It's a Dirty Job

A cheat sheet for housework haters

By Mary Beth Breckenridge

Paula Jhung hates cleaning, but she loves clean. Clean is order, she says. It's being able to cook dinner without having to move piles of mail and newspapers out of the way first. But clean can be a lot of work, too. So, Jhung, an interior designer and admitted housework-o-phobe, has figured out ways to achieve an ordered state with a minimum of exertion. And those techniques are at the heart of her decorating service.

They're also a focus of her new book, "Cleaning and the Meaning of Life: Simple Solutions to Declutter Your Home and Beautify Your Life." Even though Jhung doesn't enjoy the work involved in cleaning and organizing, she believes the resulting peace of mind makes the effort worthwhile. "I find that if your surroundings are a muddled mess, your mind is, too," she says. "There's a stress-mess connection."


Too Much Stuff

Central to managing that mess, she says, is dealing with clutter. That's easier to do if you weed out the excess and reduce what comes into your home in the first place. Jhung thinks too many of us suffer from what she calls "too much stuff syndrome," or TMS. It causes crankiness and bloating, she jokes, but it affects men, women and children alike. One of the typical causes of TMS, she says, is recreational shopping. "It's like casual sex. The thrill is gone quickly, and you don't always like what you see in the morning."


Not in Store

To get out of the recreational shopping habit, Jhung recommends writing down the things you think you need, and then letting the list sit awhile. In the meantime, you might rediscover a forgotten item on a shelf or in a closet that will work just fine. Or, maybe you'll decide you don't really need the thing after all. Jhung says she once determined she needed a rug for a hallway, but later realized that the rug would be just one more thing to vacuum.


Color Coding

Jhung suggests decorating eating areas in what she calls the "four major food-group colors"-red, green, tan, yellow and white. She says these colors work best in prints. An Oriental rug in such hues that's placed under the dining room table is going to hide a lot of sins and buy you time between cleanings, she points out. Another tip: use earth tones for carpeting or flooring near doorways. And, for surfaces that are difficult to wipe frequently, add a white wash to help hide the dust that settles.