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Get the kids to clean

There's something about the new year that brings on a cleaning frenzy in my life.

I'm a big fan of fresh starts, and what better time than now to start with a clean desk, clean house, clean closets ... OK, now I'm getting carried away! Most kid-inhabited houses are anything but sparkling clean; in fact, an impeccable house makes me a little suspicious, or jealous at least. But order, like everything, comes in all shapes and sizes, and there are some simple ways you can ring in the new year with a clean sparkle.

The best way to clean is through teamwork, and as parents, we usually expect too little help from our kids. We either think they're too young or that it's simply easier to do it ourselves. However, an investment in some domestic engineering training with our kids will pay many dividends in getting the cleaning job done ... together.

I spoke with Amy Olson, spokeswoman for THE MAIDS Home Services, to find some industry tips on getting kids on board. Olson suggested, "Make cleaning a game so the mundane tasks are more fun."

* Have a contest to see who can clean their room fastest or give awards for "best attention to detail," "best decorating sense," "neatest closet'' or "best made bed," etc.

* Put cleaning duties on paper, cut them up and then place them in a hat. Have the kids draw to see what duty they get. For a twist, do a trading system similar to a white elephant holiday gift exchange where kids can steal and trade cleaning jobs. This can make weekend cleaning unpredictable, relieving some of the dread associated with it.

* For older kids, let them know they can keep all the change and dollar bills they find while vacuuming the furniture or doing the laundry. Small amounts of money could always be strategically placed!

* Let siblings trade places. Have siblings clean and redecorate each other's rooms. Have an exciting reveal after a time limit.

* Don't expect kids to use adult tools to clean. Instead create supplies that are kid-friendly. Use an ice-cream pail for mopping chores or shorten an old mop handle or broom to make it kid-sized.

* Fill a squirt gun from a solution of a gallon of water and a drop of dish soap. Let kids squirt windows and mirrors and wipe dry with paper towels.

* Cover kids' hands and arms with dad's old athletic socks then squirt the socks until lightly damp with a safe solution of vinegar and water. Send them off to dust around the house.

* Got a pile of blocks or action figures strewn on the floor? Scoop up toys in a few swoops using a kid-sized leaf rake to form a pile for easy pick-up.

* Make cleaning a game; give young kids grill tongs and challenge them to pick up toys and put them in a toy box or bin only using the utensils. Keep score and see who wins!

* Don't forget the fun music to help your kids get a groove on as they boogie around the house cleaning.


CLEANING TIPS

  • Slip an old sock over your hand, dampen with polish or window cleaner and wipe away fingerprints and dust.
  • Hair dryers work wonders on low speed to quickly eliminate dust from silk flower and plant arrangements.
  • Used fabric softener sheets are excellent for dusting furniture and non-plasma television and computer screens.
  • Coffee filters leave a lint-free shine when used instead of a cloth to wipe down mirrors and windows.
  • Take paintbrushes from the garage and bring them in the house, as they will remove dust from the smallest crevices. You can also use them on electronics such as radios, computers and televisions to clean around knobs and buttons and inside speaker vents.
  • Use your old toothbrush to tackle soap scum around faucets and drains.
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