I mentioned in my last post that one of my personal development goals for 2017 is to become more creative and resourceful in order to run our household at maximum efficiency. As a nursing/pumping and full-time working mother on a minimalist mission, I've come to value pragmatics and efficiency very highly. One of the biggest changes that I've implemented in order to work towards this goal of maximum efficiency has been the transition from a traditional bucket and stick mop to a steam mop, a game-changer that not only frees up the limited space in my cleaning cupboard but also produces the most immaculate, hygienic floors I've ever had in comparatively less time and with little strain on the lower back and knees (pregnant gals, you feel me?). (For a more in depth look at my weekly cleaning routine, check out this post.)
Steam mops utilize less water than traditional mopping methods (about 16 ounces of water covers our 700 square ft tiled floors) as they convert water into hot steam that loosens dirt, allowing the microfiber mop head to remove it with one pass. In addition, steam mops disinfect with high heat eliminating the need to use of harsh chemicals that are neither good for our lungs nor the environment. All this aside, if there's one thing I missed about traditional mopping, it was the clean scent of citrus and lavender that would fill the house as I mopped. Nothing screams freshly mopped floors like the powerful smell of "Mistolín" and "Fabuloso." Am I right, my fellow Latinas? Granted, the lemony lavender scent in most common floor cleaners comes from cheap artificial fragrances that expose us to an unfortunate multitude of respiratory irritants and neurotoxins. But, gosh, did that scent ever reassure me that the house was getting cleaner by the minute! Steam mops are a different creature altogether. Because steam mops clean with steam alone, and their water reservoirs should never be filled with anything but distilled water, meaning no vinegar or cleaning solutions, there are few options for achieving fragranced floors.
As it happens, the steam mop that I purchased, the Bissell 1940 Powerfresh, came with samples of a product Bissell makes for enhancing the steam mop experience, a fragrance disc that diffuses a floral lavender scent throughout the house while the steam mop is engaged. The coordinating microfiber removable mop head even has a tiny mesh pocket on the inside to accommodate this fragrance enhancer should you choose to use one. Given the rave reviews and popularity of these scented discs, it would appear that I wasn't the only member of the steam mopper population who missed that "clean smell" upon making the transition; there is a definite demand for this sort of product.
I'm not one to turn down a free trial so I gave the fragrance discs a shot. I found that they worked well enough at producing a lingering floral scent. Unfortunately, since switching from plugins and scented candles to essential oils and natural soy/beeswax candles, any artificial fragrance, no matter how pleasant the initial whiff, nauseates me after a period of prolonged exposure. By the time I was done steam mopping with the fragrance disc at work (about 15-20 minutes later) I needed a glass of water and a long rest on the sofa. Even if the scent hadn't been so grating on my olfactory system, I just can't justify spending almost a dollar per unit on a one-time use disposable product, especially when you consider that I mop our floors on a weekly basis. Not only is it wasteful but it isn't cost-effective. And so, although I loved the concept, I would not repurchase the product. However, I would take the concept and rework it using resources I already had on hand.
Essential oils are one of the most versatile long-term investments in homemaking efficiency that one can make. Quality oils from reputable distilleries are a minimalist luxury worth every penny; I, personally, purchase my oils (the ones pictured in this post) from Florihana, a top-notch French distillery that produces oils of the highest quality I've ever experienced at a remarkably reasonable price point thanks to the appropriately placed emphases on transparency and eco-conscious cultivation methods instead of pushy, scripted MLM campaigns, but I digress... Essential oils have a long shelf life of several years if stored properly and kept in cool dark environments and a few drops go a very long way because of how highly concentrated these plant extracts are. Initially, I was drawn to essential oils as a natural alternative to popular domestic amenities such as wall-plugins and scented laundry beads, but the benefits of essential oils reach well beyond simply smelling nice. Many of them have therapeutic, medicinal properties. A few of the more common and relatively inexpensive oils have antimicrobial properties which are fantastic within the context of chemical-free household cleaning. Lavender, lemon, and tea tree oil in particular come to mind when exploring ways to disinfect the home environment while making it smell fresh and inviting. And so, with this knowledge in mind, I decided I would incorporate my favorite antimicrobial essential oils into my steam mopping routine.
For this hack, I applied a few drops of lemon and lavender oils to a cotton round. 3 to 4 drops of each oil is enough to get a very full-bodied fragrance going. I sometimes incorporate peppermint, as it a known insect repellent; as a South Floridian, I am always looking for ways to keep ants and critters out of the house during rainy seasons and rather than pay top dollar for a fumigator to bring destructive toxins into my home. And of course, it helps that I truly enjoy the sweet scent of peppermint. A word of caution to breastfeeding mothers and mothers of young children: peppermint may reduce milk-supply if a lactating mother over-consumes it or is overexposed to it via diffusion. Likewise, it is not rated as a "kid-safe" oil as it may irritate a child's respiratory system. Thankfully, the few times that I've diffused it both my children and my milk supply were unaffected.
I used disposable cotton rounds that I had in my bathroom cabinet but ideally this hack can be made waste-free by making your own reusable cotton rounds. It's as simple as cutting up old t-shirts and worn textiles or repurposing old absorbent nursing pads from your last breastfeeding journey. If your steam mop doesn't come with a pocket for a diy fragrance disc, you can either sew your own into the inside of mop head or simply stick the fragrance disc inside the microfiber mop head freely.
I hope these tips are useful for you, whether you are looking to minimize your homemaking routine or not. If you try out this hack, please let me know in the comments below. What's your favorite oil to diffuse while cleaning?
Until next time,
Before I got married, had children, and bought a house, I was not a particularly tidy person and didn't have cleaning habits under my belt. On the contrary, I was something of a hoarder. The walk-in closet of my apartment was embarrassingly full to the brim with clothes and shamefully lined to the top with shoes. My kitchen cabinets were also quite an anomaly, bursting with china and niche cooking gadgets I would never ever use. It's a wonder they even stayed shut. To make matters worse I hated cleaning and avoided doing so at all costs... that is, until the house was unbearably filthy, at which point, what would have been a 1 hour job became a weekend-long project. But shortly after we moved into our very own home, the clutter bug in me moved out.
The South Florida housing market was and still is hotter than the innermost circles of hell, so as you can imagine, it was an uphill battle all the way up until closing day to purchase our humble fixer-upper townhome, a tattered foreclosure that hadn't been occupied since 2008 and that happened to be situated in a quiet, well-manicured community. It wasn't turn-key by any means. It was missing some appliances. Some of its door knobs were rusted over and the kitchen cabinet knobs were missing altogether. The bathrooms hadn't been cleaned since the original owners moved out and all the closet doors were either broken or falling off the hinges. The house was in desperate need of TLC. It had been through a lot. But then again, so had we.
Given the herculean challenges that we had to overcome in order to become homeowners, I silently vowed upon signing that contract that I would channel all of my gratitude to the heavens and all of my homeowner's pride into bringing this home to the most beautiful and pristine condition it has ever been in and keeping it there. This house WILL sparkle, damn it! My cleaning routine is, therefore, a very personal ritual. As I clean each area of my home, I reflect on how fortunate I am to have a beautiful home to clean and how keeping it this way brings my family and me so much joy. I want my husband and children to come home every day and feel that love in every tidy corner of our home, no, our sanctuary.
That said, I'm not a slave to our house by any means. What I do, I do out of love and gratitude, but it helps to keep my homemaking habits sustainably simple and effective, in other words, minimalist. So without further ado here is my weekly task list:
1. Clean all Surfaces and Decor
I kickstart my task list by dusting and wiping down all the countertops, appliances, bookshelves, decorative pieces, lamps, mirrors, and furniture in our home. It may seem like a lot of work to start but it this step is what keeps me in tune with how much we've accumulated. Of course, this task is much easier to do when surfaces are almost bare, which is a great reason to keep clutter at a minimum. As a domestic minimalist with a love for interior design, I'm not the type that can go without any decor at all so most of my surfaces have at least one item on them that brings me joy. As a rule of thumb, I limit myself to a maximum of three decorative items per surface, usually fewer.
I use a microfiber cloth and a tried and true multi-purpose cleaning spray, such as the Method French Lavender Multi-Surface spray (which is kinder to wood pieces than vinegar but just as kind to the environment), on all furniture and surfaces to disinfect the areas. I also try not to neglect light switches, door knobs, and cabinet knobs during this phase.
It is important to take this time to reflect on how the items and furniture surrounding me make me feel. If I find that I no longer enjoy cleaning a particular piece or that looking at it no longer brings me a happy, cozy feeling no matter how I style it or where I place it, I know it is time to set it in the donation bin where it may someday reach a family that'll love having it in their own home.
The dust that was removed from surfaces and decor during the dusting and wipe down phase will have now settled onto the floor and is ready to be removed permanently with a vacuum. I prefer the vacuuming method for this step but if you don't own a vacuum cleaner (you should!), you could sweep or use a dry mop, such as a Swiffer, with a microfiber cloth attached to the mophead. My Bissell vacuum has settings for different types of flooring, which works brilliantly in our home since our first floor is tiled and our second floor is carpeted. We also have a 7 x 10 medium-pile area rug in our family room that needs regular vacuuming. I use the "bare floors" setting for my tiled areas, the "heavy carpet" setting for the upstairs, and the "medium carpet" setting for the area rug.
3. Steam Mop
Once the floors are free of dust, crumbs, hair and all other lovelies the vacuum obliterates from our home, I go in with my steam mop. You could mop the old-fashioned way, like I used to for years, but I've found it extremely liberating to get rid of my wooden stick mop, bucket, old shammies, and jugs of harsh floor cleaner (looking at you Fabuloso and Mistolín!), all of which cluttered up the cleaning closet more than it should. It was also an extremely ineffective method of cleaning, as the water and shammies needed to be changed often and the floors took forever to dry between the 2-3 rinses required for a "decent" clean.
A steam mop really simplifies the art of mopping. Not only is it effortlessly quicker and easier on your back, but it is also much more hygienic. It bears mentioning that steam cleaning is ultimately better for the environment, requiring much less water and minimizing household use of harsh chemical cleaners which are some of the biggest culprits of domestic pollution. Fortunately, you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on a decent steam mop. I got my Bissell steam mop from Macy's for under $90 and tacked on a 25% off coupon to bring it down even more. Money well-spent.
Although the steam alone does a fantastic job, for bonus points, I like to squirt a little bit of vinegar or eco-friendly floor cleaner on each area and then go over it with the steam mop. The heat of the mop really works the cleaning agent into the floors without leaving a film. It also makes it easier to wash the mop pad later. My current favorite store-bought cleaner for this "bonus step" is the Method Lemon Ginger Squirt + Mop.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of steam mopping is that glorious moment when you remove the microfiber pad only to reveal that your "passably clean" floors were in fact covered with a layer of gray filth indiscernible to the naked eye.
By laundry, I am not referring to washing my family's clothes and linens. With two under two, I'm doing laundry every other day and would never ever dream of saving it all for cleaning day, especially considering that everyone's wardrobe has been purged to the point where we can't wait until we are down to our last outfit. Laundry on this list refers to cleaning all of the soiled steam mop pads and microfiber cloths. I like toss all these items into the washer along with kitchen textiles and bath mats. I then proceed to run a hot, heavy cycle with detergent, vinegar and several drops of antimicrobial tea tree oil, which is the key to keeping the washing machine from smelling unpleasant or developing mildew over time.
5. Bathrooms: As far as bathrooms go, my husband usually takes care of that for me. It's probably because I've been pregnant/nursing for nearly two years consecutively. However recently I've gotten back into doing it myself. I like to use a homemade solution of baking soda, dish soap and essential oils like lemon, grapefruit and tea tree and work it into the tub and tile with a dense sponge. Then I give it a good rinse and dry it down with some clean towels. I also use a solution of baking soda, vinegar and disinfecting essential oils to scrub our toilet bowls clean. (Tea tree oil works especially well in the toilet bowl!) Our cabinet surfaces and sinks are maintained daily since I usually wipe them down before bed every night with multi-purpose cleaner and a microfiber cloth.
And that's all there is to it. The whole routine takes me about 1-2 hours to complete in my 1400 square foot home. The key to getting it done so quickly is sticking to a daily tidying routine that maintains the house in good order between deeper cleanings. It would take a lot longer to complete these chores if the house weren't already picked up and tidy to begin with. (I'll have a separate post going up about establishing a daily tidying routine very soon.)
I used to set a weekly "cleaning day" for myself but because of the mentally and physically draining nature of teaching coupled with the unpredictable nature of toddlers, I find I need to be more flexible about this. One week it may get done on a Monday, another week it may be a Wednesday thing, and some weeks the tasks get broken up across several days. What matters is that it gets done.
Contain and Entertain: How to Clean with Toddlers
So how does one carve out weekly opportunities to clean with two young, dependent children? I like to follow the foolproof principles of "Contain and Entertain" or "Zone Denial" as my husband calls it. (Personally, I like my terminology better, as it's a little more benevolent).
My son is still quite young so it's a hearty nursing session and off to the Rock 'n Play with him. My daughter, on the hand, is two and a half so the principles of "Contain and Entertain" currently apply best to her, especially that "Entertain" bit. When she was younger, I "contained" her in a Pack 'n Play and "entertained" her with some toys that only came out while I cleaned. Now that she's older, I sit her in the high chair with some paper and Color Wonder markers or I give her a tablet and load her favorite nursery rhyme app. The point is to contain her in a safe place where I can keep her away from the cleaning products and outlets I need to access temporarily.
In addition to keeping her busy with special activities, I also like to talk to her while I'm getting the house clean. I describe in simple, direct language what it is that I'm doing and why it's important. I find that as she gets older and observes my habits, she wants to help out more. On more than one occasion I've caught her grabbing kitchen towels to wipe down her own messes whenever her sippy cup leaks. She's even offered to help me dust and wipe down her play table. The "maestra" in me loves that I get to use my cleaning routine as a teaching moment. I want my kids to grow up knowing the value of taking good care of their belongings and living spaces, as these are all blessings that don't always come easy (Lord knows it wasn't easy for us!) and for some, unfortunately, may never come at all.
What is your cleaning routine like? How do you make it simple and sustainable?
Thanks for sticking with me until the end of this post. Until next time, ciao!
About la maestra:
Bienvenidos! Bem-vindos! I'm Ali, a World Language maestra from Miami who went from hard-core maximalist to soft-core minimalist upon becoming a mother. The flexible form of minimalism that I practice, domestic minimalism, allows me to run my household efficiently and foster a home free of clutter and full of joy for my whole family. This is where I record my experiences as a wife, working mother of two, and homemaker. Thanks for stopping by.