Cleaning Lady: Freaking out

“Oh my God! My parent/friend/boss/total crushola/social group person is coming over and my place is a wreck!! AAHH! WHAT DO I DOOOooooo?!”

The Sudden Clean-up Panic.

Yes, I know it well. I have it all the time. In fact, its my biggest motivation for cleaning up my own place. Sometimes, when I’ve been lax for too long, I call or msg someone I haven’t seen in a while, someone I really respect and I make chit-chat. Then at the end we often make noises about getting together. Sometimes we make plans even.  THen when I hang up, I suddenly feel the urge to clean up in a panic as if they are going to show up any minute on my doorstep.

It works for me.

In any case, there are actually times when Ive been subject tot he Sudden Clean-up Panic. Maybe I havent’ cleaned in a while, maybe I have been sick, maybe me and the kids have been constructing a half-sized volcano with baking soda and tinted shampoo but no matter what I stand in the middle of my house and hear the immortal words of the fish-in-the-pot: This mess is so big and so deep and so tall, there is no way to clean it, there is no way at all!

So, I am here to guide you through the Sudden Clean-up Panic.

1. Access: pick your areas.

Is it absolutely necessary to clean every room, every area? I seriously doubt it. Unless its a surprise inspection for legal reasons, whoever is coming over can quite likely be contained to a few select areas. Usually the area next to the door, a sitting area and a bathroom are all you really need. If you can close off any areas, go ahead and do that first. Now see? The mess is not so big and tall now, is it?

2. Eye level: look at the lines

What looks “clean”? Two things: unobstructed view and light reflection (we’ll get to that in a minute). Your goal is to minimize obstructions to the landscape and increase light reflection. What is horizontal in your areas? Counters, tables, shelves etc. Horizontal areas look better when they are free of vertical obstructions. Look around and notice how many horizontal surfaces are cluttered. How much can you realistically grab and rearrange? Right now? Go do it. Don’t get too detailed about it, just clear some space for the eye to gaze about without being assaulted by brightly colored vertical flotsam. Usually, objects that clutter the landscape are large enough, you can grab many things and run to go put them somewhere else. I wouldn’t recommend hiding them (toss in another room or on your bed or under the couch etc) because now you’ve just made MORE mess and you’ll never get around to cleaning it. Try to put them in SOME kind of natural order or at least close to the place where they should go. The sink is a perfectly acceptable place to stack dishes. It looks a lot better than having them all over the counter, coffee table, couch etc

3. Surfaces: things that are disorganized get piled/stacked/boxed neatly

RESIST the urge to sit down and plow through that mass of paperbacks you bought at a garage sale. DO NOT start combing through the hair items you dumped out the other day when you were late and needed that specific barrette to match your outfit. FOR CRYIN OUT LOUD don’t decide now is the time to go through the pockets of all the jackets you dumped on the couch. Just gather up all of whatever knicky-knacky things you have and put them in a container or a shelf or a closet. A room with a few boxes looks a hella better than a room with six piles of tchochkes  scattering all over everything especially if you’re sitting in the middle with a sheepish grin saying “uh, oh heh, I was just cleaning this up”  (not that anyone’s going to be MAD or anything but it wont quite convey the image you’re going for here)

4. Light Reflection: look down first

When it comes to “instant clean” nothing changes a room like a clean floor. If you can’t wipe a counter, that’s no big deal (besides you can wipe it even after guests arrive, that’s normal) but having a dirty floor usually will make a whole room look horrible. Walk through your areas and look down the whole time. IF the floor is cleanable, do it but likely its got stuff strewn about which must be picked up first. Go grab two small garbage bags and get on your knees for this part. (Or sit down if the room isn’t too large). Once on the floor you can easily locate and take care of anything that is blocking the nice clean surface. Crawl through quickly, grabbing things that should not be there and putting them in one bag for replacing to its rightful area and one bag for trash. If an object stays in the room, then place the object up on the nearest flat surface to move later. Just get everything off the floor. Once the floor is clear, clean it. Vacuum. Sweep. Mop. Spray with Windex or Pledge, I don’t care, heck even water will help. If you have a non-carpeted floor, even hardwood, a basic detergent (like handwashing or laundry or even shampoo) that is somewhat watered down is fine, just work quickly. Take your shoes and socks off. Check your feet. If they are not clean, clean them now with the mop water. Then mop and be done. While its drying, put away all the things that stay int he room. If you don’t have your vacuum out, then go get it. Once you have the vacuum out, go for the corners and the sides of the walls and be sure to vacuum your couch a little bit. Look around for immediate cobwebs and dust you can also vacuum up quickly. Move on to the bathroom. Vacuum every edge and corner of the bathroom. Vacuum the dust off the back of the toilet tank. Vacuum the hairs off the sink. Vacuum.

5. Light Reflection: look up

There are bound to be cobwebs and dust up in places that will diffuse light. Vacuum or use a dusting stick.

6. Natural Feel: make a comfy spot

All you really need is an uncluttered place for your guest(s) to sit and visit. Make sure the couch and any adjacent seating is not covered in anything but pillows and a small blanket.

8. Smell: Wipe down the toilet and sink

The toilet is the number one smell generator. If you are someone who rarely cleans it, then toss some pine-sol or nice-smelling detergent into the bowl and start swishing. A nasty toilet speaks far more about your cleaning tendencies than any number of cluttered living rooms. Because when someone goes into a bathroom, it’s tight quarters that a person cannot help but notice.  Spray something around if you like but really the best way to get rid of odors in the bathroom is to clean the toilet. The bowl, yes, but especially the little area behind the hinges of the seat. That is where most of the nastiness accumulates. Grab ye something that will kill any bacteria (even rubbing alcohol will do) and wipe the hell out of that area. While wiping up, you can reach under the hinges a little too.

9. If there is still time, go clean something more detailed, usually something in the kitchen or the dining room table is the best place to start.  Do not start anything you are not willing to be caught at and stop right away.

10. When the guest(s) arrive, do NOT apologize for the state of your house.  I know its a tradition (especially here in the south) but its a stupid tradition. The reasons it began and continued are no longer valid. What it does do it make your guest look around quickly and if there;s anyting glaring that you missed, they will notice it. Why? Because usually when people apologize for the state of their house, the person they are talking to hadn’t even noticed the slightest problem (I mean, unless some pile of weird fungii picks up a butter knife and starts trying to hack your fingernails)

SO don’t say how sorry you are that your house is a mess. Just enjoy your guest(s). Pretty soon you’ll probably forget anyhow.

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