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A Cleaning Guru Reveals the Secrets to a Tidy Home

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Max Kater is on a mission to redeem cleaning up. “It has such a bad reputation, conjuring up long weekends of hard graft, and it’s tempting to just plop on the sofa, watch MasterChef, and eat a box of macaroons instead,” she says. If anyone can make spiffing up more fun (not to mention stylish), it’s Kater: She’s half of the husband-and-wife team behind cult cleaning line Murchison-Hume. We stopped by her inspiring offices to find out her strategy for making this so-called “chore” less of one!

When we saw this überorganized inspiration board behind Max’s desk we knew we’d come to the right place for tidying tips.

When we saw this überorganized inspiration board behind Max’s desk we knew we’d come to the right place for tidying tips.

Dressing the part is one way Max gets in the cleaning mood, which means swapping her typical heeled booties for a pair of comfy Saucony kicks. A cute apron doesn’t hurt.

Dressing the part is one way Max gets in the cleaning mood, which means swapping her typical heeled booties for a pair of comfy Saucony kicks. A cute apron doesn’t hurt.

Secret #1: Dress the Part and Set the Mood

“Proper housecleaning is hot work, so dress for a cardio workout. Even better, slap on a face mask so you are seriously multitasking! Also, I highly recommend cleaning to music. It just makes everything more fun. This season I am really into a samba/disco/folksy vibe. If you don’t have time to put together a playlist of your own, follow One Kings Lane on Spotify and listen to mine!”

Max makes it easy on herself by keeping a small, easy-to-maintain cleaning caddy under every sink so that she doesn’t have to lug a large one from room to room.

Max makes it easy on herself by keeping a small, easy-to-maintain cleaning caddy under every sink so that she doesn’t have to lug a large one from room to room.

Max is all about having the right tool for the job. She uses these natural-bristle dish brushes to give even china and glassware a good scrubbing.

Max is all about having the right tool for the job. She uses these natural-bristle dish brushes to give even china and glassware a good scrubbing.

Secret #2: Get Your Kit Together

“Having the right surface cleaner for each job is essential and will make it so much easier to get through. I also like to have at least a dozen clean lint-free towels to work with. Paper towels are the linty poor relations to the kitchen towel and are best reserved for only the dirtiest jobs. A few good brushes and sponges are good too. Try to keep everything together in an organized cleaning caddy. I make it easy on myself by keeping a small one under every sink.”

I have set up and maintained homes on three continents, and I can say with a certain amount of confidence that the rules for a good cleaning sesh are universal.

— Max Kater, founder of Murchison-Hume
Having a few goodies waiting at the end of the cleaning process helps Max stay motivated. Her reward of choice: international editions of Vogue.

Having a few goodies waiting at the end of the cleaning process helps Max stay motivated. Her reward of choice: international editions of Vogue.

Secret #3: Give Yourself a Helping Hand

“My friend Rita Konig recommends hiding little ‘treats’ in various parts of the house to be consumed at the completion of each task. Her favorites are Violet Creams, but I like to buy a stack of new magazines. Even a 10-minute break to do your nails will do—whatever keeps you going. The main thing is not to stop until you’re done!”

Max gets the cleaning party under way with all the windows in the office.

Max gets the cleaning party under way with all the windows in the office.

Secret #4: Tackle the Big Jobs First

“For me, that means windows. The thing about windows is that you don’t really see them, you feel them. Once they are done, everything looks brighter, more cheerful, and just… better. If possible, choose a cloudy day (or early morning) to tackle the windows, as a hot sun can dry them faster than you can, leaving those nasty streaks.”

 

Secret #5: Work from Top to Bottom

“Start with a general tidy-up. Open the windows. Even if it’s chilly outside, all rooms benefit from a blast of fresh air. Bang cushions together and drag them outside if it’s sunny. Vacuum under the sofas, and move furniture around. It’s amazing where dust can accumulate, isn’t it? How’s that face mask drying? Time for another treat!”

Murchison-Hume’s leather cleaner works its magic on your favorite chairs, not to mention your favorite bag.

Murchison-Hume’s leather cleaner works its magic on your favorite chairs, not to mention your favorite bag.

Secret #6: Dusting and Stripping Down

“Once the cushions have had a good vacuum and airing, I like to spritz all the stripped-down furniture surfaces with our Furniture & Upholstery Cleaner and wipe them down with a clean lint-free towel. After dusting, it’s time to strip the beds completely bare and let the mattresses and pillows breathe a bit. I like to have at least two of everything for each bed (including mattress and pillow protectors) so that there is always one ready for service while the other is being laundered.”

Glass containers act as both storage and a bit of stylish decor for the office shelves.

Glass containers act as both storage and a bit of stylish decor for the office shelves.

Secret #7: Declutter

“I have zero patience for trying to find something I need, so my favorite seasonal activity is reorganizing the drawers, cupboards, and shelves. Throw out all the half-empty shampoo bottles and out-of-date medications. Check the junk and utility drawers and toss out dried-up pens, used batteries, and all the assorted ephemera that’s clogging your life.”

All-white accessories on the kitchen shelves make for a look that’s not just clean but chic as well.

All-white accessories on the kitchen shelves make for a look that’s not just clean but chic as well.

Secret #8: Surfaces!

“The kitchen and bathrooms will be your biggest challenge—but also your biggest pay-off areas. In the bathroom, start by removing all the towels and throwing them in the laundry. Carefully remove everything off the counters and give them all a good scrub. I love to add fresh flowers to the bathroom. Finish with the mirrors and stainless surfaces. Once your reflective surfaces are good and gleaming, you are nearly done.”

 

Secret #9: Finish with the Floors

“Dirty floors, like dirty windows, aren’t immediately obvious, but you really do feel the difference when they are clean. For the best results, you’ll want to sweep or vacuum before mopping. Clear the floor as much as possible by removing small furniture, trash cans, and rugs before you start. Please don’t make the rookie mistake of boxing yourself into a corner; work from the farthest corner to your exit. A good floor cleaner with a trigger and a spray mop are much easier and faster than traditional mopping. Make yourself a hot cup of tea and leave it just outside the room you are working in. You’ll be done before it cools!”

A bit of postcleaning bliss: a cup of tea, sweets, and some well-deserved magazine time.

A bit of postcleaning bliss: a cup of tea, sweets, and some well-deserved magazine time.

Secret #10: Reward Yourself!

“Stand back and admire your handiwork. Reward yourself with a nice hot bath or shower and your skin will be glowing from your exertions. Now that you’re done, the house will be clean and fresh and so much more comfortable, making it the perfect time to plop down and watch your favorite show.”

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Join the Discussion

Join the Discussion

7 Responses to “A Cleaning Guru Reveals the Secrets to a Tidy Home”

  1. Donna Patchen Chambers says:

    Are your products cruelty free?

  2. “Top to Bottom” should be everyone’s mantra when cleaning. It saves so much time, it is my number one rule. Even if I only have time to clean one room, I always start at the top. Products in cute packaging and great cleaning music help the task go faster. I want the lemon verbena hand set in every bathroom. I’m also going to put that playlist to the test!

  3. Judi Zimmer says:

    Yes, I always wear several necklaces when I clean, and I think it’s a wonderful idea to do one’s nails between cleaning tasks. Really? On what planet? Wear an old tee shirt, old leggings or yoga pants with some stretch, take off every piece of jewelry to avoid contact with harsh cleaning products, and wear rubber gloves or (my favorite because you can feel everything) surgical gloves. Use a timer to break tasks into 30 or 60 minute blocks, and use a 10 minute break for a glass of ice water with lemon or tea. Be practical–real house cleaning is not a photo shoot.

  4. Zazu22 says:

    Unless there is a cleaning fairy that does all the work, this is useless information. Cleaning sucks.

  5. Amanda Fitzpatrick says:

    throw out all the half-empty shampoo bottles? call me an optimist but aren’t those still half full of product? haha. i have the urge to get rid of clutter too, but it seems wasteful to throw out perfectly useful stuff like that.

  6. beachgranny says:

    Sorry – nothing I didn’t already know. You have to be a dynamo to clean like that. You make it sound like a marathon run. No thanks. I cannot physically do all that at once.

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