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!

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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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!

9 Micro Actions That Make Your Home Greener AND Save You Money

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There are plenty of big, expensive projects you can undertake to make your home greener, such as insulating, adding water filtration, and retrofitting with energy-efficient heating/cooling systems and appliances. Here are 9 much less daunting things you can start any time—most of which will help you to save up for those bigger green home improvement projects.

  1. Don’t just turn off lights, appliances, and electronics, unplug them when not in use. That goes for all chargers, too, which continue to draw power any time they are plugged in. The drain from a single device or appliance might not seem too great, but when you multiply it across all the plug-in-able items in your home, you might be looking at hundreds of dollars in savings.
  2. Say “No!” to over-packaged and disposable consumer goods. Five easy swaps guaranteed to save you money are: concentrated for un-concentrated detergents; bar soap for body washes; refillable for disposable razors; cotton dish towels for paper towels; and linen for disposable napkins. The latter three have an added benefit of making your home more luxurious too.
  3. Keep oven and refrigerator doors closed when operating. Estimates vary but at least one says you can lose up to 150-degrees in just 30 seconds. Not only does it waste energy, it extends cooking time and contributes to poor results, such as dried-out meat or underdeveloped flavors.
  4. Check out your local farmers’ market. Okay, this one might be a little more expensive, but locally raised produce and meats have far lower environmental impacts and are generally more nutritious than those shipped from distant lands and stored for extended periods.
  5. Cut food waste by: shopping more frequently, checking to see what you have in stock before shopping, searching for recipes that use what you already have, and composting food scraps. By at least one estimate, a family of four can save more than $2K in a year.
  6. Get educated on how to minimize VOC air concentrations. A big part of living green is focusing on creating a healthy home environment for your family. Since it’s virtually impossible to avoid or remove all VOCs from the air, try cultivating some air-cleaning houseplants.
  7. Plant your yard and garden with native plants that thrive in local climate conditions. The reason: Native plants are already well adapted to the characteristics and typical variations in your climate (including, dry spells and heat waves, for example). This means they don’t need as much extra watering, feeding, and fertilizing as non-native plants do. They also support native ecosystems of birds, bees, insects, and other wildlife.
  8. Fix leaky faucets and toilets, which might be literally pouring money down the drain. According toisustainableearch.com, a leaky toilet can run you nearly $1K per year and can be very difficult to detect. If your water bill is high compared to your neighbors, check with your local DPW to see if they can help or provide a dye kit to help diagnose.
  9. Lower your thermostat by a few degrees (in winter). Turns out that, in addition to conserving energy and saving money, keeping even a slightly colder house can have plenty of other benefits, includingprolonging plants’ lives, boosting metabolism for weight loss, and sleeping better.

Cleaning Myths Debunked: Mold & Mildew

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Uncontrolled growth of mold in your home can be a scary, dangerous, and expensive thing. But, knowing a few important facts about mold can help you to address the risks and keep your home healthy for a lifetime. Here are five big mold myths debunked:


Myth: Mold & mildew are the same thing.

Mildew is powdery or downy white, yellow, or brown-colored fungus that grows in a flat pattern on surfaces and can be scrubbed off easily with a spray cleaner and brush. Mold is a fuzzy, aggressively growing fungus that creates difficult-to- kill spore clusters that behave like roots and grow deep into porous surfaces such as drywall, tile grout, and wood. Mold can be blue, green, yellow, brown, gray, black, or white. In bathrooms, mold roots can travel all the way through grout, behind tiles, and into walls and house framing. Mold consumes and destroys surfaces and, depending on the variety, may also cause health problems, including sinus infections, headaches, allergies, inflamed respiratory airways, and more.


Myth: Bleach kills 100% of mold and mildew.

Bleach only kills mold and mildew on tops of surfaces. The chemical structure of bleach disallows its absorption into porous surfaces, no matter how much you apply, even when undiluted. The surface top may look clean and white, but just a few millimeters underneath the mold is still alive and will start re-growing within minutes.


Myth: Once a surface looks clean and white, all mold has been removed.

Bleach requires a full five-minute soak time with at least three-quarters of a cup of bleach per gallon of water to kill surface mold spores. The problem is that bleach makes mold look white before it dies, so people often rinse bleach away before it has killed any mold at all. Worse yet, the water in your bleach solution soaks into porous surfaces and feeds the deep mold you are trying to kill. Unchecked, the mold grows deeper into walls and studs until structural damage and health impacts become so bad the problem can no longer be ignored.


Myth: If grout looks good after cleaning with bleach, it was just mildew.

This is a dangerous half truth and a big reason why so many home owners let mold damage get out of control in their bathrooms. There is a simple test: if you can scrub stains off easily with a bleach-free bathroom cleaner, it’s probably just mildew. If you use a bleach-based cleaner and the stains return after a few days in roughly the same spots, you’ve likely got mold growing beneath the surface.


Myth: Once mold is dead, the problem is solved.

This is, by far, the falsest claim of all. It is impossible to keep new mold spores from entering your home as it can grow anywhere it finds food—decaying matter such as fallen leaves, garbage, or trash—and moisture—which can be anything from leaky pipes to air humidity—in temperatures ranging from 32-120°F. Even mold on food in your freezer doesn’t die; it merely goes dormant until it warms up! If you can survive in an environment, so too can mold. What is more, there are varieties of mold spores that are just as toxic and allergy-inducing when dead as when they are alive and growing.


Myth: Homeowners can easily solve mold problems on their own.

The only way to truly solve a mold problem is by removing infected materials and the sources of moisture that started the problem. Controlling indoor air humidity, repairing leaky pipes and shower walls, resealing and replacing porous grout, caulking, and more are all parts of the solution. Most mold sprays are simply fancy-marketed bleach sprays that remove mold stains, but do nothing to address root problems. As a rule of thumb, if you have a mold-affected area larger than 10 square feet, immediately seek the help of a professional mold-abatement service.

Spring Cleaning Tips: Tackling the Bathroom

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Every room in your home needs a deeper-than-usual clean and refresh at least once or twice a year. With its fresh air and tone of rebirth and renewal, there is no time like spring for finding the inspiration to get it all done. Here are five tips for tackling the bathroom this spring:

Get into the nooks and crannies. Bathrooms have plenty of tiny, inconvenient-to-clean spaces that you might pass over on regular daily or weekly cleanings. For example, when is the last time you dusted out the narrow space between your toilet tank and the wall? Or, the last time you cleaned just under and around the lid of the tank? Both are great spaces for mildew and other germs to hang out and multiply. Other oft neglected spots include around the bases of faucets and fixtures where soap scum and grit builds up and hardens, often requiring scraping for a true clean. While you’re at it, take a good look at your grout, which can usually be brightened up with the right cleaner, a small sturdy brush, and a bit of elbow grease.

Inspect and discard all expired stuff. If you have unused prescription meds, bring them to your pharmacy for proper disposal or find out if your city or town offers a drug take-back program. Expired OTC meds can go right into the trash. Be sure to inspect all lotions, creams, and makeup items too, as many have surprisingly short shelf lives. Toothbrushes should be replaced about once every three months and be sure to store new ones in an upright position to enable complete air drying between uses, experts say.

Purge the excess. As bathrooms tend to have limited space, give careful consideration to everything you store there. Is there a curling wand that gets used only 2-3 times a year taking up precious real estate? Are there five hair brushes, where one might do? Are you storing large refill containers of shampoos and conditioners bought at wholesale clubs? Remove rarely-used items to a different location, such as a linen closet. The less you keep in your bathroom, the more functional it becomes and the easier it will be to keep clean and tidy all week long.

Do make room for critical supplies. No one wants to be the person using a bathroom when it runs out of toilet paper, hand soap, or towels. Nice baskets filled with unwrapped toilet paper rolls and a soap display add decorative elements to your bathroom, while also making family members and guests feel most comfortable. Pre-moistened wipes or a spray bottle and clean rag near to hand make it easy for you and family members to wipe up toothpaste gobs, stray hairs, and other small daily messes. If you ever entertain overnight guests, extra new toothbrushes are great extra items to keep on hand as well.

Get organized. If your bathroom often resembles a jumble sale, it might be worth investing in a few elegant, yet simple and inexpensive organizing solutions. Think wooden drawer organizers, canvas totes, shower caddies,and the like.

Refresh your look. Your bathroom is one of the easiest and least expensive rooms to completely re-style with a new look or color scheme, especially if floors, counters, and tile are white or neutral in tone. Consider changing up your shower curtain, bath mat, or towels and ‘shopping at home’ for things you might repurpose to add style and keep your bathroom organized. A china sugar bowl, for example, makes a great decorative container for cotton balls or tooth-floss picks, while a shallow serving tray can be a great way to corral lots of small items you want near to hand such as lotions, creams, and perfume bottles. There are also hundreds of chic, decorative paper designs available at low costs for lining shelves and adding visual pop to the insides of bathroom cabinets and drawers.

 

Spring Cleaning Tips: Turning over Closets

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With spring busting out all over, the last thing you might want to be doing is turning over your wardrobe from winter to spring/summer. Use these eight steps to get the job done fast yet effectively:

Purge, purge, purge. Start by taking everything out and inspecting each item as you do. Haven’t worn it at least once or twice in the past season? Is it getting a little shabby? Does it fail to fit well and flatter your figure? Is it cheap, trendy, and unlikely to be in-style next season? If you answer yes to any of the above, consider donating or tossing.

Physically clean storage spaces. Thoroughly vacuum closets and drawers; dust and be prepared to re-line shelves and drawers if needed. While you’re at it, discard broken and bent hangers, empty dry-cleaning bags, shoe boxes, retail tags, and any other detritus that might have collected in clothing storage spaces over the past season.

Launder or dry clean all garments before storing. Even if it looks and smells clean, if it has been worn, you can be sure it’s harboring some form of human dander that will become food for dust mites, mold, and mildew.

Choose plastic. Cardboard and corrugated boxes are prone to bugginess and may also absorb moisture and odors. Invest in sturdy plastic containers that seal well as these will last virtually a lifetime. Protect wools with cedar chips or planks, but be aware that cedar may stain certain fabrics, so wrap accordingly.

Package with care. Fold neatly, wrapping delicate items in tissue paper, and stuffing boots and handbags to ensure they hold their shape and come out of storage ready to wear next year.

Pack with your next seasonal turnover in mind. For example, group heavier sweaters, winter outerwear, and so forth and place into the least accessible locations. Next, group long-sleeved shirts, lighter sweaters and slacks, and any other transitional clothing to be easily accessible and ready to pull out either for unseasonable or transitional weather days.

If possible, choose dark, dry places to store your containers. Even clothing packed in tightly-sealed plastic can take on permanent musty odors if stored in humid spaces such as basements. For high-value items, consider storing professionally; many dry cleaners will store for free or at very low cost.

Use the turnover of seasons as an opportunity to rethink how you organize your wardrobe. By color? Type of garment? Whole outfits? What has not worked well in the past? Might there be a different system that better suits your personality and lifestyle? While you’re at it, check out different folding techniques that can help you to better optimize your use of space, make it easier to put away laundry, and to see everything you have available when you are trying to to put together that perfect outfit.