Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She'll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.
Raise your hand if you had a cleaning- or organizational-New Year's Resolution on your list of 2014 goals. No? Huh. Well, lemme see if I can change that.
Generally speaking, Ask a Clean Person sticks to one-off, specific situational-type questions. Which is great, but also it means that some things get lost along the way—things like doing a major closet purge, or facing the monsters living in the trunk of your car. I can, and would like to, help with those things too!
In pursuit of helping you out with those sorts of bigger ticket cleaning tasks, I've put together what I think is a realistic and manageable, opt-in yearlong cleaning project that I'm calling Year of the Clean Person. (YoCP. Cute, right? Hashtag #YoCP for hashtag-y places.) Its focus is on tackling areas or tasks that are often overlooked in daily or weekly cleaning sprees and can be overwhelming when it comes time to rassle them back under control. It's sort of a "slow and steady wins the race" approach, and by the end of it you'll be able to look back and say that this was the year you, too, became a Clean Person. It'll be great.
There's another reason for the slow burn approach, and it's a thing I'll address at every turn because it's hugely important to your success to acknowledge this: The process of getting rid of things is hard on the psyche. Parting with belongings calls up all sorts of difficult feelings. Guilt over wastefulness or lack of gratitude. Sorrow. Anger. Exasperation at yourself and others. Memories of happier times. Memories of sadder times. Memories of those who are no longer in your life for one reason or another. Those feelings are valid and we'll talk them through. The good news is that working through the process will yield a positive result—a successful purge is great thing for the ole psyche!
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In recognition that these projects are both time- and emotionally-consuming, this calendar isn't intended to be completed in its entirety. Ideally, you'll pick two to four of these projects. Maybe you'll pick more! Maybe you'll pick all of them! Maybe, and most likely, you'll pick two projects, see how relatively painless they were to complete with a little bit of structure and cheerleading and decide to take on a few more.
(If you're really, really motivated and ready to GET CLEANING NOW, check out Apartment Therapy's January Cure. If you're having heart palpitations at the thought of turning your inbox into a daily chore wheel come sit by me.)
The calendar is designed in such a way that you should be able to achieve all of these goals if you so choose, and also to allow for a lot of customization to account for differences in time, space, need and interest. Maybe you're like, "You know? I enjoy the pile of shoes that's taken over my closet and I don't want to mess with a good thing." And that's totally fine! The point is this: I'm here if you want help, not to demand or scold you into doing things that you're not interested in doing.
How This Is Gonna Work
Each month I'll lay out the basic tasks associated with each discrete cleaning or organizing project, and break them down into stages rather than daily or weekly assignments; that will allow you to work them into your schedule in a way that's best for you. In addition to the basics, I'll also throw in some extra credit ideas for overachievers. And because rewards make great incentive, along with each monthly cleaning project I'll make some suggestions of completion presents to which you might treat yourself.
But that's not all! Rewards in the form of things (new sheets, a night out at a new restaurant, those shoes you've been coveting) are great, but it's also nice to have someone to give you a pep talk when you need it, and a RAH-RAH! when you have a success. Which is part of what I'm here to do. So: Follow me on twitter, or on kinja, where at the beginning of each month I'll link to the details of the project we'll be taking on. Tweet at me for pep or RAH! when needed. Post photos for me on Instagram so I can see your successes. Email me questions. Use your fellow YoCPers to motivate you. [Update: Due to the volume of requests for email notifications, I created a newsletter to which you can subscribe: tinyletter.com/joliekerr.]
Okay deep breath. Take my hand. We're gonna do this thing.
The Schedule of Events
January: Make Your List
Heading into any big project without a plan is a recipe for failure, and creating order out of chaos is certainly a big project! So the task for January is to create a roadmap of your YoCP goals.
Why Are We Doing This In January? The list will serve as the foundation for the rest of your year's goals. Seeing your lists will also help me tailor this project to better help you, so do it for me even if you think I'm being silly in asking you to take a whole month to plan before getting into the actual cleaning.
February: Reclaim Your Bookshelf
The bookshelf cleanup is the one big rec room task I'm doling out for the year. It will include a book purge, naturally, but also a thorough cleaning of a piece of furniture that is often overlooked, a reorganization of the books, magazines, CDs/records/DVDs/etc., knickknacks, and whatever else you're storing in your bookshelves. I bet you think this one will be a cakewalk; it won't be. But you'll be happy with the result and more than a little surprised at the difference a handsome-looking bookshelf will make to your primary living space.
Why Are We Doing This In February? Well, I've got a book coming out on February 25, and I would love to see a copy of it displayed on your triumphantly tidied bookshelf!
March: Let's All Make Our Beds
That's all! In March I just want you to make your bed every single day. If you're already a daily bed-maker, you're golden. If you're a semi-regular bed-maker go ahead and see what a commitment to daily bedclothes straightening does for you.
If you're an infrequent or I-never-make-the-bed-person, give it a shot anyway. It's only a month and making the bed truly does not take up very much time. Best case scenario for you: You try it and can look me in the eye and say truthfully that it made absolutely no difference in your life. I will accept that and tell you to go with Hestia. Seriously! It's not my bed, after all. Best case scenario for me: I convert a non-believer to the gospel of bedmaking.
Why Are We Doing This In March? Two years ago, in the previous iteration of Ask a Clean Person, I ginned up a monthlong bedmaking challenge that was done in March for absolutely no particular reason. It was called "Let's All Make … Our Beds" and I proffered the absolutely terrible acronym LAMOB as a joke while casting about for a good twitter hashtag. It stuck. And do you know? I still get emails and tweets from people who LAMOB'd and continue to LAMOB to this day! Which, as you might imagine, thrills me to my very core. So we're sticking with March and with #LAMOB and this is the one I hope people take a leap of faith on and join in.
April: Create Your Dream Bathroom
Brace yourself for this one, because it's a biggie. Creating your dream bathroom can include replacing caulk and broken toilet seats; brightening up grout; washing the walls (YUP. We're gonna wash some walls, darn it!); installing better lighting; purging medicine cabinets and makeup drawers and under-sink areas. It's dirty, physical work. But having a bathroom that is clean and organized will be well worth your efforts.
Why Are We Doing This In April? This is one of the more labor intensive tasks on the calendar, so we'll harness all that great Spring Cleaning energy and channel it into making your bathroom the best it can be.
May: Winter Clothes Purge
This one is pretty self-explanatory: May is the month in which we'll sort through our winterwear—coats, scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters, tights, wool socks, boots, skis, snowshoes, ice skates, etc. etc. etc. We'll pitch what's no longer wanted or needed, clean the stuff we're keeping, and store it properly until it's time to pull it out when the cold weather returns.
Why Are We Doing This In May? Because by the time May rolls around you'll hopefully be so sick of your winter clothes that the process of getting rid of some of the stuff that no longer fits, is worn out, or not needed and taking up space should be much, much easier on you. Also, hopefully it will be warm out and you'll be far less interested in holding on to that bulky sweater that's far past its prime.
June: Car Wash
Your car can be like a second home, so we'll give your vehicle some TLC in June. A massive trash purge will be the first thing, followed by an interior and exterior cleaning.
Why Are We Doing This In June? To get your ride spiffed up in anticipation of all those fun summer road trips!
July: Shoe Purge
Okay you caught me, the "purge" is really only the beginning. July is the month in which we'll toss old or uncomfortable shoes, show some love to the ones we're keeping in the form of a de-stinking, polishing and trip to the cobbler if necessary, and then put them all away in an organized fashion.
Why Are We Doing This In July? Because by now we're deep enough into summer that you've taken to wearing the same pair of flip flops every day anyway.
August: Clean Out Your Desk
Organizing files. Disposing of the 7,562 paper napkins you've collected. De-crumbing your keyboard. You know you should do it, you just never seem to get around to it. But now you will!
Why Are We Doing This In August? Well, no one really works in August, so you might as well use the down time to get your desk straightened up. And then there's that psychological September Back-to-School thing that we hold onto well into adulthood that we can take advantage of to motivate us to get our workspace in order. Bonus: Office supplies go on sale in August!
September: Summer Clothes Purge
This is the flipside of May's Winter Clothes Purge coin: September is the month in which we'll sort through our warm weather items—shorts, tank tops, sundresses, bathing suits, sarongs, beach towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, floppy hats, tote bags, gardening gear, etc. etc. etc. We'll pitch what's no longer wanted or needed, clean the stuff we're keeping, and store it properly until it's time to pull it out when the warm weather returns.
Why Are We Doing This In September? Same general idea as why we're gonna ditch our winter stuff in May.
October: Kitchen Organization
This is where we'll take on all the kitchen items that fall outside the foodstuffs category (next month we'll tackle the fridge and pantry). Everything from paring down your coffee mug collection, to disposing of the empty Parkay tubs you've been hoarding, to giving your appliances a thorough cleaning is fair game.
Why Are We Doing This In October? The holidays are right around the corner, which means it's time to prepare your kitchen for the onslaught of festive entertaining to come. Also, you'll be casting about desperately for your pumpkin carving kit, so we might as well take advantage of the fact that you've already upended the utensil drawer and wedge some organizing in there.
November: Clean Out Your Fridge & Pantry
November will see us pitching old foodstuffs, scrubbing down cabinetry and the interior of the icebox, organizing spices, transferring dry goods into sturdy storage containers, all that good stuff.
Why Are We Doing This In November? This is related to the October task, and is scheduled for November for exactly the same reasons: we're gonna get the refrigerator and pantry spruced up in advance of holiday cooking, baking and entertaining.
December: The Holidays Are Busy Enough, Take a Break And Admire The Work You Did This Year!
My hope is that by the time December 1 rolls around, you will be able to look back at the year and see evidence of how much you achieved in your home. It is also my hope that you will respond by pouring yourself a giant glass of eggnog, spiking it with an unholy amount of rum, brandy and/or bourbon and congratulating yourself on a job very well done. Then take the month off, because you will assuredly have so, so, so, so, so many other things demanding your attention in December.
The January Project: Make Your List
This probably feels anticlimactic, but the first assignment, in which you will survey the lay of your land and enumerate the goals you have for improving your space in 2014, is absolutely the secret to success. It's my hope that everyone will join in the January project, though I know that you're going to be tempted to skip this part.
Don't skip this part.
There are four components to making your list, go ahead and give yourself a deadline of January 31 to complete them.
Step One: Make That List!
That's sort of a "Yuh duh, Jolie" thing but I've got some meat and potatoes for you to go along with the yuh duh.
The media you use to make your list is up to you—some people like good old pen and paper, some people prefer to use a note-taking app on their phone, some will go in for a Word doc, others will scribble their list on the walls using crayon. I'd prefer you not choose that last option but if you do, WD-40 will take that crayon off the walls when the time comes for that. But you should set the list down somewhere that's not your head.
One thing that will be helpful when you're creating your list is to walk around your home and check things out. What areas have you not paid attention to? What things are totally out of control? What would you like your home to look and feel like? Write all those things down.
The next part of making the list is to sit down and think of a few things that cause you continuous stress. Examples of this are not being able to find your keys in the morning dash out of the house; that pile of sweaters that doesn't have a good home and sits in a heap; the trunk of your car that is so stuffed with junk that you can barely get it closed. Whatever those stressors are, add them to your list.
Next you'll review the rest of the YoCP calendar and pick out some of the monthly projects you'd like to take on. On the list they go. Oh and this is important: Don't feel beholden to the projects I've identified.
The final act in compiling your list is to create order and priorities out of the notes you've made for yourself and create a clean list documenting your goals for the year.
Step 2: Calendar Your Goals
Make entries in your calendar—paper or electronic, it doesn't matter!—to indicate for yourself when you intend to perform these tasks. Make another entry for a due date; much like making the list itself you're going to be tempted to skip this part but don't. Using your calendar will help to keep you on track and will serve as a reminder of what you set out to accomplish.
Step 3: Set Up Email Alerts
If you're using an electronic calendar, add in an email alert to ping you. Paper calendars won't offer this function, obviously, but you can put the calendar in a place where you'll see it frequently enough that it will serve as a constant reminder.
Step 4: Tell Me Your Goals
Seriously, I wanna hear them! Plus then you've told someone else, which will make the whole thing seem much more real for you.
To give you something concrete to work off of, here's my list.
- Dispose of old laptops
- Clean out storage "shed"
- Take curtains to the dry cleaner
- Scrub windowsill under AC unit
- Steam clean upholstery
- Deep clean behind fridge and stove
- February Reclaim My Bookshelf
- May Winter Clothes Purge
- September Summer Clothes Purge
- October Kitchen Organization*
- November Clean Out The Fridge & Pantry*
The ones that I left behind are bedmaking (I do that already); the bathroom project (we're likely moving in July, so it's not a great use of time and money); car wash (I don't have a car); and desk cleaning (my desk is my kitchen table).
The first set of tasks on my list, which are mostly things that fall outside the YoCP calendar, I'll tackle in January. So onto my Google Calendar they go!
And finally, there needs to be a reward in here somewhere. My reward is easy: you guys are my reward. For you, though, maybe treat yourself to a bottle of something bubbly to toast to the commitment you've made to yourself? If you're not of age, or not a drinker, think of something that you were hoping to get as a holiday gift in 2013 that never materialized and treat yourself to that.
Okay then! Who's with me? I really hope this works, you guys.
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Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.