I’m kind of a slob, in spite (because?) of the very organized, on-time, WASPy nature of most of my life. But I’ve made peace. It doesn’t bother me that I can’t see my bedroom carpet because I have a second carpet made out of sweaters I put on then decided they didn’t match my outfit and discarded, and of towels that might be clean, or might not be, whatever. There are always coins and pens and miscellaneous pocket-items in my bed, because I flop onto it with my clothes still on and toss my purse on my pillow and stuff just falls out. I don’t care.
But my significant other does, especially in the kitchen. He’s a hoverer, but not because he knows squat about what I’m doing or has a helpful suggestion. He’s the self-appointed dropcloth. He buzzes around behind me while I’m stirring, swooping in to mop up a drip here or collect a pinch of wayward crumbs there, with a huff. I get very irritated. “Just wait till I’m done and I’ll clean everything once!” I say, of course very calmly and without waving the knife anywhere near his genitals. He shakes his head. “After you make food, everything’s sticky,” he once observed.
When we’re fighting, I want nothing more than to break into his apartment, douse myself in honey, and leave huge gooey fingerprints, or maybe butt cheek prints, all over his fridge and countertop and kitchen table and leather couch that I get scolded for shedding a damn raisin onto. (Maybe one day I will write a column called Revenge Hacks.)
But the rest of the time, when he’s not being an ungrateful asshole, I genuinely try. I mean, I don’t want ants, either. Here are a few ways to try and corral your own mess-making propensities, however benign or advanced-stage they may be.
Stock up on parchment paper and use it any time you bake anything, ever, even if the recipe doesn’t say to. Once you’ve scooped the food off the baking sheet, just crumple up the paper with all the gunk or spillage inside and toss it out. Then you don’t have to clean the pan at all, and that means one fewer opportunity for small food pieces to escape your grasp or for soapy water droplets to be flung near and far while you scrub.
Seal the section of the countertop you’re working on with plastic wrap before you start. I’m serious. A little wasteful, I guess, but I can deal with being a landfill queen if it means I can splatter to my heart’s content and just peel it off and toss when I’m done.
Be proactive and clean your microwave before anybody notices that there are old, caked globs of exploded mac and cheese in every corner. (If you’ve never cleaned it before, don’t look up. You don’t want to know.) To clean, wet about five wet paper towels and heat them in the microwave for five minutes. The water will turn to steam and help disintegrate the grime, then all you have to do is wipe.
To clean a blender, don’t bother trying to wedge a sponge between the blades. Just half-fill it with soapy water and blend. Pretend it’s a milkshake and you might forget you’re doing chores.
Invest in a squeegee just for the kitchen (the kind you’d normally use on bathroom tile). When I try to do a post-meal wipe-down with a paper or dish towel, I inevitably scoot the mess around or distribute it across the floor en route to the garbage can. Use the squeegee to herd crumbs into one pile and then destroy, and/or to slide liquid messes towards the sink.
If you have a garbage disposal that tends to get, uh, fragrant, run a chunk of lemon through there once in a while to freshen things up.
Store flour (and any other ingredients with the tendency to poof out into particulate clouds and coat the kitchen a la Pompeii) in plastic tubs. Put the whole bag or original packaging inside the tub, so when you measure some out, the compromised amount is more likely to end up inside the tub. (Is measuring flour a problem for you, too, or do I really have no motor skills? Things I wonder.)
One part vinegar and one part hot water will destroy almost any gunky substance on the counter or floor (Unless you have a fancy linoleum or ancient redwood floor. Then, I don’t know, Swiffer.)
Buff the fingerprints off fridges and metal kitchen gadgets with olive oil. Just dab a little on a paper or cloth towel and rub gently. It’ll shine like nobody gross ever touched it.
Illustration by Claire Jelly.