Images by Marcel Alcalá

How to Clean Your Home for Maximum Social Acceptability (and Minimal Effort)

Striking a balance between slob and neat freak

Some people are intrinsically motivated to keep their living space army-quarters clean. You know, the type who meticulously makes his bed, unconcerned with the fact that he’ll just return home later and quietly destroy his masterpiece. This isn’t a guide for those freaks. It’s for those of us who want to clean our homes just enough to curate an image: one that tells our friends, “I care about the environment I live in, but not so much that you feel like an inadequate failure when you come over. You’re my guest, after all!”

But how does one strike a balance between Danny Tanner and Now That’s What You Call … Clean? (Vol. WTF?). The middle ground is casual kempt-ness, and it’s attainable, so long as you focus your energy on cleaning up the messes that matter, while embracing the messes that don’t. This will open up your schedule for the bare-minimum, actual cleaning that needs to take place before your guests can confidently sit on your furniture, touch various surface areas and use your toilet without getting haunted by the Ghosts of Shits Past.

Below are some shortcuts for maintaining a level of tidiness that feels both effortless and socially acceptable.

The Open Door Policy

A self-serving but useful rule, the Open Door Policy creates an environment in which it’s understood that your home is the default spot for friends and acquaintances to gather. Where’s the after party? Your place. Feel like staying in, keeping it low-key? You’ve already got the wine. Want to see a movie? Skip the unseemly theater experience and pirate that shit, you’re not afraid of Time Warner Cable!

Soon, you won’t even have to offer. You’ll be hosting multiple friends, multiple times a week. In what way is this self-serving, you ask? Constant incentive to clean, fool! Would you have cleaned up if you lived a guest-free existence with no one there to judge? (If the answer is yes, again — this is not a guide for you. Go make your bed.) Having friends over creates the opportunity to clean up both pre- and post-visit, ensuring that your place never dips below tolerable-to-impressive standards of cleanliness.

The One Dish Rule

A sink full of dishes isn’t a good look. It causes, among other things, smells. But having an empty sink smacks of Try Hard, the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish. Enter the One Dish Rule: wash all but one dish (maybe two, if the second dish is a glass). These dishes should remain in the sink to indicate that, while you’re mostly on top of this stuff, you’re not pedantic enough to fret over one soiled dish. It signifies that you trust your friends — your esteemed guests! — to accept you and your curated-yet-lackadaisical lifestyle. People like to be trusted.

Cool Garbage Curation

Ever go to toss something in the garbage at a friend’s place and find a gleaming, unsoiled trash bag waiting for you to sully it? It’s intimidating at best, suspicious at worst. What is your host trying to hide? Moldy food? Body parts? You’ll never know. Disturbing.

So no, don’t throw out a not-quite-full bag of garbage just because people are coming over. Frankly, it’s a waste of garbage bags, and you’re nothing if not environmentally conscious (if anyone asks). What you should do is have some cool garbage on display. What is “cool garbage”? Well, that totally depends on the look you’re going for, but here are some thought-starters:

  • Empty prescription pill bottles: Reminds your guests, “Hey, I’m human.” Could be read as anti-stigma, a very cool message to send. Could also be the catalyst for a bonding session over shared medical issues. Indicates to pill-grubbing friends, “Sorry, I’m all out!”
  • A cryptic, handwritten note-to-self: Oh my God, do you still use your hands to write things? Things that are nonsense trash to the untrained eye? How interesting and unique: Tell me more.
  • No more than two beer cans: Reads as, “I know when to stop, and I do.” Tells guests this is a party house, but not a PARTY~! house. Makes guests feel special when you announce it’s time to PARTY~!

Uncool garbage that should be discarded or obscured immediately:

  • Used Q-tips: Ear wax, and any other bathroom garbage, is private information.
  • Bills: Yawn. No one cares.
  • The remains of your last Seamless delivery: Makes people sad.

Clean Like Everyone’s Snooping

When you invite people over, you can assume their trips to the bathroom more closely resemble a paleontological dig. Except instead of T-Rex remains, they’re looking for TUMS. Or deodorant. Maybe they just want to make sure you’re not one of those assholes who still uses microbead toothpaste. Point is, this is where you can impress your nosy little visitors with your keen attention to detail!

  • Treat your medicine cabinet like it’s a display case at Kiehl’s: Organize, Swiffer, hide that Imodium — whatever you gotta do. If someone has entered your home, they’ve seen what’s on the other side of that mirror. It’s physics. And you don’t want their takeaway to be, “Paul has diarrhea and uses environmentally-unsound toothpaste.”
  • Keep your shower curtain closed and your bathtub clean: An open-curtain, clean-tub combo makes it seem like you’re bragging, like you need to show off because you don’t do this often. A closed-curtain, dirty-tub combo is just waiting to be found out. But a closed-curtain, clean-tub combo? That is a Flex. It may even be a Flirt, depending on who is snooping in your bathroom.
  • Ban the junk drawer: You’d think giving people the privacy to play True Detective in your bathroom would be enough, but then they emerge and start “absentmindedly” opening and closing everything with a hinge. So surprise them with neat and orderly drawers! An organized drawer is more memorable than the stupid whatevers you unearthed while antiquing in Madrid.

Strategic Messiness

You’ve invited people into your home, not to a sanitized personal museum. Show them the real you while subsequently avoiding a tedious aspect of cleaning — putting your shit where it belongs. Those 13 books you have strewn across every possible surface? Leave them be! They’re conversation starters. That empty Amazon box you haven’t had a chance to break down and dispose of yet? Life moves fast! You’ll get around to it eventually, and besides, an empty Amazon box is mysterious. What’d you order? Could be anything! Got an art project that’s taking up half your living room? Your guests will have to accept that you’re just about that virtuoso lifestyle, I guess!

You’re well on your way to keeping a welcoming, sort-of-clean home. Don’t be afraid to deviate from this guide and put your own personal spin on housekeeping — just remember, “clean” is a construct! Oh, and never make your bed. It’s super predictable.

Stephanie Georgopulos is the author of Some Things I Did for Money.

For more MEL, follow us on Medium or subscribe to the newsletter.