We asked Jolie Kerr, cleaning expert and author of the upcoming My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag, And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha, how to keep our apartments from looking like college exploded all over them.
Interview by Katie Gregory
I have roommates AND cats. How do we keep our house from looking like it's inhabited by frat boy squatters? Get rid of the roommates and cats. No seriously. Get rid of them, it's the only way.
Oh, I'm just yanking your chain (sort of). I realize that some of you are unwilling and/or unable to do those things, and we'll address the cats on down the line but for now: THE ROOMMATES.
One good way to keep the house looking tidy is to control clutter, and a good way to control clutter is to set some parameters with the roommates (the cats are impossible, forget about trying to control them) around what can and cannot be left in common spaces. There should also be an agreement that things that fall outside those limits—mail, dirty socks, clean socks, nail varnish, pimple cream, popsicles, live chickens awaiting ritual sacrifice by the light of the waxing gibbous of a blue moon—can be tossed into personal living spaces with impunity.
We really want to do the bare minimum of cleaning every week. What do you make sure you clean every single week, even if you’d much rather be lying comatose on the couch? You have two options, bare minimum-wise: you can go for a "If I keep the main living space tidy, I'll feel happy" approach — which will entail maybe a 30-minute-a-week straightening up of things, tossing or sorting out mail and old magazines, removing any lurking cups, glasses or plates to the kitchen, and giving the surfaces a once-over with a dry rag to get up dust. You can use Endust or the like to make things look really nice if you feel particularly ambitious. This can easily be done while watching the type of television program that you enjoy but don't ever want to admit to others that you watch.
[Oh, you mean like this pointless show that has taken over my entire life?]
The other option is to make sure you clean the bathroom every week. Yup! EVERY. WEEK. And actually? If you do it every week it will probably not take you any more than 15 minutes, if you know the right things to do. We'll get to those things in a sec. But the cat ladies still require my attention because they're cat ladies and that's their nature.
Is there a secret to cleaning cat hair, or are we just going to have to accept that we’ll have a thin film of cat hair on everything we own until we die?
The secret is a handheld vac and lint rollers, which will help to keep the cat's impact to a minimum. Of course you have to use them in order for them to make an impact, which is, I think, important to mention.
[Another adorable option is to just get one of these little fellas.]
The bathroom is a nightmare. How can we keep beard trimmings out of the sink, and that unsightly ring out of the tub? You can do those things with a combination of paper towels, microfiber sponges and Scrubbing Bubbles.
Stashing a roll of paper towels in the bathroom will make it easier to wipe up spills; the microfiber sponges can be used to wipe down the sink area to keep it free of whiskers and such. I like the combo of the two because while the sponges are more eco-friendly, they're not great in terms of absorbency (they work better on damp messes, rather than puddle-type situations). You'll also need to launder those sponges fairly regularly; blessedly, they tend to come in packs of three so if you're a laundry-once-a-month person, you can swap a new sponge in once a week or so and rather than do more frequent laundering.
[Probably an accurate representation of how I feel while cleaning.]
As for that tub (and the sink and toilet, too!) Scrubbing Bubbles are where it’s at. Do you know about Scrubbing Bubbles? Because if you don't your entire life is about to change. They're just like what they sound like: Bubbles that Scrub. To use the product, spray the tub/sink/toilet down and walk away for 5, 10 minutes. Come back with a damp sponge or a clean rag and wipe everything down. That's seriously it. It's that easy. If there's any lint that the sponge didn't get up, do a final pass with a paper towel.
Since we’re spending all our money on cat toys, what are some cheap, DIY cleaning solutions we can make at home? White vinegar basically cleans everything, and it is ABSURDLY cheap. You can mix it with equal parts water to make glass and all-purpose cleaner (it has antibacterial properties that will work just fine for cleaning kitchen counters and all manner of other germy spaces); a small amount of it poured into a bowl will take unwanted odors out of a room, which is a great thing to know if you get loaded one night and decide that smoking is absolutely allowed indoors; it's also a natural fabric softener and odor absorber to use in your laundry (a half cup in the wash cycle will do it).
When combined with baking soda it makes a cool volcano that will clear drains and help to get tricky shaped items like vases clean. Baking soda on its own can be combined with boiling water to get stuck-on gunk off the bottom of a pan.
What are some things that need to be cleaned that 20-somethings forget about? Like, sometimes it’s hard to remember that everyone has been using the same kitchen sponge for the last 2 years. One of my particular nits is people who don't regularly wash their dish towels and the hand towels in the bathroom. (What's that? You don't have hand towels in the bathroom? How are people drying their hands? ON YOUR BATH TOWEL?? Right. Go out and buy a set of hand towels.) Pillows are also another one that virtually everyone, myself included, fails to wash as often as should happen.
[Here is a terrible quality clip of the greatest thing ever shown on TV.]
Do you have any cool, “underground” cleaning supplies you use? Maybe something that’s environmentally friendly and doesn’t smell like lemons? I can't even begin to understand the problem with things smelling like lemons, but okay sure! My favorite "underground" cleaning product is a thing used for laundering called bluing. It does precisely what the name implies, it makes things blue. Which is great if you've got dingy or yellowed white clothes, towels or bed linens that you want to make bright white again. Unlike bleach, it's eco-friendly and won't cause certain stains, like sweat, to become more yellow.