May 2010

FROM CHAOS TO CALM - Spring Cleaning for the Home and the Heart

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Quick! Shove that stack of magazines under the bed. Plow a path through the toys on the living room floor, and swipe your sleeve across the coffee table. Is your mother-in-law ringing your doorbell? Or are you just sick and tired of the mess?

If your house resembles the set of an Addams Family rerun, the arrival of spring is reason enough to clear a few cobwebs. The goal is not to make your house so perfect that it looks like no one lives there, but to clear your space of clutter that is sucking the life out of you.

Yes, spring cleaning will take some effort, but the energy spent now will pay off in more leisure time later. You may also find that getting your house in order gives you a sense of control that spills over into every area of your life.

Sometimes the big picture is overwhelming and paralyzes your ability to begin. Remember, disorder didn’t happen in a day, so don’t set an unrealistic time frame for a clean sweep. If the whole job takes a week, a month or even a year, the key is to start. Think small: one shelf, one drawer, one closet at a time. Create a plan of attack, listing all of the tasks you want to accomplish. Stay focused by assigning yourself one per day.

To make real progress, don’t just rearrange. You must get rid of some stuff. If an item in your home is not useful, valuable or a source of joy, it’s time to donate it, sell it, or throw it away. If you are a die-hard packrat and find cleaning out excruciating, enlist the assistance of someone who is objective and can help you distinguish between the trash and the treasures.

A young widow spoke of how difficult it was for her to let go of her deceased husband’s belongings. “I soon realized that discarding personal items does not diminish the memory of the person,” she said. “By eliminating useless material things, I was able to focus on the good memories of the person I loved and the life we shared.”

On a similar note, do you find it difficult to let go of items you have received as gifts? If the article itself is no longer something you cherish, give it to someone who will, and cherish the giver’s thought instead.

The same applies to college mementos, your child’s baby clothes, or any other dust collectors you might be hoarding. If you can’t bring yourself to chuck it all, save one item for memory’s sake or take photographs, then get rid of the rest.

If your floor space is cluttered with too much furniture, your home can feel claustrophobic. Think of pieces of furniture that you could possibly eliminate or downsize. Every nook and cranny of a room does not need to be filled. Blank spaces can help create visual and physical balance in your home which can lead to greater emotional and spiritual balance in your life.

Throughout this entire process of elimination, you are creating a more organized, peaceful environment as well as gaining insight into your values and priorities. If you have been suffering the burden of too many things, you may be surprised by the inner peace that comes with a simpler, less cluttered life.

Once you’ve purged your space of things you don’t need, find a home for everything else, keeping like items together: sweaters with sweaters, tools with tools. Containerize collections and other keepsakes that you couldn’t let go. (For all your storage and organizational needs, check out Think of ways to make the most of the space you have. For example, build shelves or bookcases on empty walls. Add peg boards in the garage.

If every item in your home has its own place to live, then you’ll never waste time looking for it again. You’ll know where the scissors are, where to look for the remote control, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to find your glasses and your keys.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. business executives lose six weeks per year looking for something in their piles of paper. How much time are you wasting?

Regardless of technological advances and electronic alternatives, paper is not going away. Most likely you have a mountain of mail pouring into your home each day. If you are suffering from information overload, you need a system for handling it consistently and efficiently. Professional organizers and time management specialists agree that ideally, you should handle each piece of paper only once. If the paper requires an action (such as writing a check or making a phone call), do it now. If it requires more information before you can take action, or if it is worthy of saving for record-keeping purposes, then put it in its place. (Remember when you gave every item in your home a home of its own? The same applies to paper).

• An “In Box” for new arrivals

• An “Out Box for papers to be sent elsewhere

• A filing cabinet or drawer for storing important papers

• Hanging file folders with plastic tabs for categorizing papers

• File 13 (trash bags and recycling containers) for making the rest go away

Although not essential, a paper shredder is a handy add-on that not only helps lighten your paper load, but also helps protect you from identity theft. Purchase one at your local office supply store for as little as $50.

• Limit the number of financial accounts and credit cards you use.

• Ask companies who bill you monthly if you can receive your bills electronically. Pay those bills online, or sign up for automatic withdrawals from your bank.

• Request that your bank stop sending your cancelled checks in the mail. Most banks allow you to access them online along with recent statements.

• Cancel subscriptions to newspapers or magazine that you seldom find time to read.

• Contact the Direct Marketing Association at To cancel unwanted catalogs, visit and/or call companies that send you junk mail and ask them to take you off of their mailing lists. Halt preapproved credit card offers by calling 888-5-OPT-OUT.

• Get an unpublished phone number. (Many companies obtain their mailing lists from phone book listings).

Once you’ve de-cluttered, you are ready to tackle the dust bunnies and other monsters that may be lurking under the bed. Arm yourself with the tools you need: rubber gloves, rags, whisk broom, full-size broom, dust mop, wet mop, scrub brush, an old toothbrush, cleaning solutions, paper towels, trash bags, etc. A basket or bucket can help you transport supplies from room to room. An apron with lots of pockets, such as a gardening apron, is also useful.

Professional housekeepers recommend cleaning one room at a time, working from top to bottom, because gravity will move the dust down as you go.

• Start with a long handled broom or duster and sweep the dust off the high surfaces that you cannot necessarily see or reach, such as the top of the refrigerator and the blades on your ceiling fans.

• Shake out curtains. Better yet, take them down and wash them or send them to the cleaners.

• Dust furniture and knick-knacks. (A clean paint brush makes a handy lampshade duster).

• Spray non-wooden surfaces such as counters, shelves and glass with appropriate cleaning solutions and wipe clean.

• Vacuum carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture. When you get to the kitchen, don’t forget stove vents and refrigerator coils. Use a clean vacuum bag, and discard it when you’re finished.

• Wipe down baseboards

• Mop tile and wood floors.

• Change the filters in your heating and air conditioning system.

• Clean out your refrigerator/freezer, and put in fresh boxes of baking soda to absorb odors.
(If all this sounds like too much work, hire a professional cleaning service to give your home a thorough spring overhaul.)

Once your home is spic and span, consider some even more essential housekeeping. What’s hiding in your emotional closet? Guilt? Anger? Frustration? All of the above?

Are you harboring old attitudes and hanging on to past hurts? The clutter accumulating in your spiritual house can be as toxic to your life and health as the mold and mildew growing in your basement.

If you want to make room for more contentment and happiness in your life, you must first dispose of the negative junk that’s contaminating your heart and mind. Rid yourself of anger and hatred; replace it with forgiveness and friendship. Sweep away dirty gossip with kindness and compassion. Spend less time contemplating the evil in the world and more time cultivating goodness. Refuse to air dirty laundry (yours or anyone else’s). We have two ears and one tongue for a reason. Practice doing more listening than talking.

Keep your emotional house clean by giving people the benefit of the doubt. If someone snapped your head off, perhaps she didn’t mean it personally. Maybe she’s dealing with disturbing circumstances or a personal dilemma and merely took it out on you. Think of a way in which you might help that person and set about to kill her with kindness.

If a co-worker, your spouse or a friend hurt your feelings, don’t bother brooding over it. Get it out in the open and move on. People are far more important than petty disagreements. Lighten up. Let go. Learn to say “I’m sorry.” Then forgive yourself and others.

To reduce stress, think of a few places that bring you comfort and pleasure – anything from a walk in the park to a nap on the sofa. Have a clear picture of those places in your mind. When you find yourself in a pressure-cooker situation, put a lid on the negative energy that’s boiling up inside by going (in your mind) to one of the places on your positive list. At first, you might feel silly thinking about bubble baths when your boss is reaming you out. With practice, you will be more readily able to transport yourself to a place of peace.

Another technique that can help clear your mind and calm your spirit is a simple matter of breathing more deeply. Shallow breathing leads to increased anxiety and stress, whereas deep breathing slows you down and provides more oxygen to the body.

Begin by breathing normally, gradually taking longer inhalations and exhalations. Breathe from your gut, inhaling through your nose, paying attention to the rising of your chest and belly and the expansion of your ribs as you breathe in. As you exhale through your mouth, imagine all tension draining from your body and mind. Notice the feeling of calm and relaxation. To learn more about the benefits of deep breathing, sign up for yoga or Qigong classes or learn to meditate.

Is that the doorbell ringing? Relax. With a clean house a clear conscience and a calm spirit, you have nothing to hide.



Some people’s brains simply are not wired for organizing. If you think that you are beyond hope, a professional organizer can be just what the doctor ordered.

A group of crusaders against chaos have teamed up to form the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). The organization, which was founded in California in 1985, now has chapters across the U.S.

The NAPO defines a professional organizer as “a person who provides ideas, information, structure, solutions and systems to increase productivity, reduce stress, save time and energy and lead to more control over space and time.” Services include everything from residential makeovers (drawers, closets, kitchens and garages) to business overhauls (desks, filing systems, offices and time management).

Fees vary, depending upon the scope of the job. Expect to pay anywhere from $20-$125 per hour with one- to four-hour minimums. When hiring an organizer, find out if he or she is licensed and insured and ask for references. Most organizers offer a free initial consultation. Conduct the meeting like an interview. Does the person seem professional? Can you communicate easily? Are your personalities compatible?

Don’t be embarrassed to let the personal organizer see your mess. A good PO is non-judgmental, encouraging, motivating and assisting clients in getting and staying organized. Systems are customized to meet your individual needs.

If you live in the Hilton Head Island area, professional organizer, Leila Nelson, of A Better Space is at your service. Visit or call (843) 298-0433 for a consultation.



Walk down the cleaning product aisle in any supermarket, and you might think that you need a special product for every household chore. Not so. Many commercial cleaning products are based on simple ingredients that you most likely have on hand. You can save money and avoid harsh irritating fumes by making your own environmentally friendly cleaning solutions.

All-Purpose Spray Cleaner: Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle.

Use this solution to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces. For stubborn soap scum, heat the solution in the microwave before spraying on surfaces. Use undiluted white vinegar for scrubbing toilet bowls and cleaning clogged shower heads.

Abrasive Surface Cleaner: Make a paste of baking soda and water. Use to scour grimy surfaces in the kitchen or bathroom.

Floor Cleaner: Mix 2 cups vinegar with 4 cups of hot water. Add 2 drops of tea tree oil, which acts as a disinfectant. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil for a pleasant fragrance.

Glass Cleaner: Combine 1 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon clear, non-sudsing ammonia.

Faucet Cleaner: For shiny, spot-free faucets, sprinkle a few drops of olive oil on a dry rag. Spray faucets with club soda and wipe dry with the rag.

Furniture Polish: Mix 1 cup olive oil and ½ cup lemon juice in a spray bottle. Shake well, and apply to a cleaning cloth. Spread evenly over wood surface and polish with a clean, dry cloth.

Dusting Oil: Mix three parts light mineral oil with one part corn oil. Add a drop of lemon or clove oil for a pleasant scent. Use this on your dust mop or dust rag.

Air Freshener: Add 3-5 drops of your favorite essential oil to a cup of baking soda and put in a decorative container.

If you have allergies or other problems related to indoor air pollution, consider hiring a professional ductwork cleaner. Have rugs and carpets professionally cleaned at least twice a year.

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