Friday, December 11, 2009

Cleaning For Dummies

If you know me in real life and have ever been to my residence when I'm not necessarily expecting company (or, more accurately, not necessarily expecting Company Who Will Care About My Room), you might be aware of my inability to keep my residence clean.  I'm a bit more responsible about common areas, but my room is often a disaster, where you have to watch where you step and you have to wind through the various crap all over the floor just to cross the room (it's kind of like if you're trying to drive from Boston to LA, but weird road construction means that you have to take detours through Florida and Montana to get there).

However, as much as I'm a lazy ass who hates cleaning, I love having a clean living space.  And not just one that doesn't make my mother cry when she sees it (and twice, she's cleaned it when she's only supposed to be dropping me off at my apartment).  I love having a bathroom that sparkles.  I love having a kitchen where there's barely anything on the counters and everything is in the right place.  I love having a bedroom that has no dust or random bird seeds everywhere, where the bed is made perfectly and even all the crap in my closet looks as if someone from IKEA came over to organize it for the catalog pictures.

Of course, in order to have this beautiful, clean space, I have to ... clean.  And so, in today's Shakeville open thread, I asked for advice.  I present the advice here, for your reading pleasure, and give credit to those wonderful Shakers who've provided me with excellent tips.  Also, maybe they can help you clean, too.

From nia_74656:

First of all, I put on music. :) Personal preference, but it really helps me not get pissed off whilst cleaning.

I also do one room at a time, and have piles of things that need to go in other rooms that I will deal with when I go to clean those other rooms. This is so I don't get distracted by organizing my spice cupboard when I find nutmeg in the living room.

It helps me to briefly plan out in what order I'm going to clean things in each particular room so I don't do silly things like vacuum and then dust. I think what I generally do is pick up things from the floor up (the shoes on the floor, then the clothes on the couch, then the random crap on the front of the bookshelves, etc.) then actually clean from the top down (dust the fan blades, then the shelves; vacuum the couch, then the floor).
From Gnatalby:
I am basically a disgusting sloth, but what I do to keep my repulsiveness in check is the five minute clean every time I walk in the house from being out. I put on a song about five minutes in length and I clean up for five minutes, you can get a surprising amount a done! I also usually just do one task at a time. So... all the dishes! then the next time dirty clothing triage! Then the next time, shower scrubbing!
From bgk:
Hooboy... Cleaning is something I have to trick myself into.

1.) Music you can sing along with/jam out to. Especially if you live alone, cleaning is my concert time, and I've totally broken out into dance moves with the Vacuum Cleaner and or Broom. (Also, I'm a huge nerd.)

2.) TV. Especially if you're doing a stationary chore, having a TV show on is a great keep going tool. I find that if I am doing laundry, one 45 minute ep of LOST! is perfect for reminder to check the dryer.

3.) Games. I have a personal best record for my dishwasher/sink full of dishes of 12 minutes flat.

4.) Bedroom. Pile everything that;s out of place on your bed. Well, you want to sleep tonight, right? Gonna have to move it.

5.) Food. If I do x,y, or z chore, my reward is X delicious dish that i crave.
From InfamousQBert:
i find that putting on loud music helps, preferably 70s hard rock or disco. :)
From groggette:
nth-ing the suggestion for music while cleaning! That always helps me out.
Also, bgk's #4 is great! .... unless you're like me and just move the bed pile to the couch at the end of the day and then just decide to not use the couch for another month of so.

Something that never fails to get me cleaning is tricking myself into it by inviting people over ;)
From natbsat:
I suck at picking up and organizing, but I've found two things that kinda help:

1) Make piles to deal with later - especially if you're going to have to leave the room/area to take care of them. I put away things in easy reach and then make piles of anything I'm going to have to open a door to take care of, then put away the piles in the order that's least likely to distract me. For instance, living room: books to go to bedroom pile, random kitchen stuff pile (like dishes), front hall closet pile (there would be more and more specific piles, but I'm short on sleep, so I'm making it easier). I'd put away the random dishes and such pile first, because putting stuff into the dishwasher/sink is less likely to distract me, then the closet, because it's unlikely I care about the closet since I can close the door, THEN the books because I might decide to peruse my collection while I'm up there, and if it's the last thing I have to do, that works!

2) Whenever you have stuff that tends to build up because there's no good place to put it, buy/make a place to put it from now on. This can be tricky, budget-wise, but I found that once I bought an Expedit bookshelf and drawer insert to put RIGHT NEXT TO the desk I always sit at during the day, I was much less likely to leave out bills, programming books, computer accessories, and printer paper, because they all had a place to go in arm's reach, plus I was able to get stuff off my cluttered desk (using the top of the shelf unit for my printer and router) and therefore make more room to actually USE things like computer books and my checkbook for paying bills. I tended to have paid bills laying around and books everywhere until I got that thing, so that worked for me. The trick is to make sure you know exactly how you're going to use a piece of storage furniture prior to buying/building it, because if it just looks cool, you're not going to use it properly. Or at least, that's how it works for me. :)

Hope that helps! My house is never more than 5 minutes of picking up away from company these days, and I credit all my Ikea storage furniture (and very long-term planning, it probably took about 4 years to finally find the right configuration that would help me be organized) for that. ;)
From Talonas:
I hate cleaning too. I put on music, and make sure its upbeat more fast paced music. I really like trance or house music because it tends to be rhythmically stimulating without a lot of lyrics. Course, My method for cleaning the house is kinda weird. I will pick up several items that belong in different rooms, then go to those rooms to drop those things off. I do this in each room, grabbing stuff, putting away. for a long time it doest look like Im getting anything done, but then all of a sudden the house is all picked up and ready to vacuum/sweep, and then Im done. Its a crazy system and I havent met anyone else that does it the same way.
From Scott Madin:
Cleaning is something I'm also terrible at. (xxxx-area Shakers, this is one reason I haven't invited y'all to come have dinner or play board games or whatever :-) Putting on my iPod does help some. If I can get over the initial "don' wanna!" impulse (and then not get distracted by something, and if I "take a break for a minute" make sure it really is only a minute or two) I can get a fair amount done.
More from natbsat:
I find it helps if I have somebody to talk to when I have to do something major (full-house pickup, for example, or when I could no longer find things in the closet and had to empty it out and redo it), preferably in person because then they help, but having a phone headset on to leave my hands free works, too. I think I actually work better when I find the perfect level of distraction, and chatting while cleaning/organizing is perfect for me. I get too sucked in my TV shows, although music CAN be quite nice. I made a cleaning playlist in iTunes for those times when no one's around to chat and I really need to clean. ;)
More from InfamousQBert:
the bed pile thing totally works for me, but i've lived with someone who would sleep in a tiny corner of her bed, surrounded by stuff. so i know what you're talking about.

it helps me if i can have a spot in the house, whether it's a chair, a table, or even just a small bit of floor in a corner, that can be "the messy spot". that way, when i end up, inevitably, with that last pile of stuff that i can't quite figure out where it should go, i can put it in the spot and not feel bad about it. as long as stuff stays confined to the spot, it's okay.
From eden713:
you could also try using boxes - usually one for 'stuff that goes someplace else' and one for 'stuff to get rid of'. Before you start cleaning a new area, go through the first box to see if anything belongs in the new area.

The other thing that's helpful is, once you get an area clean, to not let it get messy again. Like Gnatalby said find a time (when you get home, wake up, before bed, whatever) and tidy the places you've cleaned. It'll only take 5 mins or so, and it's a big morale booster.
More from InfamousQBert:
okay, another cleaning tip. and this one's just silly. my old roommate and i would put on our superman t-shirts, put our hair in pigtails with redbows, and wear our big red aprons, tied around our necks backwards as capes, and then be the SUPER-CLEANERS!!! it's ridiculous, but it's like being a little kid and how your mom might make a game out of it. it got us thinking more about playing at super heroes, than about the drudgery of cleaning, and stuff would get done!
From em_and_ink:
I totally second the music suggestion. Also, I tend to start with the clutter on the floor and work my way up, then to the seating/beds/large table surfaces, etc. Then when all the clutter is taken care of, I work back down, dusting or wiping the highest surfaces and leaving sweeping the floor for last. In part because if I get derailed, a lot of times just having the clutter off the floor or the coffee table and the bed made or the dishes off the counter can make a world of difference, even if I don't have time to chase the corgi hair around with a broom.
From Ethyl:
the only truly clean AND tidy places in my house are the kitchen and bathroom, because those are the places I really NEED to have clean and organized :) We frankly very very rarely clean the bedroom, but whenever we have guests and we need to clean the living room, I like to do one "thing" at a time (but as nia said, you'll want to plan this out a bit). So I'll "do" the books, and if I need somewhere to put the books while I'm tidying them or rearranging them, I'll literally just dump whatever is on the chair on the floor, because I will "do" the floor later, and it'll get picked up. I think what's happening is you're in a mindset where you're "cleaning," so if you find that somethign you need to use is "dirty," you then get distracted and clean that, rather than doing what you were doing. It's perfectly ok to make additional messes while cleaning, because that's going to get cleaned ~later,~ yanno? At least, that's how I think of it, and since I'd adopted that as a method, I've actually become better about not getting distracted when I get started :)
From redsixwing:
My cleaning method is to keep stuff put away - not as easy as it sounds, and requires regular maintenance, but if I want to use the couch/table/bed, I'd better keep it cleaned off.

That said, I also have a one in- one out rule. Shirts are a perfect example, since I have a limited number of hangers and it enforces the rule. One new shirt bought means one old shirt gotten rid of - usually donated, if it's in good condition but doesn't fit or I don't wear it any more, rarely destroyed in course of wear.
I find this really helps to keep the clutter down, and I have an incentive to have all those hangers put up - if one gets lost, suddenly a shirt can't go in the closet!
This also keeps me from buying on impulse a lot of the time. Do I really want x new shirt enough to get rid of x old shirt?
From celeloriel:
I'm one of those neat/clean people, too, who's currently in a cluttered house. One thing that helps me, though I'm far from having the perfectly-organized home of my dreams, is to declutter. I find that if I have fewer things all looking at me and taking up space, it's easier to keep things cleaner.

Other things I do are more maintenance cleaning - Mondays are for dusting, Tuesdays are for vaccuming, etc etc. I also try to spend 15 minutes a day (a focused 15 min, with a timer) in just Putting Stuff Away. I generally pick the room that's most in disarray and go from there.

Another trick I haven't tried but which works well for friends is doing stuff like squirting toilet bowl cleaner into the toilet pre-shower, letting it sit while you shower, and flushing it when you get out. The idea of breaking everything in the house into small tasks that you can do while you're doing something else is still pretty revolutionary to me. I grew up thinking that cleaning was a discrete activity that you did when things got dirty, and so this whole maintaining the house at a consistent level of clean through small constant actions is still new and weird to me. :)
More from natbsat:
I drink tea, and if I'm having a cup in the afternoon, I'll stay in the kitchen for the few minutes it takes water to boil and do something there - dishes if there are any, wipe down a counter, load the dishwasher. It's not enough time to go back the computer and read comments or anything, but it's an eternity if you just stand there, so it's perfect for getting one or two quick things done. Of course, if I go a few days without tea, the dishes tend to pile up. ;) But this also works for, say, heating up something in the microwave, or making a pot of coffee.
And that's all for now.  Thanks to all of the Shakers who offered tips!  We'll see how well everything works ...

If you're uncomfortable with me using your username from Shakesville, please let me know, and I will redact your name immediately!!  And if you've got more tips ... or you're not from Shakesville and you have tips ... that's what the comments section is for!


  1. I was going to post this at Shakesville, but thought you might like it here instead. I keep a box of index cards with random chores on it. I have it divided into 10 minute, 30 minute and all day projects. When I have some free time, I pull out a chore card. After I finish the project, I move the card to the back, so everything gets done before I start over.

  2. My dad would die if he saw me quoted for cleaning tips.