Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Green Housekeeping.

Previously published as Organic Housekeeping.
I'm not exactly a neat-freak. My primary housekeeping goal is to avoid having my house nominated for a reality show.  I take a lot of comfort in the "hygeine hypothesis," which goes beyond the old maxim "dirt don't hurt" to postulate that exposure to dirt and germs (and even enormous quantities of dog fur) actually helps developing immune systems.

That's right, folks, too much cleaning is bad for your kids.

I love science.

So, anyway, I came to Green Housekeeping with a fair amount of skepticism. I was hoping to glean some tips on being "green" but fully expected to skip the parts about "housekeeping."

But Ellen Sandbeck is my people. From the moment she pointed out that if you don't like mopping your kitchen floor, you should consider getting a dog, I knew I was going to enjoy this book. That's my kind of housekeeping! (Note: Dogs are especially handy when you have a messy baby who eats in a high chair.)

So, if you want to read a book that will make you feel bad about your lousy housekeeping and shame you into becoming neater, this is not it.  I hear Martha Stewart has written a few of those. Is it just me, or does it seem like most housekeeping advice is written by crazy neat-freaks, for an audience of equally crazy neat-freaks? Like, thanks, but I really don't need help creating a beautifully organized linen closet - I don't have a linen closet! I'm in need of more remedial help. Or a cleaning lady.

Whereas Green Housekeeping actually made me feel pretty good about my housekeeping. Ellen Sandbeck starts right off with helpful tips for extreme hoarders (like, you really, really need to throw away some of those newspapers, preferably before the city comes and does it for you) that helped to bolster my ego ("Hey, I'm not so bad! At least I haven't kept every single rubber band I've touched in the last twenty years - just the last three!"), and actually motivated me to make improvements to my home.

I've read it twice. For reals.

So far, this book has inspired the following changes for our household:
  1. Major, major decluttering. It turns out that having less stuff means ... less stuff for Joe to destroy, which means ... less work for us! I sold most of my books and all of my CDs. I admit, the purge stung at first (I'm definitely a collector), but it made my life so much better.
  2. I have stopped using sponges (which studies have shown are often the dirtiest items in the whole house! like, dirtier than the toilet brush! ick!) and switched to machine-washable dishrags and a scrubby brush. Less waste, less money, less food-borne illness!
  3. Similarly, I am trying to reduce our dependence on paper towels, and now use rags for all but the nastiest of messes (read: dog poop).
  4. I put up a clothesline. Nothing fancy. Literally, a piece of rope strung between a tree and a pole. And I use it, at least some of the time, when the weather is nice. It's fun, it gets you outside, it saves energy, and it leaves your towels pleasantly crunchy.
  5. I am trying to stay away from bleach and Comet, which are just terrible for the environment. To be fair, this isn't too hard for someone who never cleaned that much to begin with. For those of you who actually scrub your tubs, may I suggest Bon Ami? I've also incorporated some other old-fashioned and non-toxic cleansers into my routine, including baking soda, vinegar, and castille soap, although honestly, water is pretty great, all by itself. (Random tidbit: Pour boiling water from the kettle onto the burned-on food on your stove top. Walk away. Come back later and scrub a little. Admire results. Make spaghetti sauce and start the process over.)
  6. I got a rubber broom. According to Ellen Sandbeck, the rubber broom is a one-broom-show that can completely replace your regular broom and mop, give your vacuum cleaner a run for its money, and you can even use it for cobwebs! I'll give her this: It's absolutely brilliant for those dog fur/dust bunny tumbleweeds that mosey across our hardwood floors. It sweeps up the fur without blowing it around, and without getting tangled up in the bristles. It's pretty awesome.
  7. We installed carbon monoxide detectors (unfortunately, this move was also inspired by my friend Melissa's recent bout with CO poisoning, eek!). And I made Steve go around checking batteries on smoke detectors.
  8. I bought some Borax. I'm still a little unsure about what to do with it, though. The box is still sitting unopened. I am wondering if it could help somehow with our annual summer flea-infestation? Unfortunately, poor Steve is very delicious.
  9. So, wait, here's a radical idea: If you maintain a clean house, by cleaning up after messes and doing small things here and there, you can save yourself a ton of time and effort in deep cleaning and spend more time goofing off and making baby pants?? Who knew?
And that's just a start. Ellen Sandbeck suggests so many simple, small changes that us regular, "I'm too creative and interesting to clean!" folks can make to green our homes and simplify our space

You might want to start with that enormous collection of National Geographics that is currently blocking your front door.


  1. First off, they're New Yorkers, not National Geographics and I'm going to read them! Eventually!

    I don't think of books as clutter, but then I don't read nearly as many as you do. The CDs could really go, though.

    So smart not to use sponges. They are so gross. I can definitely get on board with that idea.

    Aghhh my house looks so messy now that I've read this. Sigh.

  2. Of course you'll read them!

    Books AREN'T necessarily clutter, if your baby doesn't spend 89% of his waking hours yanking them off shelves and ripping them up and stomping on their remains.

    Steve and I have a new maxim: If we don't have the energy to keep something safe from Joe, we shouldn't own it at all. Sigh.

  3. i love this! i am so not a neat-freak (you should see my house right now)--this sounds like my kind of cleaning! thanks for sharing this book!

  4. Plus, it's really funny! Though she did rip me a new one about food safety ... I realize, that's one area where more germs is NOT better. :-)

  5. I found this entry extremely funny and enjoyable to read! You're always funny, but for some reason this one really hit the spot for me. You are inspiring me to ditch the sponge, for sure. I have been meaning to knit my own cotton wash cloths for awhile, so...

  6. Hey Inder-
    If I can borrow your book, bring it Sunday! Fascinating! And funny too. :-) Stacy

  7. I checked it out from the library, Stacy! I'm green AND frugal!


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