What do you do when you find yourself facing a huge mess? This post will get you going in the right direction by walking you through the first steps of how to deal with a really dirty house.
Out of Control Housekeeping
From time to time, situations get out of control. This can be especially true of housekeeping. People get crazy busy, stuff starts to pile up, dust accumulates, and the cobwebs take over. Maybe the bathrooms or the kitchen haven’t been cleaned in a few months, or even years. It happens.
You Have a Huge Mess to Clean Up
Maybe you’ve been sick for a while, or maybe you leased your place to someone while you backpacked through Europe, only to come home to a pigsty like you would have never imagined. Whatever went wrong, the issue now is that you have a huge mess to clean up.
Unless there’s been some kind of plumbing disaster or someone kept livestock in the living room, the problem is fixable. It will take a commitment of time and some serious elbow grease, but the house can be cleaned up.
Suggestions Right off the Bat
Right off the bat, here are a couple suggestions:
Don’t try to tackle it all in one day. What you don’t want to do is set the bar too high, run out of steam on the first day, and get discouraged. Like any big job, this cleaning project should be broken down into smaller parts to keep it manageable and yourself motivated.
Next, prioritize. Decide what your main objective should be. Is the house just dirty but not messy? Is it just messy but not dirty? Is it both?
The Difference Between Messy and Dirty
If you’re not sure what the difference between messy and dirty is, I will explain. Messy means there’s stuff all over the place: disorganized paraphernalia that belongs in drawers or hung up in closets or filed away somewhere is piled haphazardly on counters or in corners. Messy is clothes on the floor, cracker boxes on the coffee table, shoes and socks kicked under the sofa, toys strewn all over the house. You get the picture. It isn’t pretty.
Dirty, on the other hand, means a sink overflowing with unwashed dishes that are stinking up the kitchen, a sticky film on countertops, inch-thick dust everywhere, old pizza boxes growing mold, cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, toothpaste residue all over the bathroom sink, soap scum coating the tub like a layer of paint.
Make a Game Plan
Figure out what you’re dealing with and then make a game plan.
If the house is both messy and dirty, your job has two phases: removing clutter, then cleaning the dirt. If it’s just messy, your job will be to eliminate and organize. If it’s just dirty, go straight to cleaning.
If there’s a lot of outright trash or stuff to get rid of, tackle that job first house-wide. Get as much clutter picked up and out of the way as possible. If it isn’t trash, but it’s in the way, box it up for now and store in the basement, the attic, the garage or a closet.
Get Rid of Stuff
Organizing a house full of clutter can be a daunting chore. The first thing you want to do is get rid of as much unnecessary stuff as possible. Be merciless. Toss out trash, recycle what you can, donate anything you don’t need, have a garage sale. (For garage sale pointers, check out my post De-Clutter Your Home: A Guide to Hosting Your Own Garage Sale.)
Have a “giving-away” party: invite friends and neighbors over to help themselves to anything they can use. Place ads on Craigslist and Facebook. If you’re allowed to do so in your neighborhood, put good, usable stuff out by the curb with a “free” sign (don’t put out trash or old electronics). Get creative and do what you have to do.
After purging as much as possible, focus on grouping remaining items wherever they theoretically belong. For example, clothes in closets or dressers, food and dishes in the kitchen, toiletries in the bathroom, linens in the linen closet or bedroom, etc.
Keep moving things around until you can start to see some sort of organization taking shape. If you’ve still got more stuff than space, get rid of more stuff.
Organizing has to be under control before cleaning can begin. My post De-Clutter and Organize Your Home in Seven Simple Steps walks you through the organizing process in detail.
After you’ve gotten organizing well in hand, you can move on to cleaning. Stop back and read my post Cleaning a Really Dirty House for advice and instructions.
Want more organizing and house cleaning tips and ideas? Check out my author page. My books include De-Clutter and Organize Your Home in 7 Simple Steps, Clean Like A Pro: Tips and Techniques for Cleaning Your Home Like a Seasoned Professional, and How to Become a Cleaning Pro: the Ultimate Guide to Starting and Operating Your Own House Cleaning Service.