Hopefully, the remains of Hurricane Sandy have left you and your loved ones safe – and with nothing more than your lawns blanketed in leaves, gutters stuffed to the gills and your windows covered in yuck. For those now ready to tackle this season’s outdoor clean-up here are several tips and tools that will help you minimize time and won’t have you breaking the bank.

(By the way, if you have a child of age 5 or older this is a terrific family activity! Or borrow one of your neighbor’s kiddos for the day.)

For those of you preferring to watch, here I am on TODAY SHOW with Kathie Lee ‘n Hoda showing them how to rake, scoop and get their leaves ‘n minds out of the gutter.

1. Protect Your Mani

No need to ruin your manicure or leave yourself open to getting nasty blisters.  Check out these fashionable and functional gloves that have extra-long cuffs to minimize scratches and all natural rubber boots from Garden Girl USA.  They’ll almost make you want to do out-door cleaning on a regular basis!

2. Know When to Rake ‘Em

Unless you enjoy raking on an ongoing basis, there’s no need to rake more then 3-5 times a season. When you head outdoors, keep these things in mind:

  • There’s no need to rake if your grass is still being mowed. The lawnmower naturally mulches leaves.
  • Rake on calm, sunny days vs. windy, post rainy days. This makes it easier to form piles and reduces the risk of leaves littering your lawn again.
  • Focus on wide-open areas, near your foundation and pathways vs. under trees and bushes since leaves will natural compost.
  • Enlist your children to help with raking and have them use child-sized rakes so they can do an effective job and not get hurt.

We adults should use rakes that have wide comfort grip handles since they’ll minimize slipping and those yucky painful blisters (along with those fab gloves above).  I like the Tru-tempor clog free ones but my bud Marla prefers the wet-dry varietal (sounds a bit like a fine red wine!)

3. Scoop and Save Time

Once the leaves are in piles (and after our children have had their fun jumping in them) it’s time to ‘scoop’ them up.  The easiest way is to use these leaf scoops, which are comfy, and you wear on each hand like a mitten. I love them because I don’t have to use my hands and they can ‘scoop’ up 10x as many as mine could. They’re also not cumbersome to load and life as with a rake, and their bright yellow color makes them easy to spot and not ‘accidentally’ run over. PLUS at $6.99 a pair it’s a mani-friendly no-brainer … and it’s another terrific activity for kid’s to partake!

4. Bag As You Go

As you scoop it’s best to “bag as you go” to minimize leaves blowing away.  Instead of using paper bags that I find can easily get wet and cause the debris to rot, I recently found and love these dsolv mesh bags. They’re made of compostable corn based resin, hold 50% more then paper, are easy to fill since the pop up sleeve protects the mesh as we’re filling, and have a handy dandy handle to drag it to the curb.    

5. Clean Your Gutters

If your gutters were clean before Sandy likelihood is they’re filled to the gills again.  And, with ole man winter breathing down our necks it’s important to clean them to prevent ice dams from forming and moisture damage to our roofs.  I found this really cool tool for only $59.95 called the Gutter Clutter Buster.  All you do is attach it to a 2.5” wet/dry vac and let it suck away.  It comes with a 5-foot tool that looks like a candy cane and two attachments that give you 14 feet worth of height and viola leaves be gone and your gutters are clear.

6. Seal Cracks in Windows and Doors

Cracks and gaps in your window and door frames can cost you a lot of money on your energy bills since they allow air in or to escape. Not to mention dirt and noise.  So seal the deal for less the $3.00 a tube with DuPont AirTite . All you do is snip the tip, pipe out the caulk to seal gaps; smooth with a damp cloth and let dry for one hour. Painting is optional. Sooo simple even this accidental housewife could do it!

7. Clean Windows on a Cloudy Day 

I know it may seem odd but the best time to clean your windows is on a cloudy, mild day vs. a hot, sunny day since the heat and sun dry the water/cleaning solution fast and cause streaks.  And, though it may seem like a duh! always work from the top down to avoid drips and doing double work.  You can use a squeegee but I found this Bonaire Wash ‘n Rinse Spray Gun at Lowe’s does an amazing job.  As for the cleaning solution I put 100% white vinegar in the receptacle since vinegar is a natural disinfectant and cleaner.  I’ve also put in a 50/50 mix of vodka and water but why waste it!  To dry, use a dry squeegee, old newspapers or coffee filters which will leave no lint!

As always, please share any tips, tales or tools you have here, via tweets or on Facebooks! And make sure to visit www.juliestips.com or read my bi-weekly parenting column in Scholastic’s Parent & Child Plus free iPad app!