I got a good enough education in housekeeping. I grew up with a mom who valued tidiness, I had chores like washing dishes and washing clothes and cleaning my brother and my bathroom every other week. I also am not and was not afraid of asking “hey how the hell do you do that?” about things I didn’t understand from well loved and trusted homemakers.
I have become the person people turn to when they wonder how to clean their cast iron or the best way to revive their wooden spoons. I love that. I love that I get to be a trusted person to help people achieve domestic bliss. And the more I’ve become the go-to friend for housekeeping tips, the more I’ve realized that a lot of the things I consider the basics of housekeeping were never taught to some folks! Not everyone had a loved one teach them (usually over and over again) how to do a housekeeping task.
Many of us are getting into the season of hosting and cleaning that comes with the holidays, and I hope that this makes preparing for company feel a little easier and brings a little order to what can sometimes feel like an unhinged time of year.
1. “I don’t care if you use my stuff, just put it back where you found it.” – Persephone Hall (aka Mom)
This is the key to my mom’s skill as a homemaker. She said this to my brother and I more times than I can count (when she was really angry she’d say “shit” instead of “stuff” and we’d all try really hard not to laugh). Whenever she takes something from the place where it lives, she puts it back. Almost immediately. The lesson here is: everything has a place, and should remain in its place. The majority of mess in my apartment is because I take something out and never put it back. If you’re always putting things back where they belong, you’re never gonna have to take hours out of your day to clean things up because you never let the place get messy.
2. Clean bed, clean head.
I’m sure you’ve heard some form of this; it’s a touch cliche, but it’s an important mantra in my life. When my bed is full of books and vape pens and my phone and random socks I’ve taken off in my sleep and the sheets are akimbo, I don’t sleep well. When I don’t sleep well, I’m more likely to become unorganized. When I’m unorganized, I’m messier. The choice to not keep my bed made and uncluttered can result in my entire apartment falling into disarray. It takes me around 4 minutes each morning, and there is a noticeable difference in my day when I do it.
3. “Throw a little bleach in that dish water!” – Margaret Monts (Granny)
Listen, do this at your own risk. I am not saying this is safe!!! But! If you don’t have kids or pets and aren’t forgetful and it won’t damage your dishes and you happen to have the luxury of a split sink, maybe try it. At the top of each morning, my grandmother would put away all the dishes she dried last night, fill one sink with super hot water, a squirt of dish soap, and a cap full of bleach, and would drop rinsed dishes into that water throughout the day. At the end of the day, she’d drain the water, refill the sink with fresh hot water and soap, and wash the dishes (you should wear gloves — she probably did not). Her process helped prevent the water from getting murky and sanitized the dishes. On days when I’m throwing a dinner party, it’s a nice way to keep a huge stack of dirty dishes piled up, and makes it easy to do a quick load when I’ve got a free moment.
Also, clean your sink (and honestly, as much of your kitchen as you can bear) at the end of the night. Morning you will be deeply grateful.
4. The best way to fold a towel is in thirds.
I do not make the rules I just follow. Fold your towel like a brochure, and then fold it over itself into thirds again. This keeps them nicely compact and your towels look nice displayed in a drawer or linen closet.
5. Stop soaking your dishes for 4 hours.
Hi, I love you, and you’re soaking your dishes for too long. If you’ve got a stuck on food situation, here’s what you do: add VERY HOT WATER to cover the dish, a squirt of dish soap, and let it sit while you wash all your other dishes — 10-15 minutes max! And then, use some elbow grease and clean that dish. Do not let that thing soak all afternoon, you will not be more excited to wash that pan at 8pm than you were at 4pm, I promise.
6. Vacuum in lanes (also you should cut your hair similarly).
This tip comes from my Grandpa, a barber of 60 years, who will tell you with all seriousness that the way to vacuum and cut grass is exactly like how you cut hair. Don’t go all over the floor with no plan, use clear lanes. You don’t want to miss anything, and you’ll get those super satisfying vacuum lines when you’re done. It’s a good tip! I am not a barber though, so don’t trust me telling you how to cut your hair.
7. Your home is not a museum.
A home should be beautiful, whatever that means to you. Your home should generally be tidy and well organized and clean enough. But your home should not be a museum. It’s easy to go from someone who doesn’t enjoy cleaning to someone who just shoves everything away and leaves only bare spaces. But that’s not a lived-in home! That’s not comfortable or cozy. Keep your book on the coffee table. Let the cats soft toys be on the floor. Making a mess shouldn’t be the end of the world, it’s okay if there are imperfections. Those often end up becoming the charming spots your guests remember fondly.
8. Wash your sheets more.
I do not want this to turn into a place of judgement. This is a safe domestic space. But the thing is, we do not, as a society, wash our sheets enough. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, but I do want to encourage you to maybe wash your sheets like… 1.5 times more often than you do. And wash your pillowcases each week. We do a lot of skin shedding and farting and drooling and other body stuff on our sheets. To help us stay healthier and keep our spaces feeling and smelling fresh, let’s wash our sheets a little more frequently.
9. Sweep with the grain of the wood.
Plus, use boiling water when mopping (please be careful), old t-shirts are great for replacing dry mopping, and iRobots will get themselves caught in floor cords if given the opportunity.
10. Your clothes will last longer if you separate them by colors; also don’t use the dryer if you really don’t need to!
I split my laundry into six different groups. Whites, lights, brights, darks, kitchen linens, bed linens. The difference between lights and brights is something I do wholly because my mom did it. Lights are like, khakis, lighter greys, pastels. Brights are really just… any non-muted color. If I’m feeling really fancy, I will also split out all my denim into their own load. And I don’t really put anything into the dryer except kitchen linens and towels. Everything else gets hung to dry. It saves electricity and it also makes your house smell like your fabric softener! Free air freshener!
11. Buy yourself flowers. Keep fresh flowers in as many rooms as possible.
Because you deserve luxury.
What other tips and tricks have people you loved taught you? What are the housecleaning / housekeeping / homemaking / domesticity 101 tips that you also think everyone should know?
Notes for a Queer Homemaker is a new column that will publish on the fourth Friday of every month!