Home Maintenance

Time To Declutter!

This time of year, we tend to spend more time inside of our homes than out. It's harder to avoid noticing the clutter that inevitably builds up when we are looking at it day in and day out. For many people, figuring out how to lessen the clutter (and maintain systems of organization) is an overwhelming concept. Luckily, there are a number of talented people in the Northampton area who specialize in helping people let go of unnecessary clutter, and create organizational household systems. A recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette addresses the issue, and suggests local help. Read on!

Photo Courtesy Jill Bromberg

Clearing out the clutter: Valley home organizers help clients find some peace of mind 

Staff Writer
Published: 12/31/2019 12:25:06 PM

It seems to be a universal problem: Americans have too much stuff.

Take just a quick cruise around the web, and you can find references to article that cite some alarming and depressing statistics, such as that the average U.S. home contains 300,000 separate items; that about 10 percent of Americans rent offsite storage units, despite the typical house size tripling in the last 50-plus years; that the average American family spends over $1,700 a year on clothes.

Don’t believe what you read on the internet? Well, consider what Kira Coopersmith, a professional organizer in Greenfield, says about the issue. She has worked with hundreds of clients in the last several years to declutter their homes and apartments or helped them downsize for a move.

“A lot of us are drowning in stuff,” says Coopersmith. “People can’t deal with it, and it causes a lot of stress ... We’re a consumer society, and, in some cases, our things start taking over our lives.”

As Coopersmith sees it, many people may want to simplify their lives and get rid of a lot of excess possessions — clothes, toys, kitchenware, books, computer equipment, memorabilia and keepsakes — but lack the time and energy to do it.

“In so many families, both parents are working, and they can make the bed, maybe vacuum the house once a week, and that’s about it,” she says. “They’re overwhelmed.”

That’s one of the reasons Coopersmith — who previously lived in Belchertown and has also worked in the hotel business and in health insurance service and sales — likes her job. She enjoys helping people declutter their homes and find a little peace of mind.

“This job really is about helping people make those decisions that will make their lives a little easier,” she says.

Coopersmith and another professional organizer, Jill Bromberg of Montague, say they’ve worked with a variety of clients over the years. Some are older people or couples who are looking to move to a smaller place, but others come from many walks of life and have different problems they’re trying to solve.

“That’s one of the things that’s most interesting about the job,” says Bromberg, who used to work with people with special needs and started her organizing business in 2012. “I think what we [organizers] can give is an objective perspective. I can guide people to making decisions on what they want to keep and what they can let go of. And I get a lot of satisfaction on making their lives a little more manageable.”

‘One in, one out’

One big headache for a lot of people, Bromberg says, is clothing.

“It has become so easy to shop online, and then you have these cheap fashion trends that are constantly changing, so things tend to pile up and just get added to the closet,” says Bromberg, whose business is called Serenity Home Organizing and Move Management. “It’s easy to find yourself with too much.”

That’s especially true this time of year, Bromberg notes, with clothing a popular gift idea for many people. She recommends that people practice a “one in, one out” rule: If you get, say, a new sweater for Christmas or Hanukkah (or on some other occasion), think about giving an older one away to charity, or to a friend or work colleague.

One could take the same approach for books. If you’re adding to your collection, take a bunch of older titles that you haven’t read in a long time (or maybe ever) and take them to a used book store for sale, or donate them to a book drop or “Free Little Library” in your neighborhood.

“I always tell people to take pictures of some of these things they’re giving away, so they have a reference if they maybe want to find that book or item again,” says Bromberg.

For professional organizers like Bromberg and Coopersmith, each decluttering or organizing job begins with an initial meeting with clients to assess their needs, get to know them a bit, and figure out a plan for action. Sometimes a job can take place over a long period. Coopersmith, for instance, says she has been working off and on for several months with a couple who have run a farm and business in Conway for many years and now have begun to downsize their affairs.

On the other hand, Alex Milne — an independent scientist and researcher in Northampton who works with a variety of clients in bioacoustics, physical acoustics, wireless spectrum management and other technical fields — got in touch with Coopersmith to help organize his equipment. They met just twice, he says, but Coopersmith not only helped him get better organized: She showed considerable sensitivity and understanding in grasping the basics of what he did and what equipment he needed to keep, he adds.

“I really found Kira to be an exceptionally compassionate human being,” says Milne. “I felt like I was becoming trapped with all these work items that were kind of overwhelming my home life … she learned about [the equipment], which she hadn’t seen before, and made good recommendations about handling it.”

Coopersmith helped Milne organize his equipment by application: storing tools together that would be used for similar operations. For instance, Milne later stored together in one drawer all the items he needs to measure, form, cut or shape small thin metals into structures or components (with some exceptions).

“She brought a level of sophistication to this that was really impressive,” said Milne. “This wasn’t something I’d been able to do on my own, but now I feel I’m in a better position for managing my stuff in the future.”

For her part, Coopersmith says a big part of her job is to figure out which items her clients are emotionally attached to — a family heirloom, say — and which they might be persuaded to part with. “It’s not up to me to tell people what they should or shouldn’t keep, though I’ll clearly make recommendations,” she says. “If someone is super-attached to something — clothing or something they inherited from a parent — we’ll talk that through.”

Other tricks of the trade

Another bugaboo for many people is paper. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t have a basic filing system,” says Coopersmith, who works primarily with residential clients but has also helped small businesses improve their filing systems and overall paper management.

“It is so easy to get buried by paper,” she says. “That’s something a fair number of people need help with — keeping and filing the important stuff in an organized way and learning to get rid of the junk quickly.”

Wendy Sibbison of Greenfield, a retired lawyer, wanted a space in her home where she could write a book. She had a room in mind on her top floor, but, unfortunately, that spot “had become a dumping ground for years for paper and old files and who knows what else,” she says. “I just couldn’t deal with cleaning it out myself.”

Sibbison previously had paid her adult daughter, who lives in Philadelphia, to help her declutter her home about four years ago and felt she couldn’t ask her for help again. So through the internet, she found Coopersmith’s business, called “Sensible Sort,” and hired her to tackle the mess in the third-floor room.

“It was perfect,” says Sibbison. “I never felt rushed or upset [in getting rid of things], I had fun chatting with her, and, in the end, she took away 12 boxes of paper and other stuff.”

That’s another service organizers such as Coopersmith and Bromberg provide: physically transporting excess material to a recycling center, a charity or some other destination of a client’s choice. Bromberg says she’ll always do that for elderly clients or those with physical limitations, but it’s also helpful for others.

“It can be easy to put things in the back of your car and then somehow not get around to actually getting rid of something,” says Bromberg. “Clutter is often postponed decision-making, so if I can help people take that final step, I’ll do it.”

And though this year’s big gift-giving season may already be past, Bromberg notes that in giving gifts in general, a future plan to reduce clutter — or at least keep it in check — is to rely less on physical items. Give someone a gift certificate to a restaurant or a concert, she suggests, or arrange for airline tickets for a vacation.

“We can all use less stuff and less clutter in our lives,” she adds. “It’s just another way to simplify things and make life less stressful.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

 

 

Green Cleaning Your Home

I've always thought it interesting that even once I had graduated from college, I was still attuned to the school calendar, combined with the seasons, in informing my perspective on the day to day. For those of us with school-aged children -- having the house back to ourselves when the kids are off certainly has it's benefits. For those of us who don't, even the change of season leads us to start focusing more on the interior vs. exterior of our homes, I would venture to say. Homeowners (and residents alike) in Northampton who prefer to use clean, green, non-toxic products in our homes are in good company! To that end, I was recently perusing my daily Apartment Therapy email and came upon this article about cleaning your washer with vinegar. Let's not focus on the fact that I am at a point in my life where this information is EXCITING to me! Instead, let me say that I followed the steps below and my Energy Star, front-loading workhorse of a washing machine was gleaming and odor free after doing so. The moral of the story is, keep a large container of white vinegar, and some clean household rags on each floor of your home to keep things clean and sparkly!

You Should Pour Vinegar into Your Washing Machine—Here’s Why

by DANA MCMAHAN

(Image Credit: Brittany Purlee)

Is there anything you can’t handle with vinegar? Really, I wonder why I bother buying so many assorted cleaners when vinegar is basically the magic sauce that does everything. (Have you tried the trick with setting a saucer full of vinegar out to get rid of stink in a room? It totally works!) Here’s another fun thing is does: It cleans your washing machine.

Yes, your washing machine needs cleaning. Out of sight, out of mind, maybe, and it’s getting cleaned every time you use it, right? Well, no. Just like your sink and shower need cleaning, so too does the hard-working washing machine. 

And it turns out you don’t need any fancy, special “washing machine cleaner” (seriously, that’s up there with an avocado slicer as a uni-tasker). My Maytag wants me to use a branded products so badly it slaps the brand name of the recommended cleaner right on the dial! The cleaner is two bucks a pop (not a box, each!). No thanks. According to the internet, all you need is good ol’ vinegar. 

But just because you read something on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true, so I checked with an expert. And Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a Neighborly company, gave me the lowdown. 

“It might seem counter-intuitive to have to clean a machine that does the cleaning, but over time soap scum and detergent buildup can start causing problems,” he says. “Your washing machine—and your clothing—will benefit from a periodic cleaning.”

So why should vinegar be your go-to? Well for starters, we all probably have a jug of it in the kitchen anyway. And “instead of using a bunch of harsh chemicals to force your washing machine into cleanliness, vinegar is recommended as a more natural and inexpensive way to clean your appliances,” Shimek said. 

Here’s his step-by-step guide to cleaning your washer with vinegar. 

First, spray vinegar around the rubber gasket and use a rag or toothbrush to remove soap scum, mildew, and detergent buildup. Make sure to scrub all the nooks and crannies, and take out and soak any removable parts such as soap and fabric softener dispensers. 

Next, start an empty wash cycle using the largest load size and hottest water. Add two cups of white vinegar and let the cycle run. (If you have a front load washer, pour the vinegar into the detergent dispenser.) For an extra-clean washing machine, repeat the cycle with a half-cup of baking soda. You’ll also need to hand-wash the top portion of the agitator and basin above the water line.

Finally, spray the front or top with vinegar and wipe it down. 

Confession: I only did the second step, and my very heavily used washing machine (you do a LOT of laundry when you run a full time Airbnb) looked brand new and shiny inside when the wash cycle finished, so I didn’t do the rest. But when I’m in a real cleaning fever kind of mood, I’ll come back to it. Shimek said this is something you should do every six months to keep things clean and running smoothly, which is totally manageable.

Time to Declutter and "Spark Joy"

OK, I admit it, I've written about this topic a time or two in the past. The truth is that this is an ongoing issue in my own household. Many of us in the 21st find ourselves surrounded by too much stuff, at a loss for how it got there, and how to (responsibly) dispose of it. In addition, as a realtor and self proclaimed homebody, I know how important it is to me that my living space be a peaceful haven. When I have too much clutter, it makes me feel stressed! There are professionals right here in the Pioneer Valley whom you can hire to help you deal with your personal clutter (contact your Maple and Main Realtor for some recommendations if this is of interest). To that end, I direct your attention to the following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I admit, I'm a Marie Kondo fan. She is the "spark joy" woman from Japan who is referenced in the following article. I also admit that I, too, was bothered by how the show doesn't reference how to responsibly dispose or (or recycle) the items you choose to get rid of. Luckily, the following article makes many good local suggestions. Don't overlook the Hartsprings Foundation and Salvation Army who will come pick up your unwanted items! Also ThredUP. OK, I've got to go fold my clothes into tiny little squares now!

Declutter, donate or dispose? The trend of tidying up hits Northampton

  • Jean Pao-Wilson drops off donations at the Cancer Connection Thrift shop with Chris Hannon, a volunteer organizing donations. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Staff Writer

 
Published: 1/11/2019 12:15:52 AM

NORTHAMPTON — As more Americans turn to decluttering as a way to not only improve their living spaces, but to enrich their lives, some local thrift shops are seeing a spike in donations. 

Author-turned-Netflix star Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method, which emphasizes only holding onto items that bring joy, is playing a role in increased donations, according to management at Cancer Connection Thrift Shop in Northampton. So is post-holidays winter cleaning.

“We do notice upticks in donations at certain time of the year, but I’ve heard a lot of people mention the tidying up thing, so that could be part of that,” said Christine Quinn, assistant manager at Cancer Connection, who has seen a few episodes of Kondo’s new Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” which premiered on Jan. 1 and applies many of the ideas from her bestselling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” 

Busy times of year include long weekends, holidays and the start of a new year, she said. “Generally, when people have time to sit at home and reflect on how much stuff they have.”

Nancy Case, manager at Cancer Connection, also noticed an uptick in donations, adding that the store hasn’t always been this busy in past years

“We used to have a downtime,” Case said. “We no longer do have a downtime.”

Susan Drzewianowski, manager at Hospice Shop thrift store in Northampton, has also noticed Kondo’s ideas catching on among her clientele. While Hospice Shop “normally sees a drop in traffic after Christmas,” donations have been going strong this month, she said.

Customers mention “a couple times a week” ideas commonly championed by Kondo, such as “I have too much... it brought me joy,” Drzewianowski said. “It’s something I’ve never heard here before.”

Case said she’s “not entirely convinced” surges in donations are only related to Kondo’s Netflix show, but noted that several patrons have mentioned the show as an inspiration for decluttering their lives.

But Case believes that the influx of donations seen at local thrift stores goes “beyond trendy.”

“People are just becoming more aware,” she said.

Jean Pao Wilson of Easthampton, a customer and donor at Cancer Connection, said that she has been making an effort to donate more often in general as a way to declutter her own life without being wasteful.

“A lot of us have a lot of stuff, and I like to simplify and donate rather than throw it in the trash,” Pao Wilson said.

“It’s like a muscle,” she added. “The more you use it, the easier it gets.”

Decluttering responsibly

Quinn said that she had read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” and watched a few episodes of Kondo’s Netflix series in response to its recent buzz. She agrees with Kondo on many concepts. But simply tossing clutter in the trash doesn’t necessarily warrant a pat on the back, Quinn said, adding that Kondo’s book could use more emphasis on how to properly dispose of unwanted items.

“It’s simply focused on the people themselves clearing out their house,” Quinn said of the book. “They never address where things are going to, so it seems like people could be throwing things in the trash, which sort of bugs me, because people are throwing out things that could be going to good use.”

Susan Waite, waste reduction and recycling coordinator for the Northampton Department of Public Works, also stressed that “the greenest item is the one that already exists.”

“The whole popularity of decluttering is wonderful, but there are people that can use some of the material, so I wince when people say just get a dumpster and toss everything,” she said.

At the same time, people should be mindful of what can and can’t be donated, Quinn said, adding that some people will bring in items that are broken, moldy or otherwise unhealthy or unsafe to handle, believing they can be refurbished by the store. But especially with smaller organizations, such as Cancer Connection, this often isn’t the case.

Wendy Taylor-Jourdian, manager of The Parson’s Closet thrift store in Easthampton, said that her shop has also experienced issues with people dropping off items that the store can’t accept, which leads to the donations endingup in the dumpster.

The volume of donations is “cyclical” at Parsons, Taylor-Jourdian said, although the holiday season can sometimes see people donating unwanted gifts or decluttering in preparation of the giving season.

But while people should take care that they are donating appropriate items, thrift shops such as Cancer Connection are always depending on new donations from patrons, Case said.

“Just because (a donated item) doesn’t spark joy for them doesn’t mean it won’t spark joy for someone else,” she said.

 
 
Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

Where to Look for Inexpensive and Attractive Home Decor!

As someone who is both a realtor (in and out of homes on a regular basis) and is working on a large home improvement project for the second time in 5 years, I can attest to the following list from apartmenttherapy.com as to where are the best places to find inexpensive and attractive home decor. I would add the following local to Northampton suggestions as well: The ReCenter Swap Shop off of Glendale Road in Florence, and EcoBuilding Bargains in Springfield, MA (more for the DIY set!). Target and Ikea should not be overlooked either!  

The Best Places to Find Cheap Home Decor, According to Interior Designers

 
Kelsey Mulvey
Nov 28, 2018
 
(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga

Let's get one thing straight: You don't need a huge budget to have a great eye for design.

 

Sure, it would be nice to have the latest (and priciest) pieces from Paris or Milan; however, there's something satisfying about searching high and low for a great deal. Plus, how cool is it when all your friends are fawning over an ottoman or throw blanket when you know you got it for next to nothing.

Of course, we're not the only ones who love some cheap thrills. Turns out, interior designers love their share of reasonably priced furniture and accessories. So, the next time you're looking for a great design deal, check out these expert-approved stores. Happy shopping!

1. Wayfair

 

(Image credit: Wayfair)

"Best places for me to find cheap home decor? Let me omit the word 'cheap,' and rephrase, the best place to find reasonably priced home decor. The Batts Chesterfield Sofa available at Wayfair, is luxurious and rich looking. You don't have to spend a fortune on home decor to make it look like you did!"  Vanessa Deleon, interior designer 

 

2. Antique Stores

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

 

"The best bang for your buck in home decor is going to be the Brimfield Antique Markets. There you will find unique one-of-a-kind pieces that you can bargain on and at least you will come home with a little piece of history and not something that everyone has." Sasha Bikoff, interior designer 

3. Etsy

 

(Image credit: Etsy/TweetHeartWallArt)

"So many hidden gems on Etsy. I recently purchased gold star decals from there and put them on a nursery ceiling for a high-end look on the cheap!" Michala Monroe, interior designer

 

4. Lamps Plus

 

(Image credit: Lamps Plus)

"When looking for high quality and affordable pricing for home decor, especially mirrors, my go to is Lamps Plus. They have mirrors for every style, from modern to traditional, and the variety has really improved several of my clients' projects." Erica Islas, interior designer

5. Unison

 

(Image credit: Unison Home)

"I love the brand Unison and they have some great, affordable finds! They have a number of small side tables under $100, the Tower Black Side Table is one of my favorites for its minimalist and sleek look." —Alessandra Wood, interior design expert and director of style at Modsy

6. Urban Outfitters

 

(Image credit: Urban Outfitters)

 

"Urban Outfitters is also a great place to find inexpensive yet unique items. This woven bench takes its cue from much more expensive pieces." —Alessandra Wood

"Urban Outfitters also has a ton of affordable and playful home decor items." —Caitlin Murray, interior designer and founder of Black Lacquer Design

7. Chairish

 

(Image credit: Chairish)

"I constantly look to Chairish for affordable throw pillows and vintage glassware." —Caitlin Murray

 
Apartment Therapy supports our readers with carefully chosen product recommendations to improve life at home. You support us through our independently chosen links, many of which earn us a commission.
 

Aging in Place, with Local Assistance!

Any realtor can tell you, whenever a spiffy, well-built and/or well-sited single-floor home ("ranch") comes on the market in the Pioneer Valley - there is a mad dash of buyers eager to look at it, and, potentially, make an offer to buy it. There is a growing awareness in our part of the country, at least, about the benefits of aging in place. Some homeowners may choose to renovate their spaces to allow them to do so. We also see buyers who choose downsize from larger homes, transitioning into a smaller or single-floor homes.

One concern for aging homeowners is how to remain independent, when certain activities or household responsibilities become more challenging with age. We've recently learned about a wonderful new volunteer organization in the Northampton Area. Northampton Neighbors is a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer services and programs to empower seniors to live independent, engaged lives at home. So, whether you are in personally need of their services, you know someone who is, or you wish to volunteer or donate to this important cause - check out the hotlink above to learn more.

Neighborhood Group

Questions for your Home Inspector

It's the beautiful fall season here in the Northampton area - and the real estate market is on an upswing! As Thanksgiving and the December holidays approach, there are buyers and sellers out there still looking, buying and selling before the quiet of winter descends. So, for buyers out there, even if the home you are considering is in tip top condition, the home inspection process is an important learning tool. Your realtor can help you to prioritize issues, and come up with a list of reasonable requests for the seller, once you have your inspection report in hand. Having personally attended home inspections with clients in recent weeks, I thought this article was timely.

Home Inspection's Complete? Here's What You Must Ask Afterward

By  | Oct 9, 2018
 
home-inspector-questions
fstop123/iStock

What are some questions to ask a home inspector after he's finished the inspection? Because, let's face it, just staring at that hefty report highlighting every flaw in your future dream home can send many buyers into a full-blown panic!

Know the right questions to ask a home inspector afterward, though, and this can help put that report into perspective. Here are the big ones to hit.
 

'I don't understand [such and such], what does it mean?'

Just so you know what to expect, here's how it will go down: A day or two after the inspection, you should receive the inspector's report. It will be a detailed list of every flaw in the house, often along with pictures of some of the problem areas and more elaboration.

Hopefully you also attended the actual inspection and could ask questions then; if so, the report should contain no surprises. It should contain what you talked about at the inspection, with pictures and perhaps a bit more detail. If there's anything major you don't remember from the inspection in the report, don't be afraid to ask about it.

'Is this a major or a minor problem?'

Keep in mind, most problems in the house will likely be minor and not outright deal breakers. Still, you'll want your home inspector to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and point out any doozies. So ask him if there are any problems serious enough to keep you from moving forward with the house.

Keep in mind that ultimately it's up to you and your real estate agent to determine how to address any issues.

"The inspector can't tell you, 'Make sure the seller pays for this,' so be sure you understand what needs to be done," says Frank Lesh, executive director of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

'Should I call in another expert for a follow-up inspection?'

Expect to have to call in other experts at this point to look over major issues and assign a dollar figure to fixing them. If your inspector flags your electrical box as looking iffy, for example, you may need to have an electrician come take a look and tell you what exactly is wrong and what the cost would be to fix it. The same goes for any apparent problems with the heating or air conditioning, roof, or foundation. An HVAC repair person, roofer, or engineer will need to examine your house and provide a bid to repair the problem.

Why is this so important? This bid is what your real estate agent will take to the seller if you decide to ask for a concession instead of having the seller do the fix for you. Your inspector can't give you these figures, but he can probably give you a sense of whether it's necessary to call somebody in.

'Is there anything I'll need to do once I move in?'

Wait, you're still not done! It's easy to forget the inspector's report in the whirlwind of closing and moving, but there are almost always suggestions for things that need doing in the first two to three months of occupancy.

Lesh says he sometimes gets panicked calls from homeowners whose houses he inspected three months after they've moved in. Although he'd noted certain issues in his report, the buyers neglected the report entirely—and paid for it later.

"I had a couple call and tell me they had seepage in the basement," Lesh says. "I pulled up their report and asked if they'd reconnected the downspout extension like I recommended. Nope. Well, there's your problem!"

Everything you didn't ask the seller to fix? That's your to-do list. Isn't owning a home fun?

 
Audrey Ference has written for The Billfold, The Hairpin, The Toast, Slate, Salon, and others. She lives in Austin, TX.
 

Natural Drain Cleaner, Yup!

Let's face it, we all have recurring themes of disagreement that arise when living in the same household with other people. For example, clogged drains have lead to repeated domestic arguments in my own household. I am impulsive, and I want the problem (any problem) addressed immediately. My partner is slow and methodical, and he needs to take his time when responding to problems. My impulsivity leads me to want to reach for the Drano, in the face of a clogged drain, and nip the problem in the bud. My partner historically puts his foot down (firmly) in response to this solution. And, in this case, I have learned that he is correct. The chemicals in liquid drain cleaners can eat away at one's pipes, and cause long term damage. Not to mention the fact that they are dangerous and toxic, and just not a good thing to leave lying around one's home. At this point, to be honest, I almost always reach for the white vinegar when it comes times to clean most anything in my house. As I was perusing Apartment Therapy this morning - which I tend to do on a regular basis, I came across this recipe for how to make non-toxic drain cleaner. I think that all home owners should bookmark this page and remember to use it the next time your pipes get clogged. Happy Housekeeping!

 You Should Know How to Make Your Own Drain Cleaner

Ayn-Monique Klahre

Sep 30, 2018

Dead skin cells, soap scum, random food scraps, human hair, pet hair, and just regular ol' dirt—these are all the things you regularly wash down your sink or tub's drain. And if they sound gross now, image how much worse they are once they've congealed into a stringy, slimy ball of gunk inside your pipes. Yuck!

 

You want to prevent any of this gunk buildup before it becomes a real problem—especially in homes with older pipes or large families. The first sign of a growing clog? A gray ring around your tub or sink from the water sloooooowlydraining, giving soap bubbles ample time to attach and dry to that formerly clean porcelain. Another sign is water pooling around the drain. If you can actually see the slow drainage, it's time to act!

There are strong chemical cleaners designed to tackle truly clogged drains (and boy, do they smell like they're working!), but for prevention and regular maintenance, a DIY unclogger (a professional term!) will do. This method combines a couple products—with surprising cleaning powers—that you already have in your cabinets.

 
 
1/5 Run the hot water: Turn your sink or shower on at full-blast hot and run it for a few minutes, then allow it to drain. If your water doesn't get super hot (which it might not, because the EPA recommends you keep it at 120 degrees for both energy efficiency and safety), boil a big pot of water on the stove, then pour it down the drain. Wait for the water to drain; this is the first step in loosening the gunk.
Image credit: Christine Han

How To Make Your Own Drain Cleaner

Ingredients

  • Boiling-hot water
  • Baking soda (about a cup)
  • Fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about a cup)

Equipment

  • Spoon or funnel (optional)
  • Tub stopper or rag
 

Instructions

  1. Run the hot water: Turn your sink or shower on at full-blast hot and run it for a few minutes, then allow it to drain. If your water doesn't get super hot (which it might not, because the EPA recommends you keep it at 120 degrees for both energy efficiency and safety), boil a big pot of water on the stove, then pour it down the drain. Wait for the water to drain; this is the first step in loosening the gunk.
  2. Pour in the baking soda: Slowly send about a cup of baking soda down the drain, using a spoon or funnel as necessary. Do it little by little so it's not all jammed at the top of the drain.
  3. Add the lemon juice: Slowly pour the lemon juice on top of the baking soda. Brace yourself for some action: This will cause a fizzy, bubbly chemical reaction. 
  4. Cover and wait: Use your tub stopper or a rag to cover the drain, and wait. Give the mixture enough time to work, about a half hour, and keep it covered the whole time. 
  5. Run water again: Uncover the drain and send piping-hot water down it (again, either from the faucet or heated on the stovetop), letting it run for a few minutes. Wait for it all to drain. Is it draining faster than before? If not…
  6. Repeat as necessary: If your drain is super clogged, it may take a few rounds before it clears up. But with proper maintenance (repeat this process two to four times a year, depending on your household) you can prevent those big clogs from building up again.

 

What NOT To Do When Decluttering!

I'm amazed that no matter how big the space is in which we live, we always manage to fill it with stuff! Even though we are conscientious about waste and trying not to consume too much stuff - we manage to acquire a LOT!. Also - because we are conscientious about how we dispose of every item that leaves our house (reduce, reuse, recycle), getting rid of things is often a multi-step process. Rinse or clean out containers before disposal or recycling, keep TO GO bins or boxes in anticipation of upcoming recycling events (electronics, plastics, etc), compost everything biodegradable, etc, etc.

I love reading articles such as the following one from Apartment Therapy, with smart and helpful tips about how to approach decluttering one's home. As realtors, we are always advising seller clients to "declutter" in order to ready a property for sale. It's good to have to go-to PRO tips on hand to share with clients about how to approach a decluttering project.

Pro Organizer Tips: What NOT To Do When Decluttering Your Home

Catrin Morris Sep 14, 201

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)
 

Do you need the help of an organizing professional...without the professional price? We asked Washington DC's organizing and de-cluttering guru Nicole Anzia of Neatnik for some words of organizing wisdom. Instead of giving us additional organizing and decluttering tips and strategies, Nicole though it would most helpful to tell us what NOT to do when trying to harness the chaos in your home.Nicole says these five missteps are the most common in her line of work — and most likely to derail even the best efforts to conquer clutter:

Organize First; Buy Second

Do not go out and buy a ton of storage pieces and supplies before you sort through your home. All of those pretty bins, boxes and baskets at The Container Store are very enticing, but they won't do you any good unless they fit the space (on the shelf, under the bed, in the closet); hold what you need them to hold, and function properly for your particular space.

I recommend cleaning out first, assessing what containers you REALLY need, and then buying a few bins to start. You can always add later, but you don't want a bunch of empty containers cluttering up your home while you figure out where you might use them.

 

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Che

Do not set aside an ENTIRE day to organize your WHOLE house. Very few people have the energy and/or focus to spend 8 hours organizing. You'll likely become frustrated and less efficient as the day progresses. It's much better to spend a few hours — 2 or 3 — on one project or space. This way you'll feel motivated to do more, not be burned out by the process
(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Complete Each Task — Completely

Of course you will need to sort things into categories (e.g., toss, recycle, donate, give to friend, put in deep storage). But here's the crucial part: Once you have decided where something is going to go — take it there. Never keep bags for charity or boxes for friends in your home to deliver later. Do it now. Finish the process. Take the bags and boxes out to the trash or recycling immediately. If you're donating something or giving something to a friend or family member, put the items in your car or make arrangements for dropping them off. You've done so much work getting this stuff ready to take out, complete the deal!

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

Do not think that once you've organized your space, that you are done. You'll feel like a failure when you have to clean it up again in a month. Realize that while you have created a new, efficient, and logical system for processing and managing incoming and outgoing items, you are not done. There is no autopilot. You should expect regular upkeep, but just be glad that the new system is far more efficient than the old one.

Good Enough is Enough

Very few people have closets and drawers that resemble those in catalogues. Trust me. I've been in a lot of houses and apartments and even after we've totally reorganized a space, it doesn't look like an ad for The Container Store. It looks great and works properly, but it is a space that is used by an actual human being, not one that has been carefully staged by a team of stylists and marketers for a non-existent resident. You will ultimately be disappointed if perfection is your goal. The goal is to set up a space that works well for your needs. That is success.

- Re-edited from a post originally published 8.5.2014 - CM

Gardening Tips from the Gazette!

Since our first blog post in 2013, I have cited gardening tips from Mickey Rathbun of the Daily Hampshire Gazette on an annual basis. Her column always has timely advice for us fledgling gardeners. It can feel overwhelming to establish or maintain ground cover and garden beds. Ms. Rathbun lists helpful steps, ways to prioritize, what to focus on and when to do it.  The following column also lists upcoming garden events in the Northampton area and beyond!

Mickey Rathbun: Busy time in the garden

With the unusually cold spring we’ve had, I’m having a hard time realizing that summer is upon us. Everything is growing so fast — especially weeds, it seems — you can practically see it happening. That means our gardens need lots of tending.

Some days I think: where do I even begin? Here are some tasks to tackle in the next few weeks:

Invest in a compost delivery and top dress established plants. When planting or dividing, add it liberally to the holes you dig. Your garden will thank you.

Spring-blooming shrubs should be pruned after they’re finished flowering and before they set next spring’s buds. In our area, that means by the first week of July. This includes lilacs, weigela, deutzia and certain viburnums, including the divinely fragrant Korean spice viburnum. Prune out dead or diseased branches, crossing branches and trim for overall shape and size.

Eradicate poison ivy and other pesky weeds when they’re still small. It’s almost too late to go to battle with poison ivy; it seems to have arrived full grown overnight. But if you put on your sturdiest garden gloves, long sleeves and pants and pull it out now, you’ll get a good head start on it. That goes for briars like wild blackberry that have a tendency to smother other shrubs in the landscape. After you work with poison ivy, wash thoroughly with Tech-Nu, or another similar product that neutralizes poison ivy’s toxic oil.

It’s not too early to start deadheading spring-blooming perennials such as Geum and Dicentra formosa. Sheer back perennial geraniums after they’ve bloomed. They’ll look shorn at first but will generate healthy foliage soon and sometimes produce new bloom.

Divide spring flowering perennials after they’ve bloomed.

To be thorough, water the plant well first so it’s hydrated for the upcoming disturbance. Then dig up the entire plant and pull and/or cut apart divisions. If you’re doing it the quick and dirty way, leave the entire plant in the ground and carve out divisions with a sharp trowel. 

Fill in the hole with compost and soil. Keep the divisions moist and shaded if you can’t replant them right away.

Add some compost to the new planting holes before replanting. If possible, do this on a cloudy day. Bright sun is a stressor.

I have sometimes resorted to shading new divisions with umbrellas, which works well if it’s not too windy.

If you’re careful, you can divide most perennials pretty much anytime, avoiding the period when they’re in early or full blossom. A few things, like peonies, are tricky. They do not like being disturbed. They have a deep tap root, so if you dig them, wait until fall and then be very careful to dig deeply without severing the root.

Set out hummingbird feeders. Clean them regularly and keep them filled. Make sure bird baths are full. This is especially important if we have a dry spell and birds don’t have access to puddles and other places where they can drink and bathe.

Clean the birdbaths often and refill to disrupt mosquito breeding.

Speaking of water, make sure you keep planters well-watered. They dry out quickly. And keep a close eye on newly planted shrubs and perennials, which need a steady supply of water to become well established. Water deeply and less often. A daily spritz will not reach the roots.

One thing you might not have to do just yet is to get rid of foliage from spring bulbs. The bulbs need the leaves to photosynthesize and provide nourishment for next year’s flowers. Wait until the leaves are dead before cutting them. Don’t tie them up. This will look messy for a while, but be patient.

Stay on top of your weeding and you’ll have a lot less work later in the summer. Use mulch to cover bare spots that weeds thrive in. Consider groundcovers such as Lamium maculatum (dead nettle) to fill in the gaps. It does well in dry shade once established. Depending on the site, lamium needs to be kept in check, but it’s easy enough to do that, and it’s a whole lot prettier than bare dirt and random weeds!

25th  Anniversary Forbes Library Garden Tour

This Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., consider spending a few hours enjoying the seven gardens on the Forbes Library Northampton Garden Tour. 

The event raises funds for the Friends of Forbes Library, Inc. to help finance programs and materials for the library. The tour also aims to inspire and educate garden lovers with the chance to visit a variety of appealing landscape styles and collections of garden plantings.

 This year’s gardens are located along a scenic 10-mile route, accessible by car and offering a pleasant bicycle ride. Driving directions are included with the tickets to this self-guided tour.

At each garden there will be handouts with descriptions of the plantings and volunteer garden guides on hand to answer questions. 

Tour tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at Forbes Library, State Street Fruit Store andCooper’s Corner in Northampton, Hadley Garden Center in Hadley, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center in Westhampton and Bay State Perennial Farm in Whately.

On the day of the tour, tickets are $20 and are available only at the library. For details:  www.forbeslibrary.org. For more information, contact: Lyn Heady at 584-7041

Garden field study

On June 19, Berkshire Botanical Garden is sponsoring a tour of two fabulous gardens in Washington, Connecticut: the beautiful, panoramic Highmeadows Garden, the private estate of Linda Allard, and Hollister House, an American interpretation of such classic English gardens as Sissinghurst, Great Dixter and Hidcote.

Linda Allard will provide a tour of her gardens at Highmeadows. A tour of Hollister House will be led by head gardener Krista Adams. 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cost: members: $50/non-members: $65. Pre-registration required.

Participants should bring a lunch and dress for the weather. Transportation to and from BBG in Stockbridge included in the price and time.

City Spaces, Country Places Garden Tour

The 22nd annual Worcester area garden tour will take place on June 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This self-guided tour gives access to five distinctive private gardens in a variety of sites. Advance Sales: member $20/ non-member $25. Day of tour: member $30/ non-member $35. Tickets purchased by 9 a.m. June 18 will be mailed. Tickets purchased after that must be picked up at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens in Boylston. Directions to the gardens are included in the ticket. 

Smell the roses 

While you’re out Worcester way, stop by Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston and enjoy the New England Rose Society’s annual show. It takes place June 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s a rose sale all day and a rose planting and Q&A with Dave Cannistraro from 11 a.m. to noon. It is free with admission to Tower Hill.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at mickey.rathbun@gmail.com.

DIY Repair Your Deck This Summer!

Now that the sun in shining, the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming - the spring real estate market is upon us! I so enjoy seeing all the new "inventory" in the Northampton area with my buyer clients. Houses seem to double in size when you include the yard, and any outdoor living spaces, such as decks, patios, pools and the like. The flip side of this increased sense of space, is that outdoor areas actually require upkeep, and this can be time consuming and expensive. It's a good idea to take stock of all that needs doing, and decide which items/projects you are willing and able to pay for (yard clean up? gutter cleaning?), and which projects you prefer to do on your own (planting new perennials?, mulching your garden beds?).

In the past week, I've happened upon a number of houses with decks in need of TLC. My first impulse as a homeowner, would be to hire a professional to deal with a weathered deck. But, in reading this piece from todays' Daily Hampshire Gazette, it seems as if freshening up ones' deck is actually a manageable DIY project!

How to repair a splintering deck

By HomeAdvisor

Thursday, May 31, 201
 
Splintering decks are usually the result of neglect — occurring after a deck remains untreated and unsealed for a number of years. The lack of protection allows water to soak into the boards, eventually causing them to splinter and crack.

Fortunately, all is not lost. It may be hard to get that brand new look back completely, but following a few simple steps can help you bring your neglected decking back to life.

Your first order of business is the easiest. Mix up a solution of half bleach, half water and spray down your entire decking. If you see areas of deck mold (not unlikely if it's been a while since your deck's been treated), hit those especially hard and work at them with a scrub brush until the mold has been removed.

Finally, wait for the deck to dry before moving on to the next step.

The bleach does two things: It kills deck mold and mildew, and it bleaches the wood to a uniform color, preparing it for treatment. If you treat a deck that's at the point of splintering without applying bleach, you'll end up with dark, unattractive decking. Using bleach will bring out the natural wood look you're trying to recover.

Once the bleach solution has dried off the deck (it's a good idea to give it about 24 hours, just to be sure), you can move on to sanding. Since splintering decks mean lots of painful slivers for bare feet, it's important that you sand down your deck so that you're once again working with a smooth surface. Renting a large floor sander will certainly speed up the job, though the railings, banisters, steps and other hard-to-reach places will probably need to be done with a hand sander or sandpaper. Finally, rent a power washer and clean off the deck. It's going to be covered in a fine layer of dust from the sanding, and you'll need to get rid of that if you want your sealer to take properly.

Once the deck has dried out a second time, you're ready to treat the deck. Using a power sprayer drastically reduces the time it takes to treat a deck, though it can be done with paint rollers and brushes if you've got the patience. Just be sure to watch out for drips and runs, and to brush them up quickly. Waiting until after the deck is dry to try to get rid of them is almost impossible. Finally, remember to treat your deck on a regular basis (at least every few years). It's the only sure-fire way to prevent problems like splintering, cracking, rot and mold.

While it's possible to repair decking yourself, it's a time-consuming and laborious job — especially if you don't have the right tools. A decking contractor is experienced enough to repair decking of all sorts, and they will also have the supplies and know-how to get it done right in a fraction of the time. For this reason, many homeowners find hiring a decking pro to be worth the extra cost.

 

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