Household hints: useful ways of making life easier

#308 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2000, Hills Newspapers

It’s been some time since I saw Hints from Heloise in print but there are still many columns in magazines and newspapers suggesting better ways to do things at home. I read every one I see and sometimes pick up very useful ideas.

For example, removing wax that has dripped onto a carpet is easily accomplished by placing a paper towel over the spot and lightly pressing it with a warm clothes iron. The wax melts and is absorbed by the paper. Here’s another most people must know by now: To remove fat from a pot of stew or soup, just put it in the refrigerator until the fat congeals, then scoop it off.

And, I read somewhere, and have used with good results, after laying down a line of caulk around the tub or sink, wet your finger in a little water, then run the finger over the caulk to smooth it evenly and neatly.

Just for fun, I’ve been thinking about what I do to make my home life easier and more organized. Some of these things I learned from someone else, some I made up myself.

Clutter; we’ve all got it. I am blessed with a large storage area downstairs in my house. Here’s my plan: I go through clothes, kitchen cabinets, closets, etc. regularly and box up what we’re not using. I put the boxes downstairs for a few months before giving them away to charity. For awhile at least, if any of us misses something we’ve “given away,” I can still retrieve it.

Books. We have lots of books. There are five good sized bookcases in the house plus books in my kids’ rooms; also, in the kitchen where I spend most of my time, various reference books. I try, really try, and I usually succeed, to get rid of one already on the shelves for every new one I bring home. Sometimes, if I’m at a flea market or garage sale, and I’m tempted to bring home a new pile of books, I say to myself, “I don’t have room for all of these.” And I limit myself to the one or two that I think I might actually read.

Files of paper are in the same category for me. When my small filing cabinet won’t accept a new file because there simply isn’t any more space, I look through what’s in that drawer and throw something away. Sometimes it’s an entire folder; other times I just root through and discard part of the contents.

After years of sticking photo envelopes in a desk drawer, I finally realized what my problem was. I thought I had to make decisions about each photo, whether to stick them all in an album or, if not, discard those that were not up to snuff. It was just too hard. Then one day it came to me that I could simply select my favorite photos from each batch and file the rest away in a box. That’s what I now do. No agony involved. When I get photos back from the finisher, I immediately go through them, pick out the best and put them in albums. Once in awhile I go back to look at the lesser photos, often because I need a picture of the kids to send to a friend.

Cleaning out the fireplace. We love having fires and the ashes build up. Our fireplace expert has trained us to lay fires directly on a moderate bed of ashes, but the mound grows too high. It is often true that the ashes are still hot from a recent fire, so scooping them into the plastic buckets I use for garden weeds results in melted buckets. But I got smart. I bought a medium sized galvanized can with a lid. Now I can scoop warm ashes into my can and wait a couple of days before transferring them to a plastic bag and throwing them away. (No, I don’t use ashes in the garden, but some people do.)

Keeping the bathroom looking respectable is important to me. This one is so simple, I can’t believe it took me forty years of keeping house to think of it. The kids leave toothpaste drippings and hair and such on the counter and in the sink. Drove me wild until I thought to keep a kitchen sponge next to the sink. Now, whenever I’m in the bathroom, I give a swipe to the surfaces – fast and effective. I do wish I could find a better looking sponge.

The shower stall. When we bought our house about eight years ago, the shower pan, and maybe the ceramic tile walls too, in the main bathroom leaked. We knew this because the bathroom floor was rotted and spongy. It was going to be expensive to redo the tile and we weren’t sure if that was all we would choose to do to the room, so rather than make any decisions, we looked for a stop gap, a way to buy some time.

We painted the shower walls and floor with several coats of clear, waterproof sealer and caulked all along the seams. Before replacing the punky floor, we checked to be sure no more water was escaping from the shower. Everything was fine, but maybe we were just lucky; I don’t know whether I should recommend this method to others, but it’s still working for us.

Recently, desperate to clean black spots from the caulk and grout of the shower bottom, I poured bleach straight from the bottle over the bottom of the shower and let it sit for a few minutes. Almost asphyxiated myself in the process, but it sure does look clean now.

Our pantry store. I always loved playing store when I was a kid. My sister and I would gather together soup and fruit cans, paper bags, mark our prices and “sell” them to one another. Now I have my own “store” and I love it. There isn’t sufficient space in my kitchen for extra jars of peanut butter or Kleenex so I established an area in my basement, several wide shelves for storing my excess bounty. I keep extras of every nonperishable we use, buying them when they’re on sale. Now when we use the last of the blackberry jam, one of the kids says, “I’ll go get another jar from the store.”

I nailed scrap strips of wood to the bottoms of some of my cupboards so I can stand platters, trays and cookie sheets upright. Probably took two minutes, probably read about this in a helpful hints column.

School supplies. It used to happen that at 8:00 p.m. I’d suddenly hear that a book report due the following morning had to be encased in a report folder or that a poster was due the next day and, of course, we had no such materials on hand. It irked me no end to have to go to the grocery store after dinner in hopes of finding the appropriate supplies until I finally got it. Now I always keep extra report folders, poster and foam board, binder paper and good (not dried out) markers. Problem solved.

I have discovered the joys of using ordinary scissors in the garden – not clippers or shears, but scissors. For some tasks, scissors are unparalleled. For snipping parsley, certainly, for shearing back spent alyssum so it will bloom again, shaping boxwood, cutting draping plants such as ivy and Santa Barbara daisy, and for deadheading multi-stemmed flowers like asters, scissors are best. Instead of making hundreds of individual cuts with shears, scissors cut seemingly zillions of tiny stems in a single snip.

Here’s a housekeeping problem I haven’t solved. Maybe you have a suggestion. There are clothes covering the floors of my teenagers’ rooms almost all of the time. No one knows if they’re dirty or clean so when I insist, all of the clothes end up in the laundry basket. Apparently both kids remove clothes and drop them where they stand. They also try on lots of clean clothes to see if they want to wear them and drop those too. I probably did the same thing when I was their age. Probably drove my mother crazy too.

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