Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Five Ways Your Foyer Can Be Way More Functional

Easy, Doable Solutions To Avoid “Black Holes”


By Amber Matheson

If you’re like me, you have a few black holes in your house. Our dining room table is one — it’s the first and (often) final resting spot for just about anything handheld, from sandwiches to the Sunday paper. The entryway is another. My family of four accumulates approximately 80 billion articles of outdoor clothing and shoes on any given week, and it mostly ends up in a heap by the door. Tack on snowy, muddy, salty conditions, and it’s not just a depository; it’s a disaster.

With the bustle of the holidays over and winter in full swing, we’re attempting to clean up our act. Here’s how I plan to do it.

Multiple Mats. This is a tip we mention often. Less debris tracked in by foot means less of the most destructive dirt, like tiny particles of cement and glass that damage your carpet over time. Place a thick, scrubby doormat outside your door, then a second one just inside your doorway to trap more dirt before it makes its way into your home.

A Slipper Station. This Martha Stewart tip is genius, of course, but it’s also a great trigger for a New Year’s resolution to have a better work-life balance. We’re going to set up a slipper basket next to a tray for shoes. When we come in, we’ll take off our shoes, and metaphorically take off our busy day. Sliding in to comfortable slippers will be a physical sign that we’re done with work and ready to spend time with our family.

A Convenient Cleaner. We’re setting up a charging station near our entryway, so we always have a battery ready to go for our Air Cordless vacuum. It’s lightweight and steerable, so we use it pretty much every day. Keeping it near the place in the house where we create the most mess just makes sense.

More Hooks. No hangers. Get rid of all the hangers. Have you figured out a way to get your family to consistently hang their jackets on hangers? Me either. Hooks are easy, and that’s what you need in a black-hole zone. Easy.

Labeled Bins. This is a trick gleaned from organizational pros: childcare workers. When my son arrives at daycare, he makes a beeline for his labeled cubby. If it’s good enough for a gaggle of three-year-olds, I’m confident it’s something we can do here. We’re instituting labeled bins at home where we can chuck outdoor gear like scarves and mittens, plus items we need to deliver to a friend, donate or return.

How do you keep your entryway clean? Tell us your best tips on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Five Areas You’ll Regret Not Cleaning Now

The holidays are gone – but do the messes remain?

For many of us, now is the time to undeck the halls and haul that wilting tree out to the lawn. (No judgment if your post-holiday cleaning trickles into spring cleaning.)

The Japanese actually celebrate a holiday, Oosouji, that translates roughly to “big cleaning.” It takes place at the end of December. So in the spirit of Oosouji, put your winter hibernation to good use, and spend some time cleaning the spots that got hit the hardest this holiday season.

Clean the Cupboards: You may only use your good dishes once or twice a year, but that doesn’t stop dust from piling up every day. While your china is freshly washed and out of the cupboard, clean out the cabinet. Use a rag with hot, soapy water and dry with a microfiber towel.

Vac Attack the Attic: Before you put all those boxes of ornaments and decoration away, clean out the cobwebs. The perfect vacuum to use is the Air Cordless. You don’t need to go looking for an electrical outlet, and it has a bright LED light to hunt down all those dust bunnies.

Organize the Playroom: If you didn’t spoil your kids with a bunch of new toys, grandma and grandpa probably did. Too bad you still have the same amount of space. You have two options:

  1. You could donate the toys your kids have outgrown. If they protest, schedule a viewing of this movie.
  2. Or, try creating a toy library. Kids can “check out” play sets and action figures every month and you can pack the rest away.

Out, Out Darn Spot: If you entertained, your carpet probably got stained. Check here for a pre-treating cheat sheet. Or cut right to the chase, and through the stain, with the Dual Power Pro. It’s got a pre-treater attachment wand and two types of cleaning brushes to clean carpet fibers from every angle.

Make Your Oven Sparkle: You don’t need too much elbow grease to get all the stuck-on holiday memories off your stove. All you need is vinegar, specifically white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. These tips from Reader’s Digest cover everything from grease splatters on the hood to grease buildups inside your oven.

Friday, January 2, 2015

5 Questions About the Collaboration Between Hoover and MakerBot

The ID team at Hoover decided to take on 3D printing in a big way. We sat down with the head of Industrial Design, Mo Irfan, to find out why.

Hoover: What does the Industrial Design team at Hoover do on a daily basis?

MI: We make technology relevant for people. It’s all about putting the consumer, the person who’s ultimately going to benefit from what we do, at the heart of our design process. We work to understand people’s challenges, the problems they have, their explicit needs as well as the things they haven’t identified. We use that as a catalyst to foster creativity among our team. Then we take time to develop great solutions.

Hoover: Are vacuum tools a consideration during the design process?

MI: The vacuum cleaner is an interesting product. It’s great for cleaning large areas of carpet, and we design tools for many other cleaning tasks. What we’ve found through extensive research in the field is that everyone’s got a different need, and that tools are incredibly important. When people buy a vacuum cleaner, they never use it just to clean the carpet – especially people with pets and children.

Hoover: Why were you interested in collaborating with MakerBot on 3D printing?

MI: Hoover is a very innovative company – we want to be at the cutting edge of everything we do, so people can feel confident they’re buying the best product for their particular needs. It’s innovation that solves a problem, because at the end of the day, it all comes back to what’s interesting and helpful to our consumers.

That’s what is so intriguing about 3D printing: We’ve conceptualized many tools that would be incredibly helpful to some homeowners, but may not make sense to produce on a mass scale. Now we have a place for those ideas to live. It means great concepts can become reality, rather than being left on the drawing board. Now, if there’s something a consumer needs, and it’s not on the machine, instead of going out and searching for it, they can download the accessory and print it themselves. It’s the next level of innovation.

Hoover: Describe what happened when you tasked the ID team with developing new concepts for tools and accessories.

MI: There was a lot of energy, excitement, drawing on the walls, tinkering in the workshop, bouncing ideas of each other. We asked our team to think about the people that these things are going to matter to. Everyone on our team spent time in their own homes playing around with their vacuum cleaners, identifying pain points, and we gathered a wealth of insights from going into people’s homes across the country and watching the way they use (or don’t use) their vacuums and tools. We pooled our ideas, built on them, and identified a range of tools that we then printed on the MakerBot 3D printer.

Hoover: We’ve seen the battery mount and the flashlight mount, the first two accessories uploaded to the Hoover page on MakerBot’s Thingiverse. Give us a sneak peek at some of the tools that you created prototypes of:

MI: Well, there was the marshmallow shooter. We’ve still got holes in the wall to account for that. But I think the most rewarding part of the whole experience wasn’t a particular tool. It was most interesting to take the seven or eight tools we printed, and let employees in our building try them out, take them home, figure out what was most relevant to them. These were tangible, working parts that were only ideas at the start of this project. It was amazing to see the whole process come together.

The Floor Is Yours: Our Top Four New Year’s Resolutions for Your Home

We’re counting down our favorite home decorating commandments for 2015.

By Amber Matheson

You rode the tidal (tidings?) wave of Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Etc. Do you have enough stamina left over for the post-New-Year’s maelstrom of emotions?

On one hand, we’re looking forward to a fresh year with no mistakes in it yet, to paraphrase my favorite Canadian redhead. On the other hand, we’re taking down decorations, inhaling the last fragrant whiffs of pine and cinnamon, and reacquainting ourselves with our homes’ “everyday” look. Ouch.

Luckily, we have the ever colorful, ever exuberant designer extraordinaire, Kim Myles, to help us see the light. We sat down with her to talk about the New Year’s decorating resolutions you should — and shouldn’t — make for 2015.

“When I take down the decorations, there’s a feeling of sadness — relief and sadness,” laughs Myles. “You’re seeing your stuff with fresh eyes. It’s a great opportunity to take that one step further. Look at what you have: The question is not, what needs to be added, but, what else can go?”

It’s the professional’s approach to decorating, she explains. “That’s what we do!” she says. “What we’re imagining is if it were all gone.”

You can do it too. Try pulling everything out of a room, and re-evaluating the space from the floors up. (It’s a great time to deep-clean your entire carpet, too.) Can you rearrange shelves? Rehang art? Move a table from the hallway in to the space, or take that unused ottoman out? Myles suggests luring some close friends over to make an afternoon of it. Ask yourself what has to stay, then consider everything else in the room something you could move, sell or donate. “It doesn’t cost a thing,” notes Myles. “I think it’s amazingly energizing and empowering.”

This year, think bite-size. Whether your honey-do list could stretch from your dusty rafters all the way to your worn-out wood floors, or you’ve just had your eye on a couple big projects, the key is to break each job into manageable chunks.

“Not only is it an expensive list, it can be a really overwhelming list,” says Myles. “We have to work, we have families, we have lives!” Her suggestion? Take the business approach. Work on one project per quarter, and pace yourself.

“A lot of people approach design as if it’s a test and a race,” she points out. “That’s a lot of pressure!” Remember: You are not on TV. You most likely do not have a crew of people working day and night to get your home finished in time for a shoot deadline and TV air date.

“It’s really rare that people love beige,” Myles points out. “It is amazing how many people live with it as the predominate color in their homes.”

This year, challenge yourself to take a color-infused risk, even if it’s as small as buying those fuchsia hand towels for your powder room, or trying out some lemon yellow curtains in the kitchen. “Color is universally empowering,” says Myles. “If you see colors you love, it’s inspiring.”

OK, this one can feel pretty intimidating, especially if you were the kind of person who hated the “what do you want to be when you grow up” question. But you DO have a story, says Myles, and you should show it off in the way you decorate.

“I have never met a bottle of red wine that I didn’t want to be girlfriends with,” she says with a chuckle. “I’m in the middle of planning a makeover for my kitchen, and one of the things I’m going to play with is injecting the colors of wine into the design. It’s really about going, look, I love red wine so much! That’s my story. It’s being very honest about the things you enjoy and like.”

Is your story saturated with history and family? Make that side table from your grandmother the focal point of a room. Have you had a major life transformation, like your kids leaving the nest? Now that you’re not parenting 24-7, think about how your rooms would look if they weren’t centered around your kids’ needs. But whatever you do, don’t apologize for it, says Myles.

“I have never walked into a house yet where people don’t say, please don’t judge my house!” she says ruefully. “They ask forgiveness for not having it made up like a photo shoot! This should be fun; it’s an exploration. We should all just lighten up.” How’s that for a 2015 resolution?

Want more tips and tricks from Kim Myles rule-free handbook? She employs her fabulous, funky approach to design on "Home Made Simple" every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. ET on the OWN network. You can also follow her on Twitter or visit her website (where you can even book your own personal Skype call to ask her your specific design issues!), and of course you can always find her on Facebook, too.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 10 Ways to Keep Your Home Cleaner in 2015

By John Hitch

Two out of three Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and 46 percent say they are still keeping them after six months. We want the success rate to be 100 percent for anyone who vows to keep a cleaner home this year. These tips should help you reach your goal.

Develop a routine: Decide how much time you have to clean and the optimal time to do it. When should you groom the dog? Before you vacuum. Is Wednesday pasta night? Make Thursday the day you clean the kitchen and dining room floors. Use a combination of steam and cleaning solution to get the stickiest food spills off your hard surfaces.

Make a Cleaning Playlist: An experiment from Stanford backs up what we already knew: our favorite music makes us happy. Technically, it stimulates the release of dopamine. Essentially, it’s the way our brain “likes” or “favorites” a stimulus. So if you listen to your favorite quirky indie band while scrubbing the floors, not only will it put extra pep in your step, it will coax your brain to make a positive association with cleaning, making it more likely to become a good habit.

Make a Game of It: EpicWin is a fun app for iOS ($2.99) that allows you to get medieval on your brass, and anything else that needs cleaning. Choose an avatar (warrior princess, anyone?) to earn XP (experience points) when you complete chores around the house. You design your quest (fancy name for chore), and this game/scheduler tells you when you need to get it done. You even get extra points for completing tasks early.

Wash your filter every three months: We sometimes hear from people about three months after they’ve gotten a new vacuum. Why? Because they haven’t cleaned their vacuum’s filter, and it’s not working as well as it used to. When air doesn’t flow easily through the filter, bigger debris might get stuck halfway through the hose. Properly maintaining your filter should ensure that this doesn’t happen. We made them rinsable so it couldn’t be easier.

Work out with your vacuum: For me, vacuuming normally burns around 250 calories. Find out how many calories you can shed with this chart. Crank up your calorie crunching even more with some of these creative ideas.

Rearrange your rooms: Want to make yourself over in 2015? Why not start with a new living room for the new you? You don’t have to buy new furniture or hire a feng shui expert. Instead, simplify your living space. Ditch that cluttered end table piled with junk mail for a spot to do some morning yoga, or arrange your furniture for the way you actually live.

Blot stains off the guest list: We’ve all had guests who stay just a bit too long. And it seems the longer they stay, the tougher it is to get them to leave. This is also true with stains. Don’t let these troublemakers settle in. For truly tough spots, trust a carpet cleaner that you can use as often as necessary until deep-set stains are gone for good.

Unclog your drains regularly: Hair and soap residue can build up over time and cause major problems. If you have metal pipes, you can keep your plumbing free and clear by pouring a gallon of boiling water down them once a week. For PVC pipes, use a plunger. A mixture of baking soda, vinegar and hot water also does the trick!

Wipe your baseboards with a dryer sheet: While science hasn’t figured a way for you to never do this annoying chore again, Apartment Therapy found a nifty trick to repel dust in the first place. Dryer sheets reduce static on your clothes and can have the same effect on your baseboards.

Chore chart: We all need help sticking to our resolutions, and who better than the biggest mess makers to help you out? Get your kids involved by making cleaning fun. As Tom Sawyer taught us, it’s the best way to get people to do your work for you. One cool iteration we saw is a road map with pit stops at every task. This one was made for preschoolers, but if there’s a prize at the end, we’re sure the whole family will play along.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Prep Your Home for a New Pet

Did your family grow this holiday season? Here are some tips for a seamless transition.

By John Hitch

Did your family get a new pet this Christmas? If so, you enjoyed that perfectly pure moment when your child played with his or her new furry friend for the first time in front of the tree. Your living room probably morphed into a three-dimensional Norman Rockwell painting. It’s a heart-warming, memory-making experience.

Of course, now there’s the whole having-to-take-care-of-an-extremely-needy-living-breathing-creature-for-the-rest-of-its-life thing. You have some messy years ahead of you, but don’t fret, we have some advice to get you started.

First up: it’s okay to give pets as gifts. Seriously, that’s the actual title of an ASPCA blog from last year. The animal protection organization’s study found that “a higher percentage of those who were surprised reported that how the pet was obtained increased their love or attachment.”

The Humane Society says the adjustment period for you and your pet may be anywhere from two days to two months, so the second thing to keep in mind is this: be patient!

You probably have everything you need for the new pet already, but just in case, take a look here for dogs and here for cats. Also, have your kittens watch this indoctrination video which deals with handling “the monster known as vacuum.”

Now here’s to clean up after them:

If your kitten is older than a month, it should have already learned how to use a litter box from its mother. Your job is to find the best location.

  1. Find a quiet, private place.
  2. If you have more than one cat, not only should you have at least a box for each, but make sure the cats can’t corner each other when they’re at their most vulnerable.
  3. In the morning and after eating, stick your kitten in the box and use its paw to scratch at the litter.

Training puppies could take a month, and even longer if it’s a smaller dog. Pups can only hold it one hour per month they’ve been alive.

  1. Create a feeding schedule.
  2. Let your puppy out consistently so it can get used to a routine.
  3. Immediately after they do their business, puppies should be praised and/or given a treat. If you do this once the dog comes inside, it may misperceive the positive reinforcement as a reward for coming back in.

If there are any accidents for either pet, be patient. Scolding and shaming only damages your relationship with your animal. Clean messes with an enzymatic cleaner or apple cider vinegar, and invest in a powerful carpet cleaner that can attack lingering stains and odors. I can tell you from personal experience that the SpinScrub Hand Tool on the Dual Power Carpet Cleaner works great at erasing Boxer slobber from upholstery.

Accidents are annoying, but pet hair can be even worse – it’s just everywhere. The easiest way to keep pet hair to a minimum is a regimented grooming routine from the time your pet is young.

  1. Start softly and for brief amounts of time to get them used to the idea.
  2. Reward your pet with praise and/or treats for staying in the same place for so long, which usually isn’t easy for them.
  3. If you aren’t sure what type of brush to use, just ask your veterinarian or professional groomer.
  4. Choose the right cleaner. For short-haired pets, a bagless vacuum is a great way to go. The WindTunnel 3 Pro Pet has rubberized attachments to electrostatically attract stray hairs, and a brushroll on/off pedal so you can easily transition from carpet to bare floors. For long-haired dogs like Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds, you may want a bagged model. The Platinum Collection Lightweight Bagged Upright, which comes with a portable canister, uses direct suction and won’t get clogged by the piles of fur. And because it’s bagged, it’s the best for trapping allergens.

We previously tackled the muddy paw print problem most dog owners face. Puppies won’t exactly stop at the door for you to wipe off their paws. Someday they may, but until then, the FloorMate Deluxe is your best line of defense.

More questions about cleaning up after your best friend? Just ask us on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top 10 Ways to Prep for Houseguests

Drawing a crowd this holiday season? Pick a couple of your favorites off our list and outshine your local B&B.

  1. Stock up on supplies. Make the extra toilet paper, toiletries, towels, snacks and beverages plentiful and easy to find – some people really ARE too polite to poke around in doors and drawers.
  2. Light up the night. Sure, we’re grownups. But we’re in a strange house and we’re trying to be quiet. If your bathroom is any distance from the guest room, install a nightlight in the hallway.
  3. Wash your carpets. Deep cleaning your carpet doesn’t actually take that long if you use a Hoover carpet cleaner like this one. Pull up the deep-down grime of the past year (including allergen-inducing pet debris) and set a fan in the room to help your carpets dry faster.
  4. Think in layers. For every aunt who runs cold, there’s a long-suffering uncle who runs hot. Provide a pile of thin and thick blankets, along with a few options for pillows if you have extra.
  5. Ask about their diet. No one’s asking you to put on your short-order-cook’s hat during a visit. But you can still stock your pantry or fridge with a couple options to appease the vegetarians, gluten-free folks and downright picky eaters, right? It may not mean much to you, but it will mean a lot to them.
  6. Annex the pets. Whether or not your guests are allergic, they may not be too keen on sharing their private space with your dog, cat or chinchilla. Keep your pets out of their room prior to their visit (lest the fur littering every surface become an unwanted addition to guests’ wardrobes), and make sure the guest room stays off limits to furry friends during those visits.
  7. Prep some conversation starters. You haven’t seen each other in a while, but once you’ve caught up on jobs and vacations, how are you planning to fill the hours? Savvy hosts know which questions to ask and which topics to broach for a fun and lively few days of spirited conversation.
  8. Brush up on manners. Do your kids know what’s expected of them when guests are in the home? Even if you’ve raised Gallants and not Goofuses, it’s worth sitting down with them to outline a few do’s and don’ts.
  9. Highlight the outlets. Guests don’t want to be rude. But they DO want to plug in their electronics. Make sure there are a few outlets in the guest room or elsewhere dedicated to your guests. Because nobody should be crawling around on their hands and knees ripping out lamp cords during the holidays.
  10. Enjoy their company. Maybe this goes without saying, but if you’re a ball of stress because you’re hosting guests and everything needs to be perfect, no one’s going to have a good time. Have fun and embrace the mess – and the unforgettable, unexpected moments – that happen spontaneously during the holidays. You won’t get this time back, so spend it loving the people you invited into your home this season.