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Smart Housekeeping
The No-Nonsense Guide to Decluttering, Organizing, and Cleaning Your Home,

 

 

Smart Housekeeping

April

Gardens, Decks, and Yards

Outdoor Furniture

Stairs and Ladders

Contents

Outdoor Housekeeping with the Seasons

Gardens

Decks

Yards

Walkways

Patios

Materials and Maintenance

Stairs

Irregular Stairs

Distractions

Outdoor Stairs

Handrails

Ladder Safety

Outdoor Furniture

Thoughts about Clutter--Safe and Sound Disposal

The Mice Step Out! The Mice Children's Birthdays

Book Reviews

Product Reviews

Credits

 

Outdoor Housekeeping with the Seasons

You'd go nuts if you tried to keep your yard the way you keep your house. Mother Nature can beat anyone when it comes to cluttering--a whole tree full of leaves in one windy night, or three feet of frozen water on a winter afternoon. And those are just normal events.

However, unless you live in a wilderness, you're probably going to try to do something. It's a good idea to more or less match your neighbors' outdoor housekeeping, at least closely enough that you're not a negative attention-getter.

I'm no great fan of certain kinds of outdoor machinery. I've lived in neighborhoods where I couldn't understand why everyone seemed to need leaf blowers in the fall--they'd spent so much of the summer using chain saws all day that I couldn't understand how there could be any leaves left. Personally, I favor solutions that don't make a racket.There are many non-mechanized helpers for the raking job. I use an adjustable rake to maximize effectiveness, and then scoop the leaves up with plastic "paws" that fit over my hands.. A bag holder is a big help, too.

On the other hand, I do understand snow blowers. Not everyone is strong enough to battle the results of a blizzard.

What your yard does have in common with your house is that an important part of upkeep is setting up reasonable standards and expectations to begin with. Decide what you can do, and want to do, and then arrange the yard to look good at that level of maintenance if you can.

If your wishes are more ambitious than your time and strength allow for, hire someone to help you. There are many skilled landscapers who can bridge any gap between what you'd like and what you can do.

An extremely important thing that many homeowners ignore, to their eventual loss, is cleaning downspouts and gutters after deciduous trees have shed their leaves in the fall. If downspouts and gutters aren't functioning properly, enormous, expensive damage is almost inevitable.

Gardens

I loved having a garden when I lived in a climate where it was reasonable to grow the things I wanted to grow. But that's no longer true, and it's a struggle, sometimes a futile one, to try to grow things under conditions that the plants don't like. Sometimes, growers will adapt plants like tomatoes, and market a hybrid that can take inhospitable conditions, but those seldom taste very good. Or, if it's a flower, it may not bloom well, or grow easily, or even survive the winter.

Even if a plant can thrive in your climate, pay attention to whether it likes sun or shade or a mixture. Avoid pest-attracting plants unless you really want them and are willing to go to the extra effort. In my area, that's primarily hostas, but that undoubtedly varies with climate.

Mulch so you won't have to weed as often. If you have a problem with snails, mulch with coarse sand. They don't like it, and will avoid the area. I've read that coffee grounds work much the same way.

Potted plants are a completely different skill from gardening in earth--in fact, some sources recommend using non-dirt potting mixtures as a way of improving performance of potted plants. Water and drainage are key. It's also important to size the pot properly--if you use a huge tub for small plants, water may accumulate in areas where the roots aren't taking it up, resulting in bacterial and fungal growth.

Whole books have been written about every kind of gardening. Shop around and find a good guide for what you want to do. Local nurseries usually only carry plants that do fairly well in their area, and staff should be knowledgeable about performance in various conditions. Seed catalogs give information about what you can expect, as well.

Flowerbeds around the foundation of a house are pretty, but they can cause special problems. Make sure the soil doesn't build up to within six inches of any wood siding, or you'll get termites. Also, the bed should slope away from the house so that it doesn't introduce water into the foundation area.

And if you plant trees near your house, think very hard about the size of the tree when it's full-grown. The roots--and sometimes even trunks and branches, in extreme cases--can do a lot of damage to your structure

Decks

Decks can be great additions to a house--an indoor-outdoor interface that gives you the best of both.

Make sure your deck surface drains properly after a rain, or it may get mossy and slippery underfoot. If this is a problem, you might consider a nonslip textured finish. Indoor-outdoor carpet will solve the problem of slipping, but beyond that, mossy lumber rots, and can be dangerous to walk on. And covering it with carpet will probably make it worse.

If your deck is more than 30 inches above the ground surface, it must have a railing. Actually, I'd put some edge protection, even if it's only a line of planters or benches, around anything more than about six inches above the ground.

Decks are often on the protected side of a house, which is nice for use. But a deck on the sunny side can reflect quite a lot of heat into the house, especially if it has a light colored surface. If this isn't what you want, consider insulating drapes on any glass between the deck and the house, or you might change the surface of the deck.

Patios

Some of the commonest patio materials are units like brick and flagstone pavers, solid poured concrete or asphalt, or gravel. Unit materials may be grouted or set in earth, sometimes separated enough that ground cover is used between them. Gravel may be used with borders or loose.

Anything that has gaps is going to have to be weeded. Between loose set bricks or flagstones, plants can take hold in such a way that you'll have difficulty getting the roots out. This is also true when mortared stones and bricks develop cracks. Of course, you can use chemicals, but maybe that's not what you want.

Much to my surprise, when I lived in a house with a gravel patio, weeds were a huge problem. I spent considerable time every single day pulling weeds. Even though I was not enthusiastic about spraying with weed killer, it eventually became necessary.

Outdoor Furniture

Outdoor seating furniture may be used in open yards, or on roofed porches--and those are entirely different kinds of weather exposure. If a piece of furniture sits in an open yard year round, that's also different from furniture that's brought into the yard for a season or for an occasion.

Plastic lawn furniture is supposedly the answer to the old rusting metal chairs or paint-peeled Adirondack furniture. It's lighter and stackable, which is certainly an advantage, but I haven't found it to be much of an improvement in terms of weather resistance. Plastic furniture seems to attract grime, and it's very difficult to clean once the grime has settled in. If you scratch it in cleaning, it's even more difficult the next time around.

I have resorted to scrubbing it with liquid dishwasher detergent, which works--but it's not easy to rinse the stuff off, even with a garden hose. And it's not a job that is likely to leave your clothing undamaged, either--the detergent contains bleach, and it's going to splash around. All in all, it's better to treat plastic furniture as you'd treat less durable kinds--don't let it get wet and dirty to begin with. When it gets grimy and moss-speckled, it's really not furniture anymore, since no one would want to sit in it.

Outdoor wood furniture should be finished or treated. Raw wood doesn't hold up well in weather. Water invades wood easily, especially end grain. When you think about it, that's what wood is actually meant to do--the trunk of a tree conveys water from the ground to the growing tips and leaves. So wood is really like soda straws, a set of tiny channels. Even after a tree is cut, there's some movement of water along these structures. So it's iimportant to block them by finishing the wood--or you can treat it so that parasites can't take hold, but some of those treatments are toxic chemicals.

Natural wicker is great on porches, but it's not weatherproof. Plastic wicker is more durable, but the weave traps dirt and it isn't easy to clean. Wicker furniture inevitably has cushions, and they shouldn't be left outdoors.

Lightweight foldable furniture is supposedly the solution--you bring your chair with you when you want to sit outdoors, and put it away when you're done. That does make sitting in the yard into a bigger production than it would be if you didn't have to tote the chair, and some of those foldable ones are real finger pinchers.

Furniture covers are one solution to many problems, but read reviews before you buy. Some are easier to use than others, some repel rain better, some can handle snow better. If you don't use furniture covers, it's probably wise to bring the furniture into a sheltered location most of the time--scrubbing it after it gets dirty is a two-fisted job.

Yards

The day of the emerald velvet lawn is passing for environmental reasons, and in all honesty, there may not be many mourners. Expensive and labor-intensive, showpiece lawns were probably more motivated by neighborhood expectations than by a desire to have a manicured green space around the house.

So, what are the alternatives?

Ground covers are one, and some of these are walkable. Do as much research as you can on a specific ground cover you're considering--some only do well in warm climates, others only in full sun, and so forth. Some are aggressive, and have to be kept from invading flowerbeds and neighbors' lawns. Some only look good at certain seasons. Some may attract bees and other insects. And of course, what will work well for you depends on how you use your yard to begin with.

I'd advise against ivy--it's hard to keep it from choking out other plants, including trees, and if it climbs up the side of your house, it will damage the siding. It also, for some reason, impresses dogs as a really nifty latrine. So ground covers can have their disadvantages.

On the advantage side, I knew one family who had trouble with burglaries, and were advised by their local sheriff's department to replace their grass lawn with a thorny ground cover. It worked.

Clover works well for lawns in some areas. It requires less watering and mowing than grass, and is good for the soil. It's not durable enough for heavy traffic, though, and it attracts bees.

If you live in an area where drought is likely, research xeriscaping. It's complicated in the planning stages, but very easy to maintain if done properly.

In the US Southwest, some homeowners are using desert landscaping. This certainly has environmental benefits as well as saving work and expense--the rise in humidity from lawn watering makes desert temperatures much more uncomfortable.

If you have a lawn that has to be mowed, keep the mower blades sharp. They should be sharpened at least once a year. When you mow, don't cut the grass too short. You may feel you have to mow more often if you don't give it a buzz cut, but the grass will be healthier if you don't.

Walkways

Most lots have at least a walkway between the public sidewalk and the front door. There may be other walkways as well.

Walkway materials have much in common with patio paving. Weeding is the most common housekeeping need, followed by problems caused by settlement. If settlement of your walkway causes a trip hazard, repair or replace it.

One added complication is slope. Gravel or in particular is hazardoous above a certain slope--it's very easy for someone going downhill to slide and fall. Snow removal is also difficult on gravel. On the other hand, in my experience, a gravel surface is less likely to form ice than a paved one.

Some communities require snow and ice removal of public walkways that abut private homes. Others don't, but there may be personal liability if it isn't done--and that's certainly the case with walkways on your property. Choose a de-icing material that's appropriate for your temperature and use--some are harder on plants than others.

Snow and ice removal is easier if you treat the surface before a snowfall, and also during it if you can. Don't pile snow in places you wouldn't allow water to accumulate, like around your foundation or against wood siding.

You shouldn't use a snow blower on less than about an inch and a half of snow.

I've known of neighborhoods that shared snow blowers and helped each other with clearing. Sounds like a better idea than everyone having their own for a few feet of sidewalk. Maybe it's worthwhile to work this out as a co-operative venture.

Stairs

Most people believe that steep stairways are dangerous. That's not exactly true.

More than the angle of the stairs, the two things that cause accidents are irregular stairs and distractions.

Irregular Stairs:

The horizontal part of the step, called the tread, should be large enough for firm balance of your foot, and all treads should be exactly the same width, with only tiny variation.

The vertical part of the step, called the riser, should allow you to step up or down without straining or stumbling. Risers should be exactly the same height as other risers, with only tiny variation

The reason for treads to be identical and risers to be identical is that walking up or down stairs is rhythmic. Unlike hiking an irregular mountain trail, stair climbing amounts to a habitual set of motions. When we encounter something unexpected, we tend to misstep. Accidents result.

Distractions:

Not as easy to measure as tread and riser dimensions, but accidents on stairs tend to happen at places where there's a change--for instance, where a stair goes around a corner or opens into a room. Probably all that can be done on a housekeeping level with a stair that has a layout of this kind is to be aware that it's a potential problem and not add any further distractions.

Outdoor Stairs:

Keep outdoor stairs clean and free of moss and slick spots. In the winter, remove ice and snow promptly.

Handrails:

The safest stair is one with a handrail that you can get a good grip on. You need to be able to get your hand around it and hold tightly. In the course of regular use, you wouldn't grip like this, but if your hand is actually on the rail and you slip, whether you fall depends on whether you can hold on while you get your balance. A round-section railing about an inch and a half in diameter is ideal, but there are many other good profiles as well. If you don't have a safe handrail, it's a good idea to add one.

Ladder Safety

In both household and occupational use, ladders are the source of many injuries, including fatal injuries. About half of all ladder injuries involved carrying objects while climbing. It's a good idea to have a helper hold the ladder while you're working on it.

According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

  • Falls from portable ladders (step, straight, combination and extension) are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries.
  • Read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.
  • Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.
  • Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.
  • Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing.
  • Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.
  • Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet.
  • Do not use a self-supporting ladder (e.g., step ladder) as a single ladder or in a partially closed position.
  • Do not use the top step/rung of a ladder as a step/rung unless it was designed for that purpose.
  • Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.
  • Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
  • Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
  • An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support.
  • Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.
  • The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface.
  • A ladder placed in any location where it can be displaced by other work activities must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade must be erected to keep traffic away from the ladder.
  • Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.
  • Do not exceed the maximum load rating of a ladder. Be aware of the ladder’s load rating and of the weight it is supporting, including the weight of any tools or equipment.

The OSHA material is accompanied by drawings that clarify the text. Link

The Mice Step Out! The Mice Children's Birthdays

Click here for the birthday festivities

Thoughts about Clutter--Safe and Sound Disposal

Counties and cities have regulations about disposing of household hazardous waste. However, there's no standard definition of what that is. There are some products, such as insecticides, that would probably meet almost all definitions. Others--ordinary batteries would be an example--are considered to be hazardous waste by some communities and not by others.

Typically, there are pickup days or dropoff places for these items. Sometimes, these are reasonable and convenient, and sometimes they aren't.

In addition to official arrangements, there may be a network of legal private disposal opportunities.

Hardware stores may accept ordinary batteries and fluorescent lights

Garages may take used motor oil.

Printer cartridges can usually be mailed for recycling, and some office supply stores also accept them.

Computer stores may recycle rechargable batteries.

Pharmacies and law enforcement offices usually have secure boxes for disposing of unwanted drugs.

Rather than store possibly-hazardous items in your basement or garage, find out what is designated as hazardous in your area. The lists can be extensive, and may include empty containers that have held bleach, garden chemicals, paint, and even nail polish remover. Then see what facilities are available for getting rid of them.

If legal disposal is too time-consuming and inconvenient, you may decide to replace some of your household hazardous waste with unregulated substitutes. This is one advantage of natural cleaners, if they work for your job--you won't have any problem disposing of them.

In any event, find out what you're supposed to do, especially if you're using real toxic materials such as insecticides. If you simply store the stuff until some future convenient date that never comes, that's the worst kind of clutter.

I've looked into some of the "Zero Waste" ideas. Some are helpful, such as reducing non-recyclable packaging. Others, not so much--one publication said you could make your own shampoo so you wouldn't have to buy shampoo in bottles. I don't know how they think shampoo ingredients are packaged, but as a soapmaker, I can tell you--they come in bottles. So you'd be trading shapoo bottles for bottles of oil--which are much harder to clean for recycling--and packages of lye, which is hazardous waste. Shampoo bars were also recommended--if you don't make your own, this would reduce packaging. However, shampoo bars aren't for everyone. Every one I've tried is hard on fine hair, and many leave a sticky film.

Analyze any idea of this kind that you hear or read. Sometimes, people with a cause go to extremes or don't think things through properly.

Book Reviews

Gardening All-In-One for Dummies by the National Gardening Association--Comprehensive and clearly written. Recommended.

Better Homes and Gardens Gardening Made Simple by Better Homes and Gardens. Aimed at beginners. Recommended.

Sunset Western Garden Book, by Sunset Magazine. Regional, but recommeded if you are in their region.

New Complete Guide to Gardening, by Better Homes and Gardens. Comprehensive. Recommended.

The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less, by Amy Korst. Ideas for reducing waste and ways to recycle. Recommended.

Product Reviews

I have no financial interest in any of these companies, and have not received anything in exchange for my recommendations.

Leaf Scoops by Gardex--Big, paw-like scoops that fit over your hands and make gathering leaves easy. Recommended.

Bag Buddy bag holder--a collapsible wire frame that holds a large bag open. Recommended.

 

Credits

Felted mice by Diyana Stankova

Basket of tomatoes by KristinaBears

Fence by ScubamouseStudiosJr

Flagstone by OldMarket

Potting bench by Bluebonnet Ladies

Daffodils by BitsyNest

 

 

 


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