If you’re like most single guys, you have a hard time keeping your place neat and clean. You want to be able to have your lady friends over to see where you live, make them dinner, rub their shoulders, and show them how great When Harry Met Sally looks on your giant HDTV. But you’re afraid that Billy Crystal’s charms won’t be enough to keep their eyes averted from the giant stampede of roaches that swarms from your kitchen to the bathroom every night. How can you quickly master enough cleaning skills that women won’t run away in horror from the sight of your disgusting hovel?
Like studying or eating a 72-ounce steak, cleaning house is easier when you do it a little at a time rather than trying to cram it in all at once. And if you’re lazy, the best way to get a head start on cleaning is to have a place that practically cleans itself. Here are some tips to make each room of your house look presentable with a minimum of effort, so that you never have to scramble to get it into shape before the big date.
This is likely the first room your date will see as she comes into the house, so make it easy to keep clean. Put hooks or a coatrack somewhere near the door, so your coats and jackets end up there rather than on the furniture. Putting a small cabinet or table with a drawer in it near the door is a good idea too – most people read the mail as they enter their homes every night, so give yourself a drawer to tuck it away in, instead of spreading it across the couch or coffee table.
As for the coffee table itself, make it a habit not to leave cups, newspapers, or beer bottles on it. Bring them to the kitchen or throw them away after each use and you’ll never have to go around with a sack to collect all the junk later. If like most guys you have a television in your living room, try to keep all cords, DVDs, and game controllers tucked away, either on a shelf or in a drawer. It’s simple: after you watch a DVD, put it back, and after you play a video game, put the game and the controllers away. Having cords, games controllers, and movies scattered around the room looks tacky and is easy to avoid – and really, do you want to spend the whole date explaining why you watch so much Sailor Moon?
Despite your best intentions, your living room might tend to get a little messy and threadbare if you’re a guy. So don’t forget the most important accessory -floor lamps! Cheap, functional floor lamps (the kind you can get for about $20 at IKEA or Target) give a golden hue to a room, casting romantic shadows across your entertainment center. On the other hand, bright overhead lights make your living room look like an operating table, where every stray jacket is a severed kidney drooping across your lumpy couch cushions. You need to control what you bring to your date’s attention about your place, so make sure to highlight its strengths and not its stains, cracks, and clutter.
For the low-maintenance man, the homey or "rustic" kitchen is your best bet. Hang hooks on the kitchen wall so you can store your pots and pans right there, even if they’re still drying a bit (this goes only for your cast-iron or newest-looking non-stick and aluminum skillets – tuck the broken popcorn pan with the bent handle into a cabinet somewhere). Have a big, nice-looking spice rack right next to the stove, so you can cook and have your ingredients out in the open, without having to put your olive oil and pepper away later. To save needless counter cleaning, use spoon ladles! These can look funny and funky, or minimalist and functional, but whatever the look, they can be left in the pot (and later dropped right in the wash), saving you from having to wipe the counter after every stir. Regarding your sink, there’s no magic trick that will get your dishes to wash themselves. But at least make it easy on yourself.
If you have a dishwasher, put things in the washer as soon as you finish your cup of coffee or the last spoonful of yogurt. If you wash dishes by hand, try to at least rinse off dishes when you’re done. Broad surfaces, such as cutting boards or plates, are super simple to wash, especially if the last few gunky bits of oatmeal haven’t hardened into cement yet, so get those out of the way. And if you use a long scrubbing brush with a handle, you don’t even have to get your hands messy.
One trick popular in some English kitchens, which needs desperately to catch on here, is putting a flat wooden board (slightly thick, and in roughly the same proportions as one section of the kitchen sink) over the side of the sink where the dishes are soaking. This makes your sink look almost professional, as though you’re such a kitchen expert you even have a customized sink with a rustic looking cover – yet it lets you get away with having tons of dishes in the sink! If you’re the type of guy who loves table saws but hates soap and sponges, this is a simple shop project that will let you have an instantly clean sink when company calls.
A kitchen looks charming when you have lots of spices and pans out in plain sight, but this logic does NOT extend to the bathroom: you don’t want your dates to see all the stuff that you slather on your body each day. A good bathroom should have a minimal amount of bric-a-brac on the actual sink, with the toothpaste, deodorant, and fungal wart remover stowed away in a private cupboard or medicine cabinet. Not only does this avoid some embarrassing personal questions from your date, but it also makes the sink easier to wipe down at a moment’s notice, because there’s nothing obscuring the surface. For such things as soap and toothbrushes, which you may use several times a day, have a nice soap dish and toothpaste holder, and make sure to use them.
For larger items, such as a hairdryer or mouthwash, you may find that under the sink is a great place to keep them, where you can still access them easily in the morning when you’re in a hurry. Because most bathrooms are small and get lots of use, they tend to get ratty – so fight back as much as you can. Towels fray, so keep a set of nice matching towels tucked away, folded and ready for when feminine company calls. Shower curtains get musty easily, so make sure to extend yours wide to dry after each shower, rather than crumpled up on one side where it stays damp for hours. Spray tile cleaner around the grout every once in a while, so that mildew doesn’t get out of control. And whatever you do, don’t let a pile of tattered Maxim and PC Gamer magazines collect on the top of the john! Toss these early and often, or keep them stowed under the sink where they can’t make you look like a nerd.
Sooner or later, you’ll probably want to show your date where you sleep. This is the most personal room in your house, your veritable nest and safe place, and therefore the hardest room in the house to keep free of clutter. So make it easy on yourself by tidying what you can and hiding what you can’t or don’t have time for. Make sure your closet is unobstructed, so that hanging up your shirts and ties isn’t a hassle. Have a nice-looking hamper (not a ratty one with broken patches of wicker sticking out at odd angles) so that taking your socks off at the end of the day means a straight shot into the basket, rather than littering the floor with them. And keep a trash can and end table with a drawer or two right by your bed. The drawers are for wallets, watches, sleeping tonics, and other various bedroom detritus; the trash can is for used tissues and late-night beef jerky wrappers. And on top of the end table, keep a good lamp that can once again add a romantic lighting touch to an otherwise sloppy hovel. A lot of guys keep their computer desks in their bedroom. Just as with the gaming console in the living room, don’t pretend your computer’s bazillion USB cables and speaker cords don’t exist!
Too many guys (as well as girls) make their computer desk the focal point of their existence and as such leave cables and power strips running every which way all over the floor. A room that’s become a den of tech toys might threaten to ensnare your date in a web of geekiness, so tuck this stuff away as much as possible, at least behind the desk or taped neatly to the wall somewhere out of view.
Now, if your room is still a wreck and she’s coming over in 10 minutes, don’t forget the power of hiding things. In the olden days, people understood the need to shove their messes into attics, basements, and sheds, so why shouldn’t you be able to shove your cracked CD cases and baseball caps under the bed or into a cubby somewhere in the closet? Just this once, it’s OK. When marriage is imminent, then you’ll probably need to learn to organize your closets, but for now, it’s your room, and if you want to cram a beastly mess where your date can’t see it, that’s no one’s business but yours.
Overall, the key to a presentable house is to take little steps on a regular basis, rather than making it hard on yourself later. If you take the time to do these simple setups and make minimal tidying part of your routine, you’ll never have to postpone a date or explain away your mess. And then you can concentrate on the more important things – like which John Cusack movie will get you to the kiss faster!