By Rachel Bertsche
As the cold weather subsides and a fresh new season rolls in, it's time to crack open those windows and dive into spring-cleaning.
Freshening up your house from top to bottom can seem daunting, but if you tackle one room at a time and get the whole family involved, you'll be finished before you hear the first round of "Are we done yet?"
Add a hint of green to your annual spring-cleaning fest with these tips for sprucing up every room in the house.
Welcome in the fresh air! "For those of us in colder climates, the house has been sealed up for months, which contributes to poor indoor air quality," says Kristen Conn, founder of the healthy-home website MightyNest.com. "Everything from dust and germs to the chemical vapors released from home furnishings, paint and dry-cleaning can be lurking in our indoor air. Before doing anything else, step one should be to open those windows."
Once the warm spring air is flowing through the house, remove heavy curtains and focus on getting rid of dust. "Wash curtains, blankets and other washable linens and hang them outside to dry if possible," says Conn. "Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean all carpeting, rugs and upholstered furniture. Finally, wet-mop hard floors with vinegar and water, and wipe baseboards with a mixture of castile soap and warm water."
Spring-cleaning doesn't just involve a scrub-down; it's also about organization. Cull through the clothes in your closet with three piles in mind: keep, donate, repurpose. Now's the time to admit you're never going to wear that sweater Aunt Gail got you last Christmas. You know, the one that still has the tags attached? Drop it in the donation pile, along with any other intact garments you never wear.
If you have suits or formalwear to give away, consider donating to Dress for Success or find a local dress drive organization through Donate My Dress. For items you would happily wear if it weren't for a few holes or -- ugh! -- those dreaded sweat stains, considering giving them new life with a few patches or by cutting off the sleeves. Did the washing machine strip your favorite button-down shirt of its shape? Add a button or two in the back for the perfect cinch.
Gloves and scarves and hats, oh my! Come springtime, it can feel like winter apparel has exploded all over your coat closet. To store those cold-weather items when they're not needed, Conn suggests picking up some bamboo or metal baskets. Also, "look for things that can be repurposed," she says. "Glass jars or shoeboxes covered in decorative paper work great as storage."
Perhaps the most overwhelming task in the spring-cleaning repertoire is sorting through the file cabinets and never-ending piles of papers. What can you throw out, what must you file ... and how did you amass so much trash?! Use this opportunity to go paperless and save yourself the same headache next year.
Sign up for online banking and pay all your bills with a click of the mouse -- no more shredding required. And did you know the average American receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year? Cut that down by as much as 95 percent by signing up with websites like 41Pounds.org, a nonprofit that contacts direct mail companies on your behalf to cut down on your unwanted mail.
Start your spring-cleaning by breaking out the fans! It's estimated that a ceiling fan uses a thirtieth of the energy that a standard window air conditioner uses. If you place fans strategically -- on ceilings and in windows -- you can keep the temperature cool and comfortable. And for when you absolutely can't live without the cool air from an AC, look for an Energy Star-qualified model with a built-in timer. Set it to turn on just before you get home rather than letting it run all day.
Rachel Bertsche is a Web producer, blogger and journalist who lives in Chicago. She's written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Outside and Fitness.
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