So, your landlord/parent/home inspector/favorite movie star is dropping by, and your place is a disaster. You don’t have much time to clean it up. You’re in emergency mode. Let’s get started.
- Don’t panic. Panic leads to fear, fear leads to procrastination, procrastination leads to the dark side. You can do this, but you have to stay calm.
- Unlike maintenance cleaning, we’re not looking to completely unfuck one space at a time. Instead, we want to decrease the overall mess in stages, spread evenly across the whole area that we’re concerned about. If you think your home is at Level 10 filth, we want to bring the whole thing down to a Level 9, and then down from there. One really clean spot in an otherwise messy home is not going to be helpful here.
- Get prepared. You’ll want to shut the computer down (or turn the modem off if you need your computer to play music). Trust me. Get your music going. Gather up trash bags, your vacuum and mop, some rags or paper towels, sponges, and other cleaning supplies. Use what you have on hand. Don’t get distracted running to the store and spending an hour browsing cleaning supplies. A multi-purpose cleaning concentrate or a jug of vinegar will be just fine.
- Breaks are very important. Depending on your time constraints, work in 20/10s (20 minutes working, 10-minute break) or 45/15s. But take breaks because otherwise you’re marathoning, and marathon cleaning is no one’s friend. Keep hydrated, don’t forget to eat, and check in with yourself frequently to make sure you’re physically doing OK.
- Make your bed. This will be your home base if you get overwhelmed or need somewhere clear to take a break.
- Start with the garbage. Going from room to room, throw out anything that is obvious trash. Once you fill a bag, take it out. Repeat as many times as necessary.
- Move on to dishes. Gather the dishes from all over your house and bring them to the kitchen. If you can, start them soaking in a sink of hot, soapy water or start loading the dishwasher. After the dishes are all in one place, spend one 20/10 getting them under control.
- Now it’s time for your flat surfaces. Countertops, tables, dresser tops, etc. Clear them off and wipe them down. Don’t get distracted by too much sorting and organizing. We’re in crisis mode here. There will be time to get in-depth once this is all done. The same applies to cabinets and closets. Unless you have reason to believe people will be opening closed doors, leave these alone for now.
- Attack the floordrobe and shoe pile. Get your clothes either put away or in the hamper. Start a load of laundry if you need to, but keep in mind that laundry and dishes have three steps: wash, dry, and put it away, goddammit!
- Get random stuff up off the floors. If something is trash-worthy, throw it away now rather than just move it around a bunch of times. Otherwise, put stuff where it belongs.
- Take another 20/10 or 45/15 to catch up on more dishes, if needed.
- Head into the bathroom. Pour some cleaner in the toilet bowl, fill the sink with hot water and cleaner, and either spray the tub and shower with cleaner, or fill the tub up with some hot water and add cleaner and let it soak. Put everything away that’s out and shouldn’t be, clean the mirror, counters, and toilet seat. Sweep or dry mop the floor. Wipe down the sink and tub/shower, and give the toilet bowl a scrub. Mop the floor.
- Sweep and mop the kitchen floor.
- Vacuum everything you can, and sweep everything you can’t.
- Walk outside of your house (don’t lock yourself out, please). Walk back in and see what catches your eye first. Go and deal with that.
- If you’re being inspected or your landlord is coming in for repairs, spend time on whatever area they’ll be focusing on.
- Give the whole place one more once-over and pay attention to anything you’ve missed so far.
- It’s an old trick, but if your place is a little funky-smelling, put a pan of water on the stove on low heat and add some citrus or cinnamon or vanilla. Don’t leave it unattended or forget about it.
- Take a shower, put on something clean, and eat something.
You can do this. It’s overwhelming, yes, but it is not impossible. You just need to do it. You have a list. You have directions. You have a whole bunch of Internet strangers who have been there before and who are cheering you on. You can do this, but you need to get started.
Why are you still here? GO. START. NOW.
[This post originally appeared on Feb. 26, 2013.]