Organized Home

Travel Tip: Custom Packing List

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 22, 2015

Packing for family travel? A packing checklist can save your sanity--and your vacation. Now it's easy to make a custom online checklist with the Universal Packing List.

An interactive Web page, UPL asks for basic travel information--dates, family members, activities, weather--and generates a comprehensive custom list to guide packing for family travel. Print it out, and you'll never again forget the sunblock!

Universal Packing List

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Declutter 101: Strategies To Cut Clutter

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 19, 2015

Taking aim on the household clutter problem, you've resolved to work slowly and steadily, and you've carved out blocks of time to declutter.

Now what? And how?

Time to consider weigh in with specific methods and strategies for decluttering.

These tried-and-tested methods bring different strengths to the fight against clutter. Choose the one that's right for you and your family.

Forcing Decisions: The Four-Box Method

Clutter is evidence of many things: poor habits, lack of organization, sentimental attachment, too much stuff. But, at bottom, each item of clutter is a decision delayed.

The mail arrives, replete with circulars and junk mail and catalogs. "Oh, I'll go through that later!" whispers the clutter monster, deferring the simple decision to cull and toss the unwanted paper.

The Four-Box method forces a decision, item by item. To apply it, gather three boxes and a large trash can. Label the boxes, "Put Away", "Give Away/Sell" and "Storage." Items to be thrown away belong in the trash can.

Take the four boxes to the declutter area. One at a time, pick up each piece of clutter. Ask yourself, "Do I want to put this away in another place, donate it (or sell it at a yard sale), store it, or throw it away?" You may not release your grip on the item until you have made a decision.

At the end of the decluttering session, reserve 10 to 15 minutes to empty the boxes. Put Away items are put in more appropriate places. Give Away/Sell items should be stored outside the house, in a garage, or in the trunk of the car for drop-off at a charity donation center. As each Storage box fills, make a brief inventory of the contents and put the box into the storage area. Finally, empty the trash can quickly to prevent second thoughts!

The Four Box method will work for anyone, in any declutter mode. Use it to clear a shelf or drawer each day, or apply it as part of a whole-house weekend assault on clutter. By forcing a decision, it will serve you well as you cull clutter from the home.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Box and Banish

Box and Banish is an alternative to the Four Box method. Where the Four Box method nibbles away at clutter bit-by-bit, Box and Banish is a drastic, clear-it-out effort that transports clutter away from living areas, to be dealt with later.

Box and Banish is simple. Gather all clutter from counters, drawers, chairs, tables, floors, ovens, and bathtubs. Place the clutter into boxes or bags, and stack it somewhere outside the living area. Work until all surfaces are clear and clutter free.

Next step: open each box or bag of clutter, one at a time. As with the Four Box method, decide whether each item inside should be thrown away, put away, given away or sold, or stored. In extreme cases, declutterers have been known to throw away Box and Banish boxes, sight unseen!

Box and Banish has one big advantage and two big disadvantages as a declutter method.

On the plus side, Box and Banish creates instant results. Often, impending guests or other emergencies force a version of Box and Banish upon the cluttered household. Clearing clutter quickly sparks enthusiasm and motivation.

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On the minus side, energies often flag before the Box and Banish declutterer reaches the end of the boxed clutter. The effort stalls, the clutter remains, aging gently in the bags and boxes as it becomes surrounded by new layers of clutter.

In a worst-case scenario, the need for some Boxed-and-Banished item can trigger formation of Mt. Cluttermore, as the frantic searcher upends each carefully boxed hillock of clutter, looking for the single missing item. Result: you're worse off than when you began!

The second disadvantage? While Box and Banish can create an instant absence of apparent clutter, the method does nothing to change the underlying problem. More gradual decluttering methods go hand-in-hand with other components of getting organized: building new habits, organizing stored items, creating new household routines. Box and Banish, for many, is a mere cosmetic quick-fix--and it won't lead to the permanent changes you need to banish clutter for good.

Still, if you're fiercely motivated and determined to complete the declutter process, Box and Banish is an option that jumpstarts organization efforts with fast results.

Ellen's Penicillin Method

Often, decluttering efforts chase their tails in an endless loop. The home manager declutters the small table in the hallway and moves on. By the following week, a whole new species of clutter has returned to the cleared area.

The Penicillin method, devised by online declutterer Ellen in MN, uses a Petri dish metaphor to get a grip on clutter. Imagine a Petri dish full of fuzzy brown mold spores. A researcher begins to apply small drops of penicillin to the dish. Each little drop clears a small circular area; soon, drop upon drop, the entire dish is cleared of the distasteful intruder.

So, too, with the Penicillin method of decluttering. Today, the declutterer clears the kitchen table. From this point, no matter how bad the clutter becomes elsewhere, the kitchen table is inoculated with Penicillin. Daily clutter checks make sure no clutter is permitted to return.

Next declutter session, the declutterer attacks the top of the buffet. Thinking "Penicillin!", that clear space joins the kitchen table. Soon, the cleared areas link up, banishing clutter from the entire house.

By devoting declutter energies to retaining the Penicillin effect of each declutter session, the Penicillin method focuses the declutterer on prevention. The method is useful, creative, and works well to bring an entire house under control.

Closet-Go-Round: Whole House Declutter

Sometimes, you simply have to re-invent the wheel. Perhaps you realize, three years into a new house, that household storage needs a complete overhaul. Remodeling, a child's departure for college, or birth of a new baby can all signal a need for a whole-house declutter.

Call it the Closet-Go-Round. It's a two-part process of identifying and assigning storage, while at the same time decluttering and revamping existing areas in the home.

Like a merry-go-round, the Closet-Go-Round turns out, sorts out and relocates all the storage functions of the home. In the initial stage, you'll identify storage needs and match them to available storage areas, regardless of what's being stored where at the moment.

Once you know what should go where, the active phase begins. You will need boxes, lots of them, and time--quite a bit of time. Starting at the front door, move from room to room placing boxes in front of each storage area: cabinets, drawers, closets, and shelves.

Then begin at the beginning once more. Start, for example, at the table in the hall. Remove any and all items from the table that are not assigned there: gloves, mail, keys, change, handbags. Place them in your box.

When the table is empty, except for the vase of flowers that belongs there, circle the house with your catch. Gloves are placed in the box before the coat closet where they are supposed to live. Mail is dumped into the box in front of the desk area. Handbags and change are delivered to the owner's launch pad area. Items to be thrown away are delivered to the garbage can.

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When the box is empty, move on to the next storage area in the hall: the coat closet. Empty the coat closet of all unassigned items, while adding the gloves to their assigned area. Again, circle the house with your coat closet box, delivering items to the new storage area where each belongs.

As you work, you're sorting and decluttering in two directions. You're removing clutter and improperly-stored items, while collecting and replacing the things which belong in any given area.

A Closet-Go-Round is a big undertaking, and it doesn't work well if performed in fits and starts. Choose this method if you have a block of two or three days to devote to a major declutter. While you'll work hard during that time, a Closet-Go-Round can take giant strides toward a more efficient, easy-to-manage home.

Printable 2015 Calendars

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on December 27, 2014 Printable 2015 Calendar

Make 2015 an organized year with these printable monthly calendar pages.

Posted to a family command center or placed in a household notebook, these free printable calendars will keep the family organized the year around.

Halloween Candy Overload? Repurpose, Recycle and Reduce the Trick-or-Treat Haul!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on October 30, 2014

Halloween night is coming ... and so is the morning of November 1st! For parents, that's the time when the excitement of Trick-or-Treat night gives way to post-Halloween reality: what to do with all that Halloween candy?

Whether they're worried about tooth decay and nutrition, or simply want to avoid the stress of a week of candy-fueled behavior from the little ones, smart parents put strategies in place to handle the Trick-or-Treat haul.

Check out these ideas to repurpose, recycle and reduce the amount of Halloween candy in your organized home from sister site Organized Christmas:

Halloween Candy Overload? Repurpose, Recycle and Reduce the Trick-or-Treat Haul!

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Time, Place and Plan: Tips to Help With Homework

Back-to-School Countdown Day 14

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 21, 2014 tips to help kids with homework

The start of a new school year brings fresh supplies and new outfits ... and their less-welcome cousin, homework. How will you handle daily homework sessions in your organized home?

To stave off homework battles, it pays to make a plan. Creating a homework routine undercuts foot-dragging, while setting up a homework station keeps distractions to a minimum.

Ready to plan for homework? Try these tips to get it done swiftly, done right during the coming school year.

Rely On Routines

Expect a child to wing it with homework assignments, and you're likely to end up a turkey. Without the structure of a homework routine, procrastination rules the household, leading to nightly conflict. Instead, rely on the power of routine to get the job done on a regular basis.

Add a dedicated time for homework to the household's after-school routines. With an established progression of arrival home, after-school snack and a homework hour, you'll ensure that school-agers complete assignments in good time for enjoying a family evening.

Older children may require more flexibility, as their workload is both heavier and more diverse. Setting aside a no-television/no-media time after dinner will encourage teens to speed their work in order to relax afterward--and will make sure that parents are available if help is needed.

Establish A Homework Center

The old days of pencil-and-paper homework meant that students needed little more than a flat surface and a chair to complete assignments. Not anymore! The rise of technology has changed the face of homework from solitary struggle to multi-media effort. The old solution of "bedroom desk facing the wall" is no longer adequate or sufficient for today's pupils.

Search the household for an appropriate place to set up a homework center. Good lighting and a work area are the starting points, along with access to a computer/tablet and printer. Younger students tend to stay closer to parents as they work, while 'tweens and teens may distance themselves physically--or via headsets or music--so keep children's preferences in mind when you set up a homework center.

Let Your Child Lead

To make homework time more pleasant, go with your child's flow when it comes to getting the work done. A teen flopped on the floor or reclining on a sofa may not look like an adult's idea of a serious student, but as long as the work gets done on time, posture can be a non-issue. Some students find music an asset as they work, while others are distracted by it. Knowing your child's preferences helps craft a homework plan that the whole family can live with.

Plan For Accountability

Finally, give some thought to how you'll monitor homework assignments and track completion in the coming months.

Does your child use a student planner? By middle school, homework assignments are too numerous to be left to memory, so even if the school does not teach planner use, it's time to train your student to record each day's assignments and track their completion in writing.

Work with teachers to ensure good communication between home and school. Knowing assignments and due dates will help you keep children on track and accountable for their work--and arm you against childish foot-dragging.

Most of all, remember to step back and let the child work. Homework can teach responsibility and independence ... so once you cover the basics of when and where and how? Let them learn!

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Schoolday Solution: Win the Wardrobe Wars

Back-to-School Countdown Day 13

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on August 20, 2014 wardrobe wars

What to wear? For many families, this simple question is a daily flash-point for conflict on school mornings.

A budding fashionista throws a tantrum if a given outfit doesn't meet her standards, while another child insists on wearing one favorite shirt day after day--laundered or not. Younger children resist getting dressed at all, delaying the whole family's departure--and everyone's mood descends to the basement before the day has even begun.

Win the wardrobe wars! Try these ideas to get 'em up, dressed and off to school on time.

Plan Ahead

Wait until each morning to choose the day's clothing, and you've guaranteed a stressful start to the day. Instead, lay out children's outfits the night before--or use Sunday evening to set aside clothing for the coming week.

Group each day's outfit together on the closet rod, or sort a week's worth of folded clothing onto the shelves of a hanging sweater organizer.
Planning ahead ensures that "there's nothing to wear!" meltdowns and frenzied searches of the clothes dryer won't disrupt morning routines.

Harness The Power of Choice

Allowing children to choose turns down the volume in the struggle to get them dressed. Even younger children can choose whether to wear the red shirt or the striped one; school-agers can select each day's clothing from already-assembled outfits. Having a choice gives kids a buy-in to the transaction, and helps prevent power struggles.

Better, harness the power of structured choice. Have a kid who's inordinately fond of a single T-shirt? Ask them to choose which day they'll wear Old Favorite during the week. By pre-assembling outfits, and offering your child a choice between them, you can ensure that your little one is reasonably put together, while wearing items of their own choice.

Impose Consequences

Die-hard non-dressers can delay the whole family's morning routine--and make a parent sound like a skipping CD track, chanting "Go Get Dressed NOW!" at two-minute intervals.

Pull the sting by imposing logical consequences for a child who refuses to dress: when it's time to leave, hand them their clothing and take them to school in their pajamas. While you may want to alert school personnel to your efforts to teach independence and responsibility, peer pressure will solve the problem quickly. Whether the child scrambles into their clothing in the car on the way, or heads straight to the restroom to change, the consequences will teach the lesson: no dawdling!

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If morning clothing fits are a fixture in your home, take a good look at the causes of the conflict. Sure, you'll need to take a stand when a child wants to wear shorts and a tank top on a frosty day, but is it really necessary to go to that level when the disagreement centers on less important matters?

If over-strict sartorial standards are sparking disagreements, consider taking a step back.

Learning to choose clothing, coordinate outfits and develop a personal style are life-skills needed by every child. Invest in their learning curve by staying OUT of their decisions, even when you disagree. A child sporting black shoes with beige chinos may set your teeth on edge--but it's not worth the lost energy of a morning tussle. Let them learn and grow!

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Household Notebook: Planner for an Organized Home

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 16, 2014 home management binder

So you think businesspeople are the only folks who need a personal planner?

Think again: families need an organizer, too, to keep life moving smoothly on the home front!

A planner for the entire household allows anyone--child, visitor, babysitter--easy access to the information they need. It's a one-stop information center for busy families.

How will you use it? Whether it's a carpool schedule or a co-worker's phone number, the household notebook holds the information you need to check each day. Addresses. Phone numbers. Rosters for sports teams, prayer groups or civic organizations.

Ready for an evening out? Flip the Notebook open to the "Emergency Information" page, and the babysitter will always know where to find you.

Time for dinner? Menu planners, recipe organizers and shopping list make it easy to feed the family night after night.

Clean house fast with cleaning schedules, chore lists and seasonal checklists for home maintenance. Keeping tabs on children's activities, sports team phone numbers or emergency information is as easy as flipping a divider.

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Stay-at-home parents and homeschool families add calendar and scheduling features to the household notebook, while daily morning and evening checklists and family schedules make it easy to organize life in families with small children.

Empty-nesters corral take-out menus, service club rosters and medical information to make life flow smoothly.

Ready to create your own Household Notebook?

Click the links below for more information about making and using a Household Notebook ... to get organized at home.

Conquer Chaos in the Laundry Room

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 15, 2014 organize laundry systems

Nothing can streamline an organized home like a well-crafted set of household systems, and today, we focus on laundry and clothing systems.

What do they do? How do you develop them? What benefits will establishing laundry and clothing systems give to you and your family?

Chances are, you already have these systems in place. After all, a system is just a set of organized items, decisions or actions, designed to work together to achieve a common end.

In terms of an organized home, a clothing system, for example, would be a set of related decisions, actions or items, designed to work together to supply family members with an adequate supply of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothes.

However, there are systems, and there are systems. In a disorganized home, systems springs up unassisted. There's no thought or planning underlying them, so they don't work particularly well. Most of the time, the steps of the system are only instituted when things break down: there are no clean clothes, so someone does the wash. Yes, clothing gets clean, eventually--but there's tremendous waste of time, money, resources and family harmony built into haphazard systems.

Does this scenario describe your household's laundry system?

  • It is the morning of a family outing with parent's in-laws.
  • Child appears at breakfast table in stained, torn clothing.
  • Parent orders child to change. Child replies that he has no clean clothes.
  • Parent charges up the stairs to child's room. The floor is layered with strata of clean and dirty laundry. Dresser drawers are stuffed with wadded clothes in various states of cleanliness and presentability.
  • Parent rummages through piles on floor, scrounges through dresser drawers, and locates a clean (or fairly clean) and presentable outfit.
  • Parent orders child to put on substitute outfit. Child complains. Parent raises voice. Child whines. Veins stand out on the parental neck.
  • Child complies. The ensemble is not a success. The trousers are the variety known as "high water pants." The T-shirt sports a cracked and peeling cartoon logo. Child rolls eyes and thinks, but does not say, "I told you so!" Parent receives child's message via telepathy. Parent winces but remains silent.
  • Co-parent arrives at breakfast table wearing wrinkled shirt from ironing basket and yesterday's trousers. Co-parent's tie does not match either shirt or trousers. Co-parent slips out the door to work over the din of family discord concerning child and child's outfit.
  • After breakfast, parent rifles through dryer, searching for presentable ensemble for self for outing. Must run dryer 10 minutes to remove heat-set wrinkles. Having only five minutes for this task, parent dons semi-wrinkled jeans and top. Hopes parents-in-law will forget their eyeglasses today.
  • The family is late to the outing. The in-laws, bless them, say nothing. Parent vows to do better . . . until next time.

Yes, this family has a system--but a spontaneous, haphazard one. Clothing is not washed on a regular schedule. Washing routines are interrupted, leaving clothes to sit in washer or dryer acquiring wrinkles and mildew. Clothes are neither consigned to laundry collection points when dirty, nor put in convenient storage once clean. Out-of-season, outgrown or outworn items crowd what storage is available, leaving little or no room to store garments currently in use. New clothing is purchased on an unplanned, impulse basis--and at a higher price than necessary. Because their system is so poorly planned and executed, this family loses time, money and harmony in the daily ritual of getting dressed.

It's these resources of time, money and harmony your family stands to gain when you develop household systems. How do you craft a system to handle your family's clothing needs?

Begin with the goal

A complete clothing system has this goal: the thrifty, efficient, and routine provision of clean, well-fitting and appropriate clothing for each family member each day.

In any household systems analysis, give some thought to your own family's goal, and write it down. Beginning with the end in sight is the best way to make sure you arrive there!

Break down the actions

List them all! For your goal, write down each thing that must be done, large or small. Here are the basic tasks, decisions and action for a household laundry system:

  • Dirty clothing is delivered to collection points each day
  • Dirty clothing is transferred to laundry area from collection points
  • Laundry area contains adequate supply of detergent, softener and stain treatments, as well as tools like washer, dryer, iron and ironing board, hangers and hanging area. Supplies are replenished before they are exhausted.
  • Dirty clothing is sorted, laundered, dried and folded
  • Necessary ironing is done or delegated
  • Dry cleaning or professional laundry is delivered and collected each cycle
  • Clean clothing is returned to storage areas
  • The cycle is repeated on a regular basis
Find the stickingpoints

You know what you want and where you're going--the goal. You've got a handle on what needs to be done to reach that goal--your task list. Now it's time to analyze your system for the breakdowns.

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Our example family has several common sticking points in their laundry system.

First, there's no clear "collection routine" for dirty laundry. Dirty clothes aren't placed in a hamper or basket, but are left around at random. The family member responsible for laundering the clothing has no set place to find dirty clothes, but must scour the house looking for them.

Second, laundry isn't done on a regular schedule. Instead of washing clothes before it is absolutely necessary, this family plays a brinkmanship game, waiting until the last possible moment to start the laundry cycle. Result: tension, disruption, family disharmony and no clean clothes.

Third, because the cycle isn't started regularly, it becomes a monstrous job, often left unfinished. Pants hung directly from the dryer need no ironing. Pants left to sit in the dryer for three days will require pressing at a minimum, re-washing at worst. By postponing the job, the family's workload mushrooms.

Fourth, the family's clothing storage areas are cluttered and inefficient. Because drawers are jammed, clean clothing ends up on floors and furniture. Clothes are washed more than necessary, wearing them out prematurely--not to mention the wear and tear on the family member who must try to climb the mountain that's formed in the laundry room.

What are your family's roadblocks to an efficient laundry system? Review the necessary tasks and decide what changes will make your own system function smoothly. Will you need to purchase additional laundry baskets or hampers? Has Mt. Washmore erupted in your laundry room, requiring a laundry marathon before you can institute your system? Your own situation will show a mix of new routines and one-time catch-up chores.

Here's an idea of our family's laundry system analysis. It has two parts--the system, organized by time period, and the list of work that will have to be completed to institute the system:

Household Clothing System: Daily:
  • Family members place all dirty clothing in basket or hamper
Twice Weekly:
  • Collect, wash, dry, fold and replace laundered clothing 
  • Remove clean items in need of mending to mending basket
Weekly:
  • Check supply of detergent and laundry products; purchase replacements before the supply is exhausted 
  • Deliver any dry cleaning or laundered items to cleaners and collect last week's dry cleaning or laundered items
Monthly:
  • Scan family calendar for events requiring special clothing 
  • For those events, check to make sure each family member has appropriate clothing 
  • Mend contents of mending basket
Seasonally:
  • Inventory each family member's clothing supply 
  • Cull clothing storage of worn out, outgrown or out-of-season garments 
  •  List needed items for each family member 
  • Purchase needed items, on sale
To Catch Up:
  • Purchase laundry basket or hamper for each family member 
  • Cull and organize each family member's clothing storage area, removing outworn, outgrown, and out-of-season clothing. 
  • Store out-of-season clothing, children's clothing suitable for handing down 
  • Marathon laundry session, extinguishing laundry mountain 
  • Hold family meeting to discuss new responsibilities, delegate tasks

Through their analysis, this family has overcome the "day late, dollar short" orientation that characterized their old clothing and laundry systems. Now, to implement the analysis!

Last step: get cracking!

You've set your goal, listed the components of a basic system, performed your analysis and planned your system. Now it's time to get to work. Enter all tasks, recurring or catch-up, in your planner, calendar or home management software.

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If these are the bones of a basic family clothing system, remember, the musculature of that system can be shaped to fit any given family's needs.

A laundry system for a household with two pre-schoolers and an infant will be vastly more rigorous and time-consuming than one for an empty-nest professional couple.

Growing children can, and should, be given an opportunity to learn these life-skills. Pre-schoolers can be trained to place dirty clothing where it belongs, and can fold and replace socks and towels. Elementary school children can operate the washer and dryer and do basic ironing chores with supervision. Teens can do all of the above, plus mending and more advanced ironing.

Do delegate clothing selection and purchase to your teen! A clothing allowance teaches appearance-oriented teens to budget like no other learning experience. Don't rescue your teen when he blows his seasonal clothes allowance on that shoddy-but-fashionable logo jacket! As he shivers his way through the autumn, he will learn some home truths about value and durability, and do better next quarter.

In the end, establishing a household system--for laundry or any other home task--means embracing a simple but profound truth. Even if you ignore it, work does not go away.

Do any job efficiently and with forethought, and you'll be master of the task. To this end, a laundry system will serve you well, providing clean clothes on a regular basis, without those anguished vigils at the side of the humming dryer.

Ignore this reality, and the task will master you. You'll dance to the tune of your family's laundry needs, running the dryer at 5:30 a.m., or squirming as your children attend events in mismatched or outgrown clothes.

Who will be boss? Time to establish your household's clothing systems and scale the top of Mt. Washmore. Excelsior!

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Pardon Our Dust! Site Updates Underway

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 9, 2014

With back-to-school on the horizon--and autumn holidays close behind--it's time for site updates.

Please pardon our dust! As we work behind the scenes, there may be periods when the site is offline, or when certain features don't work correctly.

We appreciate your patience while we create a new, more organized home on the Web.

--Webmistress Cynthia

Sew A Clean Sweep Apron!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on February 26, 2014

A cleaning apron? What, me?

Yes, you! Forget those '50's images of housewifely frou-frou and ruffles: a cleaning apron has a place in the modern home manager's toolkit.

A cleaning apron speeds cleaning chores. Spray bottles of cleaning solution hang ready for use. Apron pockets lined with plastic bags corral bits of trash. Cleaning tools live at the tips of the cleaner's fingers.

Stockpile a stack of cleaning cloths in one pocket, a cleaning sponge in another. With a cleaning apron, supplies, tools and materials are literally close to hand.

The pros know! Professional cleaners swear by cleaning aprons. Savvy home managers purchase cleaning aprons from mail order houses and janitorial supply stores to get the professional. edge on house cleaning.

But there's a small problem. Commercial cleaning aprons don't always accommodate real-world bodies. Designed flat for a straight and slender figure, these aprons sometimes buckle or shift when tied over feminine curves. Skinny string waistbands bite or sag under the weight of cleaning supplies.

Add the cost! Commercially available cleaning aprons run about $20, and don't forget the shipping, handling and sales tax. For many home managers, cleaning aprons may seem out of reach, for more than one reason.

We've got the solution: our Clean Sweep Apron. Designed by a woman for women, it features a generous apron. gathered to fall gently over womanly figures. An interfaced, wider waistband closes with adjustable Velcro brand hook-and-loop tape for instant comfort. Make it up in white cotton twill, and bleac. stains away in the washing machine.

Just for fun, we've included a decorative graphic. Use T-shirt transfer paper to add our graphic or use one of your favorites to decorate the Clean Sweep Apron.

Yes, you'll need to sew this apron yourself, but our Clean Sweep Apron requires minimal sewing skill. Innovative design methods reduce the number of pieces. Use your iron to crease-mark alignment guides for easy construction.

You won't need a full-featured sewing room for this project; you can make the Clean Sweep Apron with nothing more than a straight-stitch sewing machine, an iron and a few pins.

Ready? Let's get sewing!

Materials:
  • 1 1/2 yard cotton fabric (select medium-weight, tightly-woven, 100% cotton fabric for best washability and wear)
  • 1 1/2 yard waistband interfacing
  • 3 inches Velcro brand hook-and-loop fastener
  • thread
Tools:
  • sewing machine
  • cutting tools
  • iron and ironing board
  • pins
//--> Cutting instructions:

From the fabric, cut the following four pieces.

All pieces should be cut along the length-wise grain (longest direction of fabric):

  • for apron body/lower pocket, cut one rectangle, 19 1/4" by 48"
  • for upper pocket, cut one rectangle, 19 1/4" by 17"
  • for sprayer loops, cut one rectangle, 3" by 12"
  • for waistband, cut one rectangle along selvedge 3 5/8" by user's waist measurement plus 6" (for example, for 30-inch waist, 3 5/8" by 36", cut along the selvedge).
Sewing Instructions:

Note: This method uses ironed-in creases to serve as alignment guides. Press each crease sufficiently to mark the guide, but do not make a sharp crease.

Seam allowances are 5/8" throughout.

Pre-wash fabric in a washing machine, using the same water temperature and dryer settings that you will use to care for the completed apron.

Upper Pocket:
  1. Fold upper pocket piece in half, wrong sides together, . Press. Folded piece should measure 19 1/4" by 8 1/2".
  2. Press under one-half inch along the raw edge of the upper pocket rectangle.
  3. Fold apron body piece, right sides together. The fold should measure 12 inches down from short end. Press the fold to crease. Open apron body piece.
  4. Align upper pocket along the pressed crease on the apron body piece, with the folded edge upward and the pressed-under edge down and next to the apron body. The upper pocket should be placed 4 inches down from the top of the apron body.
  5. Stitch sides and bottoms of the upper pocket piece.
  6. Fold apron body/upper pocket assembly lengthwise, right sides together. Press the fold to crease. Open the apron body/upper pocket assembly.
  7. On left side, fold edge of the apron body/upper pocket assembly one-third of the way toward the center crease. Press. Fold again, touching the center crease. Press, and open the apron body/upper pocket assembly completely.
  8. Sew pocket divisions along the creased lines. Tip: to make it easy to find shorter tools, "step up" the bottom stitching on one or two of the smaller pockets.
sew a cleaning apron Lower Pocket:
  1. Fold apron body in half crosswise, wrong sides together. At the folded edge, fold up again, 8 inches wide, and press the fold to mark the crease. Unfold the second fold, but leave the apron body folded in half.
  2. Stitch along the crease to form the bottom pocket flap.
  3. Open the apron body. Fold the bottom pocket flap toward the upper pocket and the top of the apron. Fold the apron body in half lengthwise, right sides together. Press to crease.
  4. Open the apron body. Stitch bottom pocket sides to the apron body along seamlines.
sew a cleaning apron Sprayer Loops:
  1. Fold sprayer loop piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together. Press to crease. Open.
  2. Fold both long edges of sprayer loop piece toward the creased line. Press.
  3. On right side, pin ends of sprayer loop pieces to apron body side just above upper pockets. Baste along seam line.
sew a cleaning apron Apron Body:
  1. Fold apron body in half crosswise, right sides together, over upper and lower pockets, and matching top and bottom.
  2. Stitch along both sides, over previously-stitched pockets and basted sprayer loops.
  3. Turn right side out. Snip excess fabric from seam allowances and press.
  4. Top-stitch along all finished edges, turning at bottom pocket and stitching bottom pocket division along central crease.
  5. Sew two lines of gathering stitches (longest stitch length) 3/8" and 3/4" from the upper, raw edge of apron body.
sew a cleaning apron Waistband and Finishing:
  1. Fuse waistband interfacing to waistband piece. Align wide side of interfacing along selvedge of waistband piece. Fuse according to interfacing directions.
  2. Fold waistband in half lengthwise. On the raw edge, mark the waistband center by snipping a small triangle from the seam allowance.
  3. On the raw edge of the waistband, measure 7" from either side of the snipped center marking. Mark the waistband on each side to mark placement for the apron body.
  4. Pin the right side of the waistband to the right side of the upper apron body, matching waistband center markings to central crease of the apron body.
  5. Pull the gathering threads gently, and gather the apron to meet the placement marks on the waistband. Pin each side.
  6. Stitch the apron body to the waistband between placement marks. Remove gathering stitching.
  7. Turn seam toward waistband center. Press up 5/8" along remainder of raw waistband seam. Press up 5/8" along waistband ends.
  8. Fold waistband in half, wrong sides together, along fold line of waistband interfacing. Top-stitch along all sides of the waistband, 1/8 inch from the edge.
  9. To apply Velcro brand hook and loop fastener, sew "hook" portion of fastener to the right side of one end ofthe waistband. Center the Velcro strip beginning 1/4 inch from the end of the waistband, and sew around all edges, backstitching when finished.
  10. Sew "loop" portion of Velcro fastener to the wrong side of remaining waistband end. Center the Velcro strip beginning 1/4 inch from the end of the waistband, and sew around all edges, backstitching when finished.
sew a cleaning apron Optional: Add A Graphic //-->

Have a color printer? Using T-shirt transfer paper, apply a graphic to your Clean Sweep Apron. We've supplied one here, or use your own.

To copy this graphic to your hard drive in Internet Explorer, click the right mouse button anywhere on the graphic. Select the "Save Picture As" button, and save the graphic to your hard drive.

To copy this image in Netscape Navigator, click the right mouse button anywhere on the graphic. Select the "Save Image As" button, and save the graphic to your hard drive.

sew a cleaning apron - graphic

While we're not able to offer technical support for graphic transfers, here are some tips for successful graphic transfer:

  • Select transfer paper manufactured specifically for your printer. Not all ink/transfer paper combinations work well.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for printing, trimming and applying your transfer. Pay special attention to temperature and cooling recommendations.
  • Set printers to high quality, and make sure that any special paper options are properly selected.
  • Remember to reverse graphics! Transfers will appear as a mirror image, so be sure to flip or rotate graphics before use.
  • More questions? Check the Web. Most printer manufacturers have web sites and discussion groups to share questions and ideas for using graphic transfer technologies.

Wipe Out! Make Your Own Cleaning Wipes

homemade cleaning wipesPosted by Cynthia Ewer on February 10, 2014

Who doesn't love commercial cleaning wipes?

They're wickedly convenient--but also wickedly expensive and often contain harsh chemicals.

The alternative: make your own refillable cleaning wipes!

Homemade cleaning wipes are easy to make, economical, and contain only those cleaning agents you select. Use them in the kitchen, the bathroom, or for cleaning windows.

Put homemade cleaning wipes to work for you in your organized home with our easy instructions and cleaning recipes.

Homemade Cleaning Wipes Materials and Equipment Needed:
  • cylindrical or tall square plastic food storage container, 10-cup capacity
  • extra-large roll of paper towels
  • cleaning agents of your choice (recipes follow)
  • electric drill with 1/2-inch drill bit
  • electric knife
  • liquid measuring cups
Instructions:

In the garage or workshop area, place a small block of wood beneath the plastic food storage container lid. Use electric drill to drill a 1/2-inch diameter hole in the center of the container lid.

For best results, select an extra-large roll of good quality paper towels for this project. Less-expensive towels fray or shred when pulled through the holder; thicker quilted towels have greater cleaning strength and withstand more scrubbing. Even at $1.39 per roll, cost for homemade wipes will be less than 75 cents, not including the storage container.

Without removing the paper towel wrapper, use the electric knife to cut the paper towel roll into two shorter rolls. Be patient! It may take up to two minutes to cut through the towel roll and cardboard tube inside.

Remove the wrapper, and place one short paper towel roll inside plastic food storage container. Save the second roll for a refill later.

Using a liquid measuring cup, gently pour one of the following cleaning solution recipes over the top of the paper towel roll.

Place the lid on the plastic food storage container, and allow paper towels to absorb cleaning solution for 4 hours to overnight.

Open the food storage container. Gently pull the wet cardboard tube from the center of the paper towel roll and discard.

Carefully pull the end of the paper towels from the inside, where the cardboard roll had been. Thread the end of the towels through the hole in the lid, and replace the lid.

Pull gently on the exposed end to separate the cleaning wipe.

Homemade Cleaning Wipes Recipes

You will need between 2 and 4 cups of cleaning solution to fill your homemade cleaning wipes container, depending on the size and absorbency of the paper towel product selected. These cleaning recipes make about three cups of solution; increase or decrease amounts if needed.

General Surface Cleaning Recipe:
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
Disinfectant Cleaning:
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pine cleaning solution such as Pine-Sol brand
  • 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cup water
Window and Glass Cleaning:
  • 1/2 cup rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
Tips: //-->

As you use the wipes, they will begin to dry out, so add more water and/or cleaning solution as necessary. Allow wipes to stand overnight before continuing to use them after adding more solution.

You may vary the strength of the cleaning solutions as necessary for your household, using more cleaning agents for a stronger wipe, less solution and more water for a milder product.

Chill Out! Cut Energy Use In Refrigerator And Freezer

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 31, 2014

With food prices soaring and energy costs at record highs, it's time for an energy-saving tune up for your refrigerator and freezer.

Keeping food fresh--while conserving energy--can bring a helpful boost to the strained food budget.

Try these tips to minimize energy use and save money on groceries:

Fill the freezer, but give the fridge some air

The freezer works most efficiently when packed as full as possible. Need to fill in some space? Tuck extra ice for cold drinks or cold-packs for summer picnics into any empty space in the freezer.

A black-out bonus: full freezers keep food frozen longer if a power outage occurs.

The refrigerator is a different animal; it needs air circulation to keep food at an even temperature.

Packing a refrigerator too tightly means some foods become too cold--and may even freeze--while others aren't kept cold enough for proper storage. Let the refrigerator breathe to keep food fresh longer.

Match foods to the right microclimate

Since hot air rises and cold air sinks--and because every refrigerator has its own unique weather pattern of chilly breezes--be sure to assign foods to the right neighborhood inside the refrigerator.

A cold spot near the cold-air inlet makes a good home for meat or poultry, but will freeze and spoil a head of lettuce.

Keep produce cool, condiments cold and proteins downright chilly for longest food life.

Track temperatures

A thermometer can be a key to saving money in refrigerator or freezer. Too-cold temperatures waste energy, while too-warm temps lead to premature food spoilage.

Use a thermometer to monitor refrigerator temperatures; they should be set to between 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. In the freezer, shoot for a temperature range between zero and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be sure to pay attention when the seasons change; a temperature setting that works well for the winter months may need to be adjusted during hotter weather.

Take the "dollar bill" test

Leaky door seals are a main culprit for energy loss in both refrigerator and freezer. Improperly-sealed doors let cold air escape, making the unit work harder and cutting food quality. 

Check door seals with the "dollar bill" test. Close the refrigerator or freezer door on a dollar bill. A well-sealed door will hold tight to the money; if the bill falls out, or can be slid around easily, it's time to clean or replace the door gasket.

Clean condenser coils

Condenser coils do the heavy lifting of creating cold air, but they can't radiate heat properly if their surface is coated with dust or grime. 

Use a coil brush or the vacuum cleaner's extension wand to clean the condenser coils behind or beneath the refrigerator. 

Clean coils cost less to operate, and because they work more quickly to chill the air, keeping them clean will extend the useful life of your appliance.

Find it fast with a freezer inventory //-->

Rummaging through a packed freezer in search of a pound of ground beef can waste a lot of power.

Keep visits to the freezer short, sweet and energy-efficient with a printable freezer inventory form.

It'll track what you have and let you find your frozen assets in record time--and let the freezer keep its cool for best energy savings.

Printables: 

Challenge Day 10: Clean Like A Pro

clean like a proPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 14, 2014

This week's Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge assignment focuses on the entryway or foyer, but for the next 13 weeks, there'll be a whole lot of cleaning going on.

How to make cleaning chores fly? Learn to clean like a pro!

Brushing up on cleaning skills, fine-tuning your cleaning tote, and learning the ropes of efficient cleaning will make Challenge assignments easier.

Today's Assignment:
Take Tips from Professional Cleaners

This week sees us settle into the meat of the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge. Moving furniture, washing walls and windows, and busting dust in the entryway can be a big job.

To stay the course, you'll want to make cleaning as easy as possible.

To do so, take a tip from the pros. Professional cleaners are masters of easy, efficient cleaning methods. They don't waste time hunting for supplies, re-doing work, or cleaning areas that aren't dirty.

Get our best round-up of tips from professional cleaners to speed your way on the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge:

Speed-Clean Tips from Cleaning Pros

Challenge Day 7: Weekend Wrap-Up

Preview Week Wrap-UpPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 11, 2014

The weekend's here! Time to take stock of the week's progress at the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge.

Preview Week saw us store holiday decorations, and tidy up after last year's holiday season.

How have you fared on the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge so far? Be sure to celebrate your progress today, as we wrap up Preview Week!

Today's Assignment:
Celebrate Your Progress

Writing to you from back here behind the monitor, I can hear what you may be thinking: "Oh no! Only one week, and I'm already behind!"

Sound familiar? Signing on to a get-organized plan like the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge is a great way to springboard personal change ... if you can avoid some common pitfalls.

Chief among these: viewing the Challenge as a competition or a race. One with winners, losers, and a ticking stopwatch.

For many of us, the week's end brings a sinking feeling. Rather than focusing on the progress we've made, we zero in on our perceived shortfalls.

We tell ourselves that we didn't "finish". We didn't achieve as much as others. We're already "behind".

Hogwash! Repeat after me: "There is No Such Thing as 'Behind'!"

The Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge is meant to be a guideline, not a board game. Every step forward is, well, a step forward!

To keep motivation flowing, refocus your vision.

Taking stock of what you've achieved this week, not on what you've "failed" to do, is the key to making steady, forward progress.

Keep that viewpoint in mind, as we work together toward a clean and organized home, each one at his or her own pace!

Challenge Day 6: Update Address Books

Update Address BooksPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 10, 2014

For many of us, it's the last evidence of Christmas Past: a piled-up heap of Christmas cards, letters and photos. Time to tuck away those holiday greetings.

Whether you'll read and recycle, or file cards and letters away, stop!

Before you consign Christmas cards and letters to their forever home, take advantage of this treasure trove of information about loved ones, friends, and neighbors.

Today's Assignment
Update Address Books

To stay in touch with loved ones throughout the year, schedule a post-holiday address book update.

Sit down with planner, smartphone or computer and that big box of holiday greetings.

You may read to your heart's content, but you must make note of new addresses.

Reassess the way you keep this important information. Still scribbling and scrawling in a battered old address book? Perhaps this is the year to move contacts to the smartphone or computer.

Already there on the tech side? Take this time to prune and correct your contacts, adding home addresses to phone numbers and e-mail addresses for a more robust contacts manager.

Note any names whose holiday cards that were returned because of an incorrect address.

During the year to come, be on the lookout for a new address. Friends are too important to lose for want of correct contact information

Double-check telephone numbers. E-mail addresses make it easy to keep in touch with far-flung friends --- so check and correct them where necessary.

Finally, make note of any changes in the lives of family and friends. A new baby? Add the full name to your address book, and you won't fumble when you ask for family updates next time you chat.

Challenge Day 5: Inventory Cleaning Products

inventory cleaning productsPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 9, 2014

Cleaning products are your closest ally in the war against grime--but they can be expensive, and their effectiveness can fall all over the map.

What's in your cleaning cupboard? Are your cleaning partners up to the job ahead?

You'll want to choose cleaning products carefully to cut time spent on chores as we work our way through the Cleaning Grand Plan.

Today's Assignment
Inventory Cleaning Supplies

Deep-cleaning is nobody's idea of a great time, but we've got a lot of it ahead on the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge.

To make your hard work count, it's time to consider cleaning supplies. Are those bottles and sprayers and cans doing their best for you?

Deep-cleaning chores are different from their everyday clean-up cousins.

Spray-and-wipe solutions work well for surface soil, but won't do the job when it comes to washing walls, cleaning and polishing furniture, or cleaning floors.

Enter our hard-working friends: specialty cleaning products for big jobs. Concentrated products, diluted and applied with cleaning cloth or sponge, make quick work of big jobs.

Even if you never stray from pop-up cleaning wipes for daily cleaning, you'll want to bring on the big guns for the Challenge cleaning assignments ahead.

Surprise! Hard-working cleaning products don't have to be expensive, and many of them are as close as your pantry.

Better, it's not necessary to buy out the cleaning aisle at the local supermarket. A short list of versatile cleaners will mop up most any assignment in the coming weeks.

Today, take inventory of cleaning products in your home.

While all of us will have slightly different challenges, most of us will want to have stocks of these cleaners on hand as we prepare for the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge:

  • light-duty evaporating cleaner (glass cleaner or multi-surface cleaner)
  • heavy-duty degreasing cleaner
  • tile cleaner
  • powdered abrasive cleanser
  • furniture cleaner (oil soap)
  • furniture polish or wax

If your home includes specialty surfaces, such as stainless steel or marble, add appropriate specialized cleaners to your list.

Interested in making your own green cleaners? Try these recipes for homemade cleaning products:

Pantry Recipes for Homemade Cleaning Products

Challenge Day 4: Banish Those Boxes

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 8, 2014

For most of us, the holiday season brings a bumper crop ... of boxes!

Stacked and scattered through house, garage and storage areas, they've shipped gifts, contained new toys or encased electronics.

Now they're empty and taking up space; it's only a matter of time before they attract more clutter to join their ranks.

It's time to banish them to clear space in your organized home.

Today's Assignment:
March Mailing Boxes Out The Door

They're Ghosts of Christmas Past, but camouflaged and in disguise: the boxes and containers that came into your home over the holiday season.

Are they loitering in the corners or hanging out in the garage? Time to turf them to reclaim your space!

Recycle Mailing Boxes

Today, recycle mailing boxes left over from Christmas. Remove and salvage packing materials to empty the boxes.

Extra bubble wrap, packing peanuts and foam wrapping will come in handy throughout the year, so bag these items and store them in the wrap and mail center.

Once boxes are empty, use scissors or a box cutter to flatten empty boxes and add to the recycle bin, or drive them to a collection point.

Declutter with a Holiday Mailing Box Challenge

Recycling is a great option, but to supercharge the war on clutter? Take the Holiday Mailing Box Challenge!

Grab one, two or all of the empty mailing boxes floating around your home. Moving room to room, fill each one with items for donation, then deliver the lot to the nearest charity collection area.

Each item you declutter today means one less thing to deal with during the rest of the Challenge. You'll kill two clutter birds with one box!

Check out more ideas for cutting clutter after Christmas:

Post-Christmas Cleanup: Clutter-Cutting Ideas for Year's End

Do you have an organized location to wrap gifts and prepare boxes for mailing? Try this tip from sister site, Organized Christmas:

Set Up a Wrap and Mail Center

Challenge Day 3: Clean Out the Refrigerator!

New Year Refrigerator Clean-OutPosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 7, 2014

A week into January, it's easy to spot our New Year's resolutions going adrift. No matter how earnestly we make them, it's hard for resolutions to survive the rapids of daily life.

Time, money and energy seem in short supply in early January, so how to keep the progress going toward that new and more organized life?

Today, take 20 minutes to recharge most New Year's Resolutions: clean out the refrigerator.

Yes, I said, "Clean out the refrigerator!" Whether you've resolved to lose weight, adopt a more healthy lifestyle, or get organized at home, a refrigerator clean-out can help.

It's the perfect way to put resolutions on the road to reality. A New Year's refrigerator clean-out will escort the last remnants of holiday treats to the garbage can and clean away the grime left behind by all that seasonal cooking. Completing the exercise, you'll reorganize food storage areas to support a new, healthy lifestyle, learn from your past shopping mistakes, and get motivated to make better buying decisions in the future.

Ready? Kick off a great New Year with a new you ... in the kitchen!

Resolutions Rescue: Clean Out the Refrigerator

Challenge Day 2: Haul Away the Holidays

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on January 6, 2014

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the holiday season.

Is the Ghost of Christmas Past still haunting your house?

Even if decorations have been boxed and banished until next year, holiday stragglers can still circle the house for weeks to come. We've got a tip to tame these last few holiday hold-outs!

It's time to haul off the holidays, and prepare for the new year on Day 2 of the Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge!

Today's Assignment:
Plan to Pack Away Christmas

If you haven't done so already, this week is the time to take down the tree, store holiday decorations, and tuck away the season for another year.

Today, find time during the week for a holiday tear-down. You'll want to kick off the Cleaning Grand Plan without the extra burden of seasonal decorations!

But even if you've already stored holiday decor, Ghosts of Christmas Past can still roam the house.

Whether it's linens in the laundry room, overlooked decorations, or clearance-aisle purchases for next year, do you have a plan for holiday stragglers?

Here's a simple solution to ensure that these last few items find a good home, fast--so they'll be easy to find next year:

Seasonal Storage Tip: Make a Holiday Stragglers Box

Challenge Day 1: It's Preview Week!

Cleaning Grand Plan ChallengePosted by Cynthia Ewer on January 5, 2014

Ready to clean house for the New Year? It's Preview Week at the 2014 Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge!

Our 14-week Challenge kicks off with a transitional week, designed to put the holidays to bed and prepare for the organizing and cleaning projects ahead.

During Preview Week, we'll get the Challenge rolling, banish the Ghost of Christmas Past, and review the basic elements of an organized life.

Be it resolved: in 2014, it's time to live clean and serene ... in an organized home!

Today's Assignment:
Calendars and Reminders Review the Challenge calendar

On this kick-off day, make a good start on your whole-house cleaning plan by reviewing the Challenge calendar. The Cleaning Grand Plan sets out a road map to a Spring-clean house, but is it the best path for you? Apartment dwellers scratch their heads when told to clean out storage in attic or basement. Multi-child families need two weeks, not one, to tackle children's bedrooms. Travel, vacations or holidays pop up to derail the week's assignments.

Here's the word from on high: that's fine! Be ready to alter the Challenge to suit your own individual circumstances. Crafting a custom plan that works for you and your household is the secret to success.

Today, review the Challenge calendar with an eye to your own needs. Be ready to alter, delete, combine or stretch the Cleaning Grand Plan to fit your preferences, your house, and your energy level.

Print the Challenge Calendars:

Cleaning Grand Plan Calendar 1
Cleaning Grand Plan Calendar 2

Choose how you'll receive reminders

In the glow of the New Year, it's easy to sign on for self-improvement programs like the Challenge. The hard part? Translating that commitment to day-to-day action.

That's where reminders come in. Each day, I'll publish a reminder message to help you stay on track.

In these daily messages, we'll talk about the basic components of an organized life, share tips on cutting clutter, and remind you of the week's goals. I'll share ideas from my newest book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Organized Fast-Track and clue you in on ways to speed cleaning chores and routines.

Today, decide how you'll receive daily reminder messages. Whether you bookmark the Cleaning Challenge home page, subscribe to e-mail reminders from Google's Feedburner service or follow us on the Cleaning Challenge Facebook page or Twitter, you'll keep up with the Challenge day-by-day.

Follow the 2014 Cleaning Grand Plan Challenge:

Printables: 

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