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



Smart Housekeeping


Craft Rooms and Home Offices

Caring for Furniture


Craft Rooms

Craft Supplies


Tool Storage

Home Offices

Office Equipment and Furnishings

Papers and Filing

Caring for Furniture


Fabric Upholstery






Woven Rush Seats


Thoughts about Clutter--"Pull Dates" for tools, craft materials, and papers

The Mice Step Out! The Mouse Public Library

Book Reviews

Product Reviews



Craft Rooms

Craft Supplies

Especially if you're interested in more than one craft, supplies can get completely out of hand. Boxes of materials--all completely necessary, of course--can take over whole rooms.

Sometimes it's hard to resist overbuying. When things are on sale, when you first get interested in a craft, or whenever enthusiasm takes over your normal sense of caution--look out.

I knew a woman who was a fine quilter. She loved to shop for fabrics, too--so much so that her husband objected strongly to her bringing any more of them home. She solved this conflict by bringing them home when he was gone, and laying them between the joists of her attic. I lost touch with her, but I imagined her passing on before her husband, and his reaction as he discovered the fabric while readying their house for sale.

The tough thing with crafts is that the materials themselves are so inspiring. You can see exactly what you could do, what beautiful thing you could create with them.

If you had the time, that is. And you don't.

The materials sit in your craft room, the inspiration fades, you feel guilty--it's not a productive way to go about being a creative person.

So the best advice is to only buy what you have a specific plan for using in the near future.

And then organize things. You don't want to buy duplicates of what you already have--but if things are jumbled and misplaced, it's easy to do exactly that. Use any kind of organizer that works for the sizes of objects to be organized, and label everythig so you don't have to root through your organizer to find what you need.

Papers and Books

Craft papers such as patterns can be kept in notebooks with clear sheet protectors. Use dividers and labels to make it easy to find what you want. A file box may be enough for craft-related papers, but if you need more than one box, you might as well get a small file cabinet. If your craft is a business, you have a combination craft room and office, and it's important to manage the business side of your creative work in a way that makes success more likely.

Craft books, like craft supplies, can burgeon completely out of control. Sometimes, it's like dough rising. Every time you look, the pile of books seems to have doubled in bulk.

Organize them on shelves by subject, as the library does. And review them frequently to see if you're really going to use a particular book--if not, you probably need the shelf space more than the book.

Fortunately, used bookstores are often glad to take books that you don't use anymore in exchange for a credit. The books would have to be in good shape, unmarked, and preferably with dust jackets if they had them originally. Or you can sell used books online, although prices aren't likely to nearly reimburse you for the original cost.

When you're experimenting with a craft, it's also a good idea to buy books used, or check them out of the library if you can. Sometimes it develops that a craft just isn't for you, and a few tries will make that clear.

Tool Storage

Small Tools

Drafting tabourets and organizer carts are very helpful in craft rooms. They can be expensive, but it's not unusual to find them in thrift stores. Tabletop organizers of various kinds--with and without small drawers--can be handy as well. Ordinary tool boxes work well for storage of some craft tools.

Of course, the most important issue when you're choosing tool containers is whether the drawers or other compartments fit the tools that you need to keep handy.

Larger Tools

Keep the box that a larger tool like a paper cutter comes in. Boxes are helpful for storage of awkward items that aren't in daily use. You can stack the boxes neatly on shelves, and of course the outside graphics are even better than a label.

Home Offices

Office Furnishings and Design

Working at home can be difficult. It takes special concentration to focus on work and shut out all the other possible things you could be doing or thinking about. People who work away from home get this cutoff automatically.

Working in a residential neighborhood also has its distractions. It's noisier, and you're more likely to be interrupted by things that have nothing to do with work.

You can counter some of this by careful design of your home office. Try to locate it on the quiet side of your house, if there is one. (Oddly, this may be the street side, if your backyard neighbor has dogs or kids). It's a good idea to have space for neat, organized storage of everything you need while you're working, because if you have to go through the house to get things or answer the phone, it's easy to get sidetracked. Make your home office into an island, as much as possible. During your work time, the rest of the house can almost disappear. It's a mental form of commuting.

Take ergonomic design seriously at home. It's easy to think of issues of that kind as affecting people who work in offices. But many home desks are not designed for long use--they may be the wrong height for computer use, may have an angled edge that makes your wrists hurt if you work at a keyboard for long, or other problems. Expect to work as comfortably at home as you would elsewhere.

Keep your working desk space as clear as you can--which means you'll need organized storage close to the desk or even within reach of it. Open shelves are good if any containers on them are clearly labeled.

If you use a printer, it's good to have it handy enough that you don't have to make a special effort to retrieve your printouts.

Reference books, in baskets, and other often-used items can be kept on your shelves for handy access without cluttering your work space.

If you use a chair with wheels, get a chair mat to keep it from ruining a carpeted or hardwood floor.

Papers and Filing

All the books I could find about home offices were heavy on interior decorating, short on organization, while books on general office management tended to be too complex to be helpful. General organization books may give a nod to the home office, but shy away from specifics. One is based on the idea that you will automatically have organized papers if you'll just organize your mind--not a point of view that I find especially helpful. Some books deal specifically with filing systems, but be careful about books that are only available as ebooks. It is so easy to publish an ebook--anyone can do it. The author may not have any expertise in the subject at all. And if they have three or four glowing reviews, it's a safe bet that most or all of them were written by their friends.

To get a handle on filing home office papers, start with planning. Imagine what you'd do if you wanted a paper--what would be the first place you'd look? What makes sense?

Here's one way to do it: First, separate your papers by client or customer. Then, by project, if you have multiple projects from the same source. Then, divide the papers into groups that will make it easier to find things quickly--financial records for transactions would be one category, for example. You can use dates or types of work, or any category that will identify the location of the papers you want. Using ordinary file folders and labels, group the files by your original main category such as client. You may want to further group these files by year.

Do not use paper clips in files. They create havoc by grabbing papers that don't belong with the ones you've intended to attach. Use staples to attach papers.

Hanging file folders are useful if your file cabinet is set up for them. They keep files from scooting to the bottom of the drawer. If your file cabinet doesn't work with hanging files, you can get frames that will hold them, and may fit the drawers.

Caring for Furniture



Wood furniture may be solid wood, or it may be plywood or other manufactured wood product covered with veneer.

Clean by regular dusting--a lambswool duster is ideal, because it won't scatter the dust--and occasional use of a wood cleaner. Always work in the direction of the grain.

Use of wax or polish can improve the appearance of wood furniture, but it's helpful if you know what kind of clear finish is on the wood to begin with, if any. Wax isn't helpful over unfinished wood, and may not be needed over a very hard clear finish. And water based finishes may be damaged by applying a wax that's solvent based.

Solid wood is fairly forgiving. At worst, heavy wear will make it necessary to refinish it.

Veneer, which is a thin wood "skin" glued to a particleboard or other substrate, is another story. It should be protected from both heat and moisture. On a veneered tabletop, use tablecloths, placemats, coasters, or trivets, as appropriate to protect the surface. If you don't, you'll get white spots, black spots, or even buckling of the veneer as a result of glue failure between the substrate and the veneer. If the furniture is in a very hot or cold environment, this kind of failure can also happen. Generally, if a problem of this sort occurs, it's more expensive to repair the table than it would cost to buy a new one.

Fabric Upholstery

Your upholstery fabric may be more or less resistant to staining, but clean up spills as soon as they occur to avoid staining. If possible, turn the cushions occasionally, and also move couch cushions from one location to another to even out wear.

Vacuum weekly, or oftener if you have pets. Even if they supposedly don't get on the furniture, they may sneak onto it when you're not looking, and in any case, their fur floats around.

Use the soft brush attachment of the vacuum, and look carefully for loose buttons, stains, threads, or other areas that need attention.

Avoid placing fabrics in areas where they'll be faded by heavy sun exposure.

If you want to deep clean upholstered furniture, you're probably more likely to be pleased with a professional job than with DIY. Just choose your cleaning professional carefully.



Jokes about invisible coffee tables aside, modern "waterfall tables" and other acrylic pieces can be both beautiful and practical. They do need protection from scratching, but most of us use coasters in any case. There are special cleaners on the market, but generally, all acrylic furniture needs is dusting.

Plastics are also used for porch furniture, utility shelves, children's furniture, and seats of office and banquet type chairs. All are washable, and require little care. Outdoor plastic furniture can collect grime, especially if it's not covered when in use, and it can be difficult to clean it without scratching the surface and making it more likely to collect even more.


Glass tabletops and other glass furniture may or may not be tempered glass. If the glass is not tempered, it is much more likely to shatter if it is hit, overheated, or subjected to a load that's too heavy.

However, even tempered glass may break from impact, weight, or temperature change.

Use coasters, trivets, and pads to protect the glass from damage. Glass can be scratched by rough objects such as heavy pottery vases or bowls.

Clean as you would window glass.



Leather furniture has an undeserved reputation for being hard to care for. But it's actually not difficult--it's just different. Dust it, keep it dry, and use a leather conditioner every six months or so.

If you have a wood piece with leather cushions, don't get furniture polish on the leather if you apply it to the wood.



Brass beds. Chrome modern. Wrought iron patio furniture. Mixed metals.

The first question is--Is the metal finished? If it's painted or lacquered, you won't have to do much. Keep it dusted.

Modern brass beds are lacquered--at least, every one I've ever seen is. But antiques typically are not. If you have an unfinished piece of brass furniture, consider having it finished. A professional polishing and lacquering job isn't cheap, but compared the the time and labor of polishing a full size brass bed every few weeks, it's the bargain of the century. You can find metal refinishing services to do it--it's really much better to have that professional polish before sealing the surface for all time.

Chrome furniture usually doesn't need anything but dusting. If you need to clean it, soap and water may do the trick, or if not, try vinegar. Dry it well, and make sure you don't have water spots. You may want to wax or polish it--check automotive products.

Wrought iron patio furniture is probably powder coated, if it's modern. This type of coating has good rust resistance, and requires little maintenance, although it will last longer if it isn't subjected to long lasting high moisture levels.

Old wrought iron furniture probably is painted. It needs repainting as the coating begins to fail, and should be stripped periodically to get back to bare iron. Thick coats of paint will peel on their own at a certain point

Some patio furniture that looks like wrought iron is actually cast aluminum. It's fairly easy to maintain--hose it off, though don't use a spray like a carwash. It's fine to use mild detergent and a soft brush if necessary.

Mixed metals are tricky. Metals react with each other, so they should be separated with something to prevent corrosion, especially if there's water exposure, as there is with patio furniture. A sealant is an adequate separator as long as it's intact.


Vacuum frequently with the soft brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner. Clean with a damp cloth if necessary, but as a rule, you don't want wicker to get wet. Too much cleaning is probably worse than too little. If your wicker piece is a valuable antique, don't take it outdoors, and do not paint it. Don't leave it in strong sunlight, even indoors, on a regular basis, because that will dry it out and cause the wicker to crack.

If antique wicker needs restoration, have that done by professionals.

Modern wicker may or may not be natural materials--much of it is made of plastic that simulates the look of old wicker. Natural modern wicker is likely to be either varnished or painted. Vacuum at regular intervals, wash with mild detergent solution if necessary, and feel free to repaint painted pieces as desired--if you do, you'll find that it takes far more paint than you might expect.


Woven Cane Seats and Other Panels

Caned seats are strong, and will last a long time if they're not mistreated. A cane seated chair is definitely not one to stand on--not that anyone should be standing on chairs to begin with. I've read recomendations to cover caned seats with cushions, but that does seem to eliminate the reason to have a caned seat in the first place.

Cane doesn't last well in dank environments, so if you store caned furniture, don't put it in the basement or in an unheated storage space.

Eventually, the cane will stretch, and it can be tightened somewhat as long as it isn't broken. If it is, you'll need to have the whole panel recaned, which is expensive. So if you like caning enough to coddle it a bit, it's a good choice. Otherwise, it's likely to be something you'll replace in a fairly limited time period.


Woven Rush Seats

If you have chairs with woven rush seats, you will either discard them in time, or else you'll learn how to do woven rush seats, or find someone else who you can hire to do it. They be come butt-sprung in a few years. Fortunately, instructions about how to do it are easy to find. Books, videos, and materials are readily available. You can reweave the seats with the same rush several times before you have to replace it.

The seats themselves, when they're in good shape, are more comfortable than most chairs with seat cushions. They have some "give" to them--which of course, is why they end up sagging to begin with.

Marble and Other Stone

Protect tabletops with coasters and trivets. Dust frequently, and clean with a mild detergent solution as needed. Rinse well. Don't let acidic materials like vinegar contact stone.

Some people cover ornamental stone tables with glass, others feel it's unnecessary.

If you use stone cleaners and sealants, make sure the product is intended for the type of stone you have. Though they may look similar, different types of stone are chemically quite different.

Thoughts about Clutter--"Pull Dates" for Tools, Craft Materials and Projects, and Papers

Craft projects could use a "pull date," like packaged foods. It happens to everyone--not just in crafts--that some projects don't work out. There is a time to cut your losses and go forward with whatever you've learned from the effort.

Craft Materials and Projects--I don't know why we expect every craft project to be a huge success. There's a real embarrassment in admitting that something didn't work out, or that it's too hard. That can result in a particularly unpleasant kind of clutter--guilt clutter. Every time you look at your half-finished sampler or fabric that you know in your heart will never get sewn into a dress, you call yourself names.

Instead of doing that, think for a minute about why you stalled. Did you lose interest before you even started? If so, a consignment store might take the unused materials or kit. You might get some of your money back.

Did you hit a hard spot, one that someone else might be able to help you over?

Or is the whole project turning out to be a disappointment, not what you'd hoped at all? If so, could someone else finish or use the thing? If so, give it to a thrift store. Not having to look at something that's uselessly bothering you is worth the one-time hit of regrets at admitting that this project is never going to happen.

If it's hopeless--the way sewing projects that I start usually end up--then throw it away. Every time you look at something like that, it takes energy and confidence away from you.

Maybe you want to think harder before you start a project. That's fair. But don't let things that didn't work out for you drag you down. That's the worst kind of clutter.

Reality is that not everything we try is going to be a success. We take that for granted with almost everything else--cooking, for instance. Not every dish works out. Larger issues, too-who hasn't taken a job they ended up disliking? Or bought a car that turned out to be a lemon?

Tools--Of all the things I've given away and then had to re-acquire, tools are the worst--and probably the donations I've most often regretted. Think long and hard before you get rid of tools. Then if you're sure you won't want them again, go ahead and sell or donate them. But give tools a lot longer to be needed again than you would ornaments or clothes.

Papers--Some papers have a built-in "pull date." Coupons expire. Tax records reach "too old to audit" status. Work is completed, scanned, and archived. Keeping this kind of paperwork from becoming clutter is a matter of recognizing which papers can be discarded, and when. For me, that means keeping them separate in some way from things I need or want to keep indefinitely.

The Mice Step Out! The Mouse Public Library

Click here for the mice's trip to the library


Book Reviews

The Inspired Room by Melissa Michaels--Practical design for the whole house, with excellent tips for home offices. Recommended.

Ergonomic Living by Gordon Inkeles and Iris Schencke--One of the best practical design books I've seen. Great advice on setting up workspace for an office, home or otherwise. Highly recommended.

Product Reviews

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

Minwax Paste Finishing Wax, Natural--Of the paste waxes I've tried, this is the best. Recommended.

Twinkle Brass and Copper Cleaner--Good all purpose polish. Recommended.

Nevr-dull Magic Wadding Polish--Works very well on some things, not as well on others. Worth a try. When it does work, it's excellent. Strong odor. Recommended, but not first choice. I'd try this if other polish doesn't work.


Felted mice by Diyana Stankova

Squirrel by ClaudiaMarieFelt

Tea Cart by WickerMiiniature





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