use frequently should be in the front and on lower shelves. You can maximize space by stacking or sorting dishes efficiently; for example, stemware glasses can be put closer together if every second glass is put in upside-down. A great trick for getting more space out of your cabinets is to use tension rods. We'll be talking about tension rods quite a bit, because they have so many helpful uses. Pick them up at your local home hardware store, in a few different sizes for best results.

Tension rods can be used to hold flat items vertically, like so:

Or horizontally, like so:

 

You can also clear up some cabinet space by getting a hanging rack. These racks install easily to the ceiling, and can definitely help out with space constraints on smaller kitchens with mid-to-high ceilings. Traditionally they hold pots and pans, but they come in many styles and shapes and with many attachments to hold just about anything! If you have low ceilings but some extra wallspace, you can mount a curtain rod or other bar to the wall, and suspend pots and other cookware from it with S-hooks.

Finally, consider moving hardly-used or never-used kitchen dishes and utensils out of the way. Serving silverware that's only used once a year on Thanksgiving can easily be stored in a box outside of the kitchen, and pulled out when needed. This is especially important if you have a small/tight kitchen, but even if you don't, having less things will keep you more focused and moving faster.

Drawers: One of the easiest and nicet kitchen improvements is to organize your kitchen drawers. Most people throw all their cooking tools randomly into a drawer, where they wind up cluttered and tangled. Cutting a piece of silicone to shape and size gives your drawer a non-stick surface that will keep your utensils neatly organized. Commercial sets, as pictured, can be purchased that come with elevated nubs for even more stability.

Another great trick is to compartmentalize drawers, creating subsets for various tools. This can be done in a bunch of ways; you can purchase small baskets that fit together modularly however you like, you can divide the space with 1 or more tension rods, or you can use drawer divider kits (pictured) that give you all the pieces for you to construct your own sections. While it may seem like more trouble than it's worth, don't underestimate the value of organized drawers - When you have eggs frying in a skillet, every second saved when searching for the spatula matters.

Pantry and Food Storage: Many of the rules for cabinets will apply for pantries. Move stuff you grab often to the front, and on shelves not too high or too low, and move things you rarely use out of the way. Many people group items in the pantry by function, but the trouble is this will lead to a lot of important ingredients moved further away, and stuff you almost never use getting moved into the forefront.

Consider moving base ingredients from their packaging into their own plastic containers, as seen in this image courtesy of Sand & Sisal. A perfect fusion of form and function, these bins are space-efficient without looking crowded, and are really quick to grab and use - They can even help reduce spilling and kitchen messes. Consider getting several sizes to maximize space further - you probably don't keep the same amount of flour as you do chocolate chips.

Combine the plastic bins with erasable food storage labels. That way, as your cooking evolves, you can just erase the label and write in the new ingredient. Make sure that the labels you get are dishwasher-safe, so that you can wash the containers between changes.

Tension rods can also greatly expand your pantry, by adding a 'mini-shelf' between shelves, to use that vertical space. This is great for holding spice jars, as they can easily be grabbed without any other ingredients getting in the way. Just be sure to mount them an inch or more away from the back wall - you want the jars to have their weight on the inside of the bar, to prevent them tipping forward if you nudge them accidentally.

There are quite a few clever way to store spices. A popular trend now is to buy magnetic spice jars that can be stuck to your fridge, for super-quick access. If the side of your fridge faces your counter, as in many kitchens, this method is terrific because you can grab the needed spice without missing a beat.

A wall-mounted spice rack is a third alternative - This is a great method if you have a bit of empty wallspace by the counters, because it maximizes efficiency. Combining these methods, you can mount magnetic strips to your wall, which can hold not only your magnetized spice jars but cooking tools like knives.

There's a trend here in finding places other than the pantry to hold unrefrigerated food. This has the dual benefit of putting the foods you use most often closer to you, but also decluttering your pantry, making it easier to find what you need in the pantry when you do use it. Can you think of any other clever places to store ingredients?

Refrigerator: Like with the pantry, you can go through your fridge and rearrange its contents. Typically, though, fridges are already optimized, because of the way they hold food. Unlike the pantry, where every shelf is identical, fridges have different compartments for different foods.

That's not to say we can't throw in some improvements of our own. Adding a lazy susan turntable can let you make better use of your fridge space, never needing to reach too far to get the stuff that's at the back.

I like to talk about making use of vertical space. If you've got a ton of open space between shelves in your fridge, consider getting a hanging organizer. While not explicitly designed for the fridge, they work great at giving you a bit of extra storage space for smaller items that get lost.

Final Thoughts

Can you think of any other ways to make your kitchen a sharper, more efficient tool? Everybody's kitchen is different, and the ideas here are meant to be a launchpad for ideas of your own, not an A-to-Z master list of all possible improvements. How about mounting a decorative, glass dish soap dispenser to the underside of the cabinets over the sink, if you have cabinets over your sink? What about adding a deep plastic tupperware tub to a large single sink to emulate a double-sink? The possibilities are endless when you start looking at your kitchen with a critical eye.

Also, always be mindful of safety. The magnetic strips for holding spices and knives, for example, should be mounted high enough that no children can reach them (or not at all).

The Bathroom

Bathrooms don't have the same potential as kitchens in terms of time-saving, since most of us don't spend that long in the bathroom to begin with. A bit of reorganization, though, can make the bathroom feel cleaner and fresher, and can definitely save us a bit of time when we're rummaging through the medicine cabinet.

Throw out expired products. In step 1, we went through our home and got rid of all old, unused items. Now that we're taking a specific look at the bathroom, we can scrutinize this room a bit more. Are there expired medicines in the medicine cabinet? What about skincare products? It can be harmful to your health if you use these expired products; getting rid of them will do more than just reduce clutter. Here are some tips for recognizing when it's time to throw away cosmetics:

Liquid makeup can support bacteria growth. Throw liquid/cream foundations after 6-12 months.

Most perfume loses its potency after 3 years, and can take on new, unappealing characteristics.

Throw away mascara 3 months after opening, at the latest, to avoid eye infections.

Liquid eyeliner may also cause eye infections after the 6-month mark.

Wax-based lipsticks and lip balms will get hard and crumbly after a year.

Declutter and store properly. Probably the biggest improvement to make in the bathroom is dealing with surface clutter. Earlier, in step 2, we went through our home stripping surfaces like the bathroom sink and/or counter, so we could clean them faster. But what should we do with our piles and piles of hair products, skin creams and cleansers, makeup, hair straighteners and dryers, dental hygiene stuff, et cetera?

One of my favorite solutions is wall storage. Getting baskets, like this, can help keep the counters clear, without hiding your most-used essentials in a drawer or cabinet. Pictured is a fairly small setup, but wall storage comes in many different shapes and sizes.

Certain things, like toothbrushes, just make sense to keep on the sink or countertop. We can make this necessity more visually pleasing by getting a matching accessory set, which typically contain a toothbrush holder, liquid soap or lotion dispenser and hard soap dish. They come in a huge variety of styles and colors, so finding one that matches your bathroom decor should be easy.

Inevitably, if we want to reduce clutter, a lot of our bathroom stuff will need to be placed out-of-sight, in a drawer or cabinet. That doesn't mean we need to resort to throwing stuff in carelessly - buying baskets or plastic stacking organizers can let us place items efficiently and neatly.

We can also add back-of-the-door storage (pictured) to increase storage space, as well as make it easier to access smaller, frequently used items. This is a great spot for cosmetics and other tiny items that would otherwise get lost among the bigger items in the cabinet. Not handy? They come in simple hang-over-the-door styles as well, no installation necessary.

Make the washroom family-friendly. Having multiple family members with individual bathroom items complicates things - A great way to simplify storage for multiple people is to use color-coding. Give each member of the family a different colored plastic organizer or basket to leave in the cabinet, and tell them they can use that space to hold their items however they see fit. Alternatively, you can have each family member keep this basket in his/her room, and have them bring it with them to the bathroom when they need it, with only shared items like toothpaste and hair dryers kept in the bathroom.

If you have teenage daughters, hang a lighted makeup mirror in each of their rooms. That way they each have their own space for applying makeup, reducing morning squabbles over bathroom time, but also freeing up space in the bathroom. It's also beneficial for cosmetics to be stored outside of the bathroom - the steam and heat makes them spoil faster.

Turn supplies into decoration. A great way to improve the look of your bathroom while simultaneously increasing function is to take consumable beauty products like cotton swabs and place them in a clear glass jar. These glass jars can be displayed on the counter, while taking up less counterspace than they would if they were in their manufactured packaging, and increase the aesthetic rather than decrease it.

Another surprisingly useful 'decoration' is plants. Getting a small potted plant in the bathroom, perhaps hung from the ceiling or positioned on a windowsill to avoid cluttering counterspace, adds to the decor of the room but more importantly, it improves air quality, especially in a bathroom with little or no ventilation. The difference is remarkable.

Final Thoughts

While further discussion on the topic is a bit beyond the scope of this article, bathroom decoration is a passion of mine. Because the space is so small, subtle/tiny changes can have a very big effect. A new pair of drapes or a bathroom rug can revitalize the room significantly. Additionally, repainting the bathroom is a quick task that can totally change how the room feels. It's the one room in your home that you can paint dark, without worrying about the room feeling somber or dim, because bathroom lighting is usually very bright and so much of the bathroom is covered with (typically) white fixtures like the toilet and the tub.

One more thing: Bathrooms, by their very nature, are a haven for bacteria and germs. We've talked about disinfecting your bathroom in Part 1 of this article, but it bears repeating: Using disinfecting wipes or sprays can help keep your family well when a bug is going around.

The Bedroom.

Now that your bedroom is perfectly cleaned, there's a few improvements we can make in its organization. Don't get sleepy now, we're almost done!

Dressers/wardrobe drawers. If you have a dresser, or a wardrobe with drawers, you likely keep clothes like t-shirts stored bottom-to-top. This is the easiest way, but it limits your clothing selection to whatever's near the top. Then, as you do laundry, the stuff that was at the top stays at the top, and the stuff at the bottom never gets worn. A way around this is to stack your clothes front-to-back, as pictured.

You can further improve upon this concept by using dividers, like tension rods, to segregate clothes or other objects.

Extra storage space. Are you maximizing storage space in your bedroom? A great way to increase storage is to buy large plastic bins on wheels that can be slid under the bed. These bins are great for holding clothes you seldom wear but don't want to get lost in an attic, spare bed linens, whatever! This has the added benefit of blocking socks and tiny objects from getting lost under the bed. If your bed is low to the ground, you can buy risers to raise the bed up and make space under it. Many people prefer sleeping on higher beds, as it's easier to get out in the morning.

Shelves are a great way to increase storage in the bedroom. A great tip is to replace your nightstand with a floating wall-shelf. You can position the height so that it's exactly as you like it relative to your bed's height, you can get them in any shape and size you'd prefer, and it makes it easier to clean the floor underneath it. Look for a shelf with a drawer if you keep important items in your nightstand's drawer! Finally, consider getting a hanging fabric shelf set that can be hung up in a closet for shoes and clothing accessories!

If you have large sentimental items, consider storing them in a closet or attic. You can still access them when you're feeling sentimental, but they're out of the way the rest of the time.

Get creative with your jewelry box. A good jewelry box has many different compartments of different sizes, with many different 'shelves' or compartments that can be accessed separately. Transparent plastic boxes are great because you can see inside and easily find what you're looking for. Consider using a tackle box - sometimes, the best jewelry boxes aren't jewelry boxes.

Minimal is better. In the bedroom, less is more. Try and get the room to feel as open and empty as possible. Is your closet big enough to fit your dresser? Shove it in there then! You'll appreciate the bedroom floor space allotted by the switch. Opt for hidden storage, such as under the bed, rather than out-in-the-open storage, like a large chest. Swap out clunky pieces like chests for wall-shelves. Get a hanging laundry bag that can be hung from a door, rather than one that sits on the floor. Consider nesting tables that can be slid underneath one another when they're not in use.

Final Thoughts

When buying new furniture for your bedroom, opt for pieces that maximize vertical space, rather than horizontal space. For example, get a tall armoire rather than a wide one - Tall pieces give you the same amount (or more) of storage, but take up less floor-space, so your room feels bigger and emptier.

There are some fundamental ideas to keep in mind if you're thinking about re-arranging your bedroom furniture. Traditionally, beds are placed against the center of the wall opposite the main entrance to the room. This way, when you walk in, the headboard is the center of attention. Diagonal placement is a great way to make your bedroom pop, if you have the space for it. Don't place your bed by a window if that window will be left open often, drafts can be quite uncomfortable.

Other Rooms

You've probably started noticing trends to my organization tools and techniques. Ultimately all of my tricks are about the same goal, and are often just adjustments of the same idea for different circumstances. These tips for other rooms will follow that same pattern - See what else you can apply these tricks to!

Hidden Storage. Any time you get the chance to add hidden storage to your home, jump at it. Pictured is a large ottoman that doubles as a storage chest and a coffee table - The lids pop off to reveal a hollow interior, and can be flipped for a sturdy tabletop surface. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and prices. Getting one for your family room can offer a great place to store DVDs, and get rid of that clunky DVD rack - or, store linens for the pull-out sofa, and ditch the large chest that holds them beside the couch. Heck, throw a couple tension-rod dividers into it and store both!

Minimizing furniture. As stated, having large, empty spaces - within reason - can make a home feel lighter, cleaner and fresher. Think about what each room really needs to perform its desired functions, and see if any furniture stands in the way of those functions rather than aiding them along. If you have furniture whose sole purpose is storage, consider replacing them with shelves, or moving them to storage areas like the closet, basement or attic. Less furniture also means quicker clean-up times!

Mount televisions and computer monitors. If you have a flat-screen TV, it ought to be wall-mounted. Having it sit in a cabinet or on a shelving unit is unnecessary clutter, and it stands in the way of the function - a wall-mounted TV can be tilted or angled more easily, and can be positioned at exactly the height you prefer. You'll still need a shelf for television peripherals, like the cable box and the DVD player, but this is minimal compared to the bulky entertainment station currently clogging your family room and often comes included with the mounting system.

To that same effect, if you have a home office with one or more computer screens, you can mount these to the wall behind the desk for more desk space and more flexibility. You can also purchase a clamping desk mount, in case your desk isn't against a wall, for all the same benefits and with even easier installation.

Workspace storage. There may be a lot of work-related desk items, like pens and eyeglasses, that you'd rather not keep on the desk but still want nearby. If your desk has a drawer, this is a perfect space for such items. If it doesn't, why not add one? The hanging organizers we discussed earlier, for expanding fridge storage, work just as well as adding desk storage! If that isn't enough, a traditional wall shelf by or behind the desk can work just as well.

Technology is your friend. In the home office, you may not need that rolodex if you have a software program equivalent, and you may not need that bulky fax machine if you have a scanner! In the family room, it may be time to ditch that VCR, or the old video game system the kids never touch anymore.

Cable management. Having lots of electronics, in the family room or the home office alike, means having lots of cables. It can be tricky figuring out which cable is which when you want to unplug something, so why not label them? Bread bag tags, the plastic seals that keep your bread fresh, snap onto cables easily and can be used to identify them.

You can also make sure cables for charging portable devices stay put with cable clips, small silicone cable-grabbers that keep cables where you need them, eliminating cable clutter on the floor. There are tons of smart cable-management products, by lots of different companies. Reducing cable clutter can dramatically improve the look of your home.

And we're done! Hopefully you've learned some great tricks here in reorganizing your home for spring cleaning, and more importantly, hopefully I've managed to change the way you think about home cleaning and organization a little. No two homes are alike, and the best tricks for your home are the ones you come up with yourself!

As always, I can be reached at linda@sandywipes.com, and I welcome your feedback!

Editors' Note: This article contains links to many external websites. Sandy Wipes is not affiliated with any brand names or companies mentioned. These links are provided for your benefit, and neither Sandy Wipes nor Linda Brown is being compensated in any way for their inclusion. When clicking a link, you should be aware that other sites have their own terms as well as privacy policies, and that our privacy policy only applies to pages hosted by Sandy Wipes. Furthermore, this article is provided for informational purposes only. Neither Sandy Wipes nor Linda Brown are responsible for any damages or injuries that occur while attempting the modifications or techniques mentioned above.

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