Convincing Your Kids to Chip in around the Holidays

kids-help-holidaysIt’s tempting to use the holidays as a carrot to elicit positive behaviors from kids such as helping more with tidying and cleaning around the house. But there are helpful and not-so-helpful ways of going about it. Here are a few tips and tricks for getting more help from your kids while avoiding unintended drama or consequences:

Emphasize the nice part of the nice-naughty dichotomy. ‘Are there old toys we might declutter and donate to make space for the new?‘ Or, ‘For every room you dust, you can earn a dollar to donate to our local food bank’ (adding points to your ‘nice’ column just in time for the holidays).

Game-ify. For example: ‘Whoever finishes cleaning their room first gets to lick the cookie-icing spoon or hang a favorite decoration.’ OR ‘Whoever clears the table after dinner gets to open and enjoy today’s treat from our holiday countdown calendar.’

Chores before beloved holiday traditions. ‘If we get the house cleaned this morning, we can [fill in a favorite holiday activity] this afternoon.’

Deploy ‘outside agents’ with extreme care. Understand there’s an inherent creepiness in having one’s behavior watched and judged in every moment, either by an omniscient gift giver from the North or even an active spy in your home (e.g., Elf on a Shelf). While some kids will delight in the spy’s mischievous antics, others may be secretly terrified or stressed out by its presence. But making sure the spy seems super benevolent can backfire, too. Should you decide to invite in the spy into your home, know that kids will discuss and compare their antics amongst themselves at school, adding pressure for you to be creative on a daily basis at an already-hectic time of year. You can relieve some of the pressure by borrowing ideas from others or creating a unique version of the concept to do away with the comparisons altogether.

Create opportunities for redemption. Let kids know that the great holiday gift giver is an eminently forgiving soul and that helping more around the house is a great way to redeem past mistakes they might be fretting about in secret (and all the better if the help is unsolicited!). You can also avoid ‘rebound’ bad and unhelpful behaviors by resolving to extend positive incentives for nice behavior throughout the entire New Year.

Wellness Strategies for Navigating the Holidays

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The holidays are all about Peace and Joy…until they’re not. If you find your anxiety levels rising as the holidays approach, check out these 25 Ways to Fight Holiday Stress from Health.com. Here, we add a few of our own ideas for coping with four common holiday-stress triggers:

Scenario 1: Gift-Shoppers’ Nightmare. You’re on your fifth loop of a way-overheated department store, searching for that perfect something to give a person you either don’t know very well or who doesn’t need another material possession in their life. Think outside the gift box! Is there an experience you can create? A service you might provide? Some personal talent you can share? Maybe there’s a charity or cause to which you can donate in their name.

Scenario 2: Dinner Disaster. You have a glossy-food-magazine vision of perfection for your holiday feast. Now you’re thirty minutes out from mealtime and things are spinning out of control in the kitchen. Ask. For. Help. Most people would rather contribute and feel useful than stand around sipping cocktails while you struggle. Graciously accepting help creates a wonderful opportunity to connect authentically with your guests and will be far more memorable than your picture-perfect meal.

Scenario 3: Dieters’ Paradox. You’re walking into a lavish party. You’ve read all the articles and tips about how to ‘stick to your diet’ and ‘beat the holiday weight gain.’ But, oh, so much temptation! In floods the guilt, so even if  you do blow it (as you very possibly will), you don’t enjoy it at all. Accept that, no matter how disciplined you are throughout the year, there’s a very good chance you’ll indulge at least once or twice during the holiday season. Give yourself permission to truly enjoy and find solace in NEDA’s Declaration of Independence from a Weight-Obsessed World.

Scenario 4: Cranky Relative Syndrome. You’re staring down 4–6 hours in which you’ll be captive audience to Uncle Frank’s inebriated political rants. Or maybe you’re just the one person in your family with a radically differing lifestyle or viewpoint, and, for one reason or another, you don’t have an option of simply refusing to attend. First, take a moment to appreciate that you have people with whom to celebrate the holidays (many don’t). Then, arrive well prepared with a list of noncontroversial subjects and talking points to which you can redirect conversation. Or bring and encourage plenty of distracting activities such as card, board, and parlor games; a nostalgic singalong; a look through old family photo albums and yearbooks; or maybe just a long walk in nature after the meal.

Before and after the holidays, set aside at least a few hours to indulge in real self-care. That might involve exercise, physical pampering, hiring a professional team to clean your house, or maybe just a perfectly solitary afternoon with a cup of tea and a great book. Happy holidays!

Invisible Things to Clean Before Houseguests Arrive

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Holiday season = houseguest season. Here’s a zone-by-zone checklist of all the invisible things you’ll want to clean so you can feel perfectly comfortable telling your guests to: “Make yourself at home!”

BATHROOMS

There’s one level of clean that’s good enough for your family. But, with guests coming, you need to go deeper than usual: attacking soap-scum buildup, neglected toilet tanks, partially clogged drains, and any signs of mold or mildew growth—all of which contribute to odors your guests are much more likely to notice than you are.

KITCHEN

Deep clean, defrost, and organize your fridge, making extra space for all the leftovers your entertaining will yield. Assuming at least one or two guests will offer to help with the washing up after meals, make sure your dishwasher is sparkling and that the insides of drawers and cupboards are spacious, well organized, and free of crumbs and other debris. Inspect ovens for burnt-on bits that could set off your smoke alarm at the worst possible times. And wow your overnight guests with great morning brews by deep cleaning and decalcifying your coffee maker.

BEDROOMS

Offering clean sheets to houseguests is a no-brainer, but, consider also cleaning heavy linens and even rugs, which may be harboring odors you don’t notice simply because you’re so used to them. Another nice touch is to declutter and clear closet and drawer space for guests to stow their possessions, thereby avoiding that unanticipated yard-sale effect that can wreck your perfect holiday décor.

LAUNDRY AREA

If you’ve got guests staying for more than a day or two, you’ll want to offer access to your laundry facilities. Sanitize your washer—newer machines have built-in cycles for this or just run an empty load with bleach followed by another water-only load to rinse thoroughly—and clean lint vents to ensure your dryer operates at max efficiency.

ALL OVER

Inviting people into your home creates many opportunities for germ transfer. Before and after entertaining guests, do everyone a favor and sanitize or disinfect all the things people touch frequently, including doorknobs, appliance handles, drawer and cabinet hardware, light switches and plates, TV clickers, and all kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

If you don’t think you’ll have time for all that cleaning, MaidPro’s got you covered! Our standard 49-Point Checklist tackles nearly everything above except for the decluttering, drain- and appliance deep-cleaning.

5 Ways to Invite Fall into Your Home

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Decorating your home for fall can be both fun and inexpensive. Free materials are abundant and collecting them is a great way to spend quality time out of doors with kids, pets, family, and friends.

There are countless DIY fall craft projects plus arrangement and presentation ideas just a Pinterest searchaway. Colorful, fallen leaves can be made into seasonal art, candle containers, and fairy-lit garlands. Other free fall decorating materials you might find outside include fallen pinecones; hydrangea blooms (which can be dried); bittersweet and grape vine; oak, crabapple, and other tree branches, to name just a few. Even everyday groceries can serve as great fall decorations—from a bowl of apples or pomegranates to the assortment of squashes and pumpkins that keep for a long time and can be made eventually into soups and pies.

The key to fall decorating is to create a feast for the senses plus a feeling of comfort and sanctuary from the stresses of busy fall schedules and pre-holiday workloads.

Sight. When it comes to color, think outside the classic autumn palette of oranges, yellows, browns, and reds. Adding greens, whites, and blues to the mix makes it easy to update your fall décor for the holidays and the winter beyond. Adding warm, low lighting—from candles and twinkling white lights—is another great trick for making fall visuals pop.

Touch. There are plenty of great reasons to keep your home at cooler-than-comfortable temperatures through fall and winter. Strategic placement of soft, cozy throws and blankets, slippers, and sweaters creates a perfect balance.

Smell. A fall-themed simmer pot starring apples, cinnamon, citrus, and cloves, or a crockpot warming flavored cider or mulled wine permeates your home with familiar and comforting scents. So too, will plenty of baking and cooking of fall favorites, which brings us to…

Taste. Fall is the time to enjoy a bounty of nutritious and fiber-rich seasonal fruits and vegetables. And, while some fall favorites—roasts, pies, cider donuts, and caramel apples—might not be the healthiest, trekking out to farms and harvesting your own food can provide at least a partial offset in terms of exercise. What’s more, basically every traditional fall recipe now has a lightened-up a version you can easily find and try.

Sound. Finally, for the sense of hearing in fall, enjoy the crackle of a wood fire or simply the sweet sound of silence that descends after summer’s cacophony of the lawn mowers and weed whackers. Trade-in your leaf blower for an old-fashioned rake and your neighbors will love you for it. Plus, you’ll burn enough calories to enjoy all those sinful fall favorites guilt free!

Got Stinky House Syndrome? Green Ways to Rid Your Home of Odors

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The first thing you need to know about household odors is that you’re probably the worst judge of whether or not you’ve got them. That’s because the human body has a self-protective mechanism that quickly desensitizes your nose to lingering odors. So, if you suspect stinky house syndrome, start by asking a trusted friend to perform a sniff test immediately upon entering your home.

If the news is bad, the second thing you need to know is that—be they commercial/chemical, natural, or ‘green’—deodorizing agents work in one of three ways: they mask bad smells (short-term solution requiring repetition), interfere with your sense of smell (yikes!), or they eliminate odors at the source either by bonding chemically to neutralize odor-causing molecules or killing organisms (bacteria, molds, and mildews) that cause odors in the first place. When you remove the sources of bad odors in your home, you create a fresh, clean palette for adding all the scents and fragrances you really love. Our best advice for lasting—and green—household odor removal is this:

Open your windows! Just a few minutes of fresh, clean air works wonders for dissipating and displacing airborne odor-causing molecules—all the better if it’s a windy day.

Clean regularly. Regular and thorough home cleaning is, hands down, the most effective and ultimately greenest means of removing odor sources from your home. The reason: When you clean frequently, you can use mild, environmentally friendly solutions and still be effective at preventing big odors from developing. But, when you allow odor-causing agents to dig into surfaces and textiles, you need much stronger, harsher chemicals to address the unpleasant smells that result.

Deep clean if it’s been a while. If you’ve been less-than-dedicated to regular house cleaning for some time, deep-cleaning might be necessary to address well-established odor sources before regular cleaning can be truly effective. Key odor-producing areas on which to focus include: toilet tanks, drains, refrigerators/freezers, trash receptacles, recycling bins, garbage disposals, oven spills, washing machine (sanitize), mattresses, heavy bed linens, curtains, carpets, furniture upholstery, and your dishwasher’s food grinder and filter.

Use your science. Baking soda (which is alkaline) works well as a so-called ‘green’ deodorizer because it bonds chemically to neutralize acid-based odor-causing agents. The reverse may be true for acidic substances such as white vinegar or used coffee grounds, which are also often recommended as ‘green’ odor removers. The key takeaway here is that you need to know the basic chemistry or biology of an odor you’re attacking in order to determine what substance will be effective at eliminating it. For serious odor sources such as black mold or pet urine, it’s best to call seasoned pros (like MaidPro’s PROs) who know how to remove both effectively and safely.

Once you’re done eliminating all the sources of foul odors in your home, try these DIY projects to make your home smell amazing!

Take a Stand in Your Own Personal Work Style

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You’ve probably heard by now that ‘sitting is the new smoking’—at least according to scores of media stories referencing the catch phrase widely attributed to treadmill-desk inventor Dr. Jack Levine. Even worse news is that regular exercise might not be enough to offset the ill effects of copious sitting. If you work long hours at a desk job, you might greet this news with fear and trepidation—but there is actually quite a lot within your power to change. Standing doubles your metabolic rate, keeps core muscles strong, and is essential to both basic and dynamic anatomy and physiology. Here is a 7-step plan for transitioning to a lifestyle of less sitting at work:

  1. Go gradually. Acknowledge that your body needs time to re-learn how to stand comfortably for long periods. Start with a small daily goal and build from there.
  2. Check your posture. To avoid muscle and joint pain, cultivate a correct standing work posture, which is probably very different from how you’ve been sitting. If you struggle with this, seek the advice of an orthopedic specialist, chiropractor, physical trainer, or certified yoga instructor.
  3. Invest in equipment that enables you to stand and work comfortably. Purchase or request an adjustable/standing desk and a balancing type of chair. Less stable than regular chairs, balancing chairs force you to keep core muscles engaged, both strengthening your core and burning off calories and blood sugar to boot. If not in control of the office budget, ask for the right equipment anyway! The worst that can happen is your request will be denied.
  4. Look for any opportunities to stand and move more throughout your day. Walk around when taking calls. Drink lots of water and use the least conveniently located restroom. Park far away from your office or cubicle. Choose stairs over elevators. Get your computer reassigned to a printer at the far end of the building. Walk for at least half of every lunch hour and on breaks.
  5. Evaluate all the tasks you do each day; reserve sitting for only ones requiring the greatest concentration. You will be amazed at how many medium and low-concentration tasks you can complete more effectively and energetically while standing and moving.
  6. Preach! Think about it. If you can get enough coworkers onboard, entire meetings might be conducted either standing or walking, which is certain to make them shorter and more productive. Be prepared with examples and evidence to support what you’re doing and willing to evangelize a bit to bring others around to your way of thinking.
  7. Be patient with yourself. Keep reminding yourself that, even when you don’t feel 100% in control of your work situation, there are always opportunities to make choices and to take micro-actions that support your own good health and well-being!

Five Simple Projects to Minimize Back-to-School Stress

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Last year around this time, we offered six tips to Get Organized for Back to School. This year, we’re highlighting five simple home projects that are guaranteed to make your family’s school-day routines flow better, faster, and with much less parental stress.

Make space. Clear out and donate old clothes, sporting equipment, outerwear, and so forth. When you do thisbefore school and fall sports really get rolling, it helps your kids to more easily and independently assess their wardrobe options, decide what to wear, and find what they need under the duress of morning rush. Dirty clothes are also more likely to end up in the laundry, and having sufficient space for clothes smooths laundry workflow overall—yes, things can actually be routinely cleaned, folded, and put away!

Purge and deep-clean the kitchen. When you’re done with closets and drawers move on to your kitchen, inspecting and tossing expired foods and deep-cleaning your fridge, freezer, and cabinets. This will give you space to stock up on nutritious, energizing snacks and fast, easy-to-prepare weeknight meals.

Make several weekday menu plans. Waiting until ‘day of’ to decide what’s for dinner is a recipe for overspending on food, increasing food spoilage and waste, adding to daily mental stress, and falling into food and nutrition ruts. Plan out a few weeks’ worth of rotating weeknight menus and shopping lists to keep things interesting, nutritious, and cost and time efficient.

Take inventory. As you are freeing up space in your home—and before hitting those big back-to-school sales—make an inventory of what you already have and exactly what you need in terms of clothing, athletic gear, school supplies, snack foods, and so forth. This enables you to shop with precision, saving time and avoiding impulse buys.

Make an easy checklist system for kids to manage on their own. A story went viral recently about a school principal in Arkansas who is turning away parents seeking to drop off forgotten items such as lunches and lunch money, gym clothes, and homework. The principal’s goal is to encourage kids to problem-solve on their own. But, some kids are just naturally disorganized. Even if you don’t have a chronic forgetter on your hands, try hanging a dry erase or similar board by your exit door. Encourage your kids to create their own daily checklists and take responsibility for collecting what they need before leaving the house. This has a triple benefit of relieving your personal mental workload, avoiding SOS calls and trips to school to deliver forgotten items, and teaching your kids skills that serve for a lifetime.

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Summer Cleanout: Collecting Clothes for Charity

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Late August is the perfect time to clear out and donate old clothes, free up space, and reorganize closets and drawers. If there’s a rainy day on your horizon, here are 5 tips for getting it all done quickly and effectively:

Select a charity that picks up. To motivate yourself, go ahead and schedule a pickup date, being sure to allow time for laundering and dry cleaning of donations as needed. Plan to sort and pack by size, age, gender, and season so donations can be easily prepared for resale.

Gear up and pile up. Collect sufficient quantities of bags, boxes, and bins for packing up your donations. Then, pull every single thing out of closets, dressers, and storage bins and pile them all in the middle of a room. Be sure to include accessories: scarves, bags, belts, jewelry, and footwear, too.

Set rules. For example, resolve to donate anything that is in relatively good condition, BUT: doesn’t fit, is out of style, has not been worn recently (or often), still has the tags on six months after purchase, or fails to flatter. Toss any garments that are: torn, stained, smelly, shabby, have been used for sleeping, swimming, or as undergarments.

Purge ruthlessly (or recruit a friend to help). Instead of saving something for when you lose a few pounds, resolve to reward yourself with something new instead. If it’s too shabby to wear in public, it’s probably too shabby for working out in too. Heck, if you are going to be exercising and sweating, you deserve to look good doing it! Resist the urge to burden others with unsolicited hand-me-downs. If you know your frugal sister-in-law loves receiving your kids’ old clothes, go ahead and hand down. But never foist hand-me-downs on anyone who might be simply too polite to refuse.

Re-store your keepers mindfully. Some ideas for organizing the clothes you keep are by: color, type of garment, season, frequency of wear, or whole coordinated outfits. Before putting everything away, check out different folding techniques and other tips we have for turning over closets that not only save space but make it easy to find things and make full use of your wardrobe.

Cleaning Myths Debunked: Carpets

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There’s nothing quite like the comfy feeling of plush carpeting under your toes in the morning. But, without regular surface and deep-cleaning, carpets can easily turn into incubators for all sorts of unwanted guests in your home. Before you get too worried, take heart that humans have been decorating their homes with carpets for multiple millennia and still the species flourishes. Be grateful for your hearty immune system and read on to learn why regular carpet cleaning is so important!

Myth #1 Your carpet is dirtier than a toilet seat!
TRUE Typical carpet contains roughly 200,000 bacteria per square inch on average, making it technically 4,000 times germ-ier than a toilet seat. Most toilet seats are smooth, sealed surfaces that get cleaned and disinfected regularly, whereas many consumers wait years between professional carpet cleanings.

Myth #2 Carpet can hide 1-lb of dirt per yard and still appear clean.
TRUE This is where it get’s scary: those 200,000 bacteria per square inch feed on the millions of dead skin cells shed every hour by each person living in your home. Add in the daily tracks of living (pet dander, food crumbs, pollen, and soil off of the bottom of your shoes), and your carpet becomes a veritable Vegas Buffet for germs and bugs.

Myth #3 2,000 dust mites can survive on a single ounce of carpet dust.
TRUE While dust mites will gladly set up shop in mattresses and furniture, they are particularly fond of carpets due to their buffet of foods and the reasonably protected environment (you wash sheets regularly…carpets, not so much). If anyone in your home has a dust mite allergy, stick to hard-surface floors and washable area rugs as much as possible, especially in bedrooms where human dander is most prevalent.

Myth #4 Norovirus can live for up to two weeks in carpet.
TRUE This should be a death knell for the 5 Second Rule where food and carpets are concerned! Studies prove that norovirus can live for over 12 days in even regularly vacuumed carpeting. If your family seems particularly prone to stomach bugs, get carpets steam cleaned at a temperature of at least 158° F for five minutes or 212° F for one minute to completely kill off norovirus.

Myth #5 Carpets filter air by trapping dirt, dust, and germs in their fibers.
TRUE Carpeting is actually one of the most powerful natural air filters in your home, trapping dirt and germs from the air. Due to temperature differentials from inside to outside, homes actually breathe through the walls and roof. Carpeting acts as a huge, fluffy pre-filter, which is why the edges of carpets get dirty so fast even when you vacuum regularly.

Myth #6 Vacuuming regularly is a sufficient way to cope with germs trapped in carpets.
FALSE Even the most powerful vacuums struggle to extract dirt and germs from the base of carpet fibers.

Moral of the story Make a habit of removing shoes when entering your home—or at least put down washable entry mats and runners and wash regularly. Invest in having carpets cleaned and extracted professionally at least once a year. In between professional cleaning and extraction, vacuum thoroughly at least once a week, using a high-quality machine with a motorized brush. You might also consider investing in a HEPA filtration type of vacuum—such as the ones used by our cleaning PROs. If you don’t want to be the one to do all that weekly vacuuming, remember MaidPro is always here to help!

 

Smell Great and Keep the Bugs Away All Summer Long

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There are plenty of good reasons to start making your own (DIY) natural insect repellents (DEET-free and smelling good are two examples). Hundreds of DIY bug spray, candle, and balm recipes are just a quick Google or Pinterest search away. With the right ingredients on hand, you can whip up a fresh batch in just a few minutes and save money doing it. Before buying any ingredients, making, or using DIY bug repellent, though, consider these four important caveats:

  1. It’s a wild west out there. A surprising number of DIY beauty and skincare recipes contain potentially harmful ingredients (or concentrations thereof)—even when those ingredients seem perfectly innocuous. With DIY insect repellents, watch out for their use of essential oils. Not all essential oils are recommended for direct use on skin, especially with children or in high concentrations. Make sure to research usage recommendations and cautions for every ingredient on the list.
  2. Ingredient quality matters. If using essential oils for the first time, there is also a great deal you need to learn about oil quality and purity. Where DIY insectifuge is concerned, there seems to be a consensus that greater oil purity equates to greater efficacy at repelling bugs, but there are still many conflicting opinions and plenty of misleading marketing language. That said, you’ll need to make your own judgement call about what brand to trust.
  3. If at first you don’t succeed, try other recipes! A DIY bug spray that works well for you might be 0% effective for a different person. Plenty of rigorous scientific studies prove that bugs are simply more attracted to some people over others. You might need to try an array of different DIY bug spray concoctions before hitting on a formula that works well for you and other members of your family.
  4. Some risks need to trump others. No bug spray—commercial or DIY—can be 100% effective at protecting against mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses. Physicians overwhelmingly recommend DEET-based varieties when knowingly going into areas where such diseases are most common.If you’re just one of those people for whom nothing—not even the DEET bug spray varieties—seems to work, you might resort toother natural methods of repelling bugs, sitting in a screened area, or simply heading inside when the bugs come out to feed at night!