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Spring Cleaning for the Family

Tips To Get Your Family To Clean And Enjoy A Stressfree Summer

"I put on some good music, grab my cleaning supplies, bags and boxes. I start in the kitchen, pulling everything out of the cabinets, cleaning them inside and out, drying them and laying new paper. Then it's on to the walls. I clean them, dust the fans, then the counters, the stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, then mop the floors on my way out of the room. Then come the bedrooms, taking all the clothes out of closets, getting rid of stuff, boxing it up and going through dressers. The bathroom is easy: Change shower curtains to summer curtains, change towels to match the curtains, hang summer pictures and I'm done."

That's how PJ Phillips of Del City, Okla., describes tackling her spring cleaning head-on. Even if your approach is this methodical, with all the dusting, vacuuming and polishing, it's easy to overlook some important things.

Cutting down on clutter, following some safe cleaning rules and practicing some often-ignored seasonal home maintenance will get your house and your family ready for a fun and stress-free summer. Read on for some tips every mom should know.

Organizing, Once and for All

Besides cleaning, organizing is usually a high priority for families in the spring. Somehow, though, year after year, many of us face the same disorder that had just been tackled the previous year. Make this the season to implement a foolproof organizational plan.

Janet Taylor, professional organizer and founder of the Philadelphia, Pa.-based Totally Organized design firm suggests asking yourself a few questions to begin the process. What areas do you want to tackle (the garage, basement, attic or closet)? Next, decide on a goal for this space, such as clearing the clutter from the garage so the car no longer has to be parked in the driveway.

Marion Pebbles of Springfield, Mont., always tries to plan out her projects. "I make a list," she says. "I break every project down into small tasks. I write something like 'clean and organize my closet shelf,' instead of 'organize entire closet'; that way I get to mark more stuff off the list. I have kept my closet perfect now for a year, which is amazing."

Taylor suggests setting a timeframe for the organizing process, such as finishing the sorting in time for an upcoming flea market. She also advises gathering all the resources needed before you begin, such as boxes for sorting and containers for storing. Finally, decide if you need assistance moving and lifting heavy objects.

After you get a plan of attack together, it's time to jump into the clutter. Begin by having designated bins or boxes labeled "Trash," "Donate," "Keep" and "Store Elsewhere in House."

Start sorting in one corner, tossing items into the bins. Kids can have fun helping out with this task (just make sure they don't toss a family heirloom into the 'trash" bin). Keep a notepad handy for jotting down ideas, like "find place for family photos," or "buy organizer for sewing notions." Once you have everything sorted, move out the boxes of things that will no longer be in the room and begin to focus on how to rearrange the items that remain.

There are so many choices when it comes to buying organizing accessories that the selection can be sometimes overwhelming. Think about what practices haven't worked in the past and also what places in your home have stayed organized. Follow a plan that will realistically work for you.

For instance, if you know your kitchen island continually piles up with clutter, consider a system to manage the mess. Ask yourself what items need "homes" and what the best organization pieces would be for them.

"Think about the goals for the space in which you are working," says Taylor, who also suggests considering overall budget and d├ęcor before buying. "Will it be a storage room, where bins and boxes will suffice? Or will it be a living space with storage areas, which means utilizing items like a stool that doubles as a storage box?" Bear in mind which items need to have easy access; these items call for bins and decorative baskets. Meanwhile, less-used items can be stored in stackable, sealed containers.

Don't forget to get creative. Plenty of innovative storage solutions are available.

Safe Cleaning

Safety when cleaning is something to practice, especially when you have children in the house. Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council, cautions spring cleaners to use extra care when working around the house.

Many injuries to adults occur during home improvements, and household cleaning especially can pose a danger to small children. One of the biggest dangers to children is poisoning. In fact, according to the Home Safety Council, every year two million children under the age of 6 are accidentally poisoned.

Appy urges parents to "get in the habit of reading labels and following them exactly, gather up all dangerous chemicals and store in a locked area, not just under a sink or a high place." When using chemical cleaners make sure the room is well ventilated and the product is put away immediately after use. Extremely special care should be taken when using a product labeled "danger."

"Remember: Nothing is out of a child's reach," says Appy. It's important to note that the Poison Control Center now has a nationwide emergency hotline: 1-800-222-1222, which is open 24 hours a day.

Another common cleaning hazard to young children is buckets full of water. It's hard to believe, but just a couple of inches of water can pose the same drowning danger as a full-sized swimming pool. Appy says buckets are dangerous to infants and toddlers in particular because the containers are made to be very rigid and a child can fall into one and not be able to get out. Therefore, when mopping always remain next to the bucket of water and empty immediately, storing it upside down. Or forego the bucket all together and use one of the newer spray-style mops. Other areas to remain cautious of are toilets and bathtubs, which pose the same drowning threat.

Appy's rule of thumb when caring for young children is what she calls touch supervision. "A parent should be able to reach out and touch their young child from wherever they are working," she says. "Making sure a little one is in reach is the best way to safely supervise."

Safe cleaning doesn't only apply to children. We all know how easy it can be to try to take a not-so-safe short cut in the hopes of getting the job done quicker. However, a significant amount of injuries in the home relate back to housework or home improvement projects. Falls pose the biggest threat, but there are some practical ways to safeguard yourself. For instance, as a rule of thumb, always carry loads that you can see over and keep one hand free for holding on to railings.

"Know about ladder safety," Appy says. "Use the four to one rule. For every four feet up, move the base out one foot. Know the safe standing height, don't hurry, put on the right shoes and don't reach over. Instead, get down and move the ladder. And of course, if you're not comfortable doing a task, get professional assistance." Also watch out for wet floors, keep stairs and pathways clear and don't ever use gasoline as a cleaner.

Since you've learned how to clean safer, why not take the opportunity to make your home safer, too. Here is a quick spring home maintenance and safety checklist to run through.

  • Check Outdoor Pool and Hot Tub Fencing: Make sure all fences are in good condition and that self-locking latches are installed on all gates.
  • Lawn Mowers: Do a maintenance check following the directions provided by the manufacturer. Also remember never to mow around children and pay extra close attention with a riding mower.
  • Extension Cords: Use wire ties to secure cords together so they do not pose a tripping hazard. Check that cords are in good condition and are not overloaded.
  • Fans: Make sure all fans have guards that will protect hands and fingers. Fans, however, should always be placed away from small children. Clean fan grates to reduce dust.
  • Faucet Aerator: Remove and clean the aerators to make the water run through more efficiently.
  • Filters: Clean filters in window air-conditioners and home air purifiers.
  • Batteries: Change the batteries in smoke alarms and consider installing a carbon monoxide detector, especially if you have an attached garage.
  • Outside: Check the condition of decks and railings to make sure everything is secure and stable. Clean barbecues and check that propane tanks are secure.
  • Playground Equipment: Check that everything is secure and that the landing is up to code. Nine to 12 inches of shockproof mulch or rubber chips are recommended for a six-foot diameter around the equipment. Also remove spider webs and repair any minor wear that could hurt a child.
  • Check Your Phones: Make sure landlines and cell phones are programmed with emergency numbers, such as 911 and Poison Control, 1-800-222-1222.

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