Cheaters always win in housecleaning


Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 12:02 a.m.
Jeff Bredenberg called his new book "How to Cheat at Cleaning" (Taunton, $12.95) because "what we really want is to cut corners in every way we possibly can and still be proud of our homes. So I call it cheating."
His advice includes 10 Things to Stop Cleaning Now (see accompanying list). Among them: Stop making the bed.
"Dust mites thrive on the moisture in your bed covers and mattress," he explains on Page 97. The mites cause asthma and other breathing difficulties. "When you leave your bed unmade all day, the moisture escapes and the dust mites die."
Q: So do you make your bed?
A:Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I usually leave the covers down until after breakfast. That lets the bed air out and dry out.
Q:You say that men's brains aren't wired to recognize clutter and mess and do something about it, and a clean and tidy home is not a priority for men. Are women doomed to a lifetime of household drudgery?
A:Lots of us grew up in the Ozzie and Harriet days, when the man went out and made money and the woman stayed home vacuuming twice daily in high heels and pearls. We can't do that anymore. Most families need two incomes, and we've got to split the division of labor at home. A lot of us are still programmed for our former patterns. That's going away, but more slowly than some people want.
But there are very manly things about cleaning. You get to wear your grubbies and buy tools and persuade yourself you're doing manly things, killing fierce wildlife, even though they're microscopic.
Q:What do you do around your house?
A:I do most of the family laundry and virtually all the kitchen cleanup after meals. My wife and I have this arrangement: She cooks, I clean up. I cook, I clean up.
This time of year we all go out and buy plastic storage bins and say we're going to get organized. Aren't those bins just permission to keep all your junk?
If you just buy containers, you're making a mistake. Don't just stuff your clutter into storage bins. First, address the clutter, and when you've arrived at the stuff you want to keep, it goes in storage bins.
Q:What advice do you have for people who just can't let go of things but don't really have a place for them?
A:Take Grandma's old buffet, an enormous, bulky piece of furniture that you don't want but can't bear to let go of. Take a family photo of everyone gathered around it and frame that. Then get rid of the buffet.
Q:You tell people, "Don't wait for permission to get rid of stuff," like ancient catalogs or chewed-up cat toys. How does that work?
A:Nobody's really keeping track of each and every one of those items. Toss it out without asking permission. If someone realizes it's missing six months later, you can just shrug your shoulders and say you haven't seen it lately.
Q:What's the clutter hot spot in your house?
A:I'm staring at a stack of cardboard boxes we keep for mailing around Christmas. We do probably save more bulky cardboard than we need. One of my post-Christmas tasks, with the boxes that remain, is to put the smaller ones inside the larger so it's somewhat orderly. It's functional clutter.

Things to stop cleaning now

  • Making the bed. That just creates a moist, cozy climate for dust mites, which produce allergens that cause asthma and other problems.
  • Sneakers. Buy dark-colored ones and wear them until they fall apart.
  • Grill grate. When you're finished, leave the grill on, close the lid and let residue cook off for 15 minutes.
  • Shower curtain liners. Throw them away every six months.
  • Pillows. Buy new ones every 6 to 8 months.
  • Stove drip pans. Use the grungy ones daily; have a backup set of shiny ones for when guests come.
  • Ventilation ducts. Regular professional cleaning is unnecessary.
  • Fireplace walls. They're supposed to be blackened. You'll breathe easier if you give up using the fireplace altogether.

    Jeff's cheat sheet

  • Spraying a pan with cooking spray? Place the pan on the inside of the dishwasher door. Any overspray will hit the door and be washed away next time you run the dishwasher.
  • Run the dishwasher late at night, then set the breakfast table right from the dishwasher.
  • Once the dishwasher is empty, place dirty items directly in it, not on the counter. Don't handle them twice .
  • Don't wait until you die to distribute your possessions to relatives and friends. Three-quarters of the things you want to give your family, you could give them right now and get them out of your life. Move it along, know it's in good hands. And the things nobody would want why keep them?

    The king of clean

  • Age: 53
  • Home: Oreland, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
  • Family: Wife, Stacey Burling, award-winning medical journalist; two sons.
  • His office: in the basement of the family's home.
  • On the desktop: an iPod Shuffle; a stack of legal pads; three copies of the Jan. 8 People magazine with a review of his book; keyboard and mouse; a necktie in shreds ("inspiration for another book I'm working on"); reading glasses; pens and markers; "an enormous stapler for thick documents."
  • Web site: www.jeffbredenberg.com.
  • His advice: "I go to great pains to say, I don't want to become anybody's guilty conscience. If I offer a piece of advice that makes you squirm, follow your gut and ignore it."
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