I want to smell better
March 28, 2012 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I have extremely poor hygiene. I smell bad, and I want to change.

Draw a line. Think of normal people in the middle. On the far right, put extremely and cartoonishly OCD people: say, the Glee character Emma Pillsbury. I am on the far left, but I want to be in the middle.

[I am aware that actual OCD is little like the popular perception of it. Ignore this, for argument's sake.]


It has recently come to my attention that I rather frequently smell bad. Actually this has come to my attention in the past. Evidence of my smelliness:

1) Kids sometimes have looser filters than adults. A few months ago, when I was working as a tutor for some kids, one eleven-year-old refused to sit next to me, asking if I had showered. I tried to make a point of showering before meeting with the kids afterwards (but this was in the afternoon, and I was working all morning elsewhere so couldn't shower), and this issue was hinted at briefly a few times afterwards.

2) Recently I had a falling out with a particular person. In the midst of this falling out, this person mentioned that multiple times in the past (three, four, five times in the past ~nine months?) he had had to cover for me with other people regarding my smell. (Saying, "oh, this part of the bar always smells bad," or "he's been lifting things all day," etc.)

3) Yesterday, at work, the person at the desk next to me said she smelled something funny. It was disturbing her to the extent that she had to spray some freshener. In particular, she said that it smelled like "burnt hair," though I have no idea what that smells like. However, I actually could smell myself at that time. I was wearing dirty underwear, with suit pants that are worn frequently without washing (because you're not supposed to dry-clean suits often, and not supposed to wash the pants in the washing machine, perhaps? Though I'm not sure on this last point), and the suit pants are rather tightly cut -- and there was a, shall we say, wetness from sweat. Maybe the sweat of my crotch didn't cause the "burnt hair" smell, but I could smell it, and one generally can't smell oneself (right?).

4) A couple weeks ago, at work, a co-worker commented multiple times (on different days) about all the dandruff on my jacket, even as I myself was brushing it off whenever I could. As I had used up my shampoo, I resisted in my mind buying more for a *very* long time, and this clearly came to a head (so to speak). When I finally just went ahead and bought some anti-dandruff shampoo, this went away in a few days.


It is no secret what's causing this: bad hygiene. It's possible (actually, I think likely) that I sweat more than other people, but I'm sure it's not so much so that it's anything more than a contributing factor. Evidence of my terrible hygiene:

1) I don't shower every day. I have to leave early for work, and don't generally set my alarm for more than 30 minutes before I leave (probably because I need the sleep -- really, maybe I should be asleep right now), and don't always shower. I'd say I shower about 3 times a week. Probably put on roll-on deodorant the same amount.

2) I frequently wear dirty clothes, including underwear. On some level, I think "it doesn't LOOK dirty, so I can keep wearing it." Part of it may be that I simply don't HAVE that many clothes, because I am always low on cash. In addition, I never want to spend the $2.50 to wash and dry clothes. But really, when push comes to shove, I could afford this if I forced myself to afford it. Instead, I'm just far too lazy to do anything about it.


This lack of hygiene isn't just with showering and clothes. I also probably only brush my teeth about 3-4 times a week, and floss maybe once. My back has terrible acne, I think probably because I don't shower enough, don't wash my back well enough when I do shower, and don't wash the sheets often enough. (I think I've washed them about 3 times in nine months.) My car smells weird, though I never leave food in it, and I don't know what causes it. (Someone said it smelled like cinnamon. I wonder if the odd smell was caused by the use of a variety of strange-odored rear-view-mirror trees. Or, maybe, I am personally stinking it up.)

Look, this is all terrible. I know. I need to change. I think this could be actively harming my personal relationships, could harm me at my current job (as it could have at my old tutoring job), and so on. My problem is laziness, to begin with, I know. I've had depression in the past, but I don't feel bad right now, and some of this (certainly, the teeth stuff) predates the depression.

I know I need to change. I know on some level, the answer for me is "Just do it." "Just change." "Shower twice every day and scrub HARD with soap and never EVER wear dirty clothes and wash your sheets every week, etc." "Start thinking of your basic expenses as not just food, rent, and transportation, but food, rent, transportation, and hygiene." But even as I know this -- I'm still here, with this problem.

Do you have any thoughts about my situation? How can I change? Have you ever been like this in the past, and if so, how did you change?

[Also, if you can comment here without making me feel humiliated, that would be great. I am mortified when this issue has come up, and I am mortified now.]
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (67 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Showering twice a day is probably overkill, unless you're working out. Once a day is probably a good start. If you can't find time in the morning, you could always shower before bed every night.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:10 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's okay, I don't think less of you.

Do you, by any chance, have ADD/ADHD? This is pretty common ADD stuff.

Try a few baby steps:

You need a hamper, you can use a laundry bag for this.

Clean underwear EVERY day no matter what. When you wake up in the morning, take old undies off put them in the hamper, put new undies on. This will help a lot with crotch smell. You might need a lot more underwear to accomplish this. I have enough to go a month (!) without doing laundry.

Deodorant EVERY day no matter what. Put it right by the door if you need to, or in your car so you can redo it if you forget.

Get shampoo and toiletries from amazon.com or something else where you don't have to go shopping and it's really easy to buy. Buy a lot at once.

Get some baby wipes and every day wipe your crotch, pits, any other crevices.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:21 AM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

You might try a body wash targeted to help with body acne. I like the Neutorgena ones, particularly the Pink Grapefruit.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:25 AM on March 28, 2012

Adding something less hygiene specific: use the old adage that it takes 21 days to form a 'good' habit. Literally force yourself to shower/deodorize/brush/fresh undies.

Leave yourself postit notes inside your bedroom door, on the bathroom mirror, inside the entry door to your home. Encouraging little things ie in the bathroom how about "flush and brush... you can do it :)" maybe that's a little pat and annoying or maybe its really encouraging but either way its motivating.

As for specifics, fresh unworn clothes everyday and wash your sheets weekly goes a LONG way.

Good luck to you. You can do it.
posted by chasles at 5:38 AM on March 28, 2012

Just try ramping up to it, I went through a phase of this when I was much younger, I didn't really know how to wash clothes and was just basically overwhelmed with life.

So, baby steps! Wipes are awesome, wipes for your face, your hands, your bum. If you can't get yourself to take a shower, focus on wiping yourself down every morning. You'll get to where it feels odd to be dirty. I, for example, don't like the way my hands feel if I haven't washed them recently. Another thing to try is baby powder, or something like it, it soaks up moisture and destinks to some extent. Also, try something besides roll on, I just don;'t think that stuff works very well.

I'm sorry, but you're going to have to buy more underwear, guy's crothches get wet and stank ass, it's bad. Change your underwear every single day. Your suits and stuff can probably go muliple days without washing. Take them off and hang them up, make sure they are getting some air flow, if you have some outside space, hang them outside. This will keep them fresher longer.

One thing that really traps smells is hair, this may be extreme, but if you trim it up good down there, it might help a lot.
posted by stormygrey at 5:41 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lemme tell ya, showering at night is changing my life. I've been coping with a new job that starts one hour earlier than my previous one, and dawdling in the morning was my undoing - I'd put off the morning shower for "just five more minutes" and then I'd get held up when my roommate needed the shower and ack. But then I started showering before bed, and that made such a difference -- I was clean, and I was also all mellow and I got to sleep faster.

Try that.

The bacne thing...some of that may be genetics. (Hi, I'm genetically prone to cysts. Including sebaceous ones. Which means; bacne. There's absolutely nothing I can do to eliminate it entirely. Yay.) But one thing that really helped me keep that under control is something so ridiculously obvious that I just plain overlooked it myself (so don't you feel bad if this didn't occur to you either, is my point) -- If you wash and condition your hair, do that first. THEN wash your back. If you wait to wash and condition your hair last, all that conditioner runs right down your back; and conditioner is oil, so you're oiling up your back, and you don't want that. So if you wash your hair first, then you scrub the oil away when you wash your back and you're all set.

Finally: scrubbing super-hard actually doesn't help with acne much. It's counter-intuitve, but if you scrub it it just makes it redder which makes it stand out more, and that makes it worse.

No one is born innately knowing any of this stuff. We all have to be taught it. You're doing fine. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:41 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need to build healthy habits. This means that some days you might not do all the new things. But that's Ok. You'll keep trying.

Health month has been a big help to me I tracking things I want to do, and in forming a sense of community support for my goals. You can make some rules private for $5 or get a sponsor. But you could also use a code like 'eat bright ceggies' could stand in for 'only put on clean underpants.' And you can set up your rules so that doing them 5/7 days gets you full credit.

Other useful things: make self care as pleasant and UN-work like as possible. Things that smell fabulous. Fluffy soft towels. Clean and appealing bath mat. A back scrubber for use in shower so you're not trying to be a contortionist. Music for your bathing ritual. Plenty of underpants that allow you to not worry about having enough. Buy a pack or maybe two with each paycheck for a while. Maybe bring in one suit for cleaning at each pay cycle as well. If you are budgeting down to the cost of detergent - here's how I make my own: 1 cup of washing soda, 1 cup of borax, 1 bar of finely grated cells naphtha soap. Stir it al together very well. 1 tablespoon of this washes a load of laundry. A friend of mine uses a container of OxyClean in her mix because she washes baby diapers. You might find peace of mind with that addition.

And for you. Perhaps a sticker chart for the first change. I'd suggest underwear or showering for that. Every day that you do it gets you a sticker. 10 stickers gets you a reward - dinner out, something fun for you bathing routine, a rubber duck, a new tie, a bowl of ice cream at your favorite diner. Something!

Add another task. Keep adding stickers.
posted by bilabial at 5:42 AM on March 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would imagine this *is* negatively affecting most parts of your lufe, so make a decision to invest in yourself.

Agreed - shower at night. Once a day is fine. No need to scrub really hard, but anti acne wash could be good and use a fresh washcloth each time.

Clean underwear every day (right after the shower.)

Deodorant every morning.

Only wear your suits 3x before having them cleaned.

Consider wearing a white cotton tshirt under your dress shirts - might help with the sweat and then you could wear the dress shirts 2x before cleaning. (white cotton shirts would have to be fresh every day.)

Dandruff shampoo - buy in bulk and have a backup on hand for when you run out.

Lysterine, brush, floss twice a day, especially after coffee or cigarettes (do you smoke? Smokers smell worse to me than anyone else.). Do you eat a kit of garlic? If so be extra vigilant about brushing your teeth and washing your hands. And maybe cut down on the garlic a little bit.

This is utterly doable, and if you take any of these steps it will help.
posted by semacd at 5:42 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a work at home freelancer, and it's pretty easy for me to just throw on a pair of sweatpants in the morning and plan on maybe showering later in the day, if I get around to it. So I know where you're coming from. If I didn't have a wife who stops me before I let it get too far, I'd be in the same boat as you, most likely.

The answer is "just do it," yeah, but it's more "just make it part of your routine." If a shower is something you have to make special arrangements for, you'll start putting it off and wind up back where you started. If it's part of your normal routine, then it'll be part of your normal routine and will happen without you needing to think about it.

So start with that. Every morning the first thing you do is get in the shower and the next thing you do is put on deodorant and clean underwear. Every night the last thing you do before bed is brush your teeth. Not most nights, not most mornings, each and every one. Be consistent about it and surprisingly quickly you'll stop having to think about it, you'll just automatically do it. (Yes, you will need to set your alarm earlier. So set your alarm earlier. If you find you're really truly dealing with a sleep deficit, you could try showering at night instead, but that can be harder to be consistent about.)
posted by ook at 5:43 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You aren't actually doing so bad. I think your real problem is that you have accumulated too much "old stink" which is an entirely different animal than "new stink". Someone who has just gotten off the treadmill at the gym will smell like sweat, but he will absolutely stink four hours later. If he got on that treadmill with used gym clothes, then he will smell like sweat and stink.

A couple of small changes would probably help a lot:

1) Wash you sheets. Do it soon and regularly wash them at least every 2 weeks to a month. This will help a lot with your acne and help you stay fresher. Sometimes having several sets of sheets can help so that you can just change them even if you don't have time to launder them right away.

2) Wear fresh underwear. You don't have to do it everyday of the week, but you should wear fresh underwear any day that you will be in contact with other people. You should also have a fresh crotch when you pull on those fresh undies (see 3).

3) Don't shower too much. Excessive showers could possibly make your acne and dandruff worse. Instead, you might try what I call "stink control". Every morning before work, I hop in the shower and simply wash the stinky places (teeth, pits, crotch and feet) so that my work clothes, underwear and socks only accumulate "new" stink over the course of the day. This helps a lot even if you sweat a lot. I would repeat this procedure anytime you change into new clothes that directly touch your skin (like going out after work).

Those steps are a great place to start.

If you are feeling adventurous: I would also recommend brushing and flossing everyday (especially for health reasons), airing your clothes out if you intend to wear them multiple times between washes and always try to isolate your dry clean clothes from direct contact with your sweaty bits.
posted by Vysharra at 5:46 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

One tip I have is to get Degree. Edical strength deoderant. I used to think I sweat more than most people - perhaps I do - since I would often sweat through a t-shirt and polo shirt, but this deoderant has helped immensely.

I second the suggestion to shower at night if you can't in the morning. Apply the deoderant to your underarms after your skin has has air dried for a few minutes (4 minutes should be fine), then let the deoderant dry for a few more minutes before going to bed or putting on a sleeping shirt. Reapply in the morning before going out. Also, make sure to use exactly how much it says (Degree Medical says 3 clicks - doesn't seem like enough, but too much actually makes it work less).

For me, it also has helped to lose weight. I can't tell from your description if that applies to you, but it is the advice my doctor gave me when I asked him about excessive sweating.

Good luck man.
posted by airways at 5:47 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oops had the brand wrong - its Gillette Clinical strength deoderant I meant to recommend!
posted by airways at 5:48 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

As they say, knowing it is half the battle. All of this embarrassment should serve as motivation to make sure that you never feel this way again.

Here's my take.
1. You need to wake up earlier, and give yourself some more morning time to get things done before everything else. It's a tough adjustment, but that's what it is - an adjustment. Once get there, it won't feel like such an imposition anymore.

2. Create a checklist. Write in in big letters, and hang it in your bathroom. As soon as you wake up, get into the bathroom, and go from top to bottom, in order. If you're efficient, you can knock it all out in a half hour or less.

Some checklist items - feel free to add or modify:
* Shower. Wash hair with shampoo and rinse, wash body with soap and rinse. (You don't have to scrub "hard", you only have to rub until all dirt and oils are removed. Some experimentation will help you find the least amount of time to get all parts of your body clean. Time varies by person.)
* Dry off thoroughly. (5-10 minutes)
* Apply deodorant.
* Brush teeth. (2-3 minutes.)
* Gargle with mouthwash. (30 seconds)

If you can stick to doing just this every morning, and make a hard-and-fast routine out of it, that will solve 90% of your problems. If you can do it without skipping once for even a week straight, you'll find that you can get through this morning routine before you've even realized that you're out of bed. Seriously, a lot of people use their I'm-not-quite-awake-yet time as their shower time.

Clothing is a tougher nut to crack. Laundry sucks, and no one likes doing it. You *must* change the clothes that directly touch your skin every day. T-shirt, underwear, socks are the big ones. Maybe you can start out by looking into a wash-and-fold service to clean your clothes once a week? You'll pay a lot for it (usually priced by the pound), but it does get you your time back. Some of the will even pick it up and drop it off for you. That's even more expensive. But, you have to have clean clothes.

Good luck! Remember, improvement is a journey. Every day is one step.
posted by Citrus at 5:49 AM on March 28, 2012

Showering every morning will make a huge difference.
Tips for quick showering:
* Hair washing is faster if your hair is very short.
* Focus on George Carlin's "four vital areas": Armpits, asshole, crotch, and teeth (well, not teeth in the shower, but you get the idea). Other areas can do with a quick rinse.
* Don't scrub too hard, it will make your skin raw.
* Bars of soap tend to leave an icky smelling film if you don't rinse well enough. Use body wash instead.
* Body washes and deodorants aimed at men tend to have ridiculously overpowering smells that become rank ask the day progresses ("Mountain spring breeze musk!"). I'm a man but I use the lightly scented fruity body washes marketed at women.
* You can get an electric towel drying rack to prevent bath towels from mildewing

Clean underwear, t-shirt, and socks every day. This won't increase your laundry load too much. Pants and shirts can be recycled for a few days provided you're not sweating too much in them.

Use deodorant.

Lint rollers can clean the dandruff off your clothes.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:53 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do all the above, including the checklist, and either or both of these: (a) keep a streak alive (Google Seinfeld and writing), and/or (b) pay yourself each time you do the task, and use the money for some guilty pleasure. Basically, you get this intellectually, and discovering what you need to do isn't so much your problem as the motivation.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:58 AM on March 28, 2012

Try to think of it as an investment of time and attention - obviously an inconvenience to your current schedule, but it will pay off so much. Never mind the social aspects, it actually does feel better to be clean, and to wear clean clothes. Some people find showering at night helps them sleep really well, too.
posted by tomboko at 5:59 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you get bored in the shower? I do, it's the main reason I experience shower-reluctance. While pondering your question, it occurred to me that I would enjoy my shower time way more if I had an interesting radio show to listen to: perhaps this will help you, too. And ditto to everyone else's excellent suggestions (and x2 on airing your suits - you're right, they don't need to be cleaned all the time, but maybe they do if you're not entirely clean yourself. Airing is enough if you're pretty clean!).
posted by thylacinthine at 5:59 AM on March 28, 2012

Here is another tip at the junction of showering and laundry. You don't have to wash the towel you use to dry yourself off every day, but you have to make sure you hang it up after you use it, otherwise it stays damp and acquires a mildewy smell that will rub off on you. Don't let it go more than two or three days without dumping it in the laundry hamper, though.

Also seconding or thirding the medical strength deodorants (Gilette Clinical, Certain Dri, etc). They have an ingredient that actually prevents sweat.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:03 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine how embarrassing this must be, and you get big kudos for asking for help. There is a lot of good advice upthread. I would add:
- you will smell better if you wear all-natural fibres, like cotton and wool.
- see if there is anyone who is sympathetic enough to wash your back for you. It's amazing how much dirt you can clean off someone's back with soap, water, and a washcloth.
- please please please brush after every meal. Floss your teeth and rinse out with mouthwash at least once a day. If you don't take care of your teeth, the damage can be expensive, painful, and irreversible.

I believe you can make this change in your life.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:03 AM on March 28, 2012

2nding bilablial - I was just coming in here to recommend Team MetaFilter on HealthMonth. If you want to remain quasi-anonymous you can choose a HM username unrelated to your MeFi username, although if you do that you'll have to MeMail web-goddess and let her know. (If you don't even want to do that you can join HM without joining Team MeFi, but then you won't get the benefit of our totally awesome and nonjudgmental support.)

Some of the things you want to do have pre-set HM rules (e.g., floss), some have things that are close enough (e.g., you could say that "do chores" = laundry), if none of the pre-set rules really fit you have a limited number of custom rules (for paying or sponsored users, but MeFites have a whole bunch of free sponsorships available, so just say the word if you want one), or you can just choose something completely unrelated ("eat bright vegetables" = wear new clothes, you just have to remember that's what it really is for you--I've done that a few times.)

I wouldn't try to change too much too fast--the "free" play on HM is up to three (non-custom) rules, which I think is a good level to start at. And like bilablial said, you can start out with a goal of just 5 or 6 times a week for the things you want to do daily, and then ramp it up in later months.

A lot of us, including me, have managed to start flossing regularly thanks to HM.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:08 AM on March 28, 2012

It doesn't seem like anyone has suggested going to your doctor yet, so I wanted to put it out there. A dear friend of mine had very similar problems to the ones you're facing, and part of what made it so difficult for him to see any progress was that he had some underlying medical conditions that sabotaged his efforts at hygeine. Not only did he have especially smelly and prodigious sweat, but he also had a fungal infection on his skin that he never noticed. His halitosis also affected his and others' perception of his cleanliness. He ended up with an prescription for his fungal infection and some other prescriptions for his excessive sweating and what ended up being semi-advanced gum disease after a dental consult. He was also diagnosed with depression, fwiw.

So in short: go see your doctor! He or she may be able to get you started on the right foot.
posted by juniperesque at 6:10 AM on March 28, 2012 [13 favorites]

I think you need an ironclad ritual, either in the morning or evening. I like the suggestion above of having a checklist, though don't make it super long. Just shower, brush, deodorant, clean clothes would be fine; each of those has maybe a couple of substeps (eg showering involves rinsing, shampooing, soaping, drying, etc), but all your checklist needs is "shower."

I do it all in the morning, because I like it that way; my coworker (is it weird that I discuss the intricacies of hygiene with my coworkers? does it all in the evening so that he can sleep in longer. The point being, these are the short list of mandatory steps that you turn into a little ritual every workday, period. You make a checklist, give yourself rewards if that helps, and push through until it is ingrained as a habit.

Also, if something is making you unhappy or you are struggling with things, therapy is always a good idea. It's not just for huge crises and awful events -- it's also for day to day stuff that just isn't going all that well.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 AM on March 28, 2012

I honestly don't know if you can rule out depression as easily as you've done here. You chalk your poor hygeine to laziness, but I think that with some people who know they have poor hygeine and don't do much or anything about it, they are actively pushing people away with their poor hygeine so that their depression is safe and doesn't have to be challenged.

To take care of your body is to respect yourself and to prevent yourself from feeling bad. You are worth making the time to take care of your body. Tell yourself this and believe it.
posted by inturnaround at 6:19 AM on March 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

Other posters have great advice for the psychological side of this, but here's some practical advice: you'll need to wash your bedsheets and dress shirts less often if you shower before bed and wear undershirts in the day. If you make these two changes then, for a given number of laundry loads, you'll smell better and feel cleaner.

Make some time this weekend and wash your bedsheets. Then shower before bed from now on. Assuming you're showering before bed, most people can get away with washing the mattress sheet (i.e. the thing you sleep on, not under) every other weekend. They are cheap, so buy several. Buy white ones and you can throw them in the wash in batches with your white undershirts (see below).

Also this weekend: buy a pack of 10 thin white undershirts to wear under your dress shirts. These get changed every day. That's two working weeks' supply. You can wear a dress shirt for several days before washing as long as you give it a day to air between wearings (i.e. hang it up near an open window or on a balcony) and wear a clean undershirt.

If you're the kind of person who sweats a lot then dry clean your suit trousers more often. It's expensive, and it doesn't do the material any good, but that's life. Next time you buy a suit, buy two pairs of trousers to go with the jacket.
posted by caek at 6:19 AM on March 28, 2012

I'll second the recommendation of Health Month as a specific, valuable tool for tracking habits like this. The site allows you to set up custom rules and make rules private (you need to have a paid membership to make private rules, but the MeFi team always has tons of free "sponsorships" to help out with members who don't have $5 to pony up each month). It is really great for developing these kinds of habits.

And what ook says about routines is spot on. If you approach this like "I need to do these things once a day, and these things once a week" they're easy to get lost in the shuffle. What you really need is a pretty fixed set of daily and weekly routines: I get up at 6:30 am every day, put on deo, get dressed in clean clothes, eat breakfast and brush my teeth every day. I do my laundry, including sheets, on Saturdays. I iron all my dress shirts on Sundays."
posted by drlith at 6:19 AM on March 28, 2012

Your question is well-phrased and well-organized. So you do have the tools in house for making a simple checklist (as others said). Strip it down to the minimum. Here's my recommendation:
1 Shower first thing in the morning (backup: a reminder at another suitable point during the day if missed in the first round).
2 Brush teeth (same here).
3 Deodorant (no backup! It's a must).
4 Clean underwear no matter what.
5 Nose control of all other clothes and shoes.

Now. That will get you going fine, unless you get supply issues as in "forgot to wash underwear", "forgot to buy deodorant/toothpaste/toothbrush" and so on . So you need, in addition, a "resources" list (shops that provide easy access to missing items), and a weekly checklist of indispensable actions (change sheets; wash the old ones directly or at the very earliest convenience. Wash underwear at the required frequency, depending on how many items you possess [a matter of math, or intuition, whichever suits you better]).

Use this as an intellectual challenge, do not allow this to process in your head as your mom's voice or whatnot (yeah. I'm seeing what I'm doing here. It is actually quite difficult to recommend stuff without sounding like that).

Good luck.
posted by Namlit at 6:20 AM on March 28, 2012

I feel like a proselytizer, but I have been recommending FlyLady a lot. It's about keeping your house clean when you feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start, and she really targets all of the things that sabotage you like perfectionism, beating yourself up, not loving yourself enough (I know, eyeroll), etc. You know all the things you need to do but it's hard to integrate it into your life if no one really ever taught you to do that.

One of her most important strategies is Baby Steps. She demands that everyone start the program by shining their sink every night before bed. And you just do that and only that for like a week. That is your checklist in its entirety, and if you do that just that, congratulations!! And if you don't, no big deal, start again tomorrow. Eventually other tasks get added on to the checklist and you start building Routines.

Start with one thing: put deodorant on EVERY SINGLE MORNING no matter what. Whether you shower or not. Put the deodorant on top of your toilet and put it on during your morning piss or whatever. Then you can start adding other emergency tasks on like wiping your pits and between your legs with baby wipes if you can't manage a shower, etc.

This especially stuck out for me: As I had used up my shampoo, I resisted in my mind buying more for a *very* long time. This is a psychological issue. Why did you resist buying something that you knew you needed, something that is a completely normally and pretty much mandatory thing for an American to own? Do you not feel like you deserve to have what you need? Do you feel like you should deprive yourself? Do you have money issues? Whatever the reason is, this is therapy stuff. So I think you should go back.

Meanwhile: go buy yourself 6 bags of cheap Hanes underwear, 6 bags of cheap Hanes socks, 6 bags of cheap Hanes t-shirts, 3 sticks of deodorant, 2 more bottles of dandruff shampoo, 5 packs of baby wipes refill packs, 2 more sets of sheets, and 2 more towels.

Give yourself a break and make doing all of this easier. It will be a lot easier and less stressful if you can simply put a clean set of sheets on your bed and then take your time laundering the dirty set. It will be a lot easier to put on clean underwear in the morning when you have stacks and stacks of it, and maybe you will be more likely to do laundry when you are able to build up a substantial dirty clothes pile.
posted by thebazilist at 6:40 AM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agree with the baby steps idea.

Step 1 - Shopping. This amounts to a bit, so I would maybe ask for vouchers for my next birthday/easter/Christmas whatnot, if you have a gift-giving set-up with family or friends. Start with the cheapest and most urgent ones, which are basically 1. and 2.:

1. Underwear and socks to last you at least 2 - 3 weeks with no need to wash. You can buy underpants in packs of 6 - get three packs of those. Buy them in the same colour, try to match them up with most of your top cloths, so that you can wash them all together without ending up with, say, pink shirts. All white undies and all black socks is one option - undies get washed with light-coloured other stuff, socks with your trousers, jeans, etc.

2. Cleaning products. Buy them in bulk, maybe online, see if you can find good deals. Get shampoo, soaps, shower gel, toothpaste. What I like doing, especially if I know I am going to have a long day, is take a travel toothbrush with a small toothpaste and a travel-size shower gel with me to work (or wherever I am going). Wipes work too. THis way, if I didn't get to have a proper shower before leaving the house, or I didn't manage to brush my teeth, or ate something smelly during the day, I can freshen up whenever I feel I am becoming conspicuous. And I used to keep an emergency "hygiene kit" in my desk at work just in case. I'm also a smoker, so always have gum on me, or breath-spray.

3. T-shirts are a good investment too, especially if you wear them a lot at work or in your spare time. Basically, treat them exactly like your undies - one a day, then they go into the laundry basket. Invest in some simple, easy-wash ones.

4. Work trousers - I used to have a couple of office suits which I could just put through the wash (they were mostly nylon or rayon or some such, some washing machine friendly cloth), and they would come out looking freshly ironed. Same with jeans and other trousers.

5. Bedsheets - a good idea to have at least a couple of sets on rotation. Get neutral ones, and an extra bottom sheet plus pillow cases.

6. Towels. Have enough towels that you can change them regularly, and don’t end up not washing because there is nothing to dry yourself with.

7. Basket/Bag for dirty cloath. This can even be a big bin-bag, if you cannot afford anything more furniture-like. Or a cloth bag. Or even just a travel bag. Just make it big enough so you can take all of your laundry to the wash in one go. Also, make sure that you can close it or tie it – other wise you end up living with the smell of dirty clothes in your room, which is both unpleasant and de-sensitizing.
Step 2. Other preparations. Things might be made more difficult because the set-up is off. Try to make sure that everything is working as well as possible:

1. How easy is it to shower in your place? Is the warm water reliable? The shower muzzle work OK?

2. It’s still cold out – is your washing environment generally pleasant? Is your bathroom freezing cold? Etc.

3. Where do your cloth live? Do you have a way to separate dirty from clean stuff? Do they live on top of each other? What about clothes which have been worn once and might just need some airing?

4. Put a soap on each sink. This will make it easier to wash where you are, even if it’s only a quick handwash.

Step 3. Actual cleaning. Basically, as you get the stuff in, and maybe start easy, just adding 1. And 2. To your current habits, then 3, then 4:

1. Actually, even before - Sounds weird, but get into the habit of sniffing yourself in the morning. Armpits. Your crotch. Try to bring your hair to your nose. Glide your tongue around your mouth and over your teeth. Anything feel even slightly off? Take a minute to give it a quick swirl-around, even if it is just a few splashes of water and/or a scrubbing. If your loo is in the same room as your bathroom sink, it's quite easy - flush, scent, try your teeth, if anything feels off stop by the sink, work it with water, dry, go.

2. Don’t diss the “emergency” wash. At any point, if stuff feels iffy, just wash that particular part of the body in the bathroom sink. Or take a half-shower – a quick wash-down of your feet with your shower without getting fully in, or hang your head and wash your hair in the shower etc – target the one area that you feel is off. Let yourself be guided by your nose – if it tells you stuff is not OK, take care of it as well as you can right away. Just like going to the loo.

3. Wash your hands regularly. If your hands are going anywhere near your crotch, wash them before going to the loo. Wash them after, as well. Wash them before eating. Before you do anything that brings your hands into contact with any of your soft bits – mouth, nose, other things. Whenever you’ve done messy stuff. Don’t replace handwashing with rubbing your hands off on your shirt/pants. This is for hygiene reasons, but also it gets you into the habit of needing to feel clean. Makes the rest so much easier.

4. Shower fully when it is least stressful. Maybe that will be the morning. Maybe right after work, to wash the first half of the days off you, as it were, maybe before going to bed (this is especially pleasant right after you put clean bedsheets on).

5. Tooth-brushing. Do it every evening before going to bed. Even if all this means initially is that you just take your toothbrush and swirl it rather aimlessly around your mouth. If you get a kick out of things like this, try to find some tooth-brushing videos later on – believe ot or not, there are better and worse ways to brush your teeth. The really thorough ones can become quite meditative. Alternatively, you can use them to really fix the numbers 1 – 20 in any given language (I am currently counting in Bahasa Indonesia, and after 3 months, these numbers are my only reliable bit of language). Another idea – I sometimes use my toothbrushing time to watch a short video of something – so maybe brush just as you open a link you really want to watch, or some soap, whatever. I also read and brush at times. I find tooth-brushing quite boring without such cheat-tactics (thorough toothbrushing).

6. Flossing – I’d leave the flossing until you get a firm foothold on at least a few of the other ones. Then maybe again a tutorial

Step 4. Other clean-living habits. This should be combined with step 3:

1. Like others have said, undies and socks go into the laundry basket when you take them off.

2. T-shirts and shirts – sniff the armpits, check them for discoloration, check cuffs and colour. Any whiff or discoloration, they go into the basket. If you judge them to be wearable one more time, hang them on a hanger and leave them by an open windown for at least half an hour to an hour. Fresh air prolongs the wash-cycle.

3. Change out of your work-cloths as soon as you get home. You can use this time to have a quick refresh in the bathroom, maybe even a quick shower if necessary, or if you are about to go out again.

4. Change bedsheets once a week or at least once every two weeks (if you have acne, the more the better, I would say). If that feels like too much, change at least the pillow cases and bottom sheet, and leave the top sheet for the next wash cycle.

5. Change towels every week at least. If you end up showering daily, change them every five days or whenever they begin to smell musty/look the worse for wear.

6. When you wash, sort your cloths into light colours/whites and dark colours. That way you avoid colour leakage and you prolong the life of your cloths. Easy-wash stuff which is not particularly dirty (undies, socks, the odd T-shirt) can be hand-washed as well, though I assume that is not on the table.

7. Tidy and clean your room every 2-3 weeks. It’s much easier to keep yourself clean if your environment is clean, too.

Step 5. Miscellaneous other things. Also in conjunction with step 3 and 4:

1. You could make some temporary aids (sticky note reminders, like someone said above, for instance). Or: make a sort of “Hygiene task calendar”, narrow columns for each day of the month, the first column a list of all the hygiene (or other) tasks for the morning, home-coming, evening (for instance, your morning section could look like: line 1. Brush teeth, line 2. Have a shower, line 3. Comb hair, line 4. Sniff short, decide if I wear, if not, pick new one, line 5. Have breakfast etc. etc. etc. – and you have to tick the respective day-boxes to leave the house). Have a twice-weekly, or weekly, or every other week etc. calendar for things such as sniff trousers for smells, change towels/shirts/bedsheets etc. Basically, if you are at all into excel sheets or tables and the like, you could have pots of fun just setting this up.

2. Try to make it a habit to air less changeable items of clothing, such as jackets and trousers, regularly – every two days, or twice a week.

3. Find wipes, not just for your house, but for your office, or pocket-sized ones for carrying with you.

4. Try to combine tasks in a time-saving way. Also, in a way which makes them more fun. The one that really works for me is tooth-brushing and reading/watching stuff. I also love reading in the bathtumb, and sing really off key in the shower at times. Or set my lap-top up so I can watch really short sit-coms (that’s a bit desperate).

5. Try to see if you can find products which really agree with you. Is there a soap which you really like the smell of, so you really relish when you smell like that? Etc.

Etc., a lot of people seem to have posted since I started this, so probably much of it is redundant. Good luck.
posted by miorita at 6:43 AM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

It sounds like your biggest problem is having the stuff at hand. Next paycheque, go to a discount store and buy packs of cheap underwear and socks, plus a couple more changes of sheets. Next check, go buy more socks and underwear.

You could wash your underwear in a plastic bucket and hang it overnight, if you hate spending money at a laundromat.

It sounds like you need to switch to more casual pants, that you can machine wash.

A lot of it is amking that up front investment in yourself, to have something like 20 pairs of underwear and socks, so that you don't worry about running out.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:47 AM on March 28, 2012

This worked for me when I had a problem, and it continues to work thirty years later. Switch to everything unscented; laundry detergent, soap, underarm deodorant, shampoo. Avoid Febreeze and car and room odorizers. When you are not surrounded by a million chemical smells, then the things you need to pay attention to become very evident.

Most people don't take offense at real body odor; they take offense at real body odor with a masking smell trying to cover it up. We've all known someone that thought that spraying Lysol on clothing was an acceptable substitute for laundering. It's not. I won't even go into AXE body sprays...just avoid trying to cover anything up.

Bacne is a bitch. Aside from being careful with the shampoo and conditioner cycle noted above, try not to further aggravate it by scrubbing it raw. Trying to "dry it out" just makes your body produce more oily sebum to compensate. Use a moisturizing (not oily) soap (Dove) or body wash, and clean it gently. If you have medical insurance at work, go see a dermatologist.

If you have access to a swimming pool, use it as often as you can. Find a way. Try to stay in for 30 minutes, swimming laps or completely submerged. It will make a big difference, fast.

Lastly, I take the laundry to a drop off once a week. It costs seven dollars, even here in high-priced land. Whatever packs into a standard tall kitchen garbage bag is fair game, and that's about as much laundry as I can produce in a week. This is the affordable luxury you owe yourself for taking this project on.

It certainly sounds like you have plenty of volunteers in your life that are happy to let you know when you are doing something wrong. I will be very happy if they offer equal support when you do it right. We certainly will.

Good Luck! You can do this.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:52 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Good for you for facing this and wanting to change. There's a reason for this, isn't there, I mean beyond laziness and bad hygiene? I'd suggest consulting a therapist for some help. Maybe he/she could help you establish one of these excellent programs suggested above, and encourage you daily or weekly to stay with it? You sound isolated, and that can't be helping.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 6:53 AM on March 28, 2012

This book talks about how to set habits, take a look. He seems to be saying we are like dogs: we form habits due to rewards. If behavior leads to a reward, you will do the behavior. It seems like for you cleanliness is not its own reward (it is for some folks, which is why they shower twice a day and use nice smelling stuff.) But maybe you can link cleanliness to some sort of healthy reward--the trick would be figuring out what this is for you. Maybe something like "after I shower I get to sit down for a few minutes with my favorite book," or something like that. Then the shower becomes a habit.
posted by massysett at 6:57 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take baths every night and wash my hair every 3 nights. Showers tend to dry my skin and hair out, and baths are fun and relaxing.
posted by hotelechozulu at 6:58 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Knowing is half the battle, so props for identifying an area in your life that needs much needed attention. No doubt this is affecting your life negatively!

First off, I am probably, okay certainly anal when it comes to being clean. I shower everyday. I have to, no two ways around it. I have had issues with acne too, but as I age, it has gotten less of an issue, and I am an oily, stinky person to begin with.
So first off, the showering. Second off, you have to practice good dental hygiene. I brush my teeth 3 to 4 times a day and floss once. What you are doing to your gums and teeth is going to cause serious health issues really quick as well as physical damage which will ostracize you down the road. It will probably hurt a bit, as your gums get accustomed to doing so, but do it as it means your gums are getting the attention they need.
Clothing. I don't wear anything besides jeans or a hoodie more than once. Just do laundry more often, and buy clothes to last a week +. Its a pain, but my clothes never smell, no stains, no wrinkles, and I always feel fresh. Dude, you cant wear underwear more than once, you just cant.

Finally, find products you like and enjoy. I have nice body wash, good cologne, nice lotions and good deodorant.

I realize my actions probably are a bit on the OCD side but I love feeling so fresh and so clean. I couldnt imagine going to work without showering, brushing my teeth or putting on deodorant.

Also, please change your sheats. That is an easy way to create a funk smell. My brother does this and it is gross. It stays on his skin if he showers before bed, and generally just funks up everything. It is worse than a gym over time. Not even kidding, when he moved out, his old room still had the smell! Had to rip up the carpet and paint the walls to get rid of it. I change mine once or twice a week.
posted by handbanana at 7:03 AM on March 28, 2012


You need help with this, seriously. There's lots of great suggestions here, but if things have gotten this far, then there's emotional or mental component you need help with. No shame in that, everyone needs help with something, so don't beat yourself up about it.

Can you see a shrink? If it's too expensive, can you contact the mods with your general location? Most cities or towns have shrinks that will work on a sliding scale for low income patients. Baring that, most towns or cities have free self help groups. Check your newspaper listings and/or the local alt weekly if you have one.

You know what the problem is, you know what you should be doing and yet you're not doing it, which hints at depression. Get some help!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:17 AM on March 28, 2012 [16 favorites]

Lots of great advice here. In terms of not being too overwhelming, I like the recommendations to put on clean underwear every day no matter what, and to carry deodorant with you (in your car or work bag) so that you can make sure you have applied it every day. Those two things will make a difference.

I will add two recommendations to the mix that I did not see covered above:

If you do the strategic washing like mentioned above, wash your asscrack in addition to your crotch, pits, etc. Let's say that I have been in enough aisle seats on airplanes to know that a lot of people seem to neglect this area.

Make sure your bath towel is hung up in a place where it will dry out, and swap it out for a clean towel after 3-4 showers. Using a towel too many times between washing it, or not letting it dry out, will cause this horrible funky smell that will only manifest when the towel gets wet again (that is, when you are drying yourself off with it).
posted by cabingirl at 7:20 AM on March 28, 2012

Are you unlearning habits from your childhood? Did your parents or people who raised you also have trouble with the basics of personal hygiene? It's absolutely wonderful that you want to learn good habits around this - smelling bad, looking dirty and having visible dandruff won't help your career or personal relationships (but that's Captain Obvious speaking!).

I've learned that it takes 21 days to really make a new habit stick. Can you sign up for an online tracker or even just keep a chart with your changes? A sticker chart for grown-ups (really!) might be just the thing you need to keep you on the right track.

Buy your soap and shampoo in bulk from Costco so you don't have the excuse of running out. Use a dandruff shampoo - you may have to try several to find a good one that works for you.

Clean undershirts and sheets will really help the bacne, too. If you are wearing clothes that are already caked with skin oil and bacteria that will cause a vicious cycle of re-infection. Clean sheets, clean pillowcases (I always buy extras and change them even more often than I change my sheets), clean pajamas, clean undershirts.

Wash your back gently with soap and a washcloth - don't pick or squeeze the zits!

And do see a doctor as Juniperesque suggests. If you have bacteria or yeast colonizing your skin and/or scalp that can be cleared up with a prescription and will really pay off in your journey towards good hygiene. (Untreated skin infections and really REALLY severe dandruff can smell awful.)

Every night before you go to bed lay out a clean outfit - pants, shirt, underwear, socks. Then it's right there ready for you in the morning and you just climb into it after your morning shower - easy-peasy. No fumbling around with clothes trying to find something to wear in the wee hours.

The more you make bathing, showering, clean clothes, clean teeth, clean you in general a habit the more it will stick.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:20 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of it may be that I simply don't HAVE that many clothes, because I am always low on cash. In addition, I never want to spend the $2.50 to wash and dry clothes.

When I was medium broke I used to wash underwear and socks in the kitchen sink and hang them to dry in the bathroom. Underwear doesn't get soiled like outwear and doesn't need to be wrinkle free or anything so this approach works even if you've never done laundry by hand before. Use a handwash detergent with a small amount of TSP (available at paint stores), hot water, scrub skid marks with a fingernail brush and makle sure you rinse well.
posted by Mitheral at 7:31 AM on March 28, 2012

I'm extremely lazy and I happen to believe that most modern western people are *too* concerned about hygiene, but here are my musts:

- brush teeth every morning for at least 2 minutes (I read a book, or Metafilter on my phone). This isn't just about smell - this is about your oral health.

- new underwear every day. If I don't have enough to make it to the next laundry, I buy more. Again, this isn't just about smell, but about health -- men can get yeast infections and other unpleasant things as well.

- new socks day. I own some 20 pairs of socks, so that I don't run out. (The fact that some of them are Doctor Who themed is just a bonus).

- shower every other day, but deodorant and clean shirt every day. When I lived in a relatively cool place, I could wear a shirt twice before washing (hanging it up to air over night), but the country I live in now is much warmer in the summer. If you sweat a fair bit, definitely new shirt every day, unless you wear an t-shirt underneath, and even then you probably don't want to wear it for more than two days.

- if your trousers smell, wash them. (Same for sweaters, other outer-layer clothing). Always sniff trousers or sweaters before dressing.

- sheet washing every 2 weeks ideally, every month at a minimum. Every week if you sweat a lot when you sleep - or you have acne.

In our culture, this level of hygiene really isn't negotiable. It's what we consider to be a minimum to be socially acceptable. When you are camping or home alone or anything, you can let things slip -- I still do the clean teeth and clean underwear, but for health reasons. But if you plan to leave the house and to be around other people (including in shops, buses, etc), you really have to do at least about this much.

As for the cost of laundry: I can understand if money is really very, very tight. I have never paid for anything to be drycleaned in my life - I handwash, or machine wash. But it's one of those things, like food, that it really is worth paying for.
posted by jb at 7:35 AM on March 28, 2012

I am in the "seek help" camp. You already seem to know what the issues are and what you need to do (although all the great advice here will help of course.) It's the "laziness" that you claim is preventing you from doing it all. I too sense depression. I have an old friend whose hygiene issues have destroyed close relationships, and he was dx'd with depression, put on meds, and his life has changed. He's no longer alienating people because he's dirty, and is in a long-term relationship for the first time ever.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:36 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, yes: when either broke or too busy to do a whole load, socks and underwear wash very well in kitchen sinks. Hang overnight to dry. (Works very well with old-fashioned steam radiators). I did this a lot when I first moved countries and only had one week's worth of clothes.
posted by jb at 7:36 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

>Draw a line. Think of normal people in the middle. On the far right, put extremely and cartoonishly OCD people: say, the Glee character Emma Pillsbury. I am on the far left, but I want to be in the middle.

To pump up your ego, let me say that this is the coolest opener in AskMe in months. Seriously.

You're obviously a skilled and thoughtful writer, as the rest of the post attests to. In fact, you probably think about writing when you're trying to shower, floss, change clothes or the like.


Find something else to distract yourself while doing these things. Music is fine, but I find podcasts to be ideal. They take my mind of the boring nature of most hygiene related tasks, and you can listen to an iPod during almost everything (apart from showering).

Take your mind off the task, and the task becomes easier, by far.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:39 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, make sure when you do laundry that your clothes really dry properly, or they can smell musty.

You should of course be brushing and flossing your teeth, but sugar-free chewing gum is an easy habit - just pop one after you eat or drink coffee, etc.

Also don't forget your diet- if you eat loads of onions and spices for example, that smell can come out in your body odour. My sister had a room-mate who only ate white bread, plain pasta and crackers, and he smelt really bad - strangely, kind of like rotten meat.

Finally, maybe try to take joy in the pleasure of smelling good? Go to your local department store (assuming you have one) and try different fragrances; look at room fragrances like candles etc. I don't mean to mask the smell, but to help you really appreciate how fantastic it is to actively smell good, not just "not stinky".

Good luck!
posted by KateViolet at 7:40 AM on March 28, 2012

There's so much great advice in this thread! You are going to have no problem nailing this if you just go through and choose the strategies that are most appealing to you, and from your question, you seem to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses, so I think you'll do a good job of picking realistic steps.

One thing that I'm surprised hasn't come up is Amazon Subscribe and Save! You mention not getting around to buying hygiene supplies, so just set up a subscription and get dandruff shampoo and body wash and laundry soap delivered to you every month or two. Automation can be a HUGE help in forming new habits. While you're on amazon buying soap (which you should open another tab and do while you're reading this thread) go ahead and order some more undies too. I (obviously) don't know what your underwear preferences are, but you can get a 5-pack of men's briefs for $14 on amazon. If you're a prime member, you could have a work week's-worth of clean underwear and a box of soap at your door on friday. If you hate those underwear/soap scents, the things you buy right now can later become backups for when you run out of undies before your next laundry load or run out of soap before your next automatic shipment. You have zero impediments to getting this started in the next five minutes.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:41 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, if you come into a few bucks, get a frikkin' Soniccare toothbrush. It's supposed to be best for teeth care, but that's not why I'm recommending it. It's great because it turns off automatically, so you don't have to think, "Did I brush enough?" Makes teeth cleaning something you can do on autopilot.
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:46 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Put together a "hygene kit." This kit must be stocked at all times, and each item will need to be used during your morning routine:

- Body wash/soap
- Shampoo/conditioner
- Deodorant
- Toothpaste
- Mouthwash

For laundry, always make sure you're putting on fresh clean clothes every day. If you tend to slack on laundry or fall into a rut and wear previously worn clothes due to lack of availability, then buy MORE clothes...enough to make it through the week and then do your laundry on the weekends. Have PLENTY of extra underwear and socks..enough to last two weeks, you may need to change these more than once a day. Set aside 2 hours every week just for laundry..schedule it, and don't break that schedule for anything..that 2 hour slot becomes sacred with no distractions (at least into you get into the right habit).

Have a stick of deodorant and a can of air freshener (a mild arm and hammer would be best, you want to be considerate and not overpowering on bad or good smells) at all times, in a bag or in the glove compartment/desk drawer at work. These will be your "last resort" measures if something was missed in the morning routine. Don't rely on perfumes/colognes to cover up odors, as this often does not have the desired effect.

That's really about all I can suggest. It simply boils down to developing good hygiene habits and routines in your life and is purely psychological. If you have a hard time getting yourself into these routines, definitely seek some additional help/counseling as others have suggested. What you're experiencing isn't really rare, and can be broken out of...especially now that you're at the step of recognizing the issue and wanting change your standards.
posted by samsara at 7:50 AM on March 28, 2012

-Sleep in an extra 10 minutes or whatever, but still make sure you have enough time to shower, wash your face while in the shower, gargle with mouth wash for 60 seconds, put on deodorant, 1-2 sprays of cologne/perfume, new underwear and a fresh pair of clothes (that have not been worn the day before)
-Pack a toiletries bag with toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste so that you can finish getting ready in a quiet bathroom at work
-Shower every other day if you don't want to shower every day, but use wipes to take care of certain parts of your body
-Your underwear and clothing might look fine, but if the sleeves are somehow stretched out or smell funky then it's time to throw them in the wash (or at least the laundry basket)
-Don't wear clothes more than 3 times for every two weeks and don't wear the same outfit more than one day in a row
-Check out Kijiji or a thrift store for clothing that's affordable, you can find good finds there and buy new underwear and socks from a department store
-Get your car thoroughly cleaned at a car wash (both the inside and outside) and use those scented things that hang around your mirror
-Make sure that your living space, car, and body are clean because if one is not then it will affect the other

This probably all sounds familiar to you. I could list several other tips, but honestly, I think there is something that is the root of the problem. I say this because you know what you need to do, but you struggle with actually doing those things.

It is not terrible, it is just something that needs to be worked on. A lot of people struggle with taking care of themselves which is why people create new years resolutions to change things like quit/reduce amount of smoking and go to the gym more often.

You say that you have had depression in the past, so certain habits may have carried on even after you got emotionally better OR you may still be in a bad place (emotionally and psychologically) but haven't realized or acknowledged it yet.

This is because people with anxiety and depression tend to develop coping strategies for things like getting outside of the door or making it through each day. These coping strategies become the norm and you don't realize that other people do things differently. Or you do, and yet you continue to use these coping methods because they give you comfort.

For instance, I tend to take cabs to a lot of places (even when it's nice outside and I know that I shouldn't). Yet, I do this because I just want to make it through the door and get to my destination such as work.


If you think you are in a good place right now then spend 2-3 months trying to take better care of yourself. If you still can't do this then I'd recommend seeing a therapist.

At least, that's what I'm doing to try to get better.
posted by livinglearning at 8:06 AM on March 28, 2012

The greatest thing in the world (when you have to pay to do laundry) is owning 35 days of underwear so you can go a month between loads of underwear. This is not that expensive an undertaking and man, it feels fantastic.

Any one of us with chips (like me!) would be happy to sponsor you for HealthMonth, if you want to memail someone who's mentioned HealthMonth privately.

If you can afford it, get your car detailed to get rid of whatever smells in your car -- it also just feels good to drive around a super-duper clean car.

Regarding dandruff, there are two major OTC dandruff shampoo active ingredients -- selenium sulfide and pyrithione zinc. If one type stops working (as happens for many people), switch to the other. Use type 2 until it stops working, and switch back to type 1. This works an astonishing percentage of the time and prevents you from having to get super-expensive shampoos.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 AM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

No sugarcoating it: stinky people are gross. Don't be one! Honestly, you just have to man up and do this stuff. Accept that your sense of smell sucks when it comes to detecting your own odors, but if other people have commented as much as they seem to, you must smell absolutely rank, because most people are too polite to comment. They are trying so hard to politely tell you that you are being gross. It is disrespectful to others. It's amazing that you're trying to change. Great! You can do it! It just takes a bit of discipline-- we all have to do it. Nobody WANTS to shower all the time, but we do. You too.

Here are the new rules:

1. You hate laundry? That's ok, me too. So you just need more stuff. Invest in 30 pairs of underwear that fit comfortably. And 30 pairs of socks. And 30 shirts that you can wear to work. And 5 pairs of pants that you rotate between, hanging up on a hook to air out between wears- don't wear pants 2 days in a row and they won't smell as bad. And 2-3 pairs of work shoes- again, don't wear shoes two days in a row and they won't smell as bad. And you need 10 towels. Get ones that are not too thick, because thick towels don't dry properly and then they smell. And 2 sets of sheets.

2. I suggest you put on some music or a radio show or podcast every morning, loudly, while you do hygeine stuff, so you're not as bored.

3. Here's the daily routine:

You must shower every single morning when you will be seeing people. This is non-negotiable, and if you just do this step alone, it will solve most of your problems. Use soap and concentrate on lathering up your armpits, groin, ass, and feet. You may skip the shower when you're staying home alone all day, although, if you have roommates, you may not skip the shower.

Wash and condition your hair every second or third day.

After every shower, put deodorant on your armpits and put baby powder on your junk.

4. After every shower, enjoy the amazing feel of clean underwear, clean socks, a clean shirt. Any clothing that directly touched the skin of your groin or pits may NOT be worn twice. You can't see the dirt, true, but others can smell it. It may not smell first thing in the morning, but trust me, when your hot moist bits re-heat it in a few hours, it will be detectable.

5. Each day, hang your damp towel so it's not wrinkly (ie, across the shower bar, or on two hooks, not on a single hook). Otherwise the towel will stay damp and stink, and that stink will come off on you. Switch towels every few days. Make sure to hang the towel to dry completely before tossing it in the hamper, or it will mildew.

6. After breakfast, brush your teeth for two minutes. Then brush your tongue until it looks pink- no white plaque caked on it. Bonus points: after lunch and dinner and smoking, chew a stick of gum or rinse with mouthwash.

7. Change your sheets every week on Sunday nights. Getting into clean sheets when you've just had a shower feels reeeally nice. Pro tip: sprinkle a bit of baby powder on clean sheets before you slip into bed- feels so nice and clean!

8. Laundry: now that you have more towels and sheets and socks and underwear you can get away with doing laundry once a month. Use hot water and dry everything thoroughly- if items come out of the dryer a little damp, they mildew and smell bad.

9. Make sure you have some hooks in your room so you can hang pants to air between wearings (again, don't wear pants two days in a row or they'll smell). A bar or a pair of widely-spaced hooks to hang your towel so it can dry completely. And a big, perforated hamper (needs airflow) located in a convenient place to put dirty clothes, and used towels (after they have completely dried).

10. Bonus points: In your desk at work, keep gum, toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant. Use them every day after lunch.

11. More bonus points: drink more water- hydrated people's sweat and breath smell better.

Go get 'em, champ!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:52 AM on March 28, 2012

There is a lot of good information in this previous thread about similar issues.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:02 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

2) Wear fresh underwear. You don't have to do it everyday of the week,

Incorrect. You do need to wear fresh underwear every day.

If you're in the US, Walmart is the place I know that sells the cheapest underwear in large packs. (I know this is true for kids' underwear; it's probably true for adults as well.)

You want to have, say, a month's worth of underwear so that even if laundry has gotten away from you, you can wear clean underwear.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:06 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Absolutely seconding all the great suggestions for creating new habits. Believe me, anon, I know how shame and self-loathing can swirl you down into complete paralysis -- but you can overcome it. I especially like the baby-steps ideas above.

A few other tips I haven't seen mentioned (or totally missed):

* Do you wear button-up shirts for work? If so, wear t-shirts (the white, 6-to-a-pack kind) underneath. Change the t-shirt daily and you won't have to wash the work shirts so often.

* Get a spray bottle and fill it with drugstore alcohol or vodka, whichever's cheaper or easier to get. I add a couple of drops of essential oil (teatree or eucalyptus) but that's not actually essential. (Ha!) When you hang up your work clothes to air out, spritz them lightly all over, with a little more at the crotch and pit areas. This is NOT a substitute for regular laundrying but it can give you another day or so.

* Seconding the Sonicare recommendation. Save up for one, or ask someone to give it to you for a birthday. It beeps every 30 seconds for 2 minutes so it's a complete no-brainer. Your teeth will feel incredibly sleek and clean -- and you'll actually want to brush them because that feels great.

* Do you have a close friend or relative that could be your buddy in this brand-new-hygiene project? Not to nag, just to keep you from backsliding too far.

You can do this.
posted by dogrose at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2012

The advice above while likely effective is quite overkill.

You will solve 50% of your smell issues with fresh underwear every day (mornings). Underwear = stuff around your feet, crotch *and* trunk: wear a fresh tshirt under your work shirt every day. Work shirt you can reuse multiple days (assuming no physical activity involving heavy sweat).

Then 30% remaining issues by thoroughly rubbing your hair with hot water (not soap) every morning and brushing your teeth (with toothpasta).

Then 15% remaining issues by actually showering *without soap* every evening, and sleeping in fresh sheets (change them 1-2x per month).

Soap is overrated, unless you get dirty with stuff from outside your body (eg oil, chemicals, earthy dirt).

Flossing, fresh pants/shirts, soapy showers, powders, deo's, etc add a nice touch for the remaining 5%.
posted by knz at 9:31 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amazon.com has a "subscribe and save" program that delivers products to your door every X weeks or months. You set it and forget it. So if you use a bottle of shampoo in a month, one magically appears at your door. You don't have to remember it and you don't have go out and buy it.
posted by desjardins at 9:34 AM on March 28, 2012

Do your shoes stink by any chance? Give them a good sniff and deal with that problem if they do.
posted by semacd at 9:54 AM on March 28, 2012

I am not a mental health professional, but when I desperately wanted to do something and was too lazy to do it, it wasn't laziness, it was depression. If the basic sticker chart / reward system / checklist (like a physical paper checklist) stuff isn't doing the trick, I'd get yourself to a pdoc to make sure.
posted by KathrynT at 10:11 AM on March 28, 2012

Sheet are a big deal for me to keep up with personally. I usually shower at night (bike riding in the late afternoon/evening), but I still end up sweating like crazy at night. I don't spend many nights in my own house (I work from 'home', so that ends up being my SO's place while she's at her 8-5).

I still find that even though I might spend 3 nights every three weeks in my own bed, that they'll still need washing at the same interval as you would if you were sleeping there every night. I'm guessing they just soak up my night sweatiness and 'stew'.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2012

A lot of people shower every night if they don't have time to shower in the morning.

Also, you know that poor hygiene can also be a symptom of OCD? You may not need to acquire more "OCD characteristics"; you may actually need to be evaluated for OCD. One of the things that OCD people with poor hygiene do is come up with reason after reason for not showering/changing clothing/brushing their teeth/etc.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 AM on March 28, 2012

Reduce the inertia preventing you from making good choices:

* Buy 2-3 weeks worth of underwear
* Buy 2-3 sets of sheets
* Buy 2-3 units of deodorant and store them multiple places (car, house, desk, gym bag) - I had to get over the feeling of "but I only need one!" Why not make it more convenient to grab at a moment's notice?
* Buy backups of everything
* When you take off clothing, hang up stuff you'll wear again
* (a) Worn-but-not-dirty clothing will pick up less dirty-clothes stink
* (b) You're less likely to give in to temptation of also wearing those underpants, etc.
* (c) Disallow yourself from putting on floor/hamper clothing
* Do 1-2 loads of laundry every week, or get a cleaning service so you can just drop off a big bag
* Get wipes so you can clean yourself between activities in the bathroom, then reapply deodorant
* Night-time showers; then, if you have time in the morning you can again, but you'll at least have showered recently and your sheets will stay cleaner longer
* If you wear clothing to bed, change it every 1-3 days because everyone sweats in their sleep
* Can you get clothing that doesn't require dry cleaning?
posted by bookdragoness at 11:22 AM on March 28, 2012

If you've done alot of the things above and you're still having BO problems: Shave the pits! I'm a heavy sweater and it makes a significant difference in the amount of perspiration I put out.

I used to have to use Mitchum's gel deodorant/antiperspirant or I would be noticeably smelly/sweaty at the end of an average day, no other DO would apply/work well enough. If I've shaved the pits within the last week or more then I can get by with one application of hippy-nutty-crunchy salt deodorant crystal which is about as mild/weak as they get. I still sweat, but not as much and it doesn't stink.

Beyond that I'd look at using talcum powder as a aid to moisture reduction in other areas.

Oh and take care that your shoes aren't the culprit. Slip on birkenstock shoes have always been MAJOR smell factors in my footwear library because I neglect to wear socks. Applying the crystal deodorant thing to your feet when fresh out of the shower will help, but not if the shoes are already smelly to the core, in which case you'll have to toss them, there's nothing that will remove that deep down stench in shoes that I know of.

Good luck.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:56 PM on March 28, 2012

And on the underwear thing:

A) You can't wear dirty underwear. Remove this from the options you give yourself.
B) What people have said above about buying enough to get you through to laundry day is great.
C) Wearing an undershirt is a great idea if you're not already doing it. It will make your clothes last longer, what sweat you do have is a bit removed from the exterior of your body thereby lessening sweat marks/stains and odor, and you can hit it with a bit of cologne, talc, or witch-hazel to help mask any odor that is persistent.

Really, saying you don't have funds to do laundry is unfair because you're pretty much ruining clothes by not treating them better already. Since you're not walking around naked when you run out of clothes, this is costing you money. Pay upfront and smell/look better instead of continuing down the road of grief you're currently on.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:16 PM on March 28, 2012

Everyone is giving really good, kind advice, and nobody seems to be insisting you BE PERFECT NOW OR QUIT. It sounds like the key is going to be making it easy for yourself.

Own as much underwear as possible, and think of it like any other one-use item, except throw it in a hamper instead of the garbage.

Depending on your size and your personal junk-cradling preferences, I'd recommend cotton boxer briefs for you. They're longer than jocks and thicker than boxers, and fit close to the body. They cover more of the crotchal area, and will protect your pants better. It sounds like you get sweaty, maybe, so how about some Gold Bond powder inside for comfort? It smells reasonably nice and keeps your skin resistant to yeast and bacterial overgrowth.

What kind of pants are you wearing? Are you required to wear a suit to work? If you aren't, I'd suggest you buy yourself five pairs of the easiest-care, natural fibre or natural fibre blend, hard-wearing work pants you can find. (Dockers maybe?) Don't wear polyester. Fit yourself loosely enough that you get a little airflow. Never wear the same pair two days running, and you can go two whole work weeks without having to wash these. Three if you're aiming for "good" instead of "ideal".

Get a package of disposable travel toothbrushes, the kind with the little bead of tooth gel, and keep one each place you hang out at home. Brush your teeth at your desk, or while you watch TV. This doesn't replace a regular good brushing over the sink, but it will cover you if you miss a day, and helps form the habit.

At the drugstore, you can buy "purse packs" of baby wipes. They're resealable, and hold maybe 12 or 20 wet wipes. Keep one of these in your desk at work, or in your backpack. You can give yourself a wipe wash in the washroom at lunch. Use these every time you wipe your butt, and you'll be happier. Cheap version: buy a bulk pack, and carry a few in a zipper sandwich bag.

What is your workplace like? If you're in a cubicle, think about your office chair. It might smell bad -- if so, trade it off. Someone above mentioned tea-tree oil. You can get this in many different places, and it really is a nice, natural smell. Putting some in water in a spray bottle is great to spiff up the smell of the carpeting or fabric dividers in your office, and make it smell like something other than people.

Pay someone to do your laundry. It's worth it.
posted by Sallyfur at 2:33 PM on March 28, 2012

I tried looking through most of the comments and I don't think anybody has mentioned it: make showers an awesomely enjoyable part of your day. I love taking showers and I can definitely say they are one of my highlights daily. The key to this, I believe, is taking showers at night. When it's time to unwind for the evening and "get away" for a bit, you jump in the hot shower. Let's say your shower is 10 minutes long, spend 7 minutes of that just hanging out under the hot water relaxing (as you would in a hot tub). Yes, you're using more water than absolutely necessary, but if you're going to do anything wasteful in your life it sounds like you should definitely make it this. In essence, think of showers not only as a necessary hygiene chore but as a time of enjoyment and relaxation.

The benefit of this is that it doesn't matter if you're depressed (the shower is your momentary escape) and you don't have to worry about waking up (which I, personally, can't do very well either).
posted by Defenestrator at 12:55 AM on March 29, 2012

I'm not a fan of knz's assertion. People are cleaner when they use shampoo and soap/body wash. Some people can't, or just can't do it every day, because of skin sensitivity issues. But, you should definitely use soap, no question.
posted by Citrus at 7:16 AM on March 29, 2012

The point of some of the suggestions is to make it easier to keep your hygiene up to speed. So, yes,
* slowly buy underwear and socks until you have 2 - 3 weeks' supply, to reduce laundry crises.
* buy enough towels to do the same. Change out towels after 3 daily showers, and hang them up where they get dry between showers.
* keep a shopping list. Shampoo, anti-bacterial soap or body wash, toothpaste, deodorant, laundry deterg. Check it twice a month.
* keep spare deodorant, wipes, hand sanitizer, corn starch and sugarless gum in the car.
* on days when you may be hot or sweaty, carry a change of underwear, and use it.
* Corn starch is excellent for sweaty personal areas, as well as for smelly shoes.
* it helps to have 2 pairs of work shoes, and to let them get completely dry and aired out.
* buy a 2nd set of sheets, and extra pillowcases
* get some febreeze and lavishly spray car seats, desk chair, mattress, upholstered furniture, and anything else that may have picked up too much human aroma.
* wash the windows, clean the bathroom, shower, kitchen, etc. as soon as you can.
*go to Goodwill or another thrift shop and get some extra pants and shirts you can wear for work. Get your suit(s) cleaned.

A lot of shirts can be washed in the sink, and hung to dry. Air out your clothes if you plan to wear them again. At some point, get a clothes brush, and brush them; it really helps clothes stay clean. Clean underwear is critical, but you also have to keep your clothes clean. Sunshine and fresh air are very effective at getting rid of odors; if you can hang clothes outside, it will help. Open the windows, and air our your place.

If you don't have a calendar, get one. On your calendar, put a star for every completed hygiene task, every day. Instead of focusing on shame and embarrassment, focus on progress and growth. Look, I did 100% 4 days out of 7 last week; that's big progress!

Notice how nice your clean clothes smell and feel. Notice the pleasure of clean sheets. Enjoy the feeling of clean teeth. When you run water for the shower, once in a while remind yourself that clean running water is a big luxury that many people don't have. Do your best to turn hygiene into a treat, not a chore. You deserve to be clean and sweet-smelling. You deserve clean clothes, sheets, towels, fresh underwear and socks. You deserve to get around in a car that smells nice. Use bath products that smell and feel nice to you, because you deserve small luxuries. If the shower bores you, play music or a podcast. If the shower feels good, spend an extra minute or 2 enjoying it.

When you go to the laundromat, take a book, or treat yourself to a magazine, so there's a treat associated with it. Find a pleasant laundromat, even if it's further away. Ask how long the washers take, and go for a walk. After laundry's done, have a meal you especially enjoy, and a glass of wine, or some other treat.

Keep reminding yourself of your goal of smelling good, and feeling good, and not experiencing the shame you currently feel, but, instead, experiencing happier interactions with people.

There's a good chance depression is still at play, think about it. You deserve to feel better. It was pretty badass to post this; we're all rooting for you. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 10:51 AM on March 29, 2012

It's not clear to me whether you are low on money, or just low on cash.

In case you're low on money, here are some things to consider:
- Cheap soap/shampoo/deodorant/detergent works just as well as expensive
- You can line dry your clothes - that'll save money on the dryer and your clothes will last longer too
- I machine wash my suits on the 'hand wash' setting then hang dry them. So far so good.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2012

According to many studies, you have to do something for 20 days straight to make it a habit. You say that you don't have time, but you actually do. Maybe it's time to break your day into priorities. (Relaxing in front of the Tube after work is NOT a priority!)

Money priorities as well. $2.50 is not that much to have clean clothes. 2.50 is a sandwich or a coffee.

Make it a habit to brush your teeth when you wake up. Just get up, grab your toothbrush, and go at it. It's harder to do the same at night, so pick a time every night to just brush, like 10pm. I sometimes brush my teeth at my night job, because I work during the day and all the way until 2am. I treat it like a cigarette break.

Think of good hygiene like this. The most successful people in the world have good hygiene. They feel confident, they know where everything is, and people respect them. Why? Because they know they look great and it reflects in their personality. You should aspire to be like that too.
posted by RockyK at 4:38 PM on April 17, 2012

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