Meg Reilley photo
I have never been a messy person. As a child, I curated and organized my bedroom so deliberately and dutifully that, upon returning home from school, I was able to immediately discern if anyone had set foot in it while I was away.
In my early 20s, when some friends were discussing the piles of clothes grouped around their rooms, each designating a different level of cleanliness, one turned to me and said, “You have no idea what we’re talking about, do you? You probably put away your clothes as soon as you remove them.” I nodded my head, confirming their suspicions. As an adult, as soon as my family and I arrive in a hotel room, if our stay should exceed one night, I immediately unpack all of our belongings, hanging up garments and tucking shoes away in the closet.
I’m fairly certain my penchant for tidiness is genetic. My father, the eldest son of seven siblings, is the most orderly person I know. Though he has eased up a bit since entering his 70s this past September, it is a rare sight to not view him with a vacuum, broom, scrub brush, or bottle of cleaner in hand, a kitchen towel casually tossed over his left shoulder. A natural nester, his time spent in the Navy further compounded an inclination towards an inner mantra of “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” His four other children, my siblings, have all followed in his footsteps as well. When my sister Theo spent a semester abroad in Rome during her junior year of college, she would Skype me messages about the general slovenliness of her fellow flatmates. She ended up taking on the role of den mother, cleaning up messes of Bacchanalian proportions the day after they’d been committed.
Two things happened to my sense of order and cleanliness when I met my husband. In succession, I amped up my fastidiousness, and then, several years later, I toned it down. We live in a 1930s Craftsman bungalow, nearly one mile down a dirt road in Candler, North Carolina. We share our space with two large dogs and two cats, as well as a massive wood stove that heats our home during colder weather. Initially, I attacked the resultant flurry of dirt, fur, and soot with a vengeance, sweeping and wiping down surfaces at every turn. Then, a few autumns ago, I had a baby. There is only so much due diligence one can devote to a perpetual state of tidying up when in the possession of an infant. I still wanted to keep a clean house, and one done so with natural cleaners, as every surface and object therein was subject to being crawled upon and gummed on by my boisterous, active child. I just needed to develop a routine that balanced the realities of our living space, residing as we do in the thick of an Appalachian forest, with my neat-nick tendencies (no small feat, I know).
These days, I’ve wised up. Yes, the broom and vacuum are out and about on the regular. Clothes are washed nearly daily—there is no “laundry day” around here. I don’t have “junk drawers” and my son picks up his toys when he’s done playing with them. That said, there are far more dust bunnies than there used to be. Fighting the wintertime buildup of ash and soot and dust that settles each and every time the wood stove is opened is an exercise in futility. Come springtime, though, I proudly let my clean flag fly. After the final coals cool, the windows are once again opened, and spring arrives in the Southern Appalachians, I go to town, giving the house a thorough seasonal cleaning.
For year-round, daily cleaning, I use the homemade all-purpose cleaner at right, thoroughly and effectively cleaning surfaces while leaving an upbeat, bright, citrus aroma in its wake. It takes nearly no time to whip up—a welcome change from the laborious, multi-step cleaners made by early mountain folk (goodbye, lye soap). Whether springtime, or any time, homemade cleaners are an affordable, natural way to spruce up your domain. I think Dad would be proud.
About the author: Candler, N.C., homesteader Ashley English is the author of seven books. See smallmeasure.com.
You Will Need:
- 16-ounce glass spray bottle*
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup distilled or filtered water
- 10 drops lemon essential oil
- 10 drops orange essential oil
*Note: A glass spray bottle is necessary, as the volatile oils in the essential oils will degrade the plastic over time. I re-purposed a bottle that once held blackstrap molasses.
Combine all ingredients in the glass bottle. Shake vigorously. Store in a cool, dark location, such as in a cabinet or pantry, out of direct sunlight. You’ll need to shake the bottle in between uses, to redistribute the essential oils.