Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
If you're a reasonably organized, clean person who takes care of household chores at any point before things get utterly, apocalyptically disgusting, you need to stop reading this article. Now. Go away.
For the rest of you, this is the beginning of a new day. No, not the kind of "new day" you've previously had because you saw a swinging reading nook on Pinterest, tried to make it, and ended up in a heap of sawdust made damp with desperate tears. This is a realistic way to jumpstart your cleaning routine and spruce up your place without putting undue expectations on your poor self. No, you're not going to become Jessica Alba overnight.
But, that doesn't mean you're doomed to squalor forever. In fact, we spoke to an expert who has helped many a hot mess in need. Jolie Kerr is the author of a famously useful column "Ask A Clean Person" (you may have read her stuff on Jezebel, The Hairpin, or her Tumblr). What we love about her is our shared appreciation of real talk — as evidenced by the title of her book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. She's here to help us help you help yourself.
Let's begin: The most basic, most important thing you can do to give your house a feel of cleanliness and order without actually going rogue at The Container Store is to make your bed. You must make your bed, even if you are dead inside, every single day. This is a fact.
However, it's a total drag! You're busy and trying to get out the door and the very last thing on your mind is plunging head first into the depths of your tangle of sheets and blankets to undo the mess you made while thrashing about dreaming you were engaged in a fist fight with one Joffrey Baratheon last night. Kerr says the absolute best thing you can do to fix this situation is do away with the trappings and trimmings you think you need to have a so-called grown-up bedding situation. Fancy throw pillows? No. Various quilts? Ditch 'em.
In fact, you can even get rid of your top sheet. Just find a duvet cover for your comforter that you really like the feel of, stick the appropriately-weighted blanket in there (using the ties in the corner that come with most duvets to keep it in place), and enjoy. That way, when you're making the bed in the morning, all you need to do is shake out the comforter and pull it back up. No tucking, folding, or special arranging necessary.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Get a second laundry basket. Look, let's face it: You're not going to put your clothes away nicely when you get undressed at the end of the day. It's just not happening. Accept it.
Now that we've crossed that bridge, consider investing in a second laundry hamper (or a first and second, if you're still using that annoying bag you had in college). Reserve one for actually dirty clothes — undergarments, workout clothes, and anything you wore out to a ramen restaurant. The second one, save for stuff that's clean and totally fine to wear again before washing. It's basically a holding bay for your stuff until you get the energy to actually put it back in your closet, without the grossness of having to sort through clean and dirty stuff after it's been mingling for days on end. Kerr calls it a "kind of genius workaround," and for that, we are getting double guac on our Chipotle today.
To that end, consider installing a coat hook near your door (if you're renting, most landlords will allow this under normal wear and tear), instead of throwing your coat down on the nearest chair. Or, if you're really feeling fancy, get two hooks and keep your keys right there, too! It's low maintenance, since your keys are already in your hand, but will keep them from getting lost when you change coats or simply forget where you put them last.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Do your dishes — the right way. You may want to skip this all together, but the truth is, preventing your dishes from sitting in a stinking pile of slowly decaying leftovers in your sink for three weeks is a must. You've got to wash the dishes (unless you have a dishwasher, in which case congratulations on winning the life lottery).
"I'm not going to try to convince anyone that it's pleasurable," Kerr says. But, when it's "finally time to admit there's a sink full of dishes that need washing," there's an efficient way to do it that makes it a little less awful.
First, remove anything sharp. Then, fill the sink full of hot water with a bit of dish soap. While the dishes are submerged, try to sidle the dishes over to one side, leaving space on the other side of the sink. Then, wash the dishes with a sponge under the water and move them over to the clean side one by one. Once you're done with that, drain the entire sink, and rinse each dish one-by-one. This will save you the messy process of trying to rinse the dishes as you go, which can waste a lot of water and end up with improperly rinsed dishes that may not have had enough time to soak.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Dusting is not a quaint '50s tradition. Nor is it a problem that has been solved by vacuums. You gotta do some kind of sweep of both the floors and the shelves, the tops of tables and furniture, and other neglected spots at least once a month.
As old-fashioned as it sounds, a feather duster is a perfectly reasonable tool (though we'd ask you to go with a faux-feather version). Once you're dusting, make sure you start from the top and work downward, so that you're not dropping dust onto areas you just cleaned. Especially for long-haired ladies, a handheld vacuum is also a big help to pick up the tumbleweeds of dust and hair that tend to accumulate.
If you live in an older home or apartment in a city, you might notice the amount of dust seems disproportionate with anything you could possibly be tracking in. If you have a long weekend to do a project, fixing up the weather stripping in your place could save you a lot of day-to-day labor (and Kerr wrote about that DIY at length here).
But, Kerr's most genius tip of all on the subject of dusting? Use dryer sheets. Not only will they pick up the dust, the coating will rub off a bit on the objects and shelves you're cleaning, and that can actually slow down the accumulation of dust, giving you more time to slob around before your next dusting spree.
Don't neglect your bathroom. Because ventilation often varies, it's a danger zone for mold and mildew — and when you notice that, you need to address it right away, because the longer you wait, the harder it gets to remove. Kerr recommends this article for some basic tips on managing humid bathroom spaces.
Beyond that, it's important to make sure you're hanging up your towels, bathrobe, and anything else you may leave in the bathroom. Not only will things look neater, you'll be able to put off laundry day and help contribute to a less mold-prone atmosphere in your bathroom.
Kerr recommends doing a "hard clean" at least once a month. If you can swing it, in between those big all-out days, do a light wipe down of the surfaces in your bathroom. Keep Clorox wipes nearby and readily accessible, so you can pull one out and spiff things up on a moment's notice. Or, if you're concerned about waste and/or want to save a bit of money, Kerr recommends Windex Touch-Up. "It's originally meant for kitchens, but it's a really convenient product design" that can work on other surfaces as well. That and Scrubbing Bubbles are your new best friends.
And, speaking of surfaces, here's one you might not think about: The handle of the toilet. According to Kerr, it's the dirtiest part, as you usually touch it before washing your hands. Do not, we repeat, do not forget about this.
We're not going to harp on any longer, here — because as we all know, slow and steady wins the race. Now that you've got some basic tips established for maintaining cleanliness in a non-aggressive way, give it a try for the next month. Keep all this efficiency-maximizing information in mind, and perhaps also check out this helpful schedule of when to clean what, and how deeply. Then, be sure to report back (with pics of your newly dusted abode, please!).