Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Arrangements for the New Year

On this last day of 2009, I hope everyone has been enjoying a cheery holiday season. I wish you all happiness and prosperity in the New Year, too! This beautiful floral surprise greeted us this morning. It seemed such a positive portent I wanted to share it.

As usual, for me, at this time of year, I feel the urge to do some redecorating. This year that means reorganizing furniture that was hastily placed when we moved. The dysfunction of those placements has quickly become apparent.

Usually, this blog is about saving money and, in some aspects, the environment. Today's blog is about saving time and energy – human energy, that is. After all, when it comes to rearranging furniture, there can be plenty of both spent. I've found a way to save these less tangible but nevertheless valuable resources. Adapting the idea from some home design shows, I created scale-sized cut-outs of our furniture on (thin) cardboard, and room layouts on graph paper to the same scale. These pieces are saved in an envelope until each redecorating bug hits me. Then, I use these pieces to arrange – and rearrange – furniture, in various orders and groupings, all without straining hubby's muscles...and patience.

To make your own cut-outs and floor plan, you'll need:

  1. Graph paper – I use 1/4-inch (approximately 6mm) [Download PDF file: Graph paper]
  2. Scrap cardboard, thin, non-corrugated – I use old file folders or worn out gift boxes
  3. Tape measure (25')
  4. Pencil
  5. Ruler
  6. Scissors
  7. Paste or glue (optional)

First, you'll need to decide on "scale." On 1/4-inch graph paper, I use the length of three squares to represent one linear foot. (Sorry for the imperial measures but the graph paper is older than my adult children.) Once you have decided on scale you'll need to measure and record the dimensions of all your furniture, appliances, and other items which take up floor-space. You'll only need to measure length and width, as height is irrelevant for most rooms. An exception would be rooms with bulk-heads or built-in cabinetry. You can take height measurements when the situation requires it.

Now, draw scale outlines of each piece of furniture on the graph paper. Trace that outline onto the cardboard, pressing hard to create a visible indentation. Cut out the cardboard pieces and label them (e.g. Sofa, desk, Grandma's side-board, etc.) If you wish, you can paste the graph paper pieces onto the cardboard, and then cut them out.

You'll make each room layout by first measuring and recording their proportions, and then draw those dimensions onto graph paper. If the room is large enough to necessitate it, you might have to tape two pages of graph paper together.

Initially, this project will be time-consuming as you measure, draw, and cut all your furniture pieces and room layouts. However, once they're created, a lot of time and energy can be saved. The only time you'll need to do any part of the scale-modeling process again is when you purchase new furnishings or move.

Finally, using the relevant furniture pieces and room layout, organize any room, moving things around and around until you achieve a pleasing and/or functional configuration. Then, you're ready to move furniture – once only! And, each time you feel the urge to redecorate those scale models are ready. Your helper(s) will thank you for sparing their backs...and tolerance!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Atmospheric Disturbances

Winter stinks. Literally. Cooking aromas, body odours, and laundry pong have nowhere to go so they just hang around. Often times the weather is just too foul to open windows and doors to get fresh air introduced and moving through the home. In colder climes, houseplants would be risked!

There are numerous brands of air fresheners on the market but, for me, their cloying scent is overwhelming. If the intense and artificial fragrance weren't choking enough, most leave an airborne slick of chemicals that, if you have the misfortune to inhale, leaves a bitter taste that lasts hours. Most are worse, even, than the winter reek they're meant to cover up. So, how to keep the home smelling fresh in those closed-home months? There are a few common household products that not only work well, they're thrifty to use, too.

First on my list are houseplants. Depending on the type of plant and its size, they scrub the home's air through the process of photosynthesis (Wikipedia: Photosynthesis.) Plants consume water and carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce oxygen as waste. Their waste is our gain. Not only is the home cleaned of excessive carbon dioxide – which results from merely breathing – they convert that gas into clean air. The more plants you have, the more square footage of household atmosphere they'll clean. Dispersing plants around the home ensures odours have no hiding places.

Lingering food aromas can be the worst offenders. Rather than mask cabbage or fish smells with spray bursts of chemical lavender or citrus, consider using vinegar. Simmering a few ounces of vinegar on the stovetop for 20-30 minutes will clear the air. If you have a piece of cookware (stainless steel or brushed aluminum) which is blue-stained from cooking alkaline foods, you can serve two purposes by using it to simmer the vinegar. The pot will sparkle, and so will the air quality! After a party, a few small bowls of vinegar, strategically placed, will neutralize any funky remains.

Carpets and rugs tend to absorb odours and, when people tread on them, they're released back into the air. An easy solution is to sprinkle carpets and rugs, liberally, with baking soda and let stand for a half hour before vacuuming thoroughly.

Soda is also great for cleaning and refreshing the refrigerator. A tablespoon or two of this common kitchen ingredient in the wash water and fridge odours disappear. Then, leave the remainder of the box open in the fridge to collect odours until the next cleaning. If objectionable smells happen between cleaning, try adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract to couple tablespoons of water, in a small bowl, and put that in the fridge overnight.

For many years, my mother used charcoal to keep her refrigerator smelling sweet. In my opinion, it worked even better than soda. That type of charcoal (small chunk) is hard to find. Some Garden centers or Nurseries may sell it. If you are lucky enough to find this charcoal – I, so far, haven't been – you'll need about a cup of it in a mason jar with a perforated lid. When it no longer cleans the fridge air (usually about twice a year,) spread the charcoal on a baking sheet and heat it in a low oven (approximately 200 F degrees,) for about half an hour or until odours were purged. Then, cool the charcoal, replaced in its jar and back into the fridge. Used, heated, and re-used, time and again, this fridge freshener lasts years.

There are a number of ways to sweeten the air in closets and drawers, as well. I like to store fragrant guest soaps in with clothing to lend them a fresh scent. Cedar chips, balls, and bars, can be used in closets, and won't add intrusive odours to the garments. Homemade sachets, using common herbs and spices, are another easy way to freshen closed spaces. I buy these spices in bulk for much less cost that pre-packaged brands.

If you wish to create ambiance with scent, try simmering your favourite whole spice (most herbs will not work as well in this application,) combined with a cup of water, in a small pot on the stovetop, and simmer off and on throughout the day, adding water as needed. My favourite combination is cinnamon bark and whole clove, which lends a very nice holiday fragrance to the home. At other times, I use fennel seed, whole cardamom, bay leaves, or star anise. Use your imagination. The aromas you'll create will smell – and taste – so much sweeter than any chemical spray. It's a bonus they're thrifty as well!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Don’t Take A Bath On Dry-cleaning

Many of the clothes worn at this time of year are dry-cleanable. For this reason, laundering costs can be far higher in the winter months. Most heavily-structured or "couture" items of clothing – blazers, jackets, gowns – are not able to be washed at home. Their seaming, lining, and/or particular fabric could, and probably would, buckle or bunch. Keep those dry-clean only items out of the laundry! However, some clothing labels merely recommend dry-cleaning while also allowing laundering at home, given a little caution and extra care.

Woollens are one example. Many can be washed at home, but certain cautions must be taken or you'll end up with doll clothes. First, cold water must be used. Even warm water could cause shrinkage. Most delicate fabrics have tags recommending no scrubbing or wringing action should be used when hand-washing. That's why I have a clean toilet plunger I use on laundry only. The plunger gently forces water through the fabric with a gentle cupping action. I'm careful not to plunge completely, though, as the greater pressure can distort fabrics.

Another thing to remember when hand-washing is to rinse thoroughly. Cold water makes it more difficult to get rid of suds, so a couple or few rinses may be required. This is important. If soapy residue remains, fabrics will stiffen and be uncomfortable or irritating on the skin. To help the rinsing process, add a generous amount of white vinegar to the final rinse water. It'll not only help dissolve any remaining soap, it'll soften the clothing, prevent lint from clinging, and neutralize mildew and/or other odours. If you have any sensitivity to wool, you can also add a capful of creme hair rinse to the final rinse water and they will be softer to the touch. Glycerin can be used in place of creme hair rinse, but more will be needed to achieve the same result.

Before washing, test the fabric along the inside seam to ensure the colours won't bleed. If you choose to hand-wash non-colourfast items, make sure to wash them individually to prevent cross-colouring. It's possible to stabilize the colours and prevent fading by adding Epsom salts (1 teaspoon per gallon) to the final rinse.

Drying hand-washed clothes can be challenging, particularly as most cannot be wrung out. Again, I use my handy laundry-plunger to squeeze as much water from the fabric as possible. For clothes that could stretch, you'll want to lay them flat to dry. A blanket or towel works well to absorb the moisture, but the drying item should be kept in a well-ventilated area so the fabric dries as quickly as possible. A fan helps speed the process. A suspended drying rack will greatly improve the drying time by allowing the free flow of air around the garment. For clothes with resilience (non-stretching) hanging them will achieve faster drying but, again, hang in a well-ventilated area and make sure you have a drip catcher in place.

One drawback of hand-washing is the need for ironing. Woollens, of course, won't require ironing, but most other hand-washed garments will. Iron delicate fabrics on a low setting to smooth out any wrinkles. If the material is synthetic, use a piece of brown paper (cut from a grocery bag) between the iron and fabric to prevent shine developing. Ironing with brown paper will also enable a slightly higher temperature if a crease is desired (e.g. dress slacks.)

Although there is money to be saved by hand-washing, the main reason I duck the dry-cleaning is smell: I just can't stand the chemical odours that accost the senses upon entering the shop, and waft off the garments I bring home. So, for me, the greatest bonus of washing clothes by hand is the air-freshening attribute: damp clothes, smelling of mild soap, actually deodorize the room they're hung in. They smell great when worn, too!

Ultimately, the cost of dry-cleaning influences how I shop for clothes. I consider the garment's price to be not only what's printed on the sticker, but its lifetime cost of cleaning, too. Many items of clothing, unable to withstand that cost-analysis, never make it into my closet.