Spring Cleaning Time Savers

There are no two ways about it: Cleaning your house from top to bottom takes time if you do it properly. However, there are ways to save yourself time and frustration, and the results are definitely worth it.

A Tale of Two Lists

You can't throw a metaphorical rock on the Internet without hitting a spring cleaning checklist, but the best cleaning checklist is one tailor-made for your house. "Go through your house and make a list, room by room, of what needs to be cleaned," suggests cleaning expert Becky Rapinchuk. "Then consult a ready-made checklist and add other spring cleaning tasks that you might not typically complete or that you didn't consider." Your tablet or smartphone is ideal for this. You can easily rearrange, add and remove tasks from your list using an app.

With your cleaning list in hand, create a second list that contains every cleaning product and tool you need, even if you already own them. Some tasks may require specialized products. If you have marble, granite or sandstone countertops, you'll need a cleaner designed specifically for that material. Check the cleaning products and tools you already have against the list and remove everything you don't need. Take your smartphone with the list to a store and buy everything. The last thing you want is to realize you're missing something you need when you're elbow-deep in suds. If you don't already have one, buy a bucket or tub large enough to fit everything you'll use, advises Rapinchuk. Your cleaning supplies may live in a cupboard for most of the year, but when you're spring cleaning, you want them in easy reach.

Ready, Set, Clean

With the supplies in easy reach, it's time to start cleaning. Keep your list nearby, but be careful not to damage your tablet or smartphone—water and electronics don't mix. Whether you clean room by room or group similar jobs together, such as washing all the baseboards on the first floor or dusting all the corners in the house, is ultimately a matter of personal preference, says Rapinchuk. "The most efficient way to spring clean is what makes sense for you and your space. If it makes sense for you and your schedule to go room by room, you'll get the satisfaction of having a whole room spring cleaned. I think it takes a little longer and is less efficient, but if it gets done, it doesn't really matter." Distract yourself as you work. Play music on a mobile app or listen to an audiobook while you clean. As a bonus, you'll have the Internet readily available if you need to find out how to best perform a particular task.

What does matter is not creating extra work for yourself. This means prioritizing certain tasks and leaving others for last. Cleaning the kitchen sink until it's sparkling is great, but not if you then dump bucketfuls of dirty water into it while mopping the floor. You'll just need to clean it again. Similarly, the shelves and light fixtures need to be dusted, and the floor needs to be cleaned—but doing the latter first means you might need to do it again, since some dust is guaranteed to fall on the floor, no matter how careful you are. "When spring cleaning, and for that matter when cleaning in general, it's always best to clean from the top down or from the ceiling to the floor," says Rapinchuk. "Use this cleaning principle with just about every surface—work from the top down and left to right." If your house has a second story, Rapinchuk advises taking the principle another notch and starting upstairs, then working down to the ground floor.

Box It Up

Get three boxes, or two boxes and a trash bag, and label them "Toss," "Sell" and "Donate." As you go through each room, check every item you own. If there are items you no longer need, put them in one of the boxes, depending on their condition. A knife with a broken handle is no good to anybody, but your old cell phone could be worth some cash, and that Christmas sweater you never wear could be donated to a charity. Whenever you find an item to sell, clean it thoroughly, put it on a surface you've already cleaned and tidied and take a photo of it with your digital camera or smartphone before putting it in the box. When you sit down at your computer to sell the items, they'll already be in as good a condition as possible and you won't need to get them out of the box, because you already have photos of them.

Put everything you're unsure about in there except for clothes, and when you're done cleaning the entire house, put the box somewhere out of the way, such as in your garage or in a closet. If at any point during the next year you need something in that box, you can pull it out. Anything still in the box by the time the next spring cleaning comes around is thrown away, sold or donated. To do the same for clothes, set aside a separate drawer just for clothes you're unsure about. In your closet, hang every item you're unsure about with the hanger's hook facing out. When you use an item, turn the hanger around. If anything's still in the "maybe" drawer or hanging on a hanger that's facing out by the time the next spring cleaning comes around, you've not used it in a year, and you can safely get rid of it.

Advances in technology can simplify your surroundings. If you do most of your reading on a smartphone, tablet or e-reader, you can sell or donate most of your paper books. If most of your music collection is stored on a portable music player in digital format, you can get rid of your CDs. If you own a dozen cookbooks but make only one or two recipes from each, you can digitize those recipes with a scanner and then either put them on your tablet or smartphone or use your computer and printer to collect them into a single booklet and then sell or donate the cookbooks themselves.

Make Next Time Easier

The more dirt and clutter that accumulates, the more time and effort it takes to get rid of it. The best thing you can do to make spring cleaning less time-consuming is to take care of your house year-round. In an ideal world, the only tasks you should be performing during a spring cleaning are once-a-year or twice-a-year tasks. "Using a rotating cleaning checklist keeps the spring cleaning tasks streamlined and to a minimum" says Rapinchuk. Using your room-by-room spring cleaning checklist as a starting point, schedule cleaning tasks throughout the year. For example, you should clean sinks, dust and vacuum once a week, but clean cupboards and drawers every six months and defrost the freezer yearly.

Here, too, technology can make your life easier when next you buy new appliances. A frost-free refrigerator freezer will save you time, and a self-cleaning oven will save you effort. If you spend ages doing laundry in small loads, buy a larger washing machine and if you're tired of scraping burnt-on food bits off your range elements, discover the joys of an induction or ceramic cooktop.

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