One of the big secrets of being an adult is that most of your time is spent doing things you don't want to do, like putting dishes away, making Excel spreadsheets, and picking up the dry cleaning. Another inevitability of independent living? You're going to, at some point, clean up a stomach-churning, disgusting mess without help. Here's how to do that without throwing up all over yourself.
When I say "disgusting mess," I don't mean "ew, there are so many dirty clothes on the floor!" or "big stack of papers on your desk;" I mean a rat died/exploded on your back porch or you accidentally threw away your birth control pills right before your roommate decided to clean the refrigerator, and you need to get them back. The sort of mess that haunts your nightmares and makes you want to avoid food for awhile.
The first thing you're going to be concerned with is simply getting close enough to the mess to see what you're dealing with, and this means overcoming your body's natural desire to avoid things that smell like they might give you diphtheria. When I was in high school and early college, I worked as a nurse's aide in a nursing home. During that experience, I learned to turn my sense of smell off entirely, which involved training myself to breathe through my mouth in such a way that the air did not pass over my taste buds, but most of us don't have the luxury of months of extreme nasal training. One Jezebel writer swears that a mustache of Tiger Balm works wonders to temporarily disable your olfactory sense. I've had excellent luck with Vicks Vap O Rub on the insides of the base of my nostrils, and Burt's Bees chapstick. You can also try sucking on a strongly flavored cough drop, but if you go this route, you're taking a risk, as it can lead to your tasting both cherry Sucrets and rotten onions.
If you can't overpower the smell with lotions, potions, or Halls Mentho-lyptus Drops, try to create a barrier. Most of us who did not dress as sexy doctors or zombie nurses last Halloween do not have medical masks just lying around the house, but if you do, that would be ideal. A crappy t-shirt worn over the nose and ears can help create a barrier between the stench and your face, as can a handkerchief. You may also want to apply something strong-but-not-unpleasant smelling to the inside of the mask. Chapstick, lotion, lemon, or peppermint oil will work. Just don't slather commercial cleaning products on the inside of your mask before putting it on, or you could end up passing out or giving yourself a face tumor or passing out with a face tumor. Don't put dangerous chemicals close to your mouth. That's Lady MacStupid.
Now that you've protected your nose and mouth, protect the rest of your body. Even if it's hot outside, if it's a big mess, wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, and shoes. You might feel silly while donning your makeshift biohazard suit, but have you ever gotten untouchable garbage sludge on your naked toes? Have you ever gotten cat vomit on your elbow or baby poop on your collarbone? You can throw away articles of besotted clothing, but you can only cry in the shower and scrub your raw skin while trying not to gag for about 20 minutes before you start getting pruny beyond repair. No matter how careful you are while cleaning up or picking through rancid waste you're going to probably get shit on yourself. Plan accordingly.
Ideally, you'll have plastic or rubber gloves at your disposal, like the kind used for housework, but if you're like me and your rubber housework gloves are so old that they've formed into a sort of rubber housework wad under your sink, you'll have to improvise. Plastic grocery store bags make excellent disgusting-shit receptacles/makeshift gloves in a pinch, as do ziplock bags, or just wrap your hands in saran wrap mitts. Put the bags on your hands like thumbless mittens and paw through the mess that way. When you have found what you need to grab, grip it through the plastic of the bag while imagining that it is play-doh or a well designed set piece from a mid-80's horror movie called Attack of the Vomit! and, with your other hand, reverse the bag around the mess. Then tie the ends up, drop it in another bag, tie those ends up, run as fast as you can to the necessary outdoor garbage receptacle, drop the bag, run back inside, and try to erase the cleaning trauma from your memory.
Remove your disgusting clothes and take a long shower. Thank whoever is responsible for Ryan Gosling that your ordeal is over, and make a mental note to buy disinfectant the next time you're at the grocery store.
Image via Ljupco Smokovski/Shutterstock.