We have a closet in my house that defies designation. It holds an impressive collection of obsolete electronics, board games, sheets, a few loose appliances, and pantry goods. The closet door doesn't shut, so great is my bounty of mismatched trash. I asked my house cleaner, Misty, for help rearranging it. Early in the process, she found an ancient bag of dried lentils.
I sighed. "Those are part of my husband's apocalypse-survival rations. Just in case."
"Why are they in with the sheets and towels?"
I shrugged. "Small house. Where else you gonna keep your apocalypse survival rations?"
"Watch this," Misty said. She threw the bag to the top of my kitchen cabinets, out of sight for anyone under 7 feet tall, but still accessible in case of societal collapse.
I chose Misty instead of a franchise cleaning service because I wanted someone I could establish a long-term, personal relationship with. Because I knew I would be constantly asking forgiveness for being a hapless slob, and needed someone who would take pity on me.
In Misty, who owns her own cleaning business, I found something even better, as illustrated by her brilliant use of a space I hadn't even considered available. A brain full of tricks to make the endless battle against the household laws of entropy (everything in your house, by natural law, wants to be disgusting) a smoother fight.
Here are some tricks Misty has gathered through her years devoted to finding the quickest, most thorough way to keep a house in order.
1. Regarding all sticky and crusty things on flat surfaces; don't bother scrubbing, picking, or even butter-knifing. Keep a painter's putty knife on hand. One sweep of it safely removes smashed raisins, stickers, silly putty, and puddles of apple juice that dried near where the dog sleeps so that it's a huge dark smear of hair and filth. So I've heard.
2. Just because having the never-used toaster and blender out on the counter makes you feel more domestic doesn't mean you should let them take up that valuable space. They can be easily stored in a cabinet without loss of dignity. People tend to put things in certain spots, no matter how personally impractical, just because their mom used that spot or because "that's where it's always been."
3. Move your entire collection of Tupperware and yogurt tubs out of that cabinet. They'll get hopeless knocked around and lost in there. Instead they go stacked in a drawer, which keeps the containers contained, and infinitely more accessible.
4. Don't feel guilty for taking any child's possession that can possibly be hung out of their reach (backpacks, dress-up clothes, belts, bags, stuffed animals) and doing so. It keeps them off the floor, and if they really want it, they'll find a way. Conversely, if you're sick of constantly fetching drinks for short children just because they can't reach the glass cabinet, put the kiddie cups in a low drawer.
5. Kabob sticks de-filth the corners of window tracks, shower tracks, the black gunk where the plumbing fixture connects with the porcelain, and all matter of nooks and crannies.
6. No amount of scrubbing will take the stains off some plastic/fiberglass showers. Misty made it a personal mission to find something that would, and swears by (not a paid advertisement!) Melaleuca Tub and Tile. Misty's instructions: "Drench your shower/tub in it, and let it set for an hour or two then come back and scrub it with water and Comet, and all is well with the world."
7. When scrubbing tile showers, SOS pads are the best. Misty says they don't scratch, and because the residue is blue, you can always tell if you missed a spot.
8. Don't use plastic cups for kids parties or sleepovers. Use mason jars with handles and lids and write each kid's name on them so they can be put in the fridge.
9. When you need to put a screw in a hole where the threading has been stripped, put a toothpick or small piece of wood with wood glue in the hole. When it dries completely you will be able to use the screw again like brand new.
10. For chore charts, placement matters. "Put the chore chart by the front door to catch kids and husbands coming and going," Misty says.
11. Staple guns are your friend. I found this out when I showed Misty a framed Saturday Evening Post cover I'd gotten at an estate sale. The frame had no way to be hung on the wall without purchasing and assembling a hanging kit. Which meant it would never, ever go on my wall.
"Staple gun," Misty said.
I considered the thickness of the frame dubiously. "How big of staples will I need?"
"No. Drive a big staple into the back of the frame. It makes an instant hook." I looked at her like she'd just told me that Bruce Willis had been a ghost the whole time. Of course!! That makes incredible sense, how did I not see that??
Some readers will no doubt have already discovered these shortcuts on their own; I'm sure domestic life-hacks come easier to you clean and organized people. Other readers, like myself, need every possible shortcut in existence just to keep the producers from Hoarders at bay.
Or they need a Misty. But she's my special treasure and you can't have her. Just a few of her secrets.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The best places to find love — and lust — according to science
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Why GOP reformers are bound to fail
- Sex can't explain the culture war
- This simple hack for slicing cherry tomatoes will astound you
- How a drafting error could doom Obama's carbon regulations
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- Boyhood's refreshingly unsentimental take on motherhood
Subscribe to the Week