How do I keep things clean?
August 7, 2010 1:13 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for Cleaning Tips for the Lazy Man.

When I'm at home, I relax, and therefore I tend to be rather lax on the cleaning. My room (I live with a roommate who has sternly insists on personally cleaning the rest of the apartment, bless her heart) tends to devolve into a jungle of plastic bags of takeout containers, boxes from crap I've ordered, junk mail, empty cans and bottles and so on and so forth. Please keep in mind that I don't hoard, and the room isn't dirty per se. It just gets to be a mess real quick.

As I live in a tiny space, about 12'x18' or so, this gets to be a problem fast and the messier it is the less likely I am to clean it. It's not anything too bad and even the worst mess doesn't take more than two hours to get the room back to clean. Still, I'd like to grow up and be an adult and take care of this problem before I move into a studio (sans roommate,) which I intended on doing within the next six to ten months.

So I need some advice on how to be better about cleaning. I bought myself a coatrack so my bags and hoodies/jackets don't immediately go on the floor when I get home, and that's helped quite a bit. What else should I do and when should I do it?

(NB: "devote a day/several hours/etc. to cleaning" isn't really going to work for me, as my schedule is unpredictable. I'm looking more for tips on doing things as I go along.)
posted by griphus to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
Get a trash can and recycle bin for your own room. When you generate trash and recyclables, put them in the bins right away; break down boxes that are too big to fit and stack them. Empty the bins every day before you go to work. You might have to get up two minutes earlier to do that, but it's a small price to pay.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a garbage can and a container for recyclables. Put them right by the door. Every time you leave the room, pick up the piece of trash or soda can nearest you and take it with you, dropping it into the appropriate container as you leave the room.

I live in a house with more than one room. When I leave a room, if my hands are not already full, I try to take anything with me that belongs in the room where I'm going. So little by little, without a big cleaning effort, things get returned to their proper locations.

And if your things don't have a place to live, make one, like you did with the coat rack.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

This seems pretty obvious to me. When something becomes trash, put it in the trash can. Throw out the take out containers after you've eaten and the cans and bottles when they are empty. Toss the junk mail when you realize it's junk mail. Toss the boxes when you have removed their contents. If you do this, then you won't need to devote several hours to cleaning, as it will never get that bad.
posted by amro at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2010

Though it's not sightly, it's better than a room full of junk: keep a big black contractor bag size trash can in your room (I keep mine directly in the center). Put your trash in there. When it's full take it out.
posted by ejfox at 1:23 PM on August 7, 2010

How about a big trash can, like the kind you'd have in a kitchen? If you only have a tiny trash can, that's going to work against you because you throw away three things and then it's full and you don't feel like emptying it.

So I say, get a big trash can (and keep a trash bag in it!) and learn to be diligent about throwing things away when you are done with them, such as your takeout containers. Bonus points if you have a cardboard box or something that you can use to hold recyclables like cans, bottles, and junk mail.

Pro tip: keep the roll of trash bags in the bottom of the can so that when you pull the full bag out, it's easy to grab a fresh one.
posted by cabingirl at 1:26 PM on August 7, 2010

Also, are you single? Do you ever bring (or want to bring) a romantic interest to your room? That might be some motivation, as many people would be disgusted by trash everywhere.
posted by amro at 1:26 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, no putting on clothes until the last clothes you took off are properly stowed: in your closet, in the laundry hamper, wherever they belong. The coat rack was a great idea.

The general idea is to make the individual requirements as small as possible, so they don't seem overwhelming. Little thumb-rules take a few seconds at a time to follow and keep the mess down to a manageable level.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Always make your bed first thing in the morning. The orderliness of the bed sets the stage for the rest of the room.

Even if you prefer to eat in your room, make a rule that no food trash stays there overnight. Food trash invites bugs and other undesireables.

Have a place for your laundry. I have two hampers: one for dirty clothes that need to be washed before they're worn again (socks, gym clothes), and one for clothes that have been worn but can go another round before laundry day (jeans, sweaters). Stuff that isn't getting washed anytime soon (suit jackets, wool sweaters) gets hung up again. This is really not fussy at all and reduces hanging / folding time.

Once a week, pull out the vacuum cleaner and give things a once-over. I do this on "chore day (Sunday afternoon) which involves laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and cooking in advance for the week. Added benefit: you can use a towel or tee shirt to quickly dust surfaces, then just throw it in the wash.

It's so nice to start the week with clean sheets, clean towels, and a clean apartment. I also do a touch-up on Fridays, mainly for religious reasons.

Good luck, and come back for kitchen and bathroom tips when you get your studio!
posted by charmcityblues at 1:38 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Having small routines in place helps a lot. After work I would hang my keys on their hook, put my shoes and purse in the closet, put mail in my mail basket, and take my lunch bag to the kitchen. It took about three minutes, and kept things so much nicer than when I would just plop everything down on the couch and collapse immediately after work. It will take a while to train yourself to do it, but it will become habit soon enough. (Unclutterer discusses routines a lot)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:40 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

It seems like you're viewing cleaning as a scheduled, periodic chore rather than something you should be doing in little bits all the time. If your place is so small, how does it get full of takeout containers and junk mail so fast? Why aren't those things going immediately in the garbage as soon as you finish eating/as soon as you bring in the mail?

Reframing this is an ongoing process, since you have to train yourself until you automatically throw the empty takeout box in the garbage when you're done eating, not because you're consciously "cleaning" so much as that's where it belongs. You could take the 15 seconds to throw it out, or you could stare at it all week as the pile gets added to, slowly mucking up your place and making you a little bugged every time you look at it because you'll be thinking "that's getting messy, now I have to clean it, but I don't feel like cleaning right now, but I'll have to do it soon, ugh, let me just go check my email again and try not to think about it". It's like living with a constant little raincloud sometimes to have that hanging over you. It's much nicer to just do it right away - one little thing is only one little thing and if you can make it automatic you won't even notice the bit of time it takes to go five steps to the garbage can.

The coatrack is a great beginning - everything should have a place in your room, so it's easy to see when something is out of place, and put it where it goes. What are your routines? Do you bring in the mail and put it on the desk? Put a trash can there and when you bring it in, throw out the junk mail. Where do you get undressed? Put your hamper there so you can put your dirty clothes in it right away. Use the time you're on the phone - I often do dishes, fold laundry or put things away while I talk. It's mindless.
posted by flex at 1:43 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you have piles of mail and paperwork that you need to keep, buy some kind of filing box with dividers. When you first pick up the paperwork (from the mailbox, for example), take off the envelope and put it in the bin along with the bits inside that you don't need. Then immediately file the bits you do need to keep in the right section of the filing box. One of those sections in the box is the "TODO" section for bits of paper that you need to do something about.

Every now and then, go through the TODO section, sort out whatever you need to do and file the bits of paper back in some other section of the box.
posted by emilyw at 1:43 PM on August 7, 2010


Donate any clothes you haven't worn in the last 2 years. Donate old books (later in life you may have room for your library but not now). Get rid of any useless furniture that makes it more of a chore to sweep or vacuum. Just do it a bag at a time every few days. I also found it great to have a proper filing cabinet for storing bill and old papers (papers don't pile up on flat surfaces as much).
posted by bonobothegreat at 1:44 PM on August 7, 2010

Take 15 minutes every day when you get home to straighten up. Don't sit down first, or you'll lose momentum. If you do this every day, it will become habit and you won't even have to think about it. Also, as others have suggested, keep a trash can and a box for recyclables in your room. Then once a week, dust and vacuum; with your room already tidy, this should only take a few minutes. Never leave your room empty-handed; surely there's something in there that belongs somewhere else. Get in the habit of putting things away when you're done with them. When you do your laundry, fold it and put it away immediately. Make your bed every day after you shower.
posted by Koko at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. An equally important companion to a trash can is a hamper.

2. Picking/arranging your stuff takes way less time than you think it does.

3. It is well-known in the scientific community that things get cleaned faster if the person cleaning is listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival. Really, any "get shit done" music will help you get off your ass and start cleaning, but somehow the Creedence effect goes beyond this.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:49 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Put a trashcan/recycling can in every CONCEIVABLE place you will sit and generate trash. That way you will not have to get up to clear away the mess. Also, those plastic bags that grocery stores give you by the billion every time you by so much as a stick of gum? You can use them as trashcan liners for the ten little trash receptacles you just invested in & distributed throughout your living area. When they're full, tie the little handles together, throw them into the big can to await removal. End of trash monster.
posted by Ys at 1:53 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

We are especially lazy and big elaborate rules and systems don't work.

What works in our home is a theory we call "no empty hands".

Going out to the kitchen for a beverage? Grab that plastic takeout bag on the way, so you can toss it in the big trash.

Headed to the loo? Pick up that towel that needs to be hung up on the rack. Finished in the loo? Grab those shorts from behind the bathroom door and put them in the hamper on your way past.

It's a pretty simple method, too... because at any given time, if you look around your immediate vicinity, there's almost always something that can be picked up and carried back to its proper place on your way past.

This will be especially helpful when you get your studio, where suddenly no neat-freak roomie cleans all the unpleasant bits. Just vow "no empty hands" as you move around the place, and you'll find that tidying is not a big one-off weekly effort... but something you just unconsciously do all the time as you go about your day.
posted by pineapple at 1:53 PM on August 7, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'll bet that it ain't the trash that the problem. It's that the trash is mixed in among lots of stuff that is not trash; who the hell wants to sort through things to find the things that stink.

Get a deep set of shelves and put all the things you have on the bedside table on it (except the alarm clock maybe, if you don't have to keep that across the room like I do.). It doesn't have to be organized, just keep the usable surfaces as bare as possible. Then when you see something on the tables, it will be trash, it's a lot less daunting to see ten old boxes around than ten old boxes mixed in with books papers and bongs.

Coat racks are good, laundry bags are better. Two of them, hot - cold; three if your obsive about that color rule. Get the kind that fit on a rack and stay open all the time, who wants to mess with opening a draw string at three thirty. If your don't care to fold the clean cloths, get four, and you want have to.

Go to the Dollar Store or Goodwill and get some very cheep small cotton area rugs and put them over the floor even if it's carpet. They are easy to carry outside or to the window and shake out, and you can throw them into the washing machine now and then. They last about three or four washing, but that's why you got cheep ones.

And I disagree about the big trash can thing. Get small ones! The idea of filling up a giant thing, or of carrying out a giant one, is going to seem like a big chore, and it's going to make the room look worse if it's always open. Small ones, tiny ones, hey, no big deal, two minutes, and done.

(note, I've never had to use these methods myself. No, of course not.)
posted by Some1 at 1:55 PM on August 7, 2010

Wow, this is all great advice. Keep it coming, folks!

I'll bet that it ain't the trash that the problem. It's that the trash is mixed in among lots of stuff that is not trash; who the hell wants to sort through things to find the things that stink.

That's pretty much dead-on, except for the "stink" part. I have learned my lesson re: keeping food laying around and have driven myself from that habit.
posted by griphus at 2:06 PM on August 7, 2010

I bet $50 you come home from work/school and turn on the computer right away. Stop that. Clear the garbage/mail off your desk first, hang up your coat, put your books/work stuff away. Then you can log onto mefi.
posted by desjardins at 2:39 PM on August 7, 2010 [16 favorites]

Aside from echoing the obvious throw-trash-in-a-trash-can answers above, I think you might benefit from some drawers.

I like the see-through plastic kind like these because you can see into them and they stack well. I don't know why those are so expensive; I'm certain I bought mine for 20ish bucks, so you can probably find them cheaper somewhere else.

Anyway, I like the drawers because they make it easy to keep things tidy without being fussy. I have a drawer for small electronic things (batteries, chargers), a drawer for envelopes/stamps, a drawer for pens, a drawer for medicines and extra toothbrushes, a drawer for underwear, a drawer for socks, a drawer for tools, a drawer for chapstick and nail polish...and so on. Your specific drawer needs may differ, but trust'll love the drawer system. When things in your room start getting cluttered, you know exactly where that thing goes.

Looking around my room right now, I see a bottle of Aleve, my checkbook, scissors, and a tape measure. I know exactly where those things should be, so (pardon me for 3 seconds, please...ok, back) now they're all put away. Once you establish a system that works for you, it's really easy to keep it nice. The hard part is figuring out what that system's going to be.

The answer, my friend, is drawers.
posted by phunniemee at 2:42 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and another thing that will help to keep your area nice: Clorox wipes (or similar). Whenever an empty surface presents itself, I whip out a clorox wipe and give it a once-over before putting something else down on it. This probably isn't necessary in your room unless you're a messy eater, but one day you might not have your awesome roommate. Even if something doesn't "need" cleaning right at that moment, you're keeping it nice. (So, so, soooo important for bathrooms and kitchens!)

It's MUCH easier to keep things at a moderate level of cleanliness all the time than it is to neglect everything and then later make it spotless in a whirlwind cleaning adventure.
posted by phunniemee at 2:48 PM on August 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Think about where things live. Shoes. Wallet. Glasses. Things that need to go back to the kitchen. Mail.

I have a place in my own kitchen that I stick all my actioable mail. Near that spot is where all the mail I have dealt with goes. If I've paid a bill, I write the date and check number on it.

All the junk mail, catalogs, and stuff for dead people goes into the trash immediately inside my front door. I empty that once a week or so. That way I do t have to sort through junk mail to fine a bill that might be late, and I don't have to stare at huge piles that are probay trash, but could be important.

Shoe that pinch leave the house, and so do broke. Things that I cannot/ will not repair.

I hate ironing (and don't own an iron), so I have a laundry trick that gets my shirts hung up before they're dry, so they don't wrinkle.

Also? Have company. It motivates like nothing else can.
As with any habit change, most people need to start with one thing and build on those small successes. If you try to change everything at once, catastrophic failure will be discouraging.

Oh. Wipe the bathroom mirror at least every other day, but it's easier if you wipe it every time you brush. That dried toothpaste and spit builds up fast, and it's easier to get clean before it's dry.
posted by bilabial at 2:50 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a humorous and very practical book that will help: Clean Like a Man. It is short, very informative, and a really good read. It will be very helpful to you as you move beyond your current situation.

As far as what to do with the stuff, take a look at my post from a while back. Once you figure out the questions posed, you can decide how best to implement them.

And, remember that "right away is the easiest way!"
posted by jgirl at 3:07 PM on August 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Set up a "mail station" on a table or shelf with a letter opener and a small trash can. Make a rule that as soon as you bring the mail in, you have to sort it and open it. Throw away the junk mail immediately, open all other envelopes and throw away the inserts and envelope, put bills into some kind of holder, put other actionable mail into a separate folder (so that you don't have to sort everything out again on bill-paying day.)

If you make another rule not to ever put anything else into the mail trash can, you can just empty it into the recycle container when it gets full.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If something will take less than a minute, do it right away. Take your dishes out, put your takeaway containers in the bin, throw away the junk mail. If you do this consistently, it means that there is only actual cleaning to be done (eg. vacuuming, changing bed linen), rather than tidying everything up so you can get to the things that need to be cleaned.

It really is about disciplining yourself to do that, though making sure you have a place for things to go really helps. Consider whether you need to purge some of your stuff so you have more space. Set a few rules for yourself about what has to be done before you go to bed, or before you head out for the day. Even just try one at a time until it is habit - so now you hang your stuff up on the coat rack, next you'll concentrate on making yourself get up and throw out the food containers every time.
posted by AnnaRat at 5:54 PM on August 7, 2010

I found that when I moved from cleaning up every few days to cleaning up every day, it feels like it's 10 times easier. I have no idea why, but it does. I spend about 25 minutes every morning on cleaning. I understand what you said about unpredictable schedule and at times I also have to skip a day now and then but then I just clean on the next day.
posted by rainy at 7:55 PM on August 7, 2010

1. Think about what you are doing. "This isn't a very good spot to plop down my cheeseburger. I'm going to go on over to the kitchen and grab a plate."
2. Look around. Clutter and out-of-place things are easy to identify and remedy if you really stop and assess for a few minutes. "Ooh, I seem to drop things on the floor at my bedside quite often, maybe I'll grab that little table no one ever uses and stick it in that spot."
3. Eat sitting down with your plate on a proper surface. Sorry, all -- not in your bedroom.
4. Make your bed. It takes 90 seconds and is the core chore. Even if you do nothing else, you will feel good about yourself. Really.
5. Wipe the sinks and countertops when you have finished your task. Again, stop for a second and think, what's the next step to complete this action/process so I don't have to worry about messes all the time?
6. Commit to a nicely stowed trash can and the emptying thereof. (Again, sorry to the others but please don't put a giant trash can in the middle of your bedroom because it's convenient.)
7. Cultivate a bit of house-pride. Make something you feel good about. Frame a favorite photo. Pick up something that you love at a flea market. Baby your music system. From there, maybe you will want to keep the surroundings up to that standard.
8. See cleaning as analogous to organizing yourself at work, or before your preferred work-out. You're setting things up for a smooth, productive experience.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:09 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Taking the time and upfront mental legwork to create convenient and appropriate, useful places for everything you encounter is my number one tip--of course stuff is going to look like garbage or end up cluttered on the floor unappealingly if, when you first rip open that Amazon goodie box you don't have an easy fast place to ditch the box. Ditto losing your keys if you don't have a place that screams "put them here" every day. So specifically, get garbage cans for just about every room (no, really), and appropriately sized for the sorts of things you'd be tossing in them depending on context (small for bathroom, big for kitchen and maybe your room, medium for next to where you put your mail when you come in, medium for a computer room or study, etc.). Have a box or tray right where you shed your daily crap like cell phone, keys, wallet when you first come in. Hampers yes, where you actually get undressed or towel off, not in some idealized spot that doesn't jive with your habits. Make it easy on yourself in the first place by assessing your habits and how you go through your home and having things at the ready at all the major spots.

Similarly, I recommend getting a lot of cleaning supplies and leaving each appropriate set of things in the room you actually need them for, maybe tucked away nicely but in that room. That way you can't go "huh, the floor right here looks dirty...but to clean it I'd have to go into the garage and get the mop and" You have way less of an excuse if a little hand vac and handbroom and dustpan along with a spray bottle of the right cleaner (bought or homemade) and paper towels/cloths are already right there in the same room with you. Obviously you're not going to shell out for 2 big vacuums or anything (I recommend keeping that central vacuum or mop as close to the room it most gets used in as possible though anyway), but for things like spray bottle cleaner, little brooms and dustpans, paper towels, sponges, and gloves, it's so worth it to just have a bucket or sack in each room.
posted by ifjuly at 7:17 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing "De-clutter", or a least a good healthy cleanout of clothes and/or stuff that you just don't use any more. It's amazing how much space you get back in your closet when you get rid of two trash bags worth of old clothes.

Even if you don't have the time to dedicate "cleaning time", what about setting yourself a routine or a schedule?

"It's Tuesday, so I need to empty my trash can today. It's Thursday, so I need to vacuum the floor. It's Sunday, so I need to make sure all my dirty clothes are in the hamper to do laundry", etx etx.
posted by BZArcher at 10:58 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I assume "lazy" is a precondition of the question. In other words you are not going to change habits and become suddently conscientious as many of the above suggestions seem to require.

Maybe you're not that "lazy." Maybe your space has not been optimized. I'd consider rearranging your room.

But first think about how you use your room. Observe yourself in the process of your bedroom activities. Where do you eat in your room and what do you do while eating? Where do you read, study, and do activities? Where do you dress/undress? What is your waking/going to bed ritual?

The idea is to employ some optimization strategies to make your room fit your habits better so keeping things clean requires less effort and movement. Also optimize the "stuff buffers" (trash cans, clothers hampers, etc) in your room to achieve the proper cycle time for good maintenance.

For instance, if you eat and watch TV in a chair. Have a shelf/cabinet next to the chair that can hold a small trash can for waste food and its wrappers (small so that it will fill up quicker and need to be emptied faster) and a wire basket to hold tableware, dishes, and glasses you use. Have a larger trash bin elsewhere that will hold non-smelly trash. That way the smelly trash can be taken out more often independently of the more sanitary trash.

Same would go for clothes hampers. Have a small clothes hamper just for socks, underwear and other items you wash more frequently. Have a larger hamper for things that you wear or wash less frequently. That way you can get your week's supply of daily stuff in one load and wash the less frequent stuff at your less frequent need.

Have a dressing/undressing station. Make it where you dress and undress naturally and make sure everything you use in that ritual is within a step or two. It would be helpful to have a rack to quickly hang once or twice-worn clothes that are still wearable.

Have a coming home station where you can drop keys, hang coat, set down bag, empty pockets, kick off shoes, etc in one spot. Doubles as a going out station.

Reading in bed? Maybe have your bookshelf and magazine rack in arm's reach of your side of the bed instead of a bedside table. Have a tray or basket on one of teh bed-level shelves where you have all the personal items -- glasses, tissue, meds, etc. -- you need while in bed.

You get the idea. Arrange your room so that everything has a proper place as close as possible to where you already habitually drop stuff anyway. Group storage by activity. And arrange for efficient "Stuff buffers" where less sanitary things -- food trash, dirty dishes, smelly laundry -- can be gathered and taken out more often than other stuff.

If you do all this and your room is still a mess, then you're indeed pretty lazy.
posted by cross_impact at 10:04 AM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding "Clean Like a Man."
posted by Eideteker at 11:16 AM on August 17, 2010

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