How to get this place clean?
July 7, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

We're having a party. Our house is a disaster. I feel like I need a professional to help. Fiance disagrees. I don't know what to do.

I would get a maid to do the deep-cleaning but stuff has to be put away first. I don't know where to put it. The bedroom floor is COVERED in clothes, dirty and clean. There is no appropriate storage furniture and we don't really have the time or money to re-do all of that. (The bedroom is tiny and awkward. The closet is tiny and awkward. The furniture was bought by fiance for a previous apartment and hardly holds anything. It's not workable for 2. This frustrates me to no end.)

Fiance and I both get tired quickly. When we finally get down to it, we feel "done" long before any progress is made. I feel like this is where a professional comes in. Ideally, I would like to find someone to help me get the 3 tons of clothing off the floor, laundered and put away in some manner, and then help me figure out what to do with the rest of the stuff. THEN a maid can come in and do the scrubbing, vacuuming, etc.

This has to get done one way or another. Have you used a professional organizer in this way? Is it a good use of extremely limited funds? Would it be better to use that fee to just get some storage stuff?

I'm in Chicago if you happen to have any recommendations.
posted by bleep to Home & Garden (54 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, how about you put all the laundry in garbage bags, and take to a wash-and-fold place? That's going to be less expensive than an organizer. Look for storage stuff on freecycle and craigslist.
posted by cyndigo at 2:57 PM on July 7, 2011

Response by poster: There's way too much stuff for me to do on my own. I've tried several times. It's just too much. I'm not strong enough. Fiance has chronic pain and can't help.
posted by bleep at 2:58 PM on July 7, 2011

One thing you may want to consider, to help deal with the clothing storage situation, is to buy vacuum storage bags and store your seasonal clothes in them when it's not the appropriate season to wear them. This way, your bulky winter coat isn't taking up precious closet space in the summer, for example.

That doesn't solve the more immediate problem; as a temporary fix in time for the party, I'd clean up all of the areas your guests are likely to see -- the kitchen, living room, and washroom -- and hide everything else. When I have parties, in my tiny apartment, I clean as much as I can and then hide the rest in my bedroom. The trick is to remember to actually deal with the mess in the bedroom at some point when you have more time.
posted by asnider at 3:02 PM on July 7, 2011

Unless you're one of those chronic hoarders A&E drools over, your clothes are not too much. This is an activity that is 75% waiting.
posted by spamguy at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

When we didn't have a washing machine we eventually hired a guy to do our laundry. He would come to the house, pick up our bags of dirty laundry and return them a couple days later clean and folded. Most "fold and dry" places will do pick up.

We had him come once a week, sometimes once every 2 weeks. It was more expensive than doing it ourselves but was a good trade of for time vs money. It allowed us to do other things with that time to get ahead of things.

Get a few cloth laundry bags, put in stuff (clean or not) that you want to keep and have them do the work for you. They should be able to bring it from your doorway.

Get some garbage bags for stuff that you don't want to keep and bring that to a thrift shop (or have them come to you)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

at a wash and fold place, you can pay them to wash and fold. you load trash bags into the car (slowly, one at a time, over days if you have to), drive up, tell them you have a delivery and get them to carry it inside. then when it all comes back, have storage solutions already in place so they come from the wash&fold and directly into drawers.

something like this is cheap and light. for our house i went with closetmaid stuff (heavier, less cheap, but more durable and bedroom looking).
posted by nadawi at 3:05 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Sorry, missed the first paragraph about lack of storage. I empathise with that completely. If you have too much clothing for you to wash and store, could you consider donating enough to bring your possessions down to a manageable level?
posted by spamguy at 3:07 PM on July 7, 2011

If you have the room for the storage stuff (new or used stackable bins, boxes, soft hanging "shelves" etc) that will be way cheaper than professional organizers.

We used to go to a wash and fold place in Wicker Park--they held on to our clothes until we had time to picke them up (sometimes a few days). Even if you had someone else help you get the clothes to such a place, you could temporarily "park" your laundry there until after the party.
posted by marimeko at 3:10 PM on July 7, 2011

Response by poster: This is all making me think I need a pro. Even if I get someone to haul everything up and down 3 flights of stairs and bring it back perfect (I do this every few weeks but it wipes me out. I have stuff still in bags that I washed months ago), I still have no idea what to do with it, what to buy, where to put that, etc.
posted by bleep at 3:14 PM on July 7, 2011

Keep an eye on craigslist or join freecycle and find free/cheap furniture there. It probably won't be the perfect thing, but if money is an object then something is better than nothing.
posted by brainmouse at 3:14 PM on July 7, 2011

Even if you hire someone to pick up and launder your clothes he/she will still need somewhere to put them. If your finances are so limited that its a choice between hiring someone and buying storage - buy storage.

When is the party? Do you have your own washing machine? I feel like you're missing out some critical information - you say you're not strong enough? A single load of laundry doesn't weigh much at all. Are you really too weak to carry 1 load - or are you trying to carry it all at once? Handle it one load at a time. If you're considering hiring someone, I'm assuming that the party is at least a week away, if you each do 1 load of laundry per day, that should get it done (if your bedroom is tiny there can't be that much to do - it just looks like it)

Its easy to get overwhelmed by mess, especially if you lack storage but you just have to take it 1 item at a time. Every time you enter a room pick one thing that's out of place and put it away.
posted by missmagenta at 3:17 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the absolute first thing I would do is have all the clothes carted off to a wash-n-fold. Then, when it all comes back clean, you need to get rid of most of it because you have too many clothes. There are professionals who can help, though sometimes a friend is easier.

You may need some furniture for storing what remains, but you have a literally unmanageable amount of clothes. Start there.

(And if your fiance can't help, he also can't vote on who does. Get a pro if you choose.)
posted by Lyn Never at 3:18 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is there a friend who would be willing to work on this with you? It's not just that chores go quicker with 2 hands, it's also that it's less tedious with someone to talk to, and bringing a less defeated person into the mix ideally will help keep you going when you don't wan to and focused on the stated goal.
posted by Ys at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm talking about 100+ pounds of laundry. We don't have a machine. I haul it up and down the stairs by myself.
posted by bleep at 3:20 PM on July 7, 2011

OK, then you don't need to do more laundry, you need to find a dumpster. Throw out 3/4 of your clothes. Seriously. Keep maybe 10 outfits made of easily re-combinable separates, 2 weeks worth of socks & underwear. The rest is trash (or donation, depending on the quality). Do laundry weekly. This will solve the laundry problem and the storage problem in one go.
posted by brainmouse at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2011 [43 favorites]

So you've got about 10-15 loads of laundry - how long until the party?
posted by missmagenta at 3:22 PM on July 7, 2011

I'm talking about 100+ pounds of laundry. We don't have a machine. I haul it up and down the stairs by myself.

I'm assuming that there is a shared laundry machine in the building, right? Or are you taking it up and down the stairs to get it to the car and then the laundromat?

If there is a machine in the building, take one load at a time, not all of it.

That said: how did you end up with 100+ pounds of laundry? That's a LOT of laundry. I think the long-term solution would be to: a) get rid of some of your clothes, and b) do laundry much more frequently.
posted by asnider at 3:23 PM on July 7, 2011

Can you defuse the situation a little, and give you and your fiance time to come up with some tactics together by removing the pressure of the party? Do you really need to host this party (a) at all, (b) soon, (c) in your house? Family and friends are typically understanding folks, and you sound pretty stressed and exhausted.
posted by mauvest at 3:24 PM on July 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

Also agree with others that you have way too many clothes.
posted by missmagenta at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2011

Seriously. Do not agonize.


1. Throw it all in trash bags. Put on some fun music and just start throwing shit in trash bags. It'll take you all of like, 30 minutes.

2. CALL THE WASH AND FOLD. They will come up the stairs. They will take the trash bags out of your house and down the stairs.

3. They will call you and haul the bags back up your stairs. They'll return the clothes in new bags, and they will be clean and folded into little squares. Still warm if you're lucky.

4. Put the bags in your room and shut the door. Guests will not go in your room if the door is shut.


6. Post-party. Buy some cheap/plastic storage and put your folded clothes all up in it. Do laundry more often, and throw some stuff out if you feel you have too much*.

*I can't judge. I'm a girl who can't say no. To clothes.
posted by functionequalsform at 3:28 PM on July 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I have to agree with the above that you need to solve the party problem, then solve the rest. For the party, clean only that which the guests need to see. Shove crap under the bed and get a dust ruffle for the bed. Shove crap in the closets.

The day after the party, sit down with your fiance and make a plan. For example, each week you will donate 1 bag, wash 1 load, and buy (or put money in an envelope for) 1 storage item. You can't do it all at once, as you know. So, do it in increments. Every week you do your plan, go buy yourself a latte or a beer or whatever you like as a little indulgence.

I understand that your fiance suffers from chronic pain. That makes it even more imperative that you pare things down to a level where he/she can help you out.
posted by cabingirl at 3:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

it really sounds like you've got too many clothes. Clutter is suffocating. I am guilty of keeping more clothes than i need too (coffee mugs multiply, too!) but I always have a box going so that I can take extra stuff to charity.

The bags that are clean - since you haven't opened them in months, are probably good candidates for taking to charity. You haven't worn them, they're obviously extra. From the stuff that needs to be washed, pick out two weeks worth of tops and bottoms including socks and underwear and such, for each of you. take those to fluff & fold. Keep them separate from everything else, don't put them in with any other laundry. Then go about dealing with the rest of the clothes.

Even if you hired an organizer and then housekeeper, you've still got to adjust your relationship with your "stuff"... It took cross-country-moving for me to make some changes, and I'm a lot better than i used to be.

Why do you need to have your party at home? Can't you do it at a banquet hall, restaurant someone else's house? it doesn't solve your problem, but it will at least reduce some of the immediate stress.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 3:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know it's confusing as to why I'm focusing on laundry when nobody is going to be in our bedroom. But I feel like the problem of "shit everywhere" is extending out of the bedroom in rings because if there's no place to put stuff in there, there's no way to clean up the rest of the house. There's no place to put stuff I would like to keep that doesn't have a place in the living room or dining room. So I feel like I can't fix anything until the bedroom is clear. (Yes I also suffer from depression-related thought errors, another reason why I want a pro.)

Also most of the clothes are his t-shirts.
posted by bleep at 3:34 PM on July 7, 2011

For the time being, just focus on getting the stuff bagged and off to a wash & fold place.

Chances are unless you own a boutique or have a family of 20, you can cram the bagged clean clothes into a closet or a room your guests won't see. The bags usually come back from the laundry smaller than they left (due to folding).

Then, after the party, you can slowly unpack the clean laundry into what storage furniture you have (you have, like, a dresser? right? closets? hangers? some shelves somewhere?). The rest can go into cardboard boxes until you can afford more/better storage furniture. If you really do have a lot of clothes, this will be one step towards paring down, because it will become apparent what you're happy to leave in a box for umpteen months.
posted by Sara C. at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your help though guys. I really needed some input.
posted by bleep at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2011

Best answer: I absolutely understand why you're focusing on the clothing, and in a way, it's probably the best place to start. The clothes on the floor are one item that you have to make one decision about (launder). The other rooms probably have a variety of items, each one needing its own solution (toss, file, return, etc). Here is what I would do if I were you. Go on Craigslist (or maybe there's a better Chicago-specific forum that someone else will suggest) and hire an hourly cleaning woman, maybe one that advertises having a car. (Where I live, at least, cleaning women will advertise that so you know they can get to wherever you are.) Let her know you'll want her to drop clothes off XYZ Wash and Fold. When she comes over, hand her a bag of garbage bags and direct her in putting the clothes in them. It's really that simple. Since the clothes don't likely need to be sorted, this task will take all of ten minutes plus another 20 minutes, maybe, for her to get everything in her car.

The cleaning woman should then do a deep-clean of the bathroom (you know your party guests will have to go there!) and the kitchen. Once those rooms are clean it's going to be a whole lot easier to tackle the living room—you can do that the next day, or later in the week.

It's going to take a single morning of working with the cleaning woman and you are going to feel SO SATISFIED when you are done. I promise.
posted by kate blank at 3:42 PM on July 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

Since your fiance thinks you don't need professional help, what are his bright ideas for doing it yourselves?
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:44 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with the wash and fold idea and then hiring a maid for the party. Also....once you spend a little money to help you get things under control, things won't be so overwhelming. Having a plan is the first step, you are halfway there. Implementing that plan is all it takes!! Do the above to get ready for the party (a party is ALWAYS my motivation to clean) and then afterwards, take 3 steps a day to keep things organized and manageable. Break it into small steps and you can tackle this. Enjoy your can do this!!
posted by pearlybob at 3:47 PM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If most of the clothes are his t-shirts, and they are more than the two of you combined can care for, then you can throw most of them away. NOBODY NEEDS 100 POUNDS OF T-SHIRTS. Tell him he gets to keep his 20 favorite.
posted by hermitosis at 3:48 PM on July 7, 2011 [22 favorites]

In the long term, to get your clothes organized, you need effective storage. My little family's piles-of-clothes problem improved IMMENSELY when we installed floor-to-ceiling wire shelving on one wall of the bedroom. It's not gorgeous, but it keeps things organized and the floor clearish. This probably isn't something you can expect to have done before your party, but it can be a very attainable medium-term goal. If you rent, you probably don't want to screw a shelf system into the wall, but look for used dressers or bookshelves on freecycle/craigslist and you will find something that works.
posted by thirteenkiller at 3:51 PM on July 7, 2011

Outside of the immediate need for clean which others have addressed really well, I'd like to suggest a longer term idea.

I'm quoting myself here, but:

I'm going to recommend Flylady. The concept is good: they give you simple tasks that you can do every day to keep things from getting chaotic. The packaging is a little ... silly, and sometimes it gets a little more religion-focused than I like. That said, it basically uses modified CBT to get you to work on getting your life organized in "babysteps."
posted by sciencegeek at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ok, I'm going to be blunt here. You obviously want to hire a pro, and it sounds like you are so overwhelmed that you really could use one. What you are looking for is permission. I give you permission to hire as much help as you can scrounge up the money for.

Your fiance needs to suck it up. Just because he "can't" help doesn't mean he gets to designate you as his T-shirt-picking-up slave.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:08 PM on July 7, 2011 [35 favorites]

The great thing about having only 20 of your favorite t-shirts are many

1) You get to wear one of your favorite t-shirts every day!
2) You run out of t-shirts every 20 days.
3) This forces you to do laundry at least once every week.
4) This solves the you-live-in-a-storage-unit problem.

While I think hiring a cleaning pro might be a good idea to prep for the party, throwing out shit you don't have room for and are unable to keep tidy is a good first step.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:15 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

My plan of attack would be:

Have the clothes wash and folded (the place I use picks up and delivers) and they'll be much more manageable and store-able folded.

If you have suitcases their a great place to stash off season cloths otherwise just get leave them in bags in the closet or under the bed till after the party. The party is deadline you have to meet. YOu won't be able to re-organize your stuff before it but you can get your apartment looking presentable then tackle organization after in small increments.

If you finance can't physically help he can sort some stuff he doesn't want and it can be tossed - 100 pounds of t-shirts is more than anyone needs by a huge margin. If you do laundry regularly (or send it out) then you can have many less clothes. Throw out anything that hasn't been worn in the last year if its been laying in a heap unworn its not going to be missed.

Hire someone to help you clean the rest of the place so that it looks ok for the party and don't worry there is nothing wrong with outsourcing and asking for help. You'll get through this and feel better for doing so.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:18 PM on July 7, 2011

I agree with Serene Empress Dork. If you feel like you are overwhelmed and want someone to give you some direction about how to start, it absolutely sounds like it would be well worth hiring someone to help. A professional organizer might be just the ticket. They can help sort through the what to keep, what to pitch dilemma, come up with a strategy about how to tackle cleaning and organizing with recommendations for storage, and can also help come up with a plan to help keep things tidy once it is organized. You can set a cost limit for their consultation too (e.g., maybe they just look it over and give you suggestions vs. spending a longer time working with you to clear it all out), if you are concerned about finances. Here is a listing of professional organizers near you. An old neighbor of ours was an organizer who belonged to this organization in another state. She was wonderful and said she loved her job because she "got to touch peoples' lives by helping them feel comfortable in their own homes." Not a bad thing to do, and not a bad service to be able to take advantage of.
posted by goggie at 4:28 PM on July 7, 2011

I give you permission to hire a pro. Your fiance can either create a realistic DIY plan wherein he does substantial portions of the work, or he can get on board with hiring a pro.

Regarding the T-shirts, I have fought that battle. Here are some partial solutions to try.

*Take the most sentimental/important T-shirts and make a quilt (or have one made -- you can hire this done easily, locally or by mail order). If you hire it out, you can do it as a holiday gift to justify spending money on it. I did this with my husband's 25ish favorites.

*Get rid of his 20 LEAST favorite. Sometimes picking 20 favorites is paralyzing, so start from the bottom and jettison the 20 least favorite. Then the next 20 least favorite. Etc. No matter how you do it, going through T-shirts he (apparently) has a sentimental attachment (or a frugality issue about) is going to be emotionally tiring and take several days and you will probably have to hold his hand through it.

*Remind him that it's not truly frugal to hold on to them when you can't enjoy your things, can't find things, end up buying doubles of things because you can't find them, etc., because you own too much stuff. It's a false frugality when it renders things useless. Also, donating them ensures others have enough to wear. Also, overstuffing drawers and other storage is bad for your clothes and wears them out faster. (I pointed out how many of his shirts were getting old and worn-looking without ever getting WORN, just from being smashed in drawers and rubbed against drawers and so on.)

*Our current "final solution" is that he gets to have around 20 T-shirts "active" in his drawers. Then we have an old rolly suitcase with a broken wheel. THAT gets filled with extra T-shirts (and some off-season clothes). The point isn't how big the space is or what exactly is stored in it, just that it's a limited, agreed-upon space. When T-shirts overflow that space, he gets rid of them, period. He wears the 20 active shirts with the goal of actually wearing out one or two a season, then replacing those from the suitcase shirts. When we swap winter and summer clothes twice a year, he sorts through and jettisons a few T-shirts. (And other things.) Often this practically means *I* sort through his stuff for donating/throwing away and leave him a pile on the bed to approve, but that works too.

In the larger picture, your fiance needs to get on board with being a twosome, and that that means his crap can't overwhelm your shared space, and that his furniture, if it's unsuitable for two, has to be replaced, and that if he can't keep up with the cleaning and you can't manage it because of HIS stuff, he needs to deal with his stuff or let you hire a pro. Etc.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:31 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

1 - Get a reasonably sized dresser for each of you. Buy these at a thrift store or garage sale.

2 - Fill both dressers with a versatile selection of your best clothing -- dirty or clean doesn't matter.

3 - Throw out all the clothes that don't fit in the dressers.

4 - Wash all the clothes in the dressers.
posted by jon1270 at 4:32 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm going to recommend Flylady

I'm nthing this. You're looking at Crisis that on the flylady site. she'll tell you exactly what to do.

And when you sort clothes to keep and clothes to throw away, I give you one-time permission to actually throw away perfectly good clothes, rather than giving them away or taking them to a thrift store. You'll never get around to it and they'll be in the way in the meantime.

If you only keep up with flylady by like, 25% after your party, you won't need to crisis clean ever again.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:43 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Regarding t-shirts: if you don't know this folding method, watch this. It doesn't take long to learn, and once I started doing it, t-shirt folding became rather fun, very quick, and the result is neat and compact.
posted by alexei at 4:59 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

You can handle this. You seem aware that you're not thinking entirely rationally about this, but you need a cold, hard look at what you're actually up against (for example, it's physically impossible for your tiny floor to be covered in tons of clothes), and you need a system, not a pro.

Go to the store. Buy a plastic basket. Go home. Fill the basket with clothes. Put them in the washing machine. Put them in the dryer. Fold them and put them away. If 'putting away' means 'put in trash bags under the bed', then so be it. Three flights of stairs is not a lot, and a basket of clothes is not heavy, even if you have to do this ten times. Otherwise, load all the clothes into trash bags and take them to a dry cleaner. Leave the basket at the foot of the bed. When you take off your clothes, put them in the basket. Schedule two laundry days a week, more if the basket fills earlier.

While you're at the store, buy some plastic buckets (or more baskets), one for each room. Write the name of each room on the bucket. Now pick a room - start at the back of the house. Walk through all the other rooms in the house and put everything that belongs in the first room in the bucket. Put the full bucket in the room and start again with the next room / bucket. If there are two of you, then one of you is on 'clutter bucket' duty, and the other one is responsible for entering a room with a full bucket and either finding a place for something or throwing it away. (Later, you can spend five minutes each night going from room to room and putting everything back in the room it's supposed to be in.) Now everything is in the room it's supposed to be in. It has a place, or it's gone. You are now 95% of the way there, because everything else is sweeping/vacuuming and dusting/wiping. At any stage, you raen't faced with an overwhelming task, or even with cleaning a single room. You're just walking through your house putting stuff in a bucket.

Too much to handle before the party? Throw everything into the the bedroom, close the door and forget about it for a night. There's nothing wrong with that. You're just choosing to solve one problem at a time - party, then getting your house in order.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:14 PM on July 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Rather than a professional organiser, put up an ad asking for someone to help with with organising, and light cleaning, and ended up hiring a student who comes for 2 hours a week. Try a few, and go with the one who take charge.
This was much cheaper than a professional organiser, but you still have that option down the line.

I went through my clothes with one student, and I'd had trouble throwing stuff out before, but the knowledge that I was now paying someone x dollars per hour to have them watch me dither, helped a lot!

Also - that's some massive guilt trip you're under. He can't and won't help clean or get rid of his stuff, but he doesn't want you to hire someone else? Yes, people often have issues about 'hiring' someone, but forcing you to do it, is not fair.

Once you have it down to a manageable level, it'll be a lot easier to clean.

Also, I'd suggest a student or cleaner to get the junk down, and then you still have the option of hiring an organiser to look at the way you use your space.

Final tip, find all the clothes that are clean and/or in the backs of drawers, and throw them in a bag or box marked 'unused'. Everything on the floor, or stuff that has been recently washed, is being obviously being used (except for the things tried on and discarded) - everything still in the drawers, is not. Swap them out!
I've done this myself, when I realised I hadn't opened my drawers in months, and was living out of a pile of 'clean washing'. It actually makes it a little easier when you get to this level of disorganisation, to see what you have been using, and what you haven't.

Good luck!
posted by Elysum at 6:30 PM on July 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sorry for the confusing first paragraph, I have a bad cold - I was suggesting what I have, and am doing. Ie *I* ended up hiring a student who comes for 2 hours a week. You can hire anyone.
posted by Elysum at 6:32 PM on July 7, 2011

Storage is a major problem in my house. There is literally no place to put clothes. This is aggravated by my hating laundry, so I buy enough clothes that I can go 3 weeks between loads. The clothes end up on the floor because I am messy, and my child is messy & my SO, when he is around, makes it even worse. But also they end up on the floor because there is literally no place to put the clothes when they are clean, so we stack them somewhere with the best of intentions of working on the problem, & before you know it, oops! they are on the floor & mixing with the dirties.

This will not get your house spotless, but you may find this a helpful tool for just getting things under control for day to day: I stuck a bin in the bathroom. If I go in the bathroom, and there are clothes on the floor, I shovel them into the bin. I do not worry if they are dirty or clean, I just want them off the floor so my bathroom doesn't look out of control. I remind the offending party. I have this pipe dream that one day out of 7 they will actually remember that clothes go in the bin. I also put a bin in the living room. 2, in fact. One is right next to the door. All stray shoes get pitched there on sight. Any clothes go in the other. Again, I don't care if they are dirty or clean. I just want them UP. And I want other people to know that's where their clothes should go, too, in the hopes that someday they will get with the program. And last, there is a VERY large bin in the bedroom, by the bed where ergonomics say "you can't miss." And any clothes cluttering up the bedroom floor get pitched in there. Plus a hamper for clothes that are, in fact dirty. Reminders to everyone anytime I bend down & scoop. (They probably hate that, but I'm hoping brainwashing will take hold.)

It's not that cute to see a massive, overflowing basket of clothes in every room. On the other hand, it has brought sanity to the living situation. And I know that I can deal with a bin, whereas a house with clothing on every flat surface is just soul-sucking.

By all means, look invest in a cleaning service, pull in a friend to cheer you on & lighten the load, or invest in the laundry-boy for the short term blitz. But also think of this as a long-term problem & try to find ways to tame the clutter. Donations/dumpsters, storage for seasonally inappropriate things, and a system for transitioning things from "all over" to laundry basket would really make you feel happier about your house in the long term.
posted by Ys at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The furniture was bought by fiance for a previous apartment and hardly holds anything. It's not workable for 2. This frustrates me to no end.

Can you tell him this? "Look, this furniture isn't big enough to hold both of our clothes?" If you can, then you should totally get new furniture. You can find dressers for $50 on Craigslist, and if you sell your old one in the same way, you might actually break even.

If you've told him this and he won't listen, well, that's the real problem, not your furniture.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:06 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Back in college, I lived in an apartment with no machines in the building. Every time I had to do laundry, I had to haul it a block and a half away to the laundromat. Seems simple enough, but with classes and homework and winter, I never made enough time to go and do it on any regular schedule. I had enough clothes that I could not do laundry for an entire month and still not have to re-wear anything or go commando, so I only went down to the laundromat once a month.

I easily had 50 lbs of laundry each time, so I understand how you guys could have 100+. The good part was that I could go and do a month's laundry in roughly the same amount of time as a week's worth of laundry, since I could fill as many machines as I wanted. The bad part was living with a ton of dirty clothes. Also, my apartment was on the 3rd floor, and let me tell you, hauling the laundry around was a bitch and a half.

It was just way too ridiculous. I ended up calling the Salvation Army to do a pickup and majorly downsizing my clothes using the tips others have mentioned above (still have too many that I don't wear, but at least I'm not in denial). I also forced myself to get into the habit of doing laundry at least once a week. My life is better for it.

And if you have enough money to spring for a professional organizer, for the love of god get a better storage solution for your stuff.
posted by phunniemee at 8:12 PM on July 7, 2011

Outside of the party issue, focusing on the clothes:

It's not nearly as pretty as furniture, but the wife and I use those big Rubbermaid containers for clothes. They go for about 10 bucks a pop at Target if you can find them on sale (and don't mind terrible colors, we had black and orange at one point as we were buying after Halloween) and hold an ungodly amount depending on the size you get (at one point, I had one big enough to hold every stitch of clothing I owned and when I needed to move, I popped the lid on and lugged it to one of those pack and ship places, they boxed it up and shipped it to me, wardrobe moved!). My usual breakdown is underwear/socks/undershirts, t-shirts and tops, jeans/pants that don't need to hang like shorts and stuff, gym clothes.

An easy way to do it with whatever storage thing you decide on would be do it in stages. As you get clothes cleaned, just put the newly-clean clothes in said storage unit and draw from the stored, clean clothes first. Slowly, but surely, everything will get put away and you'll see signs of progress without it being a monumental task.

Or, and maybe this will help, everything that gets worn regularly will be put away, so you know what you don't actually wear. A lot of people (myself included) like to save clothes because they just know they'll need them when they get thrown away. So maybe you set a reasonable time limit like 2 weeks or a month and anything that hasn't made it into the clothing rotation enough to make it into your storage system goes to your charity of choice.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:10 PM on July 7, 2011

Your fiance may be a hoarder. If you throw away his precious t-shirts, then I bet he will always resent you for that.

If I were you, my first step would be to see how he envisions all this happening. Does he see the clothing on the floor as a problem? Does he think he has too many clothes?

My Dad is a bit of a hoarder, and has been kept in check from going overboard by being with my mother. I visited them in May after they just moved from one house to another. They needed to still move the stuff in the garage- ground zero for his stash. I went through it with him. Did he actually use this item in the past eight years? Could it be donated so someone else could enjoy it? Did it have great sentimental value?

It was hard for him. He even told my mom that I was mean (and this isn't how my family views me).

So I think your fiance will resist, resist, resist. It isn't a problem for him how it is now- except there is this upcoming party. Oh, I bet he'll agree that it would be nice to be cleaner, but I don't think he (or you?) can visualize how that will happen. I bet he doesn't want some stranger to come into his home and paw through his stuff.

What is your goal? Is it getting ready for this party? Or do you want to tackle it all at once? You'll burn yourselves out if you try to do it all at one time.

If you just want to get ready for the party, I would take a survey of your place. What needs to be put away (somewhere, anywhere for now)? What needs to be cleaned?

Let's say, for example, you have a hundred books and magazines strewn around your living room. There is random trash here and there. There is some discarded clothing and some knitting supplies for your current project (that you haven't worked on for two months).

I would get a timer (a la Flylady) and set it for fifteen minutes. There may be one on your microwave, or you could use your phone, or there are internet timers. Don't spend too much time thinking about the timer.

Set the timer, and do stuff only in one area for fifteen minutes. Stop when the timer stops. If fifteen minutes is too much, do ten or five. Perhaps your fiance will help you for five, ten or fifteen minutes.

If your living room is like I described, perhaps you could start by picking up all the trash. Then pick up the clothes and shove them under the bed. Maybe put your knitting project in a grocery bag and stuff it under the couch for now. All the books and magazines won't fit under the couch, so stack them up in a few piles lined along the wall (or your furniture, perhaps).

If you want help, which is great, then you should sell it a bit more to your fiance. Let him set some ground rules. Perhaps no one can throw away his shirts. No one can touch his dusty Star Wars collection- he wants to clean that himself. Whatever it is, just concede to it. Then he won't have any concrete objection other than, "I don't wanna!" Then have someone come in and clean all the stuff you don't have the energy to do.

After the party, I would also recommend flylady. She will help you with the CHAOS- Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.
posted by Monday at 11:12 PM on July 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a friend who is so good at de-cluttering and her help has been invaluable in helping me get organized and moving in the right direction. do you have any friends like this who would be willing to help? I take my friend to dinner and stuff as a thank you. She loves doing it and I love having the help.

Good luck. It's hard to not get overwhelmed. :)
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:08 AM on July 8, 2011

If you have furniture that you don't want or that doesn't work for the space, get rid of it via Craigslist or Freecycle with a "You Remove" clause. Then, it's their job to get it disassembled and out of your place without help from either of you.
posted by bookdragoness at 8:38 AM on July 8, 2011

Your husband may be a "T-shirts as souvenirs" type guy, as I am. You've heard the phrase, "been there, done that, got the T-shirt?" Well, I literally do get the T-shirt, more often than not. Which leads to me having way too many T-shirts, including some which I know I'll never wear again (shrunk too much, split at a seam, has stains no amount of laundering will get out, in a style I don't like any more, etc.). But hey, they're not just clothes, they're also reminders of where I've been and what I've done!

What's helped me with those is to take pictures of the T-shirts, then I find it tolerable to get rid of them, because I can still refer to the pictures for the memories. (Turns out I basically never do, but the idea that I could is what's important.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:55 AM on July 8, 2011

Response by poster: He's not a hoarder, really. We're just lazy, tired, and in pain a lot and can't seem to get it done.

If I were you, my first step would be to see how he envisions all this happening. Does he see the clothing on the floor as a problem? Does he think he has too many clothes?

His mentality is that it's something you have to power through. Even if that has never worked? Yes. It has to work, because we're poor. "I'll surprise you."

My mentality is that it doesn't make sense to do something that's proven not to work, money is on the horizon and that's what money is for.
posted by bleep at 11:25 AM on July 8, 2011

Best answer: There are so many issues at play here, and I've thought about this and thought about this. This strikes close to home for me, and I sincerely want to be helpful for you. I understand the "lazy, tired and in pain" part because that's my parents' issue, and it's why their bedroom is furniture covered in mounds of clothing in between my visits. They don't do laundry more than once a month when their cleaning lady comes over, and so they have a lot of clothes to last them.

It's not that their drawers don't hold things, though they tend to use them only for socks and underwear; but they also need to see their clothing to remember what they have and want - in a drawer it's out of sight and out of mind. My mom bought bins to store her shoes under the bed - the last time I pulled them out, they were coated in dust because once the shoes were in, she forgot about them; they were too heavy to pull out; the shoes were dusty and she couldn't clean them then wear them because that was too much work; and so she'd bought nearly identical shoes that were all back in the usual pile by the door. She only really wears the shoes that are on the mat by the door. So, I realized she needed a shoe cubby for that spot. But, for the ones she wants to keep anyway, it turns out she needs hanging shoe bags instead. Even so, they can't hang things like their clothes themselves to put laundry away, because they don't have the physical strength to raise their arms repeatedly or to push the hanging clothing aside to fit another thing in. So that's what I do for them (they're not particularly elderly - just infirm). But, once it's hung, they can get out what they want to wear and the cycle starts again. As they age, their mobility is all about "use it or lose it", and they are losing it daily.

What I'm saying is that for them, I don't follow standard organizing procedures any more - I look at what they will do, based on what they already do, and try to improve it based on that rather than trying to teach them new systems. They need to see things, they have no energy and limited mobility, and they over-consume. So, their storage needs to be visible, handy, accessible and they need direction and help to manage it all. They are NOT going to benefit from a fancy closet system or dressers with larger drawers and they are not going to stop shopping the way they do. So I don't fight it.

My folks also buy clothing that doesn't fit because my dad doesn't have the energy to try it on in stores; or because my mom orders her clothing from catalogs because she can't run around. Then, it's too much work to return it, so it stays. What does fit, she orders more in fear that she won't get it again, or so she has it in every colour. Then, there's no room to store it all. Or, it's still there because she liked it and spent money on it so she can't imagine letting it go. I would bet that there's a lot of your clothing that isn't currently a good fit, or that is for "someday", or that you like but don't really wear in those piles. My mom has a lot of stuff piled that isn't dirty - but that isn't "clean" to her mind because she put it on only to find out it didn't fit or feel right. I have to encourage my folks to "live in the now", and to at least bag or bin up clothing that's not currently being worn, and if they don't reach for a particular item by my next visit, it all goes to charity unopened. If you can get your mind around that, then get someone to do the physical sorting with you, then you might cut your clothing storage issue by a large percentage.

You may need to build up some stamina, some momentum by simply getting started. That's why the FlyLady 15 minute thing works. Energy begets energy, and you begin to see progress. Getting started is the hardest part. Having a friend to do the moving around for you while you make the decisions may be key here. When I visit my folks, maybe every other month, and we deal with their clothing storage (their biggest issue in a seniors' apartment complex apartment), my mom sits on the bed and I lift each item for her to see and ask her for a decision. Then it either gets hung or bagged (and I try to help with the wash). In your case, your friend would have a "wash" (to go to wash and fold) and a "donate" bag, and only what's clean and ready to wear would need to be folded/hung or put away. So, before you deal with the floor, the closets and drawers might need a going through, but that can be as quick as "leave" and "donate". My parents bought an extra wardrobe because the closets were full of clothing they couldn't move out to get rid of. It's churning, to keep moving things around without seeing the decision all the way through. Out of season stuff can be put in a vacuum bag under the bed, if possible. Try to do everything as completely as you can, if it can be done in a minute or less. (If you send or post a picture of your closet and furniture, I'd be glad to make storage suggestions).

FlyLady can be overwhelming, but a few of their ideas really work and I do use them myself, even if I can't deal with the daily emails and such things. But also:

I would say don't spend money on storage stuff - cut down on possessions that need to be stored if at all possible first. Get yourself into the state of mind that you want the space, the freedom from dealing with them - and that you don't want to feel lazy but that you want to be free from obligations to deal with clutter. Really look at your stuff, and imagine the weight and burden of it until you are good and sick of it, and want to keep only what you find beautiful or truly sentimental and that you will actually use. Try to move past the anxiety of letting things go, understanding that it will heal and that the potential of not being overwhelmed by mess is just as valuable.

If you have a friend who will come over and do the moving around bits, then spend money on just a few organizing things and refreshments and make it fun with music. If it makes you feel good to start with the clothing, I bet that can be dealt with as far as getting it sorted in a few hours. For the record, I am a HUGE fan of the IKEA SKUBB laundry hampers. They don't take up much room; they can be covered between loads so you don't see the mess; and carried when their done easily enough; and having two (with two compartments each) means you can sort your laundry as you put it in the bin (our house: whites, blacks, colours, towels/household stuff) and again when it's full of clean clothes (his, mine, hers, household). Dirty laundry never needs to hit the floor, and clean laundry is in one place until it goes away. Putting it all away means you have room for the dirty stuff again!

For the rest of the house, look at it through your hands, as if they're a director's frame, and in each frame pick the top three things that would make the biggest difference, and do them to completion. Then take a break, and try again. For example, right now, if I look down the hall to the bathroom, I'd put down a fresh rug (dirty rug goes in hamper - not just flung aside!); hang the towels properly; and get the toothpaste tube off the edge of the sink - and it would immediately look 10X better. Then, it needs the mirror cleaned and the toilet wiped (wipes kept handy in a bin right there) and for me to consolidate and pitch the old shampoo bottles hanging around in the tub rack that are each 1/4 full (I did the walls and floor the day before yesterday, and they only need a swiffer at most - but that might be tomorrow's first thing). But you can do this in any room, just sitting there and getting your mind around the first three things, then the next three, and so on until there's little left to do. Each thing will make a difference, and will hopefully spur you on. If one room is overwhelming, do another for a bit. Do this twenty minutes before bed every night, and you'll wake up in a better headspace.

So, if looking around your living room, say, you have plates that need to go to the kitchen and clothes that need to go in other rooms and newspapers or magazines that need to be stacked... those could be your first steps, with breaks in between, and so on. In fact, if you want, memail me a picture of the rooms you'll use for the party and I'll be glad to help formulate a plan based on a guest's first impression. Organizing is fun for me, and if I lived nearby, I'd offer to help in person.

You don't have to power through - but if you can manage a succession of short bursts of activity, it can be done.

And even if you don't want more of my help, I hope you have a great party. In fact, that's how I spur myself on to clean the things I tend to let go too long - by inviting people over. Nothing will make me deal with my "angora" stairs faster than remembering that they're the first thing people see when they enter our home. Take care!
posted by peagood at 12:53 PM on July 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: He's not a hoarder, really.

If this is true, it's good news for you because it should be do-able to get him to part with all but 20 of his favorite T-shirts. That's more than enough for anyone.

I agree with you that this is a problem worth throwing money at, if you can afford to, and that it doesn't make sense to keep trying what hasn't worked in the past. I hired a professional organizer for three sessions this past spring and found it to be well worth the money. I thought my problem was a matter of disorganization, but having an impartial person helped me to see the obvious: there was way too much stuff in this apartment! Even if we were meticulously organized, there was much more stuff than we ever used or needed. Also having her there helped me part with clothing and household items that, by myself, I may have leaned toward keeping. By the end of the process, I really got into the idea of parting with things, and I still like to walk around the place and try to pick out things to get rid of (I quite literally have made over a dozen trips to Goodwill to donate all manner of things).

Her first piece of advice was to halt the flow of stuff into the house (I'm a shopper, while my husband brings things home from his weekly business trips). The second biggest thing was to purge as many things as we could. We systematically went through all my clothes and got rid of anything that didn't fit, was torn, stained, out of style, or worn out looking, and things I had duplicates of (30-40 cardigans I guess was overkill).

She discouraged me from buying more bins and containers, and instead helped me to get the most use of my existing cabinets, closets, and containers (though we did get rid of lots of containers that didn't serve a purpose). Turns out much of my existing storage space was jam packed with things I never used and didn't need. Once I cleared that out, wow, I had space to actual store my towels, my kitchen appliances, the clothing I actual wanted and wore. I did end up buying a few plastic storage bins, but only clear ones, on her recommendation, and with an express purpose in mind. Plus, I bought a label-maker and now obsessively label everything.

I think you should consider your budget and call up a few organizers, maybe find someone who does cleaning and organizing. If you have a very small budget, the advice to hire a student or other non-professional is a good way to go.

It's a very tough task to tackle a place that has become overwhelmed by clutter, especially when it's not just yours but you are the one trying to solve the problem. Best of luck to you; I think this thread has lots of great advice and encouragement for you. It's not an insurmountable problem.
posted by JenMarie at 12:58 PM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I feel that hiring a cleaning lady, while it will help you for the party, is just putting on a bandaid. Do it. Definitely do it to start with, but what you need after is a system to help you clear our your house and to keep more clutter from gathering otherwise you will just find yourself here again. I've helped my parents (who have a big house) clean up their house and most of it is simply getting rid of excess stuff rather than buying storage.

After the party passes, hang up as many clothes as you can, turning the hangers so that the hook points towards you. When you fold up the t-shirts, put them in drawers or in neat piles upside down. For each other article of clothing that can't be hung or folded in a specific way, place them in temporary bins/bags. After everything is put away, start using your clothing. After you've used it, put it away differently. Clothes that are hung up are hung up with the hook pointing in, shirts are folded and placed face up, socks are put in the dressers, etc. If you haven't used an item by the end of the season or year, donate it or cut it up for cleaning purposes. If it's a party dress or special winter coat or something that you can conceivably use again but are rarely to use once a year, hold onto it two years, but really, if you haven't used it in two years, then you probably aren't going to use it. Obviously skis and other things are exceptions, but not tshirts, heels, etc. During this year, you are not allowed to purchase any new items.

Once you've gotten rid of all the clothes you don't use, see how much room you have. You might be surprised to find that you have a lot of room. If not, then pare it down more by the suggestions mentioned above (seasonal clothes in storage, donating your least favorites, finding creative storage solutions etc). Once you've found a comfortable amount that fits in your living space, only purchase a new article of clothing if you can get rid of an old article of clothing. I find that donating really helps ease the pain of giving away things, especially if you are giving to the needy.

In your kitchen, place a sticker on all your appliances. After you use the appliance, take off the sticker. If the appliance still has a sticker on it at the end of the year, donate it. Alton Brown and other kitchen wizards suggest never buying a kitchen appliance that only has a single use. Is there anything in your kitchen that only has a single use? Donate it unless you use it a lot. For example, I use my garlic peeler at least once a week, but that tray that keeps hard boiled eggs in place and keeps them cold? I can just use a dinner plate chilled in the fridge for that.

Organize your pantry and fridge and mark the expiration dates on items so that it's easy to reduce them when necessary.

The other thing that trips up my parents was they would buy multiples of the same items since they had so much stuff, they forgot where everything was, especially cleaning supplies. Pick certain parts of your apartment for certain storage spots. All cleaning supplies go under the bathroom cabinet, etc. This will help you better keep track of what you own and will solve the need to buy multiple solutions. Use as much natural cleaning solutions as possible. Here's a great start.

Donate old, impractical furniture and use freecycle or craigslist to get equipment that better suites your needs, but again, try to minimize rather than maximize your equipment.

With fewer items, it will be much easier for you and your spouse to clean your home. I'm sorry that he has chronic pain, but really, doing a bunch of smaller chores every day will save you both a lot of trouble and time later. I've been dirt poor and worked a lot. I know that it's hard to find time to clean up the house when you are exhausted, but I felt so much better after I forced myself to take care of my possessions and live in a cleaner home. It's odd how it works, but doing a little bit of work to maintain a clean house gives you so much more energy overall.

Don't try to do this stuff all at once, it will just overwhelm you, even after the helper has done her magic work. When I tackled my parent's house, I did it one room at a time and in spurts. You can set a timer and clean for 15 minutes. 15 minutes doesn't sound like a lot, but it really adds up. I also found that once I started a project, I was willing to go past the 15 minutes. Starting is the hardest part.
posted by avagoyle at 10:59 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

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