Question Time: Household Tips

Question Time is a series in which we open up the floor to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.

From cooking to laundry to repairs, doing things around the house can be pretty tricky and/or exhausting and/or time consuming when you’re disabled. If you’ve any tips to share that can make your fellow readers’ lives a little easier, share them with us.

If you have suggestions for Question Times, send them to chally at disabledfeminists dot com.

By 8 October, 2010.    Question Time  ,  



19 Comments

  1. I confess my partner does a lot of it, but that’s as much to do with our employment situations as it is my limited abilities. Tips:

    Break it down. Everything gets divided into small tasks and on a regular (two weekly, usually) repeating schedule. It means nothing gets out of hand or too difficult to deal with.

    Electricity is your friend. I was saying to someone the other night that I grew up not knowing what a beater was, because my parents saw no need when you could do it with a fork and more effort. It’s taken me a long time to get over that, and realise that microwaved rice is actually not superior to that cooked on the stove.

    Half organised is better than not at all. I used to try filing everything by date order and category and it never worked and got me down. Eventually I bought different coloured box files, labeled them ‘Finance/Bills’, ‘Study’, ‘Employment’ etc and just shoved everything in. It may be imperfect but they’re not all over my floor and dragging me down.

    Also the toolkits marketed to women? The pink and the assumptions behind them really annoy me, but if you can get past that the smaller lighter tools are really good for people with low wrist strength etc.

    Now if only I could find a way to deal with child-safe dishwasher powder containers… I think I’m going to steal the commercial one from work once it’s empty and just empy ours into it.

  2. Since my RSD affects my leg and overcompensation plus something unknown in my other leg, I use a very tall stool to do dishes, since it’s almost a counter height stool, I don’t have to reach up and down into the sink for the dishes and it’s also fairly helpful if you have any shoulder blade problems. The stool is good for 5 minute cooking, but not so good for long-term.

    If laundry is downstairs (especially multiple flights of stairs), I’ve found that putting a load or two of clothes into a small or medium sized plastic bag, tying it shut, and then throwing it down the stairs and following after works pretty well. That way there’s not extra weight on the lower body. Coming up is a bit more difficult. If you have the arm strength you can throw them up, although I tend to push it up the stairs while kneeling.

    When it comes to cleaning, I’ve found that if I clean one area at a time (a small chunk of the living area or otherwise) and then take a break about double the time that I spent cleaning to recharge, it is slightly easier to keep going. It really helps not to try to do the entire apartment/house in one day. One room, half a room, or part of a room a day, tends to be easier. This doesn’t help with not being time-consuming part. Since that doesn’t help with keeping it non time consuming, I would guess the trick would be to keep it clean. I keep laundry baskets in both my bathroom and my bedroom, a garbage can in every room of the house does wonders, I use a lot of plastic silverware and paper plates to both save money (from the electric/water bill) and to not have to do dishes, I have plastic boxes for my schoolwork/mail/bills/forms from the devil in a couple different rooms. These can also double as garbage bins whether or not that was your intention.

  3. Yay for the dustbuster – to the rescue many a timeover when the vacuum has been relegated been outta reach.

  4. @Yasona: Have you considered putting the laundry in the bag, tying a rope to it, and then pulling it up the stairs after you’ve ascended?

    My biggest issue right now is dishes and cooking. I have very weak muscles in my back that make it very hard to do things at counter height because more than a couple minutes causes me pain yet if I use a stool to get higher the fact that I have to bend my back a little bit causes even MORE pain only in a different part of my back!

    No solution there, except for taking everything in itty bitty chunks.

    My other main issue is that I have a great deal of trouble keeping my living space clean unless I have a tremendous amount of regimentation which means that the living space needs to remain at in a very tidy state at all times so that I can manage it. I’m going to go ahead and blame this on my autism. I do pretty well until I get a serious depressive episode and the whole thing falls apart…

    Having a retractable cutting board is a godsend when this happens because it ensures that no matter how bad things become I will always have a surface to at least prepare very simple foods on so long as I remember to retract the cutting board after use every time, which isn’t nearly as difficult as maintaining a counter.

  5. If possible, when moving stuff around put Heavy stuff in SMALL boxes and more lighter stuff I’m BIG boxes. (my family always did the opposite! I like this way better.)

    anybody have any good suggestions for cleaning products with minimal chemically odor?

  6. K,

    Vinegar, water, and baking soda in various combinations will clean a LOT of stuff. The vinegar has a fairly strong odor but I find it significantly less irritating than heavy chemical ones. I am only dealing with asthma related irritation, though.

    I’ve yet to have sucessed with any substitute for soft scrub when it comes to heavy duty bathtub cleaning — I just can’t do the manual labor required. If anyone has sugestions, please let me know — that suff makes my lungs BURN.

    This is one place I find ratios for mixing, but usually I just keep a spray bottle of 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar handy for day to day use

    http://www.vinegartips.com/scripts/pageViewSec.asp?id=7

  7. I use the oven a lot for simple stuff that you basically just throw into a dish together. It’s not quick but I don’t have to put much work into it, just wait. Or just boil vegetables in one pan and fry meat in another. These are also the only things I can either time correctly (or where it’s not a problem if I timed it wrong) or where my timing does not apply. I like the microwave for some things but it’s not as easy to use for me as an oven.

    Also for fresh herbs, not trying to cut it with a knife but putting it all into a glass or bowl and then cut into the glass with scissors, needs less coordination for me.

    I generally don’t do anything complicated with knives and cutting stuff up. If I can do stuff like cutting and such for supper, then I just go for bigger chunks. Or I use an electrical appliance to cut stuff up, though then it usually ends up finer than the recipe asks for.

    Also stuff in our kitchen is all at the right hight for me when I’m standing. And generally there are few risks for me to bang my head or other bodyparts that stick out.
    And I decided which stuff goes in which cupboards according to my own system so it actually makes sense to me.

    I can’t cook when the kitchen gets cluttered so after a few days (when it’s clean at the start) I just… don’t cook.

    All the other stuff besides cooking, I get help with, so yeah, that’s not much of a tip. Except the laundry, not a lot of tips there. I tend to forget I did it or forget to hang it (get distracted while on my way there or whatever). I found that if I open the lid and then forget about it it will stink when I find out it’s still sitting there (usually when I go to bed), if I keep the lid closed, however, this does not happen, or it only stinks a little and that stink dissipates while it dries. So I usually don’t open the lid unless I’m absolutely sure I can and will hang it to dry right then.

    I really like baking cakes and such, but with my muscle-tone/coordination/balance/motor skill etc problems, I absolutely suck at decorating them. I wonder if anyone has tips for that, because internet instruction videos and books and such just show me stuff I can’t do anyway. “And then you go like this and the result is that!” Yeah, nice… lot of good that does me.

  8. Agree with Katie.
    There are a lot of resources for eco friendly cleaning on the web.
    Vinegar can be replaced with citric acid, which is more effective anyways, although obviously some caution is needed when using it. (Instructions for use are printed on the packaging)
    Unlike vinegar, citric acid is almost scent free.
    I also use unscented washing powders and dish washing liquids. They’re marketed for people with neurodermitis and allergies and they’re really good for people whose senses are easily overloaded.

  9. I love to cook, and even with poor grip strength it’s generally something I can do. However, I would probably not eat if it weren’t for my jar opener, which clamps onto lids of jars and bottles so I can unscrew them. I mix doughs and batters while sitting down with the bowl on my lap, so I’m not working against gravity. Plus, I can anchor the bowl better that way.

    I’ve also “Nightengale-proofed” my kitchen against my tendency to drop things when tired. My plates and cups are lightweight plastic, and pretty much everything I use in day to day meal construction is unbreakable. I do have a few glass bowls and baking dishes I use occasionally, but nothing breakable is stored above eye level.

    As far as vacuuming, I know it’s not an option for everybody, but I was able to splurge on a Roomba. My back and arms thank me every time I can sit on my couch and watch it vacuum for me.

  10. I’ve taken to buying the little 3-packs of shelf-safe milk. They are designed to be drunk like juice boxes, but with a pair of scissors or a knife to trim the ends they can turn into “I don’t have to shop every two weeks to have milk.” They don’t last forever, but they last much longer than fresh milk and there’s enough in there to make mac and cheese or potatoes aux graten.

  11. Mr Clean Magic Erasers.

    I think the regular kind just has the eraser/sponge and no chemicals in. I use the kind with “extra cleaning power,” but have used the other kind, and both kinds work AMAZINGLY well in bathtubs and on tile. The bathtub and shower tile has always been my enemy. These things, yeah, you have to scrub with them, but it’s a tenth the scrubbing you have to do using cleaning products. More like firm-handed wiping. It took stuff off my tub and tile that EVERYTHING else I had tried — everything from ammonia to vinegar to citric acid to baking soda and vinegar and just plain baking soda, Comet bathroom spray, regular Comet scrub, EVERYTHING — just left there like it was part of the plan.

    I almost always change my underwear in the bathroom. That’s just how it comes out. I keep all my underwear in a drawer in the bathroom to keep from having to go hunt for it elsewhere. It’s a small thing, but super convenient.

    I’ve gotten into the habit of, when I go into a room, of bringing a couple things in with me that need to go back there and taking a couple of things out that don’t need to be there. That is way more helpful than you would think.

    During the occasional wait for stuff like microwaves, waiting for water to boil, waiting for the shower water to heat up, I will spot-clean whatever is nearest to me. Do a few dishes — even just one or two — wipe down the sink area, gather trash, change a trash bag.

  12. I’m lucky that my partner does most of the heavy cleaning (even vinegar and water smell awful), but I do most of the cooking and regular cleanup of the kitchen in return.

    I find that one of the best energy savers is cooking large batches of food and freezing or refrigerating them for days when I feel like crap. Then I can pop it onto a plate or bowl and into the microwave for dinner.

    Lasagna, mac & cheese, ready to cook burgers – anything that is solid – goes in single serving sizes in Press-n-seal wrap. Soups and stews get packaged in the pint size reusable containers.

    And if we’re going to eat it in the next few days (like soup when we’re sick), I’ll just leave it in the big pot with it’s tight lid and put the whole thing in the fridge.

    I also do a lot of single pot/pan meals – soup, chili, pot roasts with vegetables and potatoes, quiche, stir fry, stews.

    Oh, and for things like slicing potatoes or zuccini I adore my Mandolin – even sized pieces and a guard to keep me from slicing my hands.

  13. Crockpot. I love it. A couple of cans, maybe a chopped onion or tomatoes, plug in and in 5 hours, dinner. And lunch the next day and the day after that.

    I also find that sometimes, it is useful to remember not to care about certain things. I am OK if my room has books everywhere and clothes all over the floor. Is it ideal? No. But there aren’t any bugs, I know where everything is, so who cares if my filing system is a NAS (Next Available Surface) system. Though I do tend to digitize documents I know I will want forever, as paper degrades.

  14. @Norah – Have you tried ganache and stencils for decorating? Ganache is nice because you just have to pour it on and let it set and you get a nice even shiny finish without having to spread icing. Then you can use stencils (there are a ton of cool ones available online) to make neat designs with powdered sugar or cocoa power without having to pipe tiny decorations. I don’t know if this would work for your specific needs, but it definitely requires less fine motor control than a lot of decorating techniques.

  15. @KJ – crockpot is fabulous, except when I don’t have the spooons to wash it straight away. ick.

    But I love being able to just throw almost anything in, not worry about over/undercooking, and still being able to feel like I’m really cooking. The other thing is that day two can have different ingredients thrown into it, then other stuff on day three, so you’re not stuck eating exactly the same thing.

    Also, everything I’ve ever made in it has been delicious, without even trying. Hurrah!

  16. “@Yasona: Have you considered putting the laundry in the bag, tying a rope to it, and then pulling it up the stairs after you’ve ascended?”
    @The Untoward Lady: I haven’t, but that is brilliant! I will definitely try that the next time. Thank you!

  17. I can walk (some) but can’t stand long. I live alone. It doesn’t usually snow much where I live, but when it does, snowdrifts form in front of my door — that opens out. After getting outside via a window, I shovel the snow with a dustpan while I sit on a step-stool. In that manner, I can make sure my mobility devices could get out if I need to be elsewhere (so I won’t be even more trapped there than I am in my apartment).

    I keep both scissors and tape multiple places (usually together). On bad days, I stay in bed a lot, so I keep both scissors and tape within reach because there’s an amazing amount of uses for those. Actually, there are lots of things I keep two or three places: scissors, tape, pens, tissues, napkins, rubber bands, shoes, chapstick, sponges. Some of this is to conserve energy and some is because I lose track of things. If it’s useful and inexpensive enough, there’s no reason you can’t have it everywhere that you might need it.

    Clorox wipes. Pre-moistened, so I just have to wipe/scrub. Good for cleaning counter, table-top, and mirror in addition to high-use germy things like light-switches and keyboards. I like them because they’re so much closer to one-step so there’s less I have to figure out in order to clean.

    Multiple laundry bags so I can sort laundry right as it’s dirty rather than waiting until it’s time to wash clothes. It helps me see how much I have (of what) better, too.

  18. @paraxeni – when I can’t manage to wash it right away I tend to just fill it up with water and a little soap and let it soak until I can so it’s less scrubbing when I get round to it!

  19. To expand on cooking: If sitting in a chair or stool while cooking doesn’t work out for you, try having one parked in or near the kitchen in case you need to sit down between bursts of activity such as stirring, etc. Wheelie office chairs, the small cheap ones, are especially good for this because you can just wheel yourself to and from the stove if you have the right kind of flooring for it. Ridges between carpet and tile/linoleum makes this harder though.

    If you have difficulties doing large loads of laundry, try cutting it down to doing it once a week instead of every two weeks or more. Of course, this depends on physical limitations, accessibility and energy levels. But if you have access to washers and dryers in your home, it may be easier on your energy levels and body to do smaller loads, even if it is more often.

    If you have the spoons for it, wiping up smaller spills (even little drops) can save you from having to play clean up later, on top of dealing with stains. On counter tops that have stained and you need to avoid chemicals, lemon juice and salt sitting on it for a couple hours can work wonders.

    If you have access to a dishwasher and electricity/water bills aren’t an issue for you, rinsing off a dish after you finish with it and putting it in the dishwasher for washing when it gets full can save you energy spent on washing them later. That way when you need to do dishes, you can just put the soap in and let it run. Stubborn pots and pans can be soaked in soapy water for a while instead of scrubbed, to lessen strain on hands/arms/shoulders/back.

    If you have shoulder/back problems, try to avoid putting heavier items in the kitchen such as cans on higher shelves. The weight puts more pressure on these and can contribute to pain. And while it can seem ideal to put heavier pots on lower shelves due to infrastructure, it can be hell for your back if you need to bend or crouch to get them. Having them closer to the center of your body can help avoid back pain.