'Tidy' is a four-letter word

I suspect I'm not alone in wanting to have a clean, tidy house without having to expend too much effort to get it that way.

Some people are so neat that if a photographer from Architectural Digest showed up unexpectedly, he could start snapping pictures of their homes right away.

At my house, though, I'd probably have to scurry around to move a pile of books off the coffee table, hide the glasses sitting in the kitchen sink, and gather up the Sunday newspapers covering the dining-room table.

It's not that we don't try to do better. My husband and I devote most Saturdays to getting our house spick and span – time I have always felt could be better spent doing something more enjoyable.

So, in an effort to find some "tricks of the trade" that would enable us to get our house cleaner, faster, I turned to "Mary Ellen's Guide to Good Enough Housekeeping" (being published May 15).

What I learned was that I must be a real slouch in the housekeeping department: It has never occurred to me to treat my wooden blinds with furniture polish or to wax my refrigerator doors.

And we don't own a pickup truck, so we can't run our outdoor furniture through a car wash. (Besides, living in the city, as we do, wrestling a big metal table, chairs, and umbrella into a truck would take much longer than removing the grunge the old-fashioned way.)

But I did pick up one valuable piece of advice that's going to become my guiding principle of housekeeping. It's a quote from interior designer Mario Buatta: "Dust is a protective coating for fine furniture." I'm delighted to know that simply by doing nothing, I'm being good to my furniture. That's a philosophy I can live with.

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