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Spring cleaning: To get control, first let go

Before a deep cleaning, you must sort and toss, professional organizers say. They promise it will be liberating.

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published February 23, 2007


Spring is in the air.

And so are the layers of dust that burrowed into all those out-of-the-way places we can't see - and tend to ignore.

Is a layer of spongy grunge clinging to the ceiling fan?

Medicine cabinet so crammed it's a public health hazard?

Screens so dirty it looks like twilight even at noon?

Answer yes to any of the above and it means it's time to take on that dreaded domestic task:

Spring cleaning.

What makes it different than a good monthly scrubbing is that spring cleaning requires a thorough - and sometimes soulful - examination of one's life over the past year.

Melanie Prest, a professional organizer from Meadow Pointe who owns Clutter Solutions www.clutter-solutions.com, says that before you even pick up that mop and dust rag, take stock of what has been piling up around the house. A buildup of paperwork not only crowds a home but it can get in the way of a thorough cleaning.

"Paperwork can infiltrate every single room of a house. Some people even hang on to cable bills, and they don't need to," Prest says. "I tell people to burn it, shred it, toss what they don't need."

Trish Turner became an organizer for hire while in business school at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she would help professors declutter their offices.

Today, she's a professional organizer in South Tampa whose business, Simplicity Please (www.simplicityplease.com), helps people get organized so they can really clean.

She suggests surveying all the junk that has accumulated on the floors, coffee table, mantle, closets and under the beds. The goods, she says, should be given away, thrown away or put away.

Then start scrubbing.

"Spring cleaning is really a deep cleaning in a home, a time to get rid of dust, mold, grime and stuff you don't do every week," said Turner, 26.

She's often called in by professional cleaning services to help a client eliminate clutter so intense cleaning can begin.

"You want to be able to actually clean, not just shift around clothes or books," she says. "By paring down, you can really get in and deep clean."

Next, go through utility closets, bathroom cabinets, medicine chests, pantries and the refrigerator, Turner advises. Get rid of out-of-date medicines and foods, dirty brooms or mops, dingy linens, old cosmetics, and half-empty bottles of shampoo and lotion that long ago lost their appeal.

Only keep what you need, use and love.

"That's my mantra," says Turner, who describes her approach to living as extremely minimalist. "I'm not a knickknack person, and I like to limit surface areas to three objects."

It makes for easier cleaning and peace of mind. Hard-to-reach surface areas are often the biggest magnets for dirt and are commonly overlooked in lieu of more routine cleaning tasks.

At the Clean Home Journal, SC Johnson's online newsletter devoted to cleaning tips, experts recommend a 10-step approach to nook and cranny cleaning. For starters, they suggest taking a ceiling survey of each room and checking for dust and cobwebs.

And rather than trying to tackle all your spring cleaning in one day, set aside time each day and tackle one room at a time, says Jenny Taylor, director of global public affairs for SC Johnson. "Don't forget about the nooks and crannies that usually get ignored because the focus is on the big cleaning jobs."

Kyna Morrison, a professional organizer from Zephyrhills who owns Apt Organizing for Businesses and Homes (www.aptorganizing.com), says a good spring cleaning means not overlooking things that only you might see. Ugly hard-water stains on a shower head, she says, can be easily eliminated by pouring vinegar into small watertight plastic bag and rubber-banding it to the shower head. She also suggests cleaning dirty upholstery (spot-test this first) with a little rubbing alcohol applied to a rag. And rubbing hard-water rings in your toilet with a pumice stone, she says, helps make the bowl sparkle once again.

Finally, make sure you've spring-cleaned your paperwork, too. When preparing tax information this year, get it in order and establish a good filing system, Prest says.

"And don't forget to get rid of your computer clutter," she advises.

Literally.

"Get old documents off your hard drive and back them up onto CDs. Check your folder hierarchy and eliminate anything that's in duplicate or triplicate."

Clear off your desk for good. You'll be much more productive in the long run.

"But don't just shove stuff in drawers. Really, really clean."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.