Let the sun shine in: Spring Cleaning

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
March 22, 2004

It’s a sad time for all of us: No Martha Stewart to guide us through spring by telling us when to plant our seeds, how to fold those unruly fitted sheets or which salads work best for a light al fresco supper.

Still, we must go on. Now that the sun has passed through the vernal equinox, spring is officially here. And boy, are we ever ready for it. Even while trudging through the last remnants of snow, Chicagoans were welcoming the season. Jackets got lighter, hats disappeared and some brave women even slipped on sandals and showed a little toe cleavage. (Note to these women: It’s time to schedule pedicures pronto to take care of those tired ol’ dogs.)

It’s not always easy to enjoy spring. The seasons have melded together over the years, making it seem as though we’re a two-season town of winter and summer. Spring tends to disappear before we get a chance to really appreciate it. But this year, the Sun-Times is going to spend a month whipping you into shape for the season. By the end, your house will be sparking, your wardrobe refreshed, your bulbs planted, your baseball tickets bought — and winter will be only a dark memory.

It’s a given that spring cleaning should be on our agenda, but we also know that’s a cruel thing to bring up this early in the season. So while Lifestyles will be offering plenty of tips to help you straighten out your households in the upcoming weeks, let’s concentrate on some of the more pleasant priorities of spring:

*Line up your baseball tickets. While it may be too late to score non-scalper tickets for the home openers of the White Sox (April 13) and Cubs (April 12), there definitely are tickets for the rest of April. And remember, baseball isn’t just about the big leagues. Support your local high school team. Go see a minor league game. The hot dogs taste just as good. Heck, why not organize your own game of baseball or softball and get a little exercise for good measure?

*Spring is the perfect time to follow through on that New Year’s promise to get in better shape. The mild weather is conducive to long walks and bike rides, sans humidity. First up: Get your bicycle tires checked, make sure your inline skates still work properly, and buy a helmet if you can’t find your old one.

*Abandon the catalogs, online shopping sites and indoor malls and hit Michigan Avenue, State Street or an outdoor mall. Better yet, put on your favorite sneaks and check out a neighborhood garage sale. Other people’s junk is fascinating, and may make you even feel better about all the “treasures” holed up in your own home.

*After you’ve built up some stamina, plan a trip to the mother of all local flea markets: The gargantuan Kane County Flea Market in west suburban St. Charles kicks off the outdoor season, rain or shine, April 3 and 4. There, you’ll find every kind of tchotchke you could imagine. Bear in mind, though, that your impulse buy may be a casualty of spring cleaning this time next year!

*Clean the barbecue grill. What better way to keep your kitchen “spring clean” than by banishing those chicken wings and steaks to the backyard?

If this all seems like a lot to digest, not to worry. We’ve got a month’s worth of tips ahead that will help you get organized, get out and get in gear for a great Chicago spring.  

*****

Got the urge to purge?

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 14, 2004

Sure, most of us aren’t compulsively tidy like Monica on “Friends,” who actually enjoys cleaning. But straightening up doesn’t have to be torture, especially if we get a jump start on it now with a little spring cleaning.

Don’t worry — you don’t have to do this all in one day. In fact, we encourage you to take a few days (or weeks) to get it all done. The important thing is you eventually finish what you start.

Every expert we talked to maintains that if you clean your home on a regular basis, you may not need the spring cleaning jump start next year. And with the house in order, you’ll have plenty of time to head outdoors and enjoy spring.

“I don’t actually believe in spring cleaning,” says Linda Cobb, hostess of the Do It Yourself Network’s latest series, “Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean.” “If you do a little extra during the rest of the year, you can be outside enjoying the fresh air and flowers.”

But even the Queen of Clean says she understands why people who don’t clean for most of the year (um, that’d be most of us) need spring cleaning. And she says that even if people don’t want to clean the whole house right NOW, start working on a small project. Or, as Clean Like a Man author Tom McNulty says, the most important part of cleaning is to get started.

“Spring is typically a time of renewal, so the urge to purge and clean is strong in all of us,” Cobb says. “Start small and have little victories over clutter and mess before you tackle the big jobs. [For instance], clean the windows inside and out, and let the sun shine in.”

A good rule of thumb is to start from the top and work your way down. We’re not talking about going from the attic to the basement, but rather dusting the tops of cabinets and putting away clutter before you mop the floor or vacuum. Cobb suggests you tote a trash bag with you when you clean so you can throw things out when you see them and don’t have to run back to another room to do it.

A lot of us tend to stockpile all our cleaning supplies in one place, say the laundry room or kitchen pantry. Keep the mother lode there, but also try squirreling away some of those awesome antiseptic cleaning wipes and prepackaged dusting wipes in your bedroom nightstand, home office and living room. Make sure each bathroom has its own stash of supplies, including toilet bowl brushes, paper towels or sponges and your favorite cleansers.

With cleaning supplies at hand, it will make it more convenient to give the sink a quick wipedown than if you have to run to another floor to get what you need.

Also, now’s a good time to get organized. While you’re wiping down your kitchen cabinets, nose around and see what can be pitched and what needs to be restocked. Recycle your tattered dish towels and use them as rags to wash your car. Or throw them out. Have a drawer full of rubberbands, keys that don’t belong to anyone and menus for restaurants that have long since been closed? Throw them out and use the drawer for something useful.

Don’t forget about your china cabinet, which may need a makeover as well. If it has become a dumping ground for photo albums, extra everyday dishes and miscellaneous gifts you don’t know what to do with, sort through it and donate the items you no longer want to charity.

If all goes well, you may be encouraged to maintain the orderliness of your home year-round — which will make spring cleaning 2005 a much easier task.

*****

Cleaning can be an arduous task during any season. We asked Linda Cobb — host of the Do It Yourself Network’s latest series “Talking Dirty With the Queen of Clean” — for her top five tips on spring cleaning. So before you get out the mop and scrubbing brushes, read on. And remember, the Queen has spoken:

1. If it’s not dirty, don’t clean it!

2. Don’t try to tackle a huge project all in one day. Start small and work up and don’t set impossible goals for yourself. It may take several days to clean out that closet that you have been avoiding for five years, and that’s OK.

3. Look up and look down. Typically these are areas we miss when cleaning. Dust for cobwebs around ceilings with a telescoping lambwool duster, or tie a towel over a broom and do it. Dust and wipe down baseboards and door trim and woodwork. Those are areas that we forget about, and they get a lot of dirt accumulation.

4. Pull out furniture and vacuum or mop under it. Vacuum the furniture itself before you slide it back.

5. Ask for help. If you don’t ask, nobody will volunteer. Be clear about what you want help with. Your idea of “mop the floor” may differ sharply from your husband’s or the kids’. And when you get help, say thank you. Hopefully they’ll help again!

Can’t face it alone?

So you live with a guy who doesn’t want to vacuum or scrub the floors? Tell him to get his keister outside and clean like a man. (Women can clean like a man, too.)

“The most manly spring cleaning chores take place outdoors,” says Tom McNulty, author of Clean Like a Man (Three Rivers Press, $12.95). “A lot of them can be wrapped up more quickly and easily by utilizing a few strategic MANeuvers.”

Here are some of McNulty’s seasonal tips for the guys. He swears they’re painless.

* Park on top of a lawn sprinkler as it’s spraying, or drive slowly over it, to wash your car’s undercarriage.

* Wash second-story windows without a ladder: Attach a bottle of Windex Outdoor Window and Surface cleaner to your hose, spray it up, rinse it off, and relax.

* Wash winter’s dingy residue off your home’s siding with a rotating car wash brush wand that attaches to your hose and dispenses detergent as it scrubs.

* Walk the entire surface of your deck to find loose nails, warping planks, and boards that seem bouncy underfoot. These need to be tightened or they’ll just get worse, hurt somebody, and/or require major repairs later.

* Get rid of the winter’s worth of grime that your car deposited on the garage floor, or you’ll keep tracking it into your house all summer. Open the garage door and use a leaf blower to clear dirt and debris off the floor and out the door in minutes. Blow the dust and leaves off the driveway, too.

* Install pegboard in your garage to keep your tools organized.

* Hose off central air conditioner coils and install a clean furnace filter.

* Clean a grimy grill grate by soaking it in warm water and dishwashing detergent for an hour or more, then scrub with a Teflon pad or wire brush, rinse with clear water, and dry with paper towels. For ultra-thick residue, apply a water/baking soda paste, let it work for a while, then wire brush, rinse and dry.

Need still more help?

For those of us who know there is no way in Hades we will deep-clean this spring — or ever — it’s not a bad idea to think about hiring professionals.

Some, like Chicago’s My Home Maid service (847-864-6243), even offer spring cleaning specials.

“We offer a $10 discount for people who want to use our service this spring,” says My Home Maid’s Onix Martinez. “There are actually quite a few people who hire us for a one-time service during the spring … We’ve noticed that more people are looking for help with their cleaning. They’re not embarrassed to ask for help anymore.”

Cleaning costs vary, depending on the size of your home and what you want done. But if you’re wiling to pay for their time, they’ll even wash your windows. My Home Maid charges $40 per hour for two maids.

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