You're caught. We've discovered your biggest, deepest, darkest secret-your apartment is a smelly, cluttered, dirty, disorganized mess! Laundry is piled to your ceiling. Unidentifiable shoes and socks are having wild conversations under your bed. Books and magazines are wallpapering what used to look like a coffee table, and the dust on your carpet has turned it a mysterious shade of gray. And to think, you actually pay rent for this place! You might protest that you really like it this way, that you can find things just fine, that you have your own "system." Yeah. Face the facts: You've arrived at such a low point that it's going to take lots of hard work to get things in order. We're here to help you do just that.
1. Plan a course of action
Look, we know that there are a zillion other things that you'd prefer to be doing that are a lot more fun and interesting than cleaning-they're the things you've been doing for months while the dust was accumulating! But now you've got to put an end to that. Pick a day that you will perform the cleaning deed and keep telling yourself that this will be "cleaning day." To help yourself stick to that day:
Write that date on your calendar, fridge, hand, whatever.
Visualize yourself in cut-off jean shorts and an old T-shirt, fighting dirt to the tune of your favorite bands and singers.
Tell your friends that you're going to be cleaning your apartment that day. In fact, if you can, enlist a friend to help you so that you can encourage each other and so that you cannot back out.
After you've picked out your red-letter day and committed yourself to it, you have to decide whether you are going to clean, organize or both.
Cleaning. Cleaning is the process of actually freeing your apartment of filth. Each room in your pad requires a different cleaning tactic, so you must approach each one independently in order to properly plan your strategy. Bedrooms and living rooms are relatively easy to tackle-they generally involve vacuuming the carpet (or washing the floor), dusting the tops of dressers and night tables, and throwing away piled up papers and other unnecessary junk. Kitchens require scrubbing the countertops, sink and fridge, cleaning the stove, sweeping up crumbs and mopping the floor. Bathrooms require getting rid of mildew in the shower and bath area, scrubbing the sink, disinfecting the toilet and washing the floors. Now that's fun!
Organizing. Organizing is different from cleaning in that it involves creating a system for storing and finding things. This means you'll have to take an inventory of the clothes in your closet and drawers, reorganize where everything goes and pick out old things that you never wear anymore to either give away or throw out. You can also organize personal papers (documents of various types and personal letters) neatly into clearly labeled file folders. You can even get crazy and organize your kitchen, placing spices and canned goods in one cabinet, dishes and glasses in another cabinet, utensils in one drawer, and tin foil, plastic wrap and plastic sandwich bags in another. Organizing is a great "finishing touch" way to tie everything together after your apartment is clean. Cleaning and organizing can take an entire weekend-which means no time to veg out on the couch watching TV.
2. Gather the proper materials
Planning to dust with your roommate's favorite T-shirt? Please be kind: store up the following: For vacuuming, you will obviously need a vacuum cleaner. For cleaning linoleum or tile floors, you'll need a household liquid disinfectant and a bucket where you can mix it with hot water. You'll also need a broom and a mop (either a sponge mop or a rag mop is fine by us). For windows, mirrors and other glass surfaces, you'll need a glass cleaner. For tough surfaces like sinks and bathtubs, you'll need some scouring powder. If you're a wuss [a softie], you can get the liquid kind that contains tiny scouring granules. You'll also need a toilet brush, a tub brush, and a mildew-removing spray cleaner. If you have wood floors, you'll need to use a special wood floor cleaner. You'll also need some wood cleaning polish. Keep in mind that you cannot use regular cleaning solutions on wood surfaces-it will make your furniture look like crap. Also, you may want a feather duster.
For additional overall disinfecting, you can use household bleach (like Clorox). Keep in mind that bleach should not be used around areas where food is prepared. To clean your oven, you'll need an oven cleaning spray. You'll need lots of sponges and dishrags to soap up all things nasty. To dry things off, you should have an ample supply of either paper towels or dry, soft cloths (old T-shirts work just great). Most importantly, remember to protect yourself by using rubber cleaning gloves whenever possible. Make sure not to get anything in your eyes or mouth. Read all of the directions and warning labels on all materials before using them so that you don't end up with a science experiment gone wrong instead of a clean apartment.
3. Target specific surfaces
Since you're reading this article, we know you're not exactly an expert in cleaning. Still, we're sure you can handle simple tasks like sweeping and vacuuming without our help. So we'll focus on how to deal with specific surfaces.
Wood furniture. Wood furniture is delicate. If you're cleaning a wood dresser, for example, you should first remove all lamps, trinkets [ornaments] and framed pictures. Dust lightly with a soft cloth or feather duster, and then finish off the job by polishing with a soft cloth and wood cleaning polish (the more lemony-smelling the better). Polish helps seal and protect the wood, which helps keep it looking like new.
Plastic and formica countertops. Plastic and formica surfaces are easier to clean, although they can be very dirty. For areas that are not very dirty, you can just use plain soap and water. If your countertops are stained, you should use warm water and a household cleaner. If you have particular stains, create a solution of baking soda and water and use a toothbrush to scrub it out. For the most difficult stains, try bleach-but make sure not to let it remain on your surface for more than 90 seconds, and rinse the area thoroughly with water afterwards.
Kitchen floors. Start out by sweeping the floor to get rid of all crumbs, hairs and other unfortunate debris. Move tables, chairs and other obstacles out of the way. Fill a bucket with hot water and floor cleaner (mix it according to the ratio listed on the back of the bottle). Dip in your mop and wring it out well-if it's too wet your floor will be a sopping [very wet], slippery mess. Go over the floor in straight lines, pushing extra hard on stubborn stains or spots. If you're using a rag mop, swirl the head in figure-eight shapes. Remember to rinse and re-wring the mop periodically. When you're done, let the floor dry before walking on it.
Bathtub. The best way to clean the bathtub is to stand inside it. Using scouring powder and a tub brush, scrub aggressively at each difficult stain. Be sure to collect all the soap-scummy hair that's accumulated in the drain-if you don't want to touch it with your bare hands (we don't blame you), try using an old slim comb or hairbrush. For rinsing the tub, it's convenient to use a clean mop to go over the entire bottom area. The tiles in the shower can be cleaned easily using a sponge and the above-mentioned mildew-removing cleaner. For the cheapies out there, a solution of ¾ cup liquid chlorine bleach mixed with a gallon of water works just as well. Leave the solution on for at least five minutes before rinsing, and then let it air dry.
Refrigerator. To clean the fridge and freezer, remove all the food from it (the lone ketchup bottle and the old piece of lemon). Use soap and water to wipe down the inside, scrubbing extra hard at the most difficult stains. When you clean your freezer, make sure not to bang your head on the bottom of the door as you reach for some more soap. It happens! Wipe down the outside of the doors with glass cleaner (who says it's just for glass?!) and paper towels.
Toilet. What's the most trying, disgusting, smelly and degrading part of your apartment? Yep, the toilet bowl (the pot, the crapper, the john). Because so many yucky things get flushed down this thing, it is almost always in desperate need of a cleaning. First, lift up the cover and squeeze some toilet bowl cleaning solution (or sprinkle some scouring powder) around the edge of the inside of the bowl. Use a toilet brush to soap up the entire bowl, making sure to remove all of the stains. Then, flush at least once to make sure that the dirty water is taken away and clean water returns to the bowl to rinse it out. Any common household cleaner can be used to clean the outside of the bowl, as well as the cover, seat and base.Oven. Nothing's grosser than hardened, bubbled-over cheese that's settled onto the bottom of your oven. So. First, remove all the oven racks and place them in warm, soapy water. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, then turn it off and spray the inside with an oven cleaner. After about 10 minutes, wipe away all the greasy dirt with a damp sponge. Be sure to rinse the sponge frequently, and finish the whole process off by drying the inside of the oven with a soft, dry cloth. Oh yeah, and remember to put the racks back inside.
4. Keep your apartment clean
Now that you've scoured your place from top to bottom, you have an even more difficult task: Keeping it clean. Maintenance isn't that tough-it basically means staying on top of things on a daily basis. When you're done with dinner, wash the dishes. When you take off your nasty socks, throw them in the laundry basket immediately instead of leaving them on the floor. When you spill stuff on the kitchen counter, wipe it up right away-unless you want to attract a few undesirable pests (ants, roaches, mice) by letting the sticky mess just sit there. In this way, you won't end up feeling overwhelmed by the all the dirt and disorganization that surrounds you. Doing this will help you maintain your sanity [mental health]!