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My Housekeeping Book!

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



Smart Housekeeping


Entries, Porches and Doors

Living Rooms

Home Systems


First Impressions




Living Rooms

Home Systems



Temperature Control

Smoke Detectors

Fire Extinguishers

Water Heating


Septic Tanks


Thoughts about Clutter: Why Keep Things?

The Mice Step Out! Ice Skating

Book Reviews



First Impressions

The way that your house greets strangers is the "face" of your household. A face with an expression--is it welcoming? Informal and friendly, or pretentious and forbidding? Blending into the neighborhood, or standing apart from it?


In climates where it's possible to sit outdoors for much of the year, front porches become outdoor living rooms, places of casual greetings of people on the street. Or, just pleasant places to talk with family and friends, get some kinds of work done, or enjoy the scenery. Porches also serve to make a statement about your household, shelter people at the door, provide a place for deliveries, grow tender potted plants,or park a bicycle.

Back porches are sometimes the real entrance to a house--at least for friends and family. Or they may become utility areas for cleaning tools and storage of unvalued furniture and possessions--real clutter catchers, in fact.

Porches should drain any rainwater away from the house--if they don't, the decking will eventually rot, and the water may damage the siding or even structural members of a wood house. Make sure porches drain correctly, and keep decking painted or otherwise protected.


Mats--Have a mat on both sides of every door to the outside. Also, it you have a basement, provide mats at the door between the basement and the rest of the house.

Locks--This is no place to economize, if there's any problem at all with break-ins. Talk to the crime prevention experts who work for your local police department, and take their suggestions about security. If you have double key deadbolts, store a key in a place that every household member knows, very near the door. Make sure the key isn't visible through any glazing in the door.

Glazing--It's convenient to have glass panels in doors, so you can see who's at the door. But don't forget that people on the other side can also see in.


If you pay attention to home magazines, you'd think every house had plenty of space for a large foyer, complete with everything you'd ever need. I've never lived in such a house, and I've known very few people who did. But "foyer" is more a function than it is a room--you do need to make leaving and arriving convenient, even if you do it piecemeal.

Keys--Hangers, a box on a shelf, a drawer in a piece of furniture, a basket hanging from the doorknob--something to hold your keys. If your door has a glass panel, the keys should not be visible through it. If you have double key deadbolts, an emergency key that is never used for anything else is a must. It should be clearly available in an emergency but, like your everyday keys, not visible through the door.

Flooring--The flooring near a door should be easy to clean.

Shoes--Many people remove shoes or change shoes right inside the door, to minimize floor maintenance. If you do this, you need a convenient, hopefully attractive, way to store all those shoes.

Junk Mail Basket--For periodic disposal in your recycling container.

"Take" Table--It doesn't have to be a table. It could be ny location--a basket, a hook, or simply a place on the floor--where you put things to take with you. You'll forget a lot less if the object is right there by the door.

Small Mirror --For a last minute appearance check before you leave the house.

Other Storage--If there's room, storage for hats, mittens, and other outdoor clothing is handy. I have a hook for my reusable grocery bags and my purse inside the door of the coat closet.

Boot Tray--If you live in a climate with lots of rain or snow, you may like boot trays. Large, shallow plastic trays that corral the shoes and boots and contain the runoff from them. I found them at a large hardware store.

Coat Hooks--Coats need to dry before being hung in a closet. You should have a coat hook for each person in the house. Children's coat hooks should be within their reach so they can take care of this themselves. It's very helpful if your house has a separate coat closet near the entry, but many don't.

Umbrella Stand--Holds umbrellas upright and contains the runoff. I prefer to leave umbrellas on the porch but I realize this wouldn't work for everyone.

Living Rooms

Living rooms run the gamut from informal gathering places to cold, unused "best parlors." I'd imagine that a little-used room is fairly easy to keep clean--in fact that's probably why it's not used. There's more challenge to housekeeping for a room that does double or triple duty--from receiving strangers to welcoming friends, from impressing others to providing a warm atmosphere for family camaraderie.

If the living room doubles as entryway, as it so often does, it can become Clutter Central. Consider the suggestions above for foyers if you have a problem with combined use.

Home Systems

Home systems are the electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and other systems that make your home livable and comfortable. Maintaining them goes far beyone housekeeping, and is also far more than I can possibly discuss here. If you're not as expert in this area as you might be, consult one of the books I've recommended below for details.

One suggestion for maintenance of home systems--make a binder or file of manuals and operating instructions for all your systems. Binders work best if you use clear sheet protectors and labeled divider sheets. Make it easy to find the information you need when you need it. You can add a calendar sheet in the front to keep track of regular maintenance needs like changing filters or having systems inspected.


If you're not happy with the lighting in your home, think about each room individually.

How are the fixtures located? What about shades--are they wasting light, either because they need cleaning or because they're a poor color or texture? What kind of bulbs, and what wattage can they take? Are they dimmable?

Compare various types of lighting carefully, keeping your needs in mind. Depending on what you expect, fluorescent, incandescent, LED, or halogen bulbs are available.

The color or character of the light is expressed as a K, or Kelvin, number. Lower numbers mean more yellowish light, higher ones are bluer light. A range of 2500-3000K is similar to typical incandescent light. 3500-4000K would be a colder light that might be better in a bathroom than a living room. 5000-6000K is recommended for a reading light.

If you plan to use any bulb outdoors, make sure it's labeled for that.

Dimmers save power, but not as much as using lower wattage bulbs to begin with.


Available as tubes or compact bulbs (CFLs). Fluorescents don't create heat, so they're good for use in areas that depend on air conditioning. Various light types, such as cool white or daylight, are available, but all fluorescent lamps look basically fluorescent. Some are dimmable, most aren't. Tubes require a ballast to work.

Some sources say that fluorescents should not be used in areas where lights are turned on and off at less than about twenty minute intervals.

Fluorescent lights are relatively inexpensive to operate.

Fluorescent bulbs should be recycled rather than disposed of in the trash, as they contain mercury.


These are being phased out for environmental reasons. They produce heat. Length of use time affects length of bulb life. They're relatively short-lived, but inexpensive.


LED bulbs have been expensive, but the price has dropped dramatically as they've become more popular. They produce little heat, and last for a long time unless there's a defect in the individual unit, which is not unheard-of. One way to ensure longer life is to use them in open, well-ventilated fixtures, as a fixture that accumulates any warmth may cause them to fail prematurely. They're very efficient to operate.

The length of time you keep the light on doesn't affect bulb life the way that would be typical for incandescent bulbs.


Halogen lights generate considerable heat, so they're less popular than fluorescent or LED bulbs where air conditioning costs are a concern. Another disadvantage is that they shouldn't be touched, because the oils from fingers can shorten bulb life. Their greater heat output can be a fire hazard.

They're used for security lighting, and for other specialty uses like auto headlamps.

Ventilation and Humidity Control

Before energy conservation became such an important consideration, ventilation mattered less than it does in modern homes. Recently built structures are so tightly sealed that it's possible to have inadequate ventilation, especially in winter. This can result in problems with mildew and general dankness. However, when you use mechanical ventilation, you are pushing conditioned air outside and replacing it with unconditioned air, which affects your heating or cooling energy cost.

Be aware that you can go too far either way, and keep an eye on indoor humidity, especially in closets, bathrooms, and basements. Bathroom fans, by the way, are not intended exclusively, or even mostly, for odor control, but for removing moisture that accumulates because of bathing, showering, and hanging damp towels and bathmats in the room.

If a space is dank, use a dehumidifier or moisture absorbers if you can't deal with the problem by increasing ventilation.

Temperature Control

Of course, if you're building or remodeling, you'll have many energy saving options that will make your home cozier in winter and cooler in summer.

There are many books on the subject of home energy saving--but unless you're ready and able to take on some construction, select carefully. Books do exist with many practical suggestions that don't involve altering the building. Look for those, and you'll find dozens of helpful suggestions. Here are a few housekeeping-level ideas:

Improving the weather stripping of doors will save energy, if it's possible for you to do that.

Even if it isn't, draft stops at exterior doors can help.

Insulated curtains, shades, and liners will also keep the cold out--or in, if your issue is conserving chilled air in summer.

Use curtains to block sun when you don't want heat gaiin and to admit it when you do. Some people remove window screens in winter to admit more sunlight.

Turn the thermostat down or turn the heat off at night if you can do that without affecting your health. It's much less expensive to use an electric blanket to warm your body than to heat a whole room--much less, a whole house.

If you have central heating, be aware of its air intake. Don't block it. Also, be aware that any odors near the intake will get distributed throughout the house. This is not a good place to put the garbage can or the compost pail.

One way to have a more comfortable house while controlling utility costs is to shut off unused rooms when you're heating or cooling the house. For example, if you do laundry once a week, shut off the laundry room on days when you're not using it. If you have a guest bedroom or bathroom, close the door unless there's a reason to heat or cool the space. If necessary, use a dehumidifier or moisture absorber in the room to prevent it from getting dank.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke alarms save many lives every year. They're required in many communities--even in owner-occupied houses, in some cases. Almost everywhere, for rentals. Here's how to make sure that your smoke alarm actually does you some good:

They have to be located properly. There should be one in each bedroom, one outside each sleeping area, and one on every level of the house, including basements. Also, you need one at every point where a fire could keep you from getting out of the building. Suppose you have a kitchen/living room/dining room open plan with a hallway to bedrooms. The place where a fire could block your exit is at the point were the hallway joins the open plan rooms, supposing that the bedrooms don't all have a second exit to the outdoors. If you're in any doubt, the prevention people of your local fire department can advise you.

It's also recommended that the alarms be interconnected.

You need a battery or battery-backup model. The reason is, a fire may short out your electrical power right away. If your alarm relies only on house power, it may be ineffective in a fire.

Keep a good battery in the unit at all times. Test occasionally to make sure the battery is still working.

If the location of your smoke detector makes it give you false alarms--for example, when you're cooking--don't get in the habit of disabling it by covering it or removing the battery. You'll forget to put it back in working order again. Instead, get a smoke detector with a temporary "disable" button.

Follow manufacturer's directions for installation and testing of your smoke alarms.

Fire Extinguishers

Having a home fire extinguisher is an extremely good idea. Keep it handy to likely fire sources, which would normally be the kitchen.

The single most important factor that influences whether fire extinguishers work is whether the person who's trying to use the thing actually knows how. Practice with your fire extinguisher until you're sure you know what to do. You may have to have it recharged, but that's a small expense compared to what you'll lose if you have to fumble with it in a moment of panic.

When you buy a fire extinguisher, pay attention to ratings. Type A is for ordinary flammables like wood and paper. Type B is fro flammable liquids. Type C is for electrical fires. Some fire extinguishers are rated for all three.

Fire extinguishers have expiration dates. Recharge or replace when the unit expires, or if you have any reason to think it may have leaked or may not be effective anymore.

In case you have a fire in a kitchen pot, you can also turn off the burner and put the lid on the pot. Or smother the fire with baking soda or salt. DO NOT use flour. Flour can explode or make the fire worse. Never put water on a grease fire.

Water Heating

Water heaters have a useful life of 10-15 years. After that, you're likely to have trouble with them, and likely to have to replace one due to malfunctioning.

Follow all instructions in your owner's manual --either the physical manual if you have it, or online. If you don't know the parts of your water heater, be sure to familiarize yourself with the locations of important ones, such as the shutoff and pressure relief valves. Know how to deal safely with an emergency.

If you have a gas water heater with a pilot light, you should know how to re-light it.

A fairly small change in the thermostat setting of a tank type water heater will make a significant difference in your utility bill because the water is kept at that temperature, with cyclical re-heating.

Point of use water heaters are intriguing, but they're expensive, and their installation is expensive. Theoretically, you save money on reheating the water, but infinite hot water can tempt many people to use more.


Toilets can waste an unbelievable amount of water, and leakage between the toilet tank and bowl can be inaudible. When you move into a new place, turn off the water valve to each toilet at least overnight, check the water level in the tank, and check it again in the morning. If the level is much lower after a few hours, replace the flapper in the toilet and check again. If it's still leaking, the problem may be more complicated, and you may want to get a pro to figure it out.

Having to jiggle the handle to get a toilet to stop running usually indicates a problem between the flush handle and the flapper. Something is hanging up and sticking somewhere. With the lid off, flush the toilet and see what's happening. If you don't know what to do at that point, take a photo and take it to your friendly hardware store when they're not too busy. They can probably help.


Septic Tanks

If you have a septic tank, you have to use and maintain it properly to prevent problems. Septic tanks work by bacterial action, so it's important to limit things from going into it that interfere with the bacteria. In addition, overloading it with excess water or filling it with non-biodegradable objects will eventually make it fail. Heavy soil is a problem, and large root masses in the drain field can also interfere with performance.

If you have a septic tank, have it inspected and maintained professionally on a regular basis. How often this should be done depends on the size of the tank and the size of your household.

Things to avoid

Garbage disposals
Pouring oils down the drain
Flushing paper towels, sanitary hygiene products,facial tissues, kitty litter, condoms, cigarettes or plastics
Pouring non-biodegradable chemicals like detergents, bleach, fabric softeners and paints down the drain
Draining swimming pools or hot tubs into the septic system
“Helpful” additives for septic systems—they don’t work.

Things to do

Conserve water. Wash only full loads of clothes and dishes.
Use only low flow plumbing fixtures
Fix any leaking fixture, running toilet, or other plumbing leak promptly.
Plant only grass over your drain field.
Use toilet paper that's safe for septic systems.



Do some homework before any emergency develops. Know where the utility shutoffs for your house are, know how to use them, and have any necessary tools handy.

Prevent emergencies if you can by making sure everything is in good repair.


In addition to the main water shutoff, many plumbing fixtures have individual shutoffs. Washing machines do, too. Know where they are and practice using them--among other things, they may be stuck, or may get stuck as they're not used from one year to the next. So it's wise to turn them off and back on once in a while. (And for your washing machine, it's very wise to turn that valve off before you leave on vacation.)

Unstopping plugged drains can often be done with plungers, but an effective toilet plunger is different from the kind you use for sink drains. Sink plungers are flat on the bottom, but most of these will not work efficiently for toilets. You need a plunger that's shaped especially for the toilet.

If you need to unstop a double sink, you have to cover one hole while you work on the other. If you leave the second drain open, nothing will happen. Use a flat stopper, pot lid, or anything that will fit tightly to the drain and allow the pressure of the plunger to build up.


Know which circuits go to which rooms, and label each breaker or fuse.

Electrical outlets in your bathroom or kitchen that are within 6 feet of a plumbing fixture should be "GFCI" or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets--the kind with the reset button. These have been required in new construction since 1971, but if your house was built before then, there was no requirement for upgrading. They increase the safety of electrical outlets near a source of water, though, and upgrading is a very good idea.

Thoughts about Clutter: Why Keep Things?

Based on a survey of thousands of households by Ikea. the possessions that most people truly value are those that either enable them to do things they want to do, or that appeal to the senses. Of course, that dealt with only inessential possessions--not things that are required for basic quality of life.

The survey results seem to be an updated version of something William Morris said back in the 19th Century: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

When you declutter, pay special attention to objects like this--to tools of all kind, and things that are enjoyable for themselves. Think twice, or maybe even three times before you give away an object that has enabled you to do something you enjoy, because you're shutting the door on that experience.

Anything from a unicycle to a grand piano--a handmade afghan, paints, your typewriter or computer. Useful, beautiful things that add value to your life--don't let some minimalist tell you you shouldn't have them.

And if an object isn't especially enjoyable anymore, put it away for a while and see how you feel about it when you get it out again. That's what museums do, after all--rotate the exhibits so people can see them fresh.

I hate to discourage anyone from decluttering, but I've also seen it done rashly, and I'm urging the use of your best judgment going forward.

Clutter is stuff that you don't enjoy, stuff that keeps you from doing what you love to do. Anything else--you want to think hard before you decide to let it go. You may find, once you organize your house well, that there's less actual clutter than you imagined.

The Mice Step Out! Ice Skating

Click here to see the mice's ice skating date.

Book Reviews

How to Save Energy at Home - 101 Great Home Energy Saving Tips
Judith Brown

Practical tips for saving energy and improving home comfort without remodeling.


Home Maintenance for Dummies
James Carey and Morris Carey Jr.

Great book, unfortunate title. I realize it's part of a popular series, but you're not a dummy if you don't know these things. The book is comprehensive, well arranged, and clearly explained. I like the emphasis on safety.


Felted mice by Diyana Stankova

Chipmunk by Shells Mystic Felt

Dollhouse by Real Good Toys



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