Keep Your House Spring-clean

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping -- and you’re sweeping up a trail of caked mud leading from the back door to the family room. Along with blue jays and daffodils, spring ushers in a houseful of dirt as kids and pets track everything from mud to grass cuttings throughout the house. But with some strategic planning, you can keep the mess at bay. Organization is key, according to Donna Smallin, author of A to Z Storage Solutions and The One-Minute Cleaner. Smallin shares her tips on keeping the house free from mess.

1. Roll out the rugs.

Pick up some cheap rugs or carpet remnants and place them in front of all the high-traffic doors in your home -- both inside and out. The more dirt you catch at the door, the less you’ll be chasing after it with a vacuum. For extra protection, lay a clear plastic office chair mat right inside the door and cover it with a rug.

2. Start a no-shoes rule.

Put a large basket (solid, not woven) near the door where all shoes can be tossed as soon as kids walk in. That way, stray dirt from the shoes will fall to the bottom of the basket rather than mess up the floor, says Smallin.

3. Keep the vacuum where the dirt is.

Rather than running up and down the stairs every day, keep your supplies where you’ll need them the most: mop in the kitchen, vacuum cleaner in the living room or hallway, etc. During the spring and summer, plan on vacuuming more often to keep any dirt from settling.

4. Clean up the mess.

If you do end up with mud on your carpets, let it dry before you vacuum. “One thing I don’t recommend is using stain removal sprays on carpet,” says Smallin. “This is the advice of every carpet-cleaning professional I’ve ever met. It [the stain removal spray] may remove the stain, but it leaves a residue that attracts dirt to it.”

The best trick for removing stains from carpet, according to Smallin, is to pour hydrogen peroxide on the stain, cover it with a wet white towel, and then press a hot steam iron on it for 15 to 20 seconds. The stain will transfer from the carpet to the towel. Repeat the process as needed. For best results, cover the spot with a dry towel and a heavy weighted object, and allow it to dry.

5. Call for help.

Once your house is equipped and organized, Smallin suggests instituting one last rule: “You make a mess; you clean it up.” As she says, “Why should Mom have to clean up after everyone?”

Go Green to Save Green

For Amie Cross, 28, saving money while saving the planet isn’t just a good idea: It’s a passion. “I’m a stay-at-home mom, and that means part of my job description is saving money whenever I can. To me, it goes hand in hand with being good to the environment,” she says.

To save gas and wear-and-tear on the family car, she shops once a month for dry goods, always buying in bulk. The rest of the time, Cross bikes to the store while hauling her two toddler daughters in a trailer behind her.

“Once, I got a really good price on organic milk, so I bought six gallons,” Cross says. How does she keep so much milk from going bad? “We freeze it and also make homemade yogurt. It’s easy, healthier and costs me about 55 cents for 32 ounces -- including the electricity -- versus $2.24 at the store.”

Some experts feared the recession would weaken people’s commitment to the environment. Instead, many are simply supercharging their dedication with a jolt of frugality. “About 74 percent of people say they are actively seeking green products within their budget,” says Mindy Gomes Casseres, a director in the corporate responsibility group of marketing research company Cone Inc.

Beyond just buying green, consumers are trying to live green too. Here are seven ways to befriend the earth while boosting your bottom line:

Get down and dirty When the White House is bragging about organic veggies, you know a trend has gone mainstream. The National Gardening Association is predicting a 19 percent increase in the number of Americans who will plant a green garden this year. A typical garden -- about 600 square feet -- produces 300 pounds of produce, worth $600. Factor out the $70 most people spend on their garden, and you can still net $530 in food savings.

“I spend less than $2 on a packet of cucumber seeds, and during the peak of the season, I get two or three cucumbers a day,” says Becky Zemansky, a kindergarten teacher in Woodstock, Ga., who uses them to flavor drinking water. Additionally, she cans much of her produce, using the family’s apples, pears and plums to make homemade fruit rollups.  

Rediscover your clothesline Whether they run on just gas, or gas and electricity, clothes dryers are usually the second most expensive appliance to run, costing about $85 a year, according to the California Energy Commission. (Refrigerators use the most energy.) Even air-drying a few loads a week can help.

Unplug, unplug, unplug Gadgets like Kill A Watt ($25) and Watts Up ($96) measure precisely how much juice your electronics use. You may be able to borrow the devices from, believe it or not, your public library or utility company. Or you could just take experts’ word for it and unplug such small appliances as toasters, coffee pots, TVs and computers. If you use a power strip, you only need to hit one switch to shut off all your printers, monitors and such.

Check your tires Keeping tires properly inflated helps maximize fuel economy, according to The Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, to reduce greenhouse gasses, California has made tire checks mandatory. Longer tire life means fewer junk tires in landfills and more green for you. Check your manual or car door for safe levels.

Kick less to the curb While Zemansky has been recycling for years, “we’ve gotten a lot more serious about it recently, composting and using more homemade cleaners instead of store-bought,” she says. “I mix vinegar with water in a spray bottle and it works great. A year ago, we’d generate two cans of trash, and now we don’t even fill one.” These simple steps helped Zemansky lower her grocery bill and halve what she used to put in landfills.