Saturday, December 02, 2006

cleaning tools - mops, brooms, and sundries

If you have a great canister vacuum and you keep it in a place where it is easily accessible, you may never need a broom again. (At least not for indoor work.) But if you still want a broom or other floor-sweeping device, read on.

The Swiffer dry mop is God's gift to those of us who clean. With a few reservations:

1) The disposable dusting sheets are wasteful and not terribly eco-friendly (being made from non-renewable petrochemicals). I know they are supposed to be electro-statically charged so that they catch lots of dust, but I have never noticed them to be any better than a simple cloth. So for the sake of our planet, by all means use a Swiffer dry mop, but fasten your own washable cloths onto the bottom. I use old cotton terrycloth rags that have become too thin to use for other cleaning jobs. They work great on floors.

2) The Swiffer doesn't to a perfect job (of getting up all the dust and stuff). But it's better than sweeping with a broom in many cases, because a broom can stir up dust, and leave a lot of dust behind.

I live in an apartment with a hardwood floor. For everyday touch-up sweeping, I use a Swiffer dry mop with a washable rag attached to it. Once a week I move my rugs and most of my lightweight furniture and do a very thorough sweeping, again with the Swiffer. I have a high-end corn broom, but I hardly ever use it. It would be great for messes of big chunks of things that the Swiffer has trouble pushing around.

I also have a dust pan (metal) and corn whisk. Very handy for scooping up and disposing of whatever dirt you've been collecting. I choose metal or natural materials over plastic whenever I can, but you may prefer the lighter weight of a petrochemical product.

The Swiffer dry mop is great for other things besides floors, by the way. I routinely use it to catch cobwebs on walls and ceilings. Because I'm taller than average (5'7"), I find the standard handle length is a little too short for comfort, so I've bought two mops, and use an extra piece of the second mop's handle to make the first one longer.

You may be wondering, since I've been talking about Swiffers, whether you should also have one of the Swiffer wet mops. Don't go there. I've cleaned for clients who used them regularly on their floors before I came along, and the residue left behind from the Swiffer solvents took (literally!) weeks and weeks to get off the floor. Plus the floors were really dirty - the mops never actually washed away the dirt, they only pushed it around and around.

The Swiffer dry mop (with a washable rag attached) can be used as a wet mop if you like. Just re-wet and wring out the rag often.

A better wet mop is a sponge one - my favorite is Vileda's sponge mop, either the Bee Mop Classic or the Bee Mop Multi with chammy and scrubby. If you really like string mops (I find they leave the floors too wet, and are more difficult to control), Vileda also makes washable string mops with buckets for twist wringing, and if you want something a bit more durable than the Swiffer dry mop for dry mopping, Vileda has flat mops with washable pads.

Regarding buckets: I use one for most of my cleaning - a gorgeous stainless steel bucket from Lee Valley, that is sold with a lid as a compost bucket or ice bucket. I had some galvanized steel buckets that I used before that, but some of the cleaners I used (like TSP and borax) corroded the inside of the buckets, so I only use them for plain water now.

If you like plastic, plastic buckets are definitely lighter in weight - and quieter! I have a few plastic buckets I use for soaking stains out of clothing (they're easy to move from sink to counter because they're so light and because they have handles - and the stain removers don't react with the plastic), but that's about it.

I've mentioned cloth rags several times - they are the most wonderful and necessary things that I use in my cleaning! I make my own out of old cotton towels; I cut up the towels up so that each rag is the approximate size of a face cloth, and finish the cut edges on the sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch so they don't fray in the wash. I have a large basket of them that I use only in the kitchen (for wiping up counters and messes; the used ones get hung to dry, and then put in a bucket until there are enough to make a washing machine load), and others I use for general housecleaning.

I love my rags. Call me insane, but they are more dear to me than some of my relatives! In past summers I have hung them to dry outside after laundering, and the gorgeous line-dried smell of them made me so happy every time I used them.

Speaking of laundering rags: don't use fabric softener (liquid, or dryer sheets) on them. (You shouldn't even use fabric softener on your clothes, but that's a whole other post.) Fabric softener leaves behind a waxy residue on the rags that smears when you are cleaning glass or mirrors, and makes the rags less absorbent.

Next time I'll talk about the eco-friendly cleaners I use, including laundry ones.

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Sunday, October 29, 2006

feeling like "home"

This post is an interruption of my cleaning "how to's"... (so sorry - I know you were probably on the edge of your seat, eager to learn more about the joys of cleaning) ...I just returned home from a day at my parents' house where, until a few months ago, I used to live.

It's true what they say: You can never go home again.

(Especially when they repaint your room.)

But for me, it brings up a more important question: How do we define "home" for ourselves?

Is home a place where we feel comfortable? Where we feel we belong? Is it just the place we're used to?

I thought it was important to ask these questions, because whether you're creating a welcoming space for clients (the subject of my last several posts), or whether you're organizing your own space to better suit your life, "home" is often the indefinable quality that we're seeking (and more often than not, not finding).

Home, for me, is the place where I'm at ease. It's the place where my needs for comfort are met.

(That includes warmth - in temperature, and in colours. My parents' house is very chilly - they care about the environment, and keep the thermostat set quite low to conserve energy. I froze there this weekend. The apartment building where I live is quite warm - the rent's all-inclusive, and I haven't even needed to turn on the steam radiator in my suite, things are so toasty. I suppose I should be bothered by the energy waste. But I crave warmth... this is "home" to me...)

Home is also the place where all my stuff is. And where I can access my stuff freely and easily.

Home is where I can eat the food I want to eat. (I'm a high-maintenance vegetarian with several food sensitivities.)

Home is where I can look at the things that give me pleasure (my collection of natural baskets, my books, my artwork).

Home is where I can organize things to suit my own needs. The bed is important. The bathtub is important. The kitchen sink is important. My work tables are important. Storage is beyond important (I live in a bachelor)...

One of my favorite exercises is described in Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, where she suggests one keep a scrapbook of favorite images culled from old magazines. Collecting the images (in this case, of homes) that inspire you and soothe you can be the beginning of discovering the "home" of your dreams.

I've spent a lot of time living in other people's homes: my parents', my employers' (I was a live-in nanny/housekeeper for several years)... I love having a space of my own - a space I can devote to fulfilling my own needs for comfort and joy. Never forget that you have choices when you are creating your home. If your home is not a "home," figure out why...

(then change it to reflect the needs of your soul...)

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

cleaning tools - vacuums

If you have to clean, you'd better enjoy it as much as possible. And I've found that the best way to enjoy cleaning is to have tools and supplies that you absolutely love using.

On the flip side, be sure to avoid using anything that:

A) is broken
B) takes too long to find/get out of its storage area/prepare for use
C) makes you sick
D) injures you
E) doesn't work well

And no, none of the above is a good enough reason to skip cleaning altogether. Nice try.

In my fifteen years working as a professional cleaner, I ran across a lot of sad-sack cleaning cupboards. I brought my own supplies, but used my clients' vacuums and mops. If a client told me they hated cleaning, I could almost guarantee that they were using tools that didn't work well, and weren't well-cared-for.

One of the most frequent poor choices is having a vacuum that is too inexpensive, or not appropriate for the types of floors you have to clean.

Yes, I know how much vacuums cost. Last year I bought a lightly used washing machine for less money than I'd spend on my favorite, brand-new vacuum (a top-of-the-line Kenmore canister vac). But trust me, if you buy the best you can afford, it is money very well spent. I always recommend canister vacuums over uprights, because they are more versatile. Even with on-board tools, uprights tend to be too finicky to use for anything other than carpets.

If you have hard floors, or a mix of hard floors and carpeting, you will go crazy without a canister vacuum. And if you want to be able to vacuum into corners, or vacuum furniture and blinds, a canister is the best choice.

I'm going to name names (and I should point out that I live in Canada, so these reflect the choices available commercially in Canada). If you'd dead set on getting an upright, and you have practically no money, get the best Dirt Devil upright you can afford. They're lightweight, and the higher end ones are easy to manoeuvre, with swivel wheels. My favorite uprights are Panasonics, although the high-end ones are so weighed-down with tools, they're a pain to carry and push around.

Dirt Devil is also the way to go if you're getting a canister vac on a budget. They're not my favorite - the hose is too stiff, and seems to bang into everything when you're in tight spaces - but the tools are relatively easy to change, and switching from the hard floor brush to the power head is not too difficult.

I already mentioned my favorite canister vacuum, above (the Kenmore), although Panasonic makes one that is almost identical (in fact, I've been told they're made by the same manufacturer). I've also enjoyed using Filter Queens (expensive) and Miele canister vacuums (also expensive). Even more expensive is Tristar. None are worth the extra money, in my opinion - although the most expensive vacuum I ever used, a Rainbow brand vacuum, was delightful, if you overlooked how heavy it was (its filter tank was filled with water so it wouldn't spew dust back into the air).

I haven't mentioned central vacs, although they are truly the best. But they can be super-expensive to install if they weren't built into the house.

Once you get a vacuum that works well, you will want to vacuum all the time. I swear.

(As long as you don't hide the vacuum away in the back of a cupboard, in the basement, so that it takes fifteen minutes to pull out and carry upstairs to where you'll be using it. In that case, you'll still hate vacuuming...)

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

first impressions, part ii

Before I tell you how to quick-clean your office, let me say a few more words about first impressions.

In my work as a home stager I often have to explain to clients that when they get too familiar with their home, they stop "seeing" it as it really is, and become blind to things that strangers would notice right away. Things like excess clutter, dirty or damaged property, poor traffic paths...

If you've had your space for a while, take a look at it with new eyes - the eyes of your customers, clients, or patients. What do they see when they first come in? How do they move through your space? What do things look like from their vantage points?

Start with the exterior of your building. Is it clean and well-maintained? If you have control over the exterior, for heaven's sake don't let it get dirty, cobwebby, or run-down. If you lease, cultivate a good relationship with your landlord, and convey to them that keeping things looking great is good for your business - and what's good for your business is good for THEIR business.

Is the entryway easy to access? Physical challenges aren't restricted to those in wheelchairs: doors that are too heavy or cumbersome are a challenge for any with poor strength, and entryways that are too confined for heavy foot traffic make people feel uncomfortable.

Is there a place to sit down and remove shoes or boots? And are there ample places to put boots, coats, and bags (if necessary)? My personal pet peeve is offices that request I remove my boots, then make me stand in a puddle of melting slush while I try to figure out where the #%$& I'm supposed to put them...

What's the temperature like? Too warm? Too cold? Cold waiting rooms and offices are the bane of my existence; nothing says "I don't care about your comfort" more than an interior climate that's frigid or boiling.

Does your office have a smell? That may sound like a weird question, but I'm always amazed at the number of health care offices, say, that smell too "medical" (i.e. like the inside of a Band-aid box). And many people these days are affected by chemical sensitivities, so harsh artificial air fresheners or perfumes are a big no-no.

What's the lighting like? Is it bright enough to read by while waiting, or is it too glaring? If you have office staff, do they feel refreshed and energized at the end of the day, or are they dragged down by poor task lighting and canned indoor air? My least favorite optometrist's office had lighting that would have been great to have sex by (i.e. enough to see, but just barely), but was brutal for a waiting room - I always left with raging migraines from squinting at my magazines.

Actually sit in your waiting room seats. Are they comfortable? Are they too close together? Do you honestly know how full your waiting room gets at its fullest? Are the chairs easy to get into and out of? Firm seats with arm rests are ideal, especially if you serve aging populations. Avoid too soft and comfy and low (think: overstuffed sofas bad).

Please re-think playing the radio over your office's sound system. I have never found commercial radio to be calming or restful (and surely you want your clients to be calm and rested!). Soft, New Age music might seem an appealing alternative, but becomes nauseous after several hours. The best solution I ever experienced was a family doctor who made note of each patient's musical preferences during their initial visit, and pre-programmed her office stereo (via her laptop) every morning to play their favorites at around the time when each patient could be expected to be in the waiting room. She never made anyone wait more than ten minutes (really!), so there wasn't any opportunity for conflict of musical tastes. I miss her very much (I just moved to a new city, which in retrospect was a very stupid idea, in this day and age of GP shortages)... :(

Head to your inner office/consulting room/treatment room, and spend some time sitting or lying where your customers have to sit or lie. Do they have something interesting to look at? (And those stained ceiling tiles don't count.) The most beautiful acoustic tile treatment I ever saw was at a friend's Reiki office, where she suspended lengths of green silk in great billows across the entire ceiling.

If your clients have to undress, do you have someplace for them to hang their clothes? Personally, I don't like rolling my nice suits into a ball on top of the only chair in the room.

I hope you get the idea. I'm not even going to mention bathrooms. (Just wait until my next post.) You probably designed your office space for your own tastes and preferences; just don't forget that you are playing "host" to the people who are paying all your bills...

(And speaking of bills... if you want repeat customers, try and make it easy for them to pay you. I don't mean offering multiple payment options; I mean, giving them a place to write a cheque or input their next appointment into their Day-Timer. Please. Juggling a purse on top of one's knees is a circus act, not the proper way to end a visit.)

Until next time...

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Monday, October 23, 2006

first impressions

So, I spent four more hours cleaning my friend's massage therapy clinic this afternoon.

To all massage therapy clinic owners out there: Keep up with your housekeeping!

(That was not a swipe at my friend. He's a very nice person... and I hope he doesn't surf the internet much...) *

This may seem kind of obvious, but I've noticed over the years that many small businesses (whether they be of the health care ilk or not) often neglect simple cleanliness in their offices, perhaps not realizing the impression they are making on customers, clients, and patients.

I know that many (most?) people don't like to clean, and don't want to have to be worried about staying on top of the housekeeping, but the truth is that a little can go a long way towards keeping things looking good. It doesn't have to be a chore unless you make it that way.


I'll admit, I'm a freak. I love to clean. Some of my most creative ideas have come to me while cleaning; the quiet and mindless repetition leaves my mind free to ramble, muse, and be open to new inspiration.

If you're a small business owner and you can't outsource your cleaning (or delegate it to your employees), please schedule a regular time to do the basics. Depending on how much foot traffic you get through your office, this may be daily, weekly, or bi-weekly.

(Hint: Don't make it monthly (or yearly?) unless you're the only one ever sets foot in your space (and you happen to like wading through dust bunnies every time you walk to your desk).)

Give yourself enough time to do the job in a restful way (i.e. don't rush through it because you'd rather be doing something else). Make sure you have good supplies that you enjoy using (no harsh chemicals if you're sensitive to strong smells, all your cleaning tools in good repair and easy to access - that kind of thing).

Play music that you love, if it will inspire you.

(If anybody's actually made it through this entire post without navigating away in disgust at my unreasonable optimism, I'll tell you in my next post what kinds of things you should be doing when you clean your office...)

*all kidding aside, my friend is an AMAZING Registered Massage Therapist, and he has a very lovely (and hygienic!) clinic. The work I did for him over the last two days involved lots of moving of heavy furniture, cleaning behind said furniture, and moving furniture back. Plus things like dusting baseboards and scrubbing scuff marks off walls. Fall cleaning. Only-do-this-once-a-year kind of stuff. Do not be afraid!

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

the unglamorous side

I didn't post yesterday because I had a day-long job helping a friend clean his massage therapy clinic. In a previous life I was owner-operator of an eco-friendly home cleaning business, and my friend was interested in my non-toxic solutions. (Plus he likes to give his money to people he knows. Don't we all?)

I can't believe I used to do that work (cleaning) eight hours a day, five days a week. (And in one, year-long, "I think I've gone insane, please put me out of my misery" period, six days a week.)

Anyhow, cleaning my friend's clinic has given me the idea for a post on "first impressions."

More later...

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Saturday, October 21, 2006

profile of a professional organizer

Hello beautiful person! Thank you for finding this blog post. Unfortunately I have moved all of this post's scintillating original content to my new blog, here.

Peace out.

Friday, October 20, 2006

my blog

Hello beautiful person! Thank you for finding this blog post. Unfortunately I have moved all of this post's scintillating original content to my new blog, here.

Peace out.