The most withering personal critique I’ve ever received was when a female roommate told me I was “tidy, but not clean.”
For years, I’d been operating under the delusion that I was a Clean Person, and a rare exception to the (mostly true) stereotype of the “adult man who lives in his own filth.” Granted, I spent my college years living in a fraternity, and in another house with nine other dudes, so the bar for cleanliness was shamefully low. The fact I put clothes in my dresser put me well above my peers in terms of basic human decency.
But my roommate pointed out that there’s a difference between having arranged your records in alphabetical order and actually ridding your living space of dirt and grime. My supposed cleanliness was all superficial, and if I was ever to live among the truly clean, I’d need to drastically change my cleaning habits.
It’s been a tumultuous journey, but after lots of trial-and-error, I devised a system for maintaining a high level of cleanliness, without having to labor like Cinderella everyday, or hire a team of housekeepers at considerable expense.
And, now, dear reader, I impart this wisdom to you, so that you never have to suffer the indignities I’ve endured.
First, You Need to Buy Some Stuff
Below are the items you need to own to achieve a baseline of cleanliness in your home. (FYI: Generally, I defer to the good folks at product-review site The Wirecutter when purchasing home goods I know nothing about. They have a vigorous test-and-review process, but warning, their top picks in each category are usually expensive, so be sure to check their recommendations for more affordable options.)
- Vacuum: Unless you live in, like, some dusty old mansion, you almost certainly don’t need some industrial-grade, $600 behemoth that sucks at carpets with the force of a thousand winds. I recommend this $129, battery-powered Hoover option if you live in a small apartment. This $150 vacuum available at Target comes well-recommended, too.
- Swiffer Sweeper (with dry and wet mopping cloths): Because an actual mop is excessive. Be sure to keep replacement mopping cloths on hand, too.
- Broom and dustpan: Again, no need to go overboard here.
- Plastic bucket(s): For, if nothing else, the storage of your cleaning items.
- Cleaning towels: Do the environmentally- and financially-conscious thing and use cleaning towels instead of paper towels. (This will save you money in the long-run, too.) The cleaning “cloths” from Amazon are excellent; they’re highly absorbent, durable and don’t leave streaks.
- Scrub brush: For cleaning your shower and bathroom.
- Toilet brush: I mean, this should be obvious
- Empty spray bottle
- All purpose cleaner
- Swiffer Duster: Arguably the greatest invention of the modern era, in that it makes dusting, the worst of all chores, a tad less miserable.
- Extra sets of bed sheets/pillow cases: This may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it’ll improve your life drastically. And at just $50, this very comfy sheet set from Target is exceedingly affordable.
Do these things every week
Maintaining a clean living space is a lot like saving money, in that it’s about constant diligence. You don’t save for retirement with one paycheck — you do it by saving small amounts year-round. And you don’t keep a clean apartment by doing one large cleaning job each spring — you do it with regular, small cleaning sessions.
On that note, there are things you should do every week:
- Clean all major surfaces: That includes tables, counters and any exposed shelves. Wet them with your all-purpose cleaner and wipe them down with your cleaning cloths. It will prevent excess dust and grime from building up, so you don’t have to break a sweat deep-cleaning that stuff.
- Vacuum: Same thing goes with vacuuming — weekly maintenance will prevent grime and dust from accumulating in any rug and carpet fibers, and forming visible mounds of dirt.
- Swiffer: Ditto every inch of hard flooring (tile, wood or otherwise).
I know this seems like a lot of work, but doing it each week will prevent you from getting so frustrated with and anxious about your apartment that you have to embark on an enormous, four-hour cleaning session one some idle Sunday afternoon.
Change your sheets every two weeks
Again, this probably seems excessive, but the dividends are numerous.
For one, you’ll have the joy of freshly cleaned sheets on your bed every two weeks, and you can’t put a price on that kind of comfort.
Second, it’ll improve your skin. I’m a particularly sweaty, stinky beast, so regular sheet and pillowcase cleaning is a necessity for me — the sheets smell terrible, and I get bad acne if I don’t. But the benefits apply to regularly-sweaty gents, too. Your skin and overall hygiene will be greatly improved by putting on fresh sheets every two weeks. (Having extra sheets make this magnitudes easier.)
Do these things once a month
I don’t what to tell you about these next tasks other than they’re an unavoidable part of the cleaning process. They aren’t fun. But you can make things a bit more enjoyable by putting on some music before you strap on your rubber gloves and perform them.
- Dust: What the heck is dust anyway? Seriously, what purpose does this vile substance serve? It infects every nook and cranny of your apartment, and is nothing but a depressing reminder that entropy is constant and life is a steady march toward certain death. Screw dust. Dust once a month so it doesn’t build up and give you black lung. Blinds and fan blades are especially important. So are all exposed shelves, and the tops of your cabinets, bookcases and any refrigeration. God, this stuff gets everywhere.
- Clean shower/bathtub: *Jerry Seinfeld voice* Why do I gotta clean the shower? That’s where I clean myself. The cleaning place should be clean! Fair point, but a shower is a haven for germs and grime, and needs regular cleaning. If there’s considerable mildew and soap scum buildup, you might want to consider busting out the bleach. You don’t need much, either — about ¼ to ½ cup per gallon of water. Put that mixture in your empty spray bottle, and go at the mold and scum with your scrub brush. Then rinse it with water. (Reminder: Never mix bleach with ammonia, or any other cleaner. You can kill yourself. Seriously.) If the job doesn’t call for bleach, you can use a general all-purpose cleaner.
- Clean your toilet: Add ½ cup of bleach to the toilet bowl and scrub. Once a month should be good here, but mileage may vary depending on use. But always remember to clean your toilet brush with bleach every time you use it. Otherwise, it’ll grow mold itself, and be unusable.
Well, that was a lot wasn’t it? But I assure you, maintaining this regimen gets easier with time. And committing to it is sure to impress. For instance, the other day, a woman walked into my apartment for the first time and remarked that I was “serial-killer neat.” It was the single greatest compliment I’ve ever received.