Ask a Clean Person: The Basics

Somehow my husband and I have managed to make it past 30 without establishing an adult-type cleaning routine. Meaning that we let things go for days (weeks sometimes!? I swear only rarely) at a time and then do a big intensive clean all at once. I know that ideally we’d do a little every day instead. Any suggestions on how competent adults might clean? Like what should we be doing every day? Obviously dealing with dishes (which we have finally gotten in the routine of) but what about beyond that? Help!

Because you’re not the first to ask this sort of question, I’ve spent no small amount of time thinking of different approaches, and here’s what I’ve settled on, to start: For each of the four main rooms in the house, I’ll offer two things to do every day and two things to do every week. (There are, of course, a million variations on these ideas. But we’ve only got so much time here. There are Qream-based baked goods to dream up!) When you see an exclamation point it indicates that I feel REALLY STRONGLY that if you do nothing else, it’s the one thing I’ll be so happy to know you’re doing. If you’re not doing it consider lying and telling me you are.

If this feels waaaay too ambitious for you, incorporate these changes room-by-room or try bumping the timeframes on some or all of the tasks out; every day becomes once a week, once a week becomes once or twice a month. I’ll look the other way.


Every day:

1. Make your bed!
2. Put clothes away or in the laundry hamper

Once a week:

1. Change bed linens
2. Tidy and dust/polish all surfaces


Every day:

1. Remove any dirty dishes to the kitchen sink/dishwasher!
2. Straighten cushions, throw blankets

Once a week:

1. Tidy and dust/polish all surfaces
2. Vacuum/sweep floors


Every day:

1. Do the dishes!
2. Wipe work surfaces down

Once a week:

1. Check fridge for spoiled/old food, throw it away and take out the trash*
2. Wipe down counter- and tabletop, fridge exterior, stove and sink with all-purpose cleaner

*empty wastepaper baskets in bedroom, bathroom, den, etc. as well


Every day:

1. Hang wet towels!
2. Wipe up sink area

Once a week:

1. Hit the tub, toilet and sink with Scrubbing Bubbles
2. Sweep/mop up hairs

Miscellaneous thoughts on leading a cleaner existence

Identify items that cause clutter — like, literally look around your house and maybe even write down the things that are in piles/look messy/are exploding all over the place; likely culprits are mail, receipts, and loose change — and create a repository for them. A basket for mail, a storage box for receipts, and a bowl for change, perhaps! Or whatever works for you. I bet Etsy has a hundred darling and twee storage solutions that you might covet! Treat yourself to those things! Put them in the place where you would usually dump the clutter items, and then use them. Before you know it, you’re going to be so good at this that you’ll be accepted into Advanced Placement cleaning courses, and suddenly you’ll find yourself emptying out your shelter magazine-worthy storage solutions once a month/once a quarter as appropriate. Your entire world will change.

Ladies, do you constantly have jewelry floating around your bedroom? Get a bigger jewelry box and put it wherever you usually put your baubles on in the morning/take them off at night. Discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshalls are great sources for inexpensive jewelry organizers.

Are your clothes overflowing your drawers? Is this the reason you aren’t putting them away? Take an hour and tackle the worst offenders (t-shirts, socks, and underpants, usually). Throw away or recycle into your rag pile stained, holey, old, or smelly items. Donate things that are in good condition that you just don’t wear anymore. Be honest about what fits and flatters and what doesn’t. Ask a Jane for more advice on that front. If you can’t get rid of things your other options are to buy a bigger dresser or be an Unclean Person, so you know… your choice.

Make a catalogue and magazine rule: If they’ve been in the house for more than a month, either recycle them or put them in magazine holders. Think about unsubscribing to catalogues that you don’t care to receive to make things even easier on you and our overflowing landfills! A good time to toss things is when you’re doing your weekly tidying and dustying routine.

Refuse to keep newspapers in the home for more than a week.

Launder dish and hand towels once a week. This is a particular nit of mine. WHY ARE YOU DRYING YOUR CLEAN PAWS ON THAT FILTHY SCHMATTA???

Lastly, if I had to venture a guess I would say that “Put clothes away or in the hamper” will be the single most difficult thing to stick with. Can we agree to split the difference and at least put the dirty clothes in the hamper? Oh my God thank you so much you have no idea how upset a pair of dirty underwear on the floor makes me.

This coming semester I will be moving into a house with three other girls. Since money is always tight for four young ladies like ourselves, we were wondering if you could give us a short list of the best, most essential cleaning products we’ll need to handle the inevitable messes we’ll encounter in our time there. Please help us avoid spending extra money on a bunch of different products we don’t necessarily need!

Before we do this thing, can we hear it for our collegiate clean people?!?! RAH RAH BLEACH BOOM BAH!! You girls… ach, I’m just so proud *wipes tears*

First tip: There are four of you, coming from four homes. It is my belief that virtually every home has at least one redundant cleaning product; identify the one belonging to the Clean Person in your homestead and STEAL THAT SHIT. Or, you know, ask nicely if you can have it. Don’t pass up products that are down to the dregs or not particularly useful, because at the very least the bottle an be rinsed out and used to hold a DIY cleaning solution.

Now then! Off to the store for the following items.

Bon Ami: This is going to be your new best friend, so buy the biggest tube you can find and leave it someplace handy. Bonus: The packaging is super cute! Basically you’ll use Bon Ami to clean everything: the tub, sink, and toilet in your bathroom; your kitchen counters and stovetop when things get serious; and pots and pans with burnt-on food.

OxyClean: You’re in college, which means you will get things on clothes and furnishings and shoes and handbags that will leave stains. And you’re a Hairpin reader, which means you’ll barf on things. Buy a huge tub of Oxy.

Laundry Detergent: You gotta wash your clothes. Probably not a bad idea to chip in for a giant box of communal detergent.

Palmolive: Of the popular brands of dish soap, I truly believe that Palmolive is a superior product. You’ll pay a little more, but it will do a better job, last longer and bring back fond memories of Madge, who as I was typing this I realized you’re too young to be familiar with. MOVING ALONG.

White Vinegar: Forgo commercially available all-purpose and glass cleaners, and mix up equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Now you have a spray cleaner that you can use to clean up spills, wipe down countertops, and clean glass. Buy a huge jug of the stuff and store whatever you don’t use — paired with our old friend baking soda, it makes for a super cheap drain unclogger. Which you’ll need. Trust me on this and if you ever meet me in person ask me about the origins of my fear of standing water. (Something something bathtub of horrors sophomore year in college.)

Sponges: Get yourself two packages of sponges, one with a scrungy back and one regular. The scrungy ones will be for your dishes, the other ones for cleaning.

That should about do it for you in terms of products! Oh right, it’s probably not a bad idea to invest in a broom and a toilet brush. Also think about using old t-shirts, socks, or towels as rags to cut down on paper towel spending. A slightly damp rag can be used to dust furniture — no need for Endust.

Oh my God I’m so excited about your home I can barely even stand it. When are you going to invite me over to teach you how to make punch??

Previously: The War on Bugs.

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you looking for a green alternative to the suggestions found here? Because we’ve got some! More importantly: Is anything you own dirty?