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.