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Clean and Organized

The heart of housekeeping

Organizing and Cleaning for a Move

My family and I are preparing for a move. Now last time we moved we did not have time to prepare. A desperate situation made it a grab and go affair. We moved from a large house into a far smaller one and we still have boxes we have yet to unpack.

That was almost eight years ago.

Thankfully this time around we have a little more warning to prepare. In fact, we have yet to find the house we are moving to, but we want to move soon and are looking. This time, we’re taking a proactive approach to our packing needs. Unlike the previous move, we have no wish to take every knickknack and scrap electronic we had. I could swear we even packed up the trash!

To cut down on the clutter in our new home, this time we’re cleaning and discarding stuff before the move. Here are ten ways we’re getting ready to move without a lot of mess coming with us.

Fabric Care 101: How to Depill a Sweater

Why is it that by April, that sweater you unwrapped during the holidays has those pesky pills under the arms and along the sides? Pilling occurs when fibers break down, separate, and then clump together in little balls. Pilling can occur on wool, cotton, cashmere, even polyester garments, usually at a point where two fabrics rub together.

All About Washing Soda

We're always trying for two things around here:

  • healthier living...
  • ...and saving money

It's why we go through so much vinegar and baking soda. We use vinegar to clean our unfinished wood floors and our windows, as well as in the laundry, and we use baking soda in the laundry and elsewhere.

I read about using washing soda as a hand dishwashing agent, and of course, I had to try it. As it happens, we have a HUGE bag of washing soda, aka soda ash, in the basement. I used it for dyeing cotton, and it was a component in the dishwasher powder I make. So we got a jarful out of the basement and conducted some quick dishwashing tests.

De-Stress Your Mornings

For most moms, mornings are a mad dash to get everyone up, dressed and out the door -- if your kid's shoes match, all the better. However the a.m. hours don't always have to be so hectic (we promise). Try just one of these tips tomorrow and you'll start to feel (almost) serene.

Hand Sanitizers and Safety


Although gel hand sanitizers have proven in tests to reduce gastrointestinal illnesses and the spread of contagions compared to ordinary soap and water, their high alcohol content can be poisonous to children who ingest them. Photo: Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, courtesy Flickr.

Dear EarthTalk: My pediatrician swears by those gel hand sanitizers for lowering the risk of my family getting sick during cold and flu season. But I've also heard that these products can be dangerous to kids if ingested. Are there any safer alternatives that work just as well?
--Jason Blalock, Oakland, CA

A 2005 study by the Children's Hospital in Boston compared illness rates across a study group of 292 families—half of them got hand sanitizers while the other half were given literature advising them of the benefits of frequent hand washing. The findings revealed that those families who used hand sanitizers experienced a 59 percent reduction in gastrointestinal illnesses and that the increased use of sanitizers correlated to a decreased spread of contagions in general.

How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster

There's no need to just hope for the best when you can plan for the worst. Don't wait until disaster strikes to figure out how to respond. Here's how to prep today so your family will be ready for tomorrow.

Come Up with Your Emergency Plan
"The first thing to do is to plan how you'll meet and contact each other in case of an emergency," says Keith Robertory, a preparedness expert with the American Red Cross. Start by setting a meeting place right outside your home; that way, in a fire, for example, you won't have one family member rush to the backyard and one to the front and then wonder if the other's still trapped inside.

Save Energy Save Money

Where the last review of a Reader's Digest home repair book, 1001 Do-It-Yourself Hints and Tips, fell short, this one comes through in spades.

Keeping Your Kitchen Safe

I haven't really safety-proofed the kitchen and it scares me," says Sharlene Breakey, mom of 5-year-old Zeke and 3-year-old Edie in New York City. "But I have basic rules I follow: I only use the back burners, unless I'm standing by the stove, and I never leave knives on the counter." Breakey also lays down the law for her little ones: They know not to touch the stove, because it's hot, and other kitchen basics. "I believe in the value of teaching kids to be safe themselves," she says. "They really do seem to understand that when I'm cooking, it's dangerous."

They're smart kids. Each year, more than 67,000 children are injured in the kitchen -- 43,000 of them four years old and under. "The only way to truly prevent kitchen accidents is to closely supervise your child and enforce rules, like no sitting on the counters," says Andy Spooner, M.D., director of general pediatrics at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. "Gizmos sold to improve kitchen safety are nice, but they can't take the place of adult supervision." What else can you do to prevent accidents? Here are Dr. Spooner's top recommendations

1001 Do-It-Yourself Hints and Tips

I luuurv me some home improvement books! No, seriously. They are fun to peruse through while eating gluten free fish and chips on the couch. They are the perfect reading while in the bathroom--reading about repairing a toilet while...yeah, it makes sense, actually.

The problem I have with this book is that it is very very very brief.

Oh, sure, the tips are valid, but they are also kinda dumb for the better than average home-owner, and far UNDER-detailed for the less than average homeowner.

Example #1: if your tub is dripping, you might as well go outside, drink a cup of coffee and wait for the repairman you called just a few minutes ago. Why would you sit outside with a big cuppa joe after getting all dressed up in your fancy dancy short-wasted plumbers pants? Cuz it's not in the book.

Need to replace an outlet? This is your book. Need to replace your attic vents? Read the book, then call a repairman...the instructions here are so light that they are in danger of wafting off with the loose bits of insulation you are sure to cut out of your roof.

Overall, get this book. No, seriously, and then leave it behind the toilet for that light reading. Inspiring it is, but don't plan on anchoring a "This Old House" crew after your morning sojourn.

Garbage Disposals and the Environment


Kitchen garbage disposals use a lot of water and the waste has little value to other life forms after sewage-treatment systems are done with it. If you want to return food-based nutrients to the Earth, opt for composting, the spoils of which can be added to your garden to jump start the health of your soil. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: I was surprised to learn recently that some cities, including New York, have outlawed kitchen-sink garbage disposals, at least in homes. I would have thought these machines were Earth-friendly. What's the deal?
--Maggie Mangan, St. Louis, MO

Kitchen sink garbage disposals are not necessarily Earth-friendly in and of themselves, but they do play a valuable role in grinding up food scraps into small enough bits for local sewer or on-site septic systems to handle. In the U.S. overall, about half of all homes have a garbage disposal in the kitchen. New York did outlaw the devices for many years, thinking a ban would alleviate the strain on the city's aging sewer system. But a study later conducted in the mid-1990s found benefits to lifting the ban, including a likely reduction in rat and cockroach problems and a reduced flow of solid waste to landfills already bursting at the seams. So in 1997 the Big Apple began allowing the devices again.

Cat Litter--and Sea Otters?!


Hundreds of sea otters have been found dead on California beaches in recent years with no obvious external injuries. Scientists think that parasites from cat droppings flushed down the toilet by cat owners may be the cause. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Dear EarthTalk: How is it that flushing cat litter down the toilet has negatively affected sea otters? What is the responsible way to dispose of cats' waste?
--Margo Boss, San Dimas, CA

According to Dr. Melissa Miller of the California Department of Fish and Game, cat feces can contain Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that gets into feline systems from the eating of infected rodents, birds or other small animals. When cats later expel these parasites in their droppings--sometimes hundreds of millions at a time--each can survive in soil for over a year and also contaminate drinking water.

Most municipal sewage treatment systems are not designed to filter out Toxoplasma, and so the parasites also get into storm drains and sewage outflows that carry them out to near-shore ocean waters. Here, researchers have found, sea otters prey on mussels, crabs and other filter feeders that can concentrate Toxoplasma. Hundreds of sea otters have been found dead on California beaches in recent years with no obvious external injuries, and Miller and other scientists think that Toxoplasma may be the cause.

The Dirt on Anti-Bacterial Soaps


Researchers say that antibacterial soaps using triclosan as the main active ingredient are no better at preventing infections than plain soaps. Further, they may actually pose a health risk because they can kill beneficial bacteria and reduce the effectiveness of some common antibiotics. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that anti-bacterial soaps are no better at preventing infections than plain soaps and that they are actually harmful to the environment?
--Avery Bicks, New York, NY

University of Michigan researchers reviewed numerous studies conducted between 1980 and 2006 and concluded that antibacterial soaps that contain triclosan as the main active ingredient are no better at preventing infections than plain soaps. Further, the team argued that these antibacterial soaps could actually pose a health risk, because they may kill beneficial bacteria and also reduce the effectiveness of some common antibiotics, such as amoxicillin.

Greener Dishwashing and Laundry


The average North American generates between 60 and 150 gallons of wastewater every day, much of it loaded with the synthetic chemicals present in dishwasher and laundry soaps. Photo: Getty Images.

Dear EarthTalk: What are the best kinds of dishwasher and laundry soaps to use in consideration of where all the wastewater goes after use?
-- Jessica Weichert, Waterford, CA

The average North American produces between 60 and 150 gallons of wastewater every day, much of it a result of washing dishes and clothes. Municipal water treatment facilities do their best to filter out the synthetic chemicals common in most mainstream dishwasher and laundry soaps, but some of these pollutants inevitably get into rivers, lakes and coastal areas, where they can cause a wide range of problems.

Know Your Tools: Refrigerator Maintenance

Maintaining your fridge saves money and energy--it's patriotic to clean the fridge!Is your refrigerator running? Well then you better...dust it! Ha! You thought I was gonna say--never mind.

Yeah, your fridge needs dusted, and not just the top (though if yours is anything like mine...ick). The fridge needs regular maintenance, including dusting, and I have some tips to help keep your fridge running efficiently. And "efficient" means using less energy, hence cheaper to run and better for the planet. And what do we say at TNH? Yes! Saving energy is patriotic! Who knew cleaning the fridge was an act of patriotism!

Staple-Free Stapler

It's about time! A staple-free stapler may just be the best invention since...the paper that it staples! Not only is this a much safer option for your kids, but it's the end of running out of staples just when the report is about to be due. The staple-free stapler attaches up to five sheets of paper by punching a hole and securely folding the tab back.

Takeout Menu Organizer

Hey, it's been the new millennium for years! You're no longer expected to have a pie in the oven when your daughter's soccer team clumps in uninvited. And instead of demanding a slaved-over meal, your guy just wants to cuddle with you and watch a movie. Great, right? Yes, but today we're all in need of a new must-have companion -- the take-out menu, of course! But are they all scattered here and there, in this drawer and that, on top of your fridge and under your silverware tray? Thankfully this new take-out menu organizer makes it easy to keep track of places you like or want to try.

13 Steps to a Great Garage Sale

Even if it's on a porch, a garage sale can bring you a little extra cash and a lot of extra space!In summer, garage and yard sales blossom like wildflowers all over our neighborhood. I bet it's the same in yours. If you're thinking of getting in on the action, go for it! It's a great way to clean out your house and make a little money on the side. Here are thirteen steps to garage sale success.

Household Cleaners: The 3 Worst Poisons Under the Sink

!Did you know the air inside most American homes is worse than the air outside? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air pollutants may be 2 to 5 times higher than out of doors, and in some homes are as much as 100 times higher! What's more, 90% of all poisonings are a result of household toxins.

The problem is the collection of cleaners under the average sink. Many cleaners give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even when you keep bottles firmly closed and stored, the cleaners can often still exude VOCs into the air--fumes you and your children are breathing. VOCs have been implicated in everything from asthma and other respiratory problems to cancer. Children are at greatest risk, since they're both smaller than adults and are still growing.

And that's not the only problem these chemicals can cause. Here is a rundown of some of the worst chemicals in common household cleaners and what you can use instead.

Housewife Drag

Housewife Drag!Flylady says "Get dressed to shoes--lace-up shoes." It's her way of getting you to psych up for the day, to be ready for whatever comes.

My way is a little different. I need my "housewife drag."

For me, that consists of an apron. I need an apron. I have to have an apron. I cannot FUNCTION without an apron.

My favorite apron is an Indian cotton one I've had for years. It's light, it has huge pockets, it hides stains, it's cheerful and bright. I need about a dozen more of them, since the rest of my aprons are (really not that) white (anymore) canvas and weigh a ton comparatively.

When I have my apron on, I feel as if I can tackle almost anything. It's my armor against the outrageous spills and splatters of my daily round, and when I wear it, I feel like a real homemaker. Yes, it's a form of dress-up, and I don't care because it works for me.

The Power of Lists

listsI'm working on routine. Not a schedule. When I schedule myself, I end up trying to cram something into every single minute of my life--and, of course, failing miserably.

What has been working for me lately is a list. I have two files I keep open on my computer, one called "to do," and one called "days." The "to do" file is non-dated things to do, including constants.

Building Routines

halp!Oh, I'm not telling you how, I'm ASKING you how! Routine has been my greatest stumbling block as a homemaker. I am SO BAD at it. I have undiagnosed but pretty obvious ADD and I just don't get the whole building a routine thing, gods know I've tried.

Now, this may sound like a cleaning topic, but for me it's a family topic. I want more routine for the girls' sake, especially for Louisa, who's also pretty obviously ADD, perhaps the most ADD of us all--we all have it in varying degrees.

Life Hammer

The Life Hammer is an inexpensive, yet indispensable safety tool for every family car. Should an automobile get trapped under water, in a fire, or in an accident, the Life Hammer will expedite your family's escape. The sharp blade can rapidly cut through seat belts and its double-sided steel head can easily shatter the side windows.

10 Memory Boosters to Help You Organize Your Life

memory tips1. Jot it down.
With the many details that you have to remember in any given day, why should you try to keep it all in your head? At the very moment that you remember something needs to be done, the very best thing to do is write it down. Then, just as you need to recall it, it will be there for you in an instant.

2. Keep it all in one place.
Once you have developed the habit of writing everything down, your next step will be to keep your writing all in one place. You will remember better this way. Otherwise, you are going to spend valuable time searching for your notes. Use a PDA, a moleskine, or even a stack of index cards.

Click through for the whole list!

Moleskine Small Ruled Notebooks

When Consequences Don't Work

Your son rides his bike without a helmet. Again. You've nagged, begged, pleaded, and informed him of the dangers of riding without one. Next, you've issued Consequences! You've taken the bike away and put it in the garage for a day, then a week and then, a whole month. You've done everything the parenting books say for a consequence to work. It's reasonable. Anyone can live a day without a bike. It's respectful. You're not hitting or calling him names. And it's related. No helmet, no bike. It's simple to understand. But the problem is that he is still riding a bike without a helmet! And the situation could turn into a huge power struggle every time you take the bike away.

Clearly, the Consequence has not worked. Why not?

Organizing Children's Rooms

Kids make messes! Kids' rooms are notorious for being disaster areas. While this is a typical symptom of childhood, it generally comes from not having things organized in an easy to access manner. Kids are just not good at putting things away, so you need to make it fun and interesting, and above all, easy! This article will give you some ideas on how to go about incorporating a little organization into your kids' rooms.

Housekeepers for Homemakers

Household help--get it if you canAriel Gore says in one of her books, and I'm paraphrasing here, if you have to choose between spending money on a therapist or spending money on a housekeeper, choose the housekeeper.

I can already hear it, though: "Wait, you're a stay-at-home mom, why on earth would you need a housekeeper?" I'm lucky, if you want to call it that. I have had fibromyalgia and then a heart condition through much of my stay-at-home career, so I have an "excuse." But I heartily recommend housekeeping help for healthy homemakers as well. If you have the money, it's very well spent.

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