The first step to fighting messes and keeping your home spic-and-span is getting rid of all that stuff you never use. Go through all the places where it accumulates—try closets, junk drawers, out-of-reach shelves, attics and basements, and any other place where you're inclined to toss stuff as you say, "I'll deal with this later"and be diligent about— separating out what you really will use someday from what you never will. Be honest: you may say you like that sweater your aunt gave you for Christmas in 2004, but if it still has the tags on it, you aren't ever going to wear it. And be practical: do you really need that quesadilla maker? We're not suggesting that you trim down to an uber-minimalist lifestyle, but the quickest way to cut your cleaning time is to simply have less stuff to clean.
Now you have a pile that you're ready to get rid of—but wait: don't just trash it. First, go through and see if any of those items could serve a purpose you haven't thought of before: Do you have enough books to stack up and use as a side table? Can you take the frames off those ugly paintings and use them elsewhere? We know of ways to reuse everything from single mittens and broken guitar strings to holiday greeting cards and ceramic tiles—so while we aren't suggesting you keep all this around just in case, see if any of what you have can save you from buying something else.
Once you've taken stock of what you can use, separate out items that someone else might need. This includes dishes, kitchen gadgets, clothes, books, magazines, toys, home decor—all of these items could find a second life with someone else. If you need instant gratification, just drop it all off at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army; if you're slightly more patient, try offering items for sale or barter on Craigslist, turning your goods over to an artist, donating through Freecycle, or seeing what you can get for that collection of comic books on eBay. Your house will be less cluttered; someone else can skip buying new; and the landfills will be that much emptier.
Once you've exhausted all the other options, it's time to hit the recycling bucket. Of course you're already recycling newspapers, magazines, and any glass that isn't salvageable, but take a second look at the rest of your trash, too: did you clean out the fridge? Find a compost pile. Get rid of old electronics, from cell phones to VCRs to ancient computers, by passing them off to retailers with a recycling program or to a specialized electronics recycling company. Check anything plastic to make sure it's recyclable, and make sure to safely dispose of anything that's not recyclable or trash-friendly, like old paint or batteries.
Get the right home organization tools
Now that you've managed to weed out the useless from the useful, you need to find a system for organizing what you've got left—because if you can't find something when you need it, you'd might as well not have it at all. For this, you'll need storage containers, but that doesn't mean you need to stock up on (non biodegradable) plastic bins; instead, try cardboard boxes wrapped in pretty paper, bamboo baskets, or cloth bags made from old t-shirts. Raise your storage with eco-friendly shelving to free up floorspace and make your rooms look bigger. And note: if, while you're organizing, you find items that don't seem to fit with anything else, those are likely goods you could add to the "donate" pile.
Make your own household cleaning supplies
Buying eco-friendly cleaning supplies is a good start, but for a truly green clean, make your own cleaners. You'll bypass the resources that go into production, shipping, and purchasing—from making that plastic spray bottle to getting the product to your local supermarket—and you'll save a ton of money. Most of your home can be cleaned with recipes that are a combination of hot water, vinegar, and baking soda or washing soda; add a few drops of essential oil for scent if you prefer. Since you're only making what you need as you need it, you're cutting back on waste, and you won't have any worries about what kind of toxins you may be spraying around your kids and pets.
Aim for a no-waste clean
No matter how green your sprays and scrubs may be, if you use an entire roll of paper towels to scrub your bathroom—well, that is not exactly eco-friendly cleaning. And when you're looking at a project as big as this one, you'll want to leave little to no waste in your wake. Trade paper towels for reusable microfiber cloths or sponges, and ditch the Swiffer sweeper for a broom (preferably one you already have, of course) or the disposable mop for a reusable one.
Choose natural cleaning for big projects
Sure, you vacuum, dust, and wipe the counters on a daily or weekly basis, but spring is the perfect time to focus on the spaces you generally gloss over—by vacuuming out the refrigerator coils to make the appliance more efficient, deep-cleaning your carpet, and washing your drapes. For the carpet, mix borax and essential oil together, sprinkle over the rug, let it sit, and then vacuum; for curtains and drapes that are machine washable, use an eco-friendly detergent. If they're not up to going in the washer, find an eco-friendly dry cleaner in your area and drop them off there.
This is one we've mentioned before—it's a great way to green your home office—but your annual spring cleaning is a perfect reminder to make sure you aren't overwhelmed by junk mail. Using a service like GreenDimes or 41 pounds, stem the tide of incoming junk mail; then set up your bank account for online billing and payments to cut back on waste. You'll have fewer papers to file and keep track of, plus fewer forests will be decimated just for another J. Crew catalog. And as your magazine subscriptions expire, see if you can read online instead to keep your living space even more clutter-free.
If you keep these tips in mind all year, then your 2010 spring cleaning will be that much easier. Don't let stuff accumulate in your home; don't buy things you don't need; and don't be shy about returning gifts you won't ever use. Take advantage of the seasons to edit your collections and donate or sell goods—you might get more at a consignment shop for a winter coat in the fall then in the spring, and your yard sale of extra housewares may do better in late summer if you can catch the back-to-college crowd. Thinking green throughout all areas of your life—from your office to your wardrobe to your home electronics—will put you ahead of the game come next spring.