Hello, friends and family! If you follow me on social media (Instagram & Facebook) you may have noticed that I gave myself a two week hiatus from technology as a minimalist birthday gift to myself. Withdrawing from daily social media interactions is good for re-calibrating the mind and eliminating the invisible mental static that builds up over time due to prolonged periods of cyberspace overload. It just so happens that at some point in my rejuvenating birthday break, my old faithful Lansinoh pumping bra, having worked overtime for my children through two breastfeeding journeys, decided it would retire to the lonely, dank world of "Bra-zkaban." It leaves behind an irreparably broken zipper and Oxi-resistant milk stains-- the proud marks of a dedicated lactation garment. However, in its untimely departure, it also takes with it the understated luxury of hands-free pumping. Having spent more than I'd like to admit on yummy birthday food and new nursing tanks (it took me two breastfeeding journeys to realize just how worthwhile and liberating nursing tanks are!), the prospect of purchasing another $50+ pumping bra was upsetting to me. And so I did what any "pinteresting" minimalist momma does best: DIY.
Admittedly, I've never been much of a DIY'er. In the past, I've been able to come up with great ideas but my clumsy, artless hands are just not crafty enough to realize my vision to perfection, leaving me with no choice but to abandon my craft in utter frustration and disappointment. I recognize that over-idealism and perfectionism are more of a hinderance than a motivator when it comes to actually completing DIY projects so this is an aspect of my personality that I'm working on. One of my personal development goals this year is to be more resourceful and patient when creating my own solutions to daily hurdles such as hands-free pumping. Thankfully, designing a DIY pumping bra is so simple that even an inexperienced DIY'er like me can do it.
This project only takes five minutes and has saved me a nice chunk of change. What I like best is that it has given purpose to a forgotten cotton night-nursing bra that was taking up space at the bottom of my lingerie drawer. I never liked this bra much for night nursing or exercise but it's nice to see that not every purchase that hasn't met my expectations needs to end up in a donation bin or on an Ebay listing. There's a great sense of accomplishment when implementing thrifty modifications to bring new useful life and practical value to something that didn't spark joy or serve a purpose before.
If you are in need of a hands-free solution to pumping (what multi-tasking momma isn't?), I do hope you'll give this bra hack a try.
What You'll Need
Step 1: Mark
Put on the bra of your choice and adjust your breasts accordingly for a natural fit. Using a marker, mark the location of each nipple.
Step 2: Trace
Place the stem of your flange on the mark you made in Step 1. Trace around the flange with a marker to outline the area of fabric that will be removed in order to create the slits that will accommodate your flanges during pump sessions.
Step 3: Cut
Using a pair of very sharp scissors (such as the kind that seamstresses use), cut over the circle that you traced in Step 2. I personally find it easier to carefully fold the fabric circle drawn onto each "breast cup" in half and cut along the lines as if it were a semi-circle. Whatever your approach, when finished, you should have two circular slits in each "cup" of the bra.
Step 4: Pump!
"Look, ma! No hands!"
Put on your re-imagined lactation bra, insert your flanges, and pump away as you enjoy a matcha latte and avocado toast, page through a good book, watch Youtube videos, or write for your blog. Lord, my "millenial" is starting to show...
I'll be posting another quick, easy five-minute DIY (DIY Under Five) in the coming days so come back and visit soon!
Lately, there's been a word trending on social media that has caught my attention as a language teacher and has captured my heart as a minimalist. It is neither English, Spanish, nor Portuguese (the languages in which I am proficient) and doesn't seem to have an equivalent term in any of these languages. You may have noticed the #hygge hashtag popping up on Instagram. "Hygge," pronounced "hoo-guh," is a Danish word that encapsulates a feeling of contentment and well-being that is homely and charming yet luxurious in a uniquely understated way. The danes are some of the happiest people in the world, despite their long, dark winters, and many attribute their satisfaction in life to making a little time for "hygge."
Hygee is low-key luxury. It is not loud or proud. It isn't about treating oneself to retail therapy when stressed or taking expensive get-away vacations when tired. It's about creating a warm and inviting atmosphere at home, alone or with friends, an atmosphere that feeds one's passion for the here, the now, and the everyday. It is about being present, acknowledging the little things and emphasizing them with rituals that make them all the more delightful. Rushing through your first break of the day while chugging down insipid powdered coffee in a styrofoam cup that's been reheated for the third time this morning (any fellow teachers out there feelin' me?) is clearly not hygge. Making time on a quiet evening to sip your favorite hot beverage in a pretty vintage tea cup while wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket and engulfed by the plush cushions of a large chaise as you admire the orange sunset outside a nearby window... now that is hygge.
You may think that your life is too noisy and fast-paced for such quiet, slow pleasures, but truthfully, hygge is the best medicine for an overtired person who is half-heartedly shuffling through the motions. Hygge can be made to fit into anyone's routine no matter what their work schedule or personal life is like. It's all about identifying opportunities to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
So now that you know what hygge is, let's talk about some ways to bring it into your home. Today I'll be discussing 4 ways you can achieve a "hyggelig" atmosphere through vision and sound, visual hygge and auditory hygge respectively. (Be sure to look out for Part 2 of my Two-Part series on hygge where I'll be discussing the social, gustatory, tactile, and olfactory dimensions of hygge and sharing 4 ways to create them at home.)
1. Visual Hygge: Use Warm Accent Lighting
Minimalist blogger, Jenny Mustard, said it best when she stated in her hygge themed video, "Overhead ceiling light is where hygge goes to die." There is nothing more harsh and unforgiving than overhead ceiling light. It does nothing to flatter our features and nothing to enhance our mood. If you want your space to feel inviting and intimate, especially in the evenings, when there is little natural light pouring into your home, strategically placed table lamps and floor lamps are the way to go.
Back when I was a student attending university and living in the dorms, I inherited a vintage emerald green floor lamp from my roommate, a gift that I couldn't have appreciated more given the cold cell-like nature of most dorm rooms; if standard household ceiling light is where hygge goes to be killed then overhead dormitory light is where hygge goes to be massacred. The happy light the vintage lamp cast on our bland, sad walls transformed our dorm from a prison cell to a charming studio apartment. It truly was the perfect complement to our quiet evenings in, when we would engage in all sorts of philosophical discussions, trying to sort out all the mysteries of the universe over a pot of rosemary tea. We never dared touch the light switches. That kind of lighting was far too severe and "un-hygge" for our cozy evening tea.
Although table lamps and floor lamps are very effective ways to warm up a living space, they are not the only pathways to creating visual hygge through accent lighting. String lights, fairy lights, and lanterns are also enchanting ways to bring a tender glow to your home. Feel free to hang a few lanterns and dress the headboard of your bed with string lights or, better still, drape them over the frame of your favorite window. If you're looking for something even more atmospheric than what incandescent accent lighting can provide, keep reading. The most fool-proof source of visual hygge is next.
Note how I've strategically arranged table the lamps in our living room to hug the area where we spend time together as a family or with guests. This intimate area of kinship and togetherness is made all the more intimate while enveloped by the warm glow emitted from the lamps. The choice of lamps also helps establish a sense of hygge. For instance, the rustic aesthetic of the large lamp that sits at the corner of the sofa table appeals to the rural aesthetic of hygge, as it is unsophisticated and casual yet luxurious all the same.
2. Visual Hygge: Light Candles
Lighting a candle is no doubt the fastest and simplest way to achieve visual hygge in the home. On dark and stormy Miami days, I personally love to light a lavender scented candle on my sofa table and cuddle with my children on the couch. If my children are napping at the same time (almost never happens!), I relish that rare silence by candlelight. Lighting a candle brings a sense of mysticism to even the most mundane setting. There's a reason candles are used in so many different rites of passage, from birthdays to Christmas. The soft, flickering glow of candlelight draws the focus away from any detractors that may rob sacred moments of their sanctity and highlights what is most important: the here and now.
There are many ways to incorporate the comforting warmth of candlelight into everyday activities. You can bathe by candlelight in the evenings, make a lit candle the centerpiece of your dining table at mealtimes, or light a candle on your nightstand while you lose yourself in a chapter of your favorite book before bed. Perhaps a realistic flameless candle is the way to go if you fear that your rambunctious toddler will knock your lit candle right off the table, an unfortunate event that, apart from being hazardous to your family, is hazardous to your hygge: instant hygge killer. Whatever you decide, just be sure to keep your home environment free of neurotoxins by choosing naturally scented soy candles or purifying beeswax candles over the mainstream artificial kind which are some of the biggest players in the problem of domestic air pollution.
3. Auditory Hygge: Make Time for Silence
No one appreciates the value of silence as much as a teacher. As a teacher myself, some of the most revitalizing moments in my day are those short breaks where my students are out for specials and the classroom, a place constantly booming with the sounds of book bags rolling in and the echoing thunder of students' voices as they collaborate on learning tasks, is overcome by an unusual silence. After a storm of active learning, surging with the brilliant and satisfying sparks of "ah-ha!" moments, comes a much needed calm.
Our lives are filled with so much noise, whether we are teachers, students, office workers, or stay-at-home parents. Whatever it is that we do for work, whatever our livelihood, noise is bound to infiltrate our work space and living space. Sometimes it's a jarring physical noise, like the honking sound of car horns at a traffic halt as you make your commute. Sometimes it's the mental static that keeps you up at night, robbing you of sleep as you yourself ponder how you are going to rob Peter to pay Paul. Sometimes these noises are wonderful, such as the sound of students engaged in learning. Sometimes it's an intellectual wave of thoughts and ideas that inspire us to take on new creative projects. Whatever the source, it is important to make time for silence in our space.
Turn off the television, power off the phone and all other electronics, turn down the lights, and just be still and "enjoy the silence" (yes, like the Depeche Mode song). You can take this time to meditate for mental clarity or perhaps start on that book you've been meaning to read for a while. If you are a Christian like me, this is an opportune moment to put yourself in the Lord's presence, as it is often in the sanctity of silence that we can hear Him answering our prayers, those same prayers our hearts whisper throughout our noisy days.
4. Auditory Hygge: Play Sentimental Music
Although there's a certain sacred quality to silence that makes it a special way to bring auditory hygge into our lives, there is also a soul-kindling quality to playing soothing, mood-setting music that is just as transformative. I have fond memories as a child of my mother preparing dinner with the lights turned down and Dulce Pontes's "Lagrimas" album playing in the background. The delicious smells filling the kitchen and mingling with the ethereal yet rustic sound of Pontes' rendition of "Povo que lavas no rio" is a nostalgic memory that has been forever imprinted on my heart. Whenever I need to break the monotony of daily tasks, such as setting the table and prepping dinner, I load up my favorite "fado" on Pandora and let myself become inspired.
If you don't know what "fado" is, it is another one of those words that has no true translation in English; perhaps the closest translation would be "fate" given it's similar linguistic layout. The Portuguese word "fado" refers to a genre of music that is unique to the Portuguese culture. Although much of fado is typically mournful and expresses "saudade" or longing, many fados are songs about everyday life in the rural countryside and by the sea that are contemplative but not necessarily tragic. It's this "rustic" quality that makes fado such a hyggelig experience for me, personally. Your choice of background music doesn't have to be fado but if you want to be swept away by the hauntingly beautiful sounds and voices of the mountainous Portuguese countryside, dotted with a charming array of fish markets, cow pastures, and ancient Roman abbeys, all from the comfort of your own home, I recommend running a Pandora search for Dulce Pontes, Amalia Rodrigues, or Maritza.
Ultimately, whatever your choice of soul-soothing music, whether Chopin, Barry White, or Fado itself, let it put the magic back into your cozy evening and transform an ordinary evening at home into a stirring, rustic experience. So pick your favorite sentimental track. And, to be clear, by sentimental I don't mean sad or angry, just something charming that makes you feel warm inside and makes your hairs stand on end because of it's overwhelming loveliness ("algo que te eriza la piel," as we say in Spanish). This is not the time to listen to break-up tracks nor is it the time to rock out to "melt your face metal," as my husband would say. So save that Slayer album for another time.
There you have it: 4 ways to make your home look and sound warmer, cozier, and hyggelig.
Stay tuned next week for Hygge Part 2: 4 More Ways to Have a Hyggelig Home, where I will be discussing ways to enhance the social, gustatory, tactile and olfactory dimensions of this wonderful philosophy.
What is your favorite way to create visual/auditory hygge? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, stay cozy, friends!
Clutter-free and toddlers don't usually come together in the same sentence, much less in the same room. But it doesn't have to be this way. Whenever family or friends come to visit I often hear them say, "Do your kids have toys?" and "Do kids even live here?". The answer to these is: yes and yes. Yes, my kids have plenty of toys. And, yes, they live here. But the fact that we have small children doesn't have to be self-evident in every space of our home. Here are my tips for keeping "kid clutter" under control.
1. Keep Toys Hidden in Plain Sight
I'm going to start with the cleverest clutter-busting tip on this list, the one that has saved our home from looking like one giant play zoo: invest in furniture that serves a dual purpose, its hidden function being storage. All of our "toy boxes" have both an adult function and a child function. For instance, we don't own a coffee table in our home. Instead, we use a large faux leather storage ottoman as our "coffee table." It also doubles as a foot rest or extra seating when we have lots of guests over. But perhaps the best kept secret is that our ottoman is home to my toddler's larger ticket toys like her dollhouse, cars, trucks (yes, girls can play with trucks!) and a number of stuffed animals. And since it's made of a wipeable faux leather material, it also functions as our downstairs diaper changing station. Three functions in one.
We swiped up this ottoman at Home Goods for under $100 when we were furnishing our honeymooners' apartment way back in our newlywed days. Back then, it was primarily used as our "Netflix and Chill" foot rest or seating for when my husband and I used to do some gaming after dinner, you know, before children happened. Little did we know 6 years later we'd be finding so many new uses for it!
Another example of the functionality of a dual-purpose storage piece is this tufted bench I picked up at Walmart for a little over $50 when we first moved into our house. I've seen similar benches at Home Goods and Target at reasonable price ranges. I chose to style this little bench with a few coordinating throw pillows to make it more "hygge." I've also accented it with a framed reproduction of my favorite Klimpt, a tapestry that my husband and I picked up at a busy Florentine market years ago on our Italian honeymoon. This sentimental artwork aggrandizes the tiny bench that would otherwise get lost in the long, empty vertical space above it (we have 11 foot ceilings downstairs). For adults, this is a cozy little spot to page through a book from our nearby bookcase. For our children, this is the place where major playtime decisions are made. The space blends so seamlessly with the rest of the house that there is no way you'd ever guess that this is my daughter's primary toy box!
Within the bench, I've sorted out my kids' smaller toys by type and placed them in clear plastic bins that are easy to grab and put back. As a rule of thumb, I don't let my daughter play with with more than two boxes at the same time. She would have to put everything back in the boxes and deposit them back into the "toy chest" before grabbing a new box. These bins have been a major play time game-changer. Before we got them, picking out all these Peppa Pig figurines and Fisher Price Little People from the bottom of the bench was a dreadful undertaking! She'd literally have to empty the whole bench just to find the "Happy Birthday" Peppa or "Skye" from Paw Patrol. The bins have seen to that. All that's left to do is label them.
If you don't have storage furniture you can always find creative uses for furniture that you already own. The lower drawers in your TV cabinet or a beautiful basket at the bottom of your end table can serve as good places to store toys away.
Aside from toys, another source of "kid clutter" that I like to keep out of sight when not in use is the diaper caddy. Containing diapers, burp cloths, toiletries and clothes in one place such as a caddy or basket is a good idea but an even better idea is to keep it somewhere accessible when needed but hidden in plain sight when not in use.
I like to "hide" our diaper caddy on the bottom shelf of an end table in our living room, where I spend most of the day with my kids. The end table is also very close to the storage ottoman that I love to use as a makeshift changing station.
2. Invest in Quality Play Furniture
I know it may be tempting for a frugal minimalist to want to purchase a budget-friendly plastic play table in loud colors that may or may not have popular preschool characters on it. And a more extreme minimalist mother may forgo the play table altogether and that's cool. If you're either of these types of mommas, do you, girl! You know your family's needs best. As for for me, I find that I'm somewhere in between. I want my kids to have a play station where I can "contain the chaos" and keep the clutter off of the floor. But I also want it to be aesthetically pleasing because, quite frankly, I'm a home decor brat. I'm the reason companies like Pottery Barn Kids and The Land of Nod exist! I'm selfish, like pretty things, and can't bear to let Disney and Sesame Street furnish my home.
The play table I chose to give my daughter for Christmas is the Pottery Barn Kids Carolina Grow With You Activity Table. Yes, a pricey choice, I know. But I was very intentional about this purchase. I wanted to invest in a table that is not only beautiful, blending seamlessly enough with our home that we wouldn't need to hide it or "tolerate" it, but also one that would grow with our children. The Carolina table has been a wonderful choice because of its height and upgradable features. The height of the table and chairs is comfortable enough for my daughter and I to play for hours. The wood is definitely sturdy enough to support an adult. I can attest to this as my daughter enthusiastically seats every grandparent, aunt, and uncle that visits at her table. Perhaps the best part is that when my kids outgrow the pretend play phase, we have the option to evolve it into a homework/study station.
You certainly don't have to go the pricey Pottery Barn route. Companies like Target, Ikea, and Melissa & Doug offer beautiful, high quality play tables at much lower price points. But if you do decide to go through Pottery Barn Kids, make sure you wait for a 20-25% coupon with free shipping to get the most bang for your buck. It certainly reduced the price of our table significantly!
The take-home message of this tip is to look around for play furniture that doesn't make you cringe, that fits into your space without creating visual clutter (like a brightly colored character themed table might), and blends seamlessly with your decor. We chose to go with a white table because our home has a lot of white accents. But if your home is furnished with natural wood-grain textures, an unpainted wood table might be a better option for you. Find what makes you happy so that you don't feel like you need to wince every time you look at it, especially when you're trying to soak in you home's ambiance. Your kids honestly won't care what it looks like so long as they have a little place in your family room to claim as their own.
3. Create Simple and Elegant Play Nooks throughout your Home
Once you've invested in some quality play furniture and identified hidden storage solutions around your home, it's time to create play nooks in the main areas of your home. Simplicity is key here because in order to keep clutter under control, the play nook needs to be sensibly styled so that it is easy to tidy. We live in a bilevel home and spend most of our day in the family room so logically, this is the best location for our downstairs play nook. The play table currently sits by a corner window of the family room, a short distance from the storage ottoman and the tufted bench (from Tip #1) so all my daughter has to do is walk over to either of these, choose the toys she wants to play with, and take them to her table. Here she plays with her dollhouse, has tea parties, reads books, and colors. The possibilities are endless! However, the playtime chaos is confined, for the most part, to this corner of the family room, which makes tidying up at the end of the day fast and easy.
Upstairs, I'm currently creating another play nook in the office, where my husband or I spend a good portion of our evenings, writing, working, grading papers, lesson planning, etc. In our current home, a modest 3 bed/2 bath, we don't have a spare room to designate as the "playroom" nor do we want one because it is a better use of space to combine the play space with the office so that the kids are under constant supervision while we work. Since this particular play nook is completely separate from the more formal areas of the home, such as the family room and dining room, I've chosen to go with more color here while still keeping it simple, elegant and minimal. In the current image, the play nook is still missing a few finishing touches. There will be a future post on how the office play nook turns out so stay tuned!
4. Donate and Declutter Regularly
Finally, it's always a good idea to regularly assess what we've accumulated, what gets used regularly and what has fallen out of use, that way, we don't have to worry about clutter overcoming our carefully planned storage systems and play nooks. I often hear parents complain about how the toys are always out in the open because there simply isn't enough room in the toy box or playroom anymore. If this is happening to you and the kid clutter is robbing you of your inner domestic peace, it's time to assess how many toys there are in total, which ones get played with and which ones are played out.
My children are two and under so I am presently in direct control of which toys we keep and which ones we donate. Regular decluttering prevents the quantity of toys from building up. As a rule of thumb, any occasion in which toys are received, such as Christmas and birthdays, are used as opportunities to declutter. Whenever our children receive a gift, we go through the toys they already own and see what can be donated to make room for this new toy. Kids grow so fast at this stage that there's always at least one toy they've outgrown. Same goes for clothing but wardrobe management is a topic for another day.
If your children are old enough to make responsible decisions about their belongings, get them involved in the process of going through each toy or game, deciding how often each one gets played with and determining if it holds any sentimental value. Some things may not be played with often but may trigger a strong emotional response, such as a fond memory of the person that gave it to them. It's important to be able to distinguish between honoring the sentimental value of a certain toy and justifying the hoarding of toys that no longer "spark joy," as organization guru, Marie Kondo, would say. The decluttering process is a lesson in mindfulness. It's a lesson in gratitude, in acknowledging the good fortune of simply having objects that bring us joy. It's also a lesson in giving up some of what you have for the happiness of others and not holding onto more than what you need to be happy. It's a lesson I wish I'd had more hands-on opportunities to learn as a child but that I hope to share with my own children when they are old enough to understand.
It is my sincere hope that even one of these tips has been helpful to anyone struggling with reclaiming their inner domestic peace amid the wonderful chaos that is "kid clutter." Thanks for your readership.
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.