Notes for a Queer Homemaker: Tips From Someone Who Loves You

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.

a white and grey cat stands on the edge of a well made bed with their tail in the air looking pleased

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.

the interior of ari's home

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.

a vase filled with gorgeous fresh flowers inside ari's home

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!


Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Join A+

Ari

Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 327 articles for us.

31 Comments

  1. Ari! Thank you for this! The title of this piece made me smile SO much as a fellow queer homemaker.

    The best tips that have helped me keep a clean(ish) home are
    1. Get every room back to “ready” when you leave it or at the end of the day – for example, take the 5 minutes to straighten and fluff the couch cushions after watching TV, or to wipe down the counter (clean counters always make the kitchen). Same as your mom’s tip, really. Do I always do this? No. Does it help a lot? Yes.
    2. Use the five minutes when you’re waiting around for your coffee to brew or food to heat up in the microwave to tidy the kitchen. Nothing takes as long as you think it does. I usually tidy the counter and put away drying plates etc.
    3. Redecorating for the seasons, if you have the means, is always a mood lifter. I swap out pillow covers on the couch and display different tea canisters in the kitchen, tie seasonal ribbon around the vases we use to display fake flowers.

    Wholeheartedly agree on the fresh flowers… I love Trader Joe’s roses (though think they raised the price recently? they used to only be about $8.99 a dozen).

    Also, what is the best way to preserve wooden spoons? I would like to know!

    • For all wooden kitchen items, I clean them well with hot soapy water, allow to completely dry for a day or so, and then gently rub in a food safe beeswax salve. I use one called claphams beeswax salad bowl finish. Allow it to fully absorb and use a paper towel to wipe off any excess.

    • ooh, love your tips!!

      and for preserving wooden spoons: beeswax and olive oil! I save the ends of my old shabbat candles (i buy beeswax) and then when i have enough, i melt them down with an equal part of olive oil and whip it into a butter type thing. Then about once a week after washing, I take a TINYYYYY bit of this–like, less than a teaspoon–and rub down the wooden spoon. keeps them shiny, keeps the wood conditioned, makes them more resistant to splintering!

    • Thank you for your tips too. Since reading, I’ve started tidying up the lounge after watching TV and it’s SO nice to come back into the room the next day and have it looking neat.

      I am quite a tidy and clean person so already do a lot of Ari’s tips. The one I’d agree with most is making the bed every day. Not a huge task and very impactful.

  2. I am so excited about this series! It couldn’t come at a better time for me. I’m in a new space, just renting a room, and I’ve been uninspired to make it anything more than livable. But last week i finally bought some rugs and started thinking about how to reorganize.

    I so agree with the bed tip! I don’t do it every morning. I don’t like to sleep with my sheets tucked, so i usually just straighten the blankets a bit and fluff my pillow. But when i tidy my room the first thing I do is make the bed nicely with fresh sheets. It gives me energy for all of the other tasks!
    One tip i only learned recently is that egg, like blood, is a protein, so the same rule about not washing with hot water applies. You’ll have more success getting runny egg yolk off your plate if you use lukewarm or cool water, and then you can rinse with hot once the egg residue is gone. It’s helped me with scrambled egg pans too! The other thing that helps with things stuck to a nonstick pan is using a plastic fruit bag. When i have something stuck on a nonstick pan and don’t want to scrub with something too abrasive, i grab the little plastic netting that lemons or onions come in if I have one, and ball it up to use as a non scratchy scrubber before I throw it away.

    • yeah! make your bed however it feels good! I know someone who makes their bed like turn-down service every day, so it’s ready for them to get into at night! whatever works!

      also OBSESSED with this fruit bag trick, absolutely adding it to my homemaking binder!

  3. I love the laundry advice (line drying rules!) but I’m going to dissent with the mentioned use of fabric softener. Fabric softener is from hell. It usually contains strong fragrance that lots of people are allergic or sensitive to. Chemical fragrance can even contain endocrine disrupters that have known health impacts. Most fabric softener products leaves a filmy coating on clothing fibres that’s meant to not come off (even with washing) and that means the icky stuff is really IN THERE.
    One thing most people can easily do to make the world around them more accessible to more folks is to stop using fabric softener, if going full on fragrance free is a bridge too far. I promise you won’t miss it and your chemically sensitive friends will thank you!

    • Ive been living alone for approx 7 monthsin a small 1 bedroom house, and after living w housemates for 10+ years, I was horrified to learn that Im a very, very messy person when no one is watching😲🙅🏽‍♀️

      Thankfully Im committed to turning this ship around. I do love how you describe creating space. I put lots of thought into lighting, color, and art around. But how do you organize yr laundry, or your dishes? How do you keep yr things lasting? These are the questions you seem ready to discuss, and I am thankful. Also, I love your writing style! Looking forward to the next article already!

    • Further note on fabric softener – the coating it leaves can impact absorbancy – so if you’re a cloth pad/period underwear user you def. do not want fabric softener involved there – just an fyi.

  4. My mom always had me put a mug of water in the microwave for a few minutes to help “loosen things” before wiping down the microwave, and baking soda with a damp rag to clean the stove.

    When we were little she would assign us a number of toys to clean up at the end of the night, so that even when we didn’t put things away when we were done the tasks weren’t too overwhelming. I adapt my own numbers to fit my current living situations and tidiness needs: Right now, 100 things put away from and then loaded in the dishwasher is a good job; I only have to put away 50 pieces of laundry at a time; only need to tidy up 25 things around my bedroom, only need to put 10 random things in the living room away.

  5. Huge advice not just during the holidays but also generally all the time!? Living in a house with a bunch of people is hard, things get messy!! One of my biggest lessons: ALWAYS take out the trash before you leave the house for a day or two. The flies are merciless if you leave a full trash bin for more than 48 hours. Lesson learned firsthand D:

    • great point. one of the tips that i was thinking about including but left out is my most controversial opinion that trash cans are disgusting and we should just take out trash every day or even many times a day and use a small shopping bag or something

  6. I live in a sharehouse with two other disabled people and at any one time at least one of us is having some sort of health / financial / life crisis, so house definitely tends to go through phases of tidiness. Some tips I have for low-energy cleaning are: a bin in every single room, getting a dishwasher (I love this machine more than life itself), having a supply of paper plates and compostable cutlery if you can’t, having a ‘visitor’s box’ of teabags and nice biscuits so you don’t have to scramble for snacks if someone comes over, spraying the shower haphazardly with shower cleaner after every time you use it so soap grime doesn’t build up, having drawer organisers, not being ashamed of asking a friend to come over and help with a cleaning job once in a while.

  7. I don’t want to nitpick but a cap of bleach sounds like way too much unless you’re talking about bleach that has already been diluted. If you’re using thick bleach, then you only need a couple of drops.

    Great article though :-).

  8. Love these! Ok relatedly I recently tried mopping the kitchen tile with vinegar and water and a touch of Dawn (which I think was in your column? unless I am making that up, what is time, what is memory) and the tile ended up with a kind of a dull finish, would love to see tips for making it shiny in a future column! <3

  9. This is a great list! A few more things that have helped me:

    I figure on doing some sort of tidying every day, just as part of my being a human in the world (or in my house). It sounds obvious, but it was something I needed to spend a little time consciously adopting. For some people that means setting a timer and doing a 10- or 20-minute tidy every evening; for me it means that every time I think “Eh, I’ll put that away later,” I just put it away now.

    A place for everything means everything can be in its place. It’s infinitely easier for me to put a thing away when I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time to decide where it goes. I worked in a kitchen for five years and I always want the spoon to be where the spoon is, because then you don’t have to think about finding it *or* finding a new spot for it.

    This is going to sound really bougie, but if you have the money for a housecleaner to come in once a month, it’s worth it. We are three adults in my house and we have an amazing cleaner who comes in, charges us $120, and does the three things we hate doing the most: sweeping/mopping, bathroom scrubbing, and wiping down the tops of the kitchen cupboards. Twice a year she does a Whole House Clean and we are happy to pay for it. Between the three of us, it’s a reasonable expense and it makes it that much easier for us to stay on top of the smaller things.

  10. I am so excited for this column! I’m going to be coming back to today’s article and the comments repeatedly. Thanks, Ari, for sharing your tips on homemaking and creating this space to talk about queer homemaking. Can’t wait to read future pieces!

  11. Thank you for this! I love housekeeping content.

    For me, automation works better than telling myself I’ll just try harder to keep up. This suggestion depends on money and availability, but if people are selling robot vacuums or countertop dishwashers on Craigslist near you, they are much cheaper than new and can make a huge difference.

    My dishwasher is worth every inch of counterspace it takes up and has eliminated 90% of the stress of keeping up with dishes. I never had one before! I’m amazed.

    My roomba is seven years old, easily repaired with off-brand parts, and is scheduled to clean my floors while I’m out.

    A clean kitchen and bathroom floor can make your whole place feel cleaner. If you watch for them, you can often find Braava mops going for $50-70 (where I live), and they work silently in any room without carpeting.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!