1. Reduce – The first step to fighting messes and keeping your home spic-and-span is getting rid of all that stuff you never use. Go through all the places where it accumulates–try closets, junk drawers, out-of-reach shelves, attics and basements, and any other place where you’re inclined to toss stuff as you say, “I’ll deal with this later” and be diligent about– separating out what you really will use someday from what you never will. Be honest: you may say you like that sweater your aunt gave you for Christmas in 2004, but if it still has the tags on it, you aren’t ever going to wear it. And be practical: do you really need that quesadilla maker? We’re not suggesting that you trim down to an uber-minimalist lifestyle, but the quickest way to cut your cleaning time is to simply have less stuff to clean.
2. Reuse – Now you have a pile that you’re ready to get rid of–but wait: don’t just trash it. First, go through and see if any of those items could serve a purpose you haven’t thought of before: Do you have enough books to stack up and use as a side table? Can you take the frames off those ugly paintings and use them elsewhere? We know of ways to reuse everything from single mittens and broken guitar strings to holiday greeting cards and ceramic tiles–so while we aren’t suggesting you keep all this around just in case, see if any of what you have can save you from buying something else.
3. Donate – Once you’ve taken stock of what you can use, separate out items that someone else might need. This includes dishes, kitchen gadgets, clothes, books, magazines, toys, home decor–all of these items could find a second life with someone else. If you need instant gratification, just drop it all off at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army; if you’re slightly more patient, try offering items for sale or barter on Craigslist, turning your goods over to an artist, donating through Freecycle, or seeing what you can get for that collection of comic books on eBay. Your house will be less cluttered; someone else can skip buying new; and the landfills will be that much emptier.
4. Recycle – Once you’ve exhausted all the other options, it’s time to hit the recycling bucket. Of course you’re already recycling newspapers, magazines, and any glass that isn’t salvageable, but take a second look at the rest of your trash, too: did you clean out the fridge? Find a compost pile. Get rid of old electronics, from cell phones to VCRs to ancient computers, by passing them off to retailers with a recycling program or to a specialized electronics recycling company. Check anything plastic to make sure it’s recyclable, and make sure to safely dispose of anything that’s not recyclable or trash-friendly, like old paint or batteries.
5. Plan ahead – If you keep these tips in mind all year, then your 2013 spring cleaning will be that much easier. Don’t let stuff accumulate in your home; don’t buy things you don’t need; and don’t be shy about returning gifts you won’t ever use. Take advantage of the seasons to edit your collections and donate or sell goods–you might get more at a consignment shop for a winter coat in the fall then in the spring, and your yard sale of extra house wares may do better in late summer if you can catch the back-to-college crowd. Thinking green throughout all areas of your life–from your office to your wardrobe to your home electronics–will put you ahead of the game come next spring.
Avoiding Toxic Ingredients in Cleaners
Since the EPA doesn’t require manufacturers to list every ingredient in a household cleaner, it can be hard to know exactly what you’re getting. Look for supplies or kits that are plant-based and fragrance-free, and that promise to not harmful ingrdients. Products that don’t test on animals are a plus, as are ones that are biodegradable as well as biocompatible (biodegradable means they’ll break down into their original ingredients, which is fine unless those ingredients aren’t natural; biocompatible products break down into water that’s safe for reuse). And be wary of companies that claim their product is “99% natural”–there’s no way of knowing what might be in that unlisted 1%.
Celebrate Earth Day with Basic H2!
Photo updated 10-11-13: Image credit: brookefuller / 123RF Stock Photo