My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag—and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha

by Jolie Kerr

My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag--and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha

Paperback, 238 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $15 | purchase

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NPR Summary

Based on her column "Ask a Clean Person," the author, using her signature sass and straight talk, takes on the tough questions in this guide to cleaning up life's little emergencies that is perfect for college students and anyone new to living on their own.

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Excerpt: My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag

The Kitchen: Clean It, or Just Set It on Fire and Be Done?

Raise your hand if you've ever seen a mouse scurrying through your kitchen.

Liars, every last one of you. Heck, even I've seen a mouse scurrying through my kitchen, and I'm a Clean Person. To be fair, it was a mouse of the field-ish variety, and my downstairs neighbors had just tilled the backyard in order to do their summer planting, and I'm pretty sure Fievel was running all about the place because his home had been disrupted. At least that's what I'm going to tell people, and if you don't toe the party line on this one, I won't tell you how to clean that burnt rice off the bottom of the only pan you own. So there!

Right, so let's talk kitchens: they're such great places—the heart of the home! But also? Woof, kitchens can getgross, can't they?? Grease splatters, spilled crumbs, overflowing garbage, the leaning tower of dishes in your sink—and those are the everyday problems, right? What about when mold engulfs your leftovers? (If that's an everyday problem for you, please don't tell me, okay? I don't know if my heart can take it.) Or when your freezer ices over such that it poses a realistic threat to theTitanic? Or when your husband decides to brew his own ginger beer and the glass growler he stored it in explodes from the pressure created by the fermentation process, leaving your kitchen covered in glass shards and sticky ginger beer? (This is a real thing that happened, by the way. The solution? Ammonia. And heavy-duty rubber gloves because ouch ouch be careful out there, that glass is pernicious!)

So now that you possess the very important knowledge of how to clean ginger beer from your cabinets, let's back it up a bit and cover some basics. Starting with how to hard clean a kitchen.

Or maybe I should start with an explanation of what I mean when I say "hard clean a kitchen"? Yes, let's start there.

In the industry, we differentiate forms of kitchen cleaning using the terms daily clean, hard clean, and the full monty hard clean. Okay that's a lie, there's no "industry" of people like me, and we don't have terms and conferences and such, butoh, would that we did. Anyway! Those are just the terms I use, and I like 'em, so I'm gonna keep 'em!

Right, so!

Daily Clean

These are, it will surprise you not to learn, the things you should do on a daily basis, allowing for adjustments if you're a person who doesn't use his or her kitchen every day. The basics are this:

• Wash the dishes

• Wipe down the counters

• Put all foodstuffs away and throw any garbage in the trash can

• Deal with any disasters as they happen

The idea is to establish a baseline of kitchen chores that allow the space to remain tidy and uninviting to critters and other pests. And, I mean, that's not too much, is it? You can wash a few dishes and give your counters a wiping without wanting to die from the crushing burden of it all, right??

That last bullet point, though . . . you'll want to know more about it, won't you? It is a truism that the longer you pretend that a mess doesn't exist, the harder it will be and the more time it will take to clean up. It's completely understandable to find yourself with a spilled container of leftovers in the fridge, or a pot of tomato sauce that boiled over onto your stove, and just say, "You know? To hell with this. I'm going to bed."

And while I'm generally a HUGE advocate of taking to one's bed when things go wrong, in the case of giant messes, I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't tell you to allow yourself one minute in which you can huff and puff at yourself, the walls, the god who has clearly forsaken you, who- or what- ever, but when that minute is up take a deep breath and just deal with the mess right then and there.

You'll be happy you did.

Hard Clean

The hard clean is the thing you'll want to do anywhere between once a week and once a month, depending on how you use your kitchen. And also, let's be honest, on your willingness to clean things. I'm giving timelines here because people like them, but I also want to make sure you know that really, this is a personal choice you can and should make for yourself. I'm not here to assign chores to you, just to suggest to you how and when to do things if you so desire such information.

One thing that the hard clean is not is a pantry-clearing operation. We'll get to that later on down the line. The hard clean is meant to address the kitchen grime that the daily clean doesn't—think greasy buildup on walls, splattered appliances, crumbs lurking in corners.

Step 1: Set aside 1–3 hours of your day!

Did you just do a double take? Yeah, I know. Sorry about that! But these things take time! However, the more often you clean, the less time it will take, which probably doesn't make you feel any better at all. What can I say, I tried.

The amount of time you'll need to make for this process is something you'll need to determine on your own. It will largely depend on the size of and relative filth situation in your kitchen. You'll also want to factor in the availability of helping hands. It bears mentioning that sometimes helping hands get in the way, so choose your helping hands wisely.

Step 2: Put on music!

The biggest mistake people make when setting out to tackle their chores is forgetting to put on music. It's basically the same theory behind listening to music at the gym: it gets you moving, perks you up, provides a rhythm to work along to. Cleaning is physical work! You will sweat! So, you know, treat big cleaning jobs just like you would a trip to the gym. Unless you're a person who skips the trip to the gym, in which case please don't treat cleaning like a trip to the gym!

Step 3: Gather your arsenal!

The cleaning products you choose depend on a few factors: what you've got on hand, personal preference, the specific needs of your kitchen—for example, granite countertops are best cleaned using products that are different from what you'd use on butcher block—and what, if any, particular messes require your attention.

With that said, try to keep it simple with your products. Two, maybe three, cleansers should do it for you. Among those three you'll want an abrasive, a degreaser, and an all-purpose spray—preferably one that will shine up any metal; here, I'd highly recommend making your own solution of white vinegar and water. If you're more into brand-name items, Windex is great too. Specifically Windex. With apologies to the other brands of glass cleaner on the market, for my money Windex is so clearly (GET IT?? Sorry.) superior it's not even worth fussing about with another product. Unless it's white vinegar and water. Then you have my blessing to commit Windex adultery.

In terms of an abrasive, I use Soft Scrub, though not exclusively. Sometimes I go for Comet or Bon Ami; just understand that a powder abrasive cleaner is going to be more abrasive, and therefore more likely to scratch delicate surfaces, than is a cream abrasive cleaner. I have a deep and abiding hatred of Bar Keepers Friend, though many, many people love it so much they want to marry it, so I feel like I should mention it here. They make both a powder and a cream product. But seriously, I hate that stuff, and I know hate is a strong word BUT STILL. It's utterly irrational. (It's actually not that irrational; I've never had any success in using it to clean things it's often recommended for—stainless steel and enameled cast-iron cookware, both of which I collect and care for in the way normal people care for their children—and I'm an expert cleaner, so it sends me into a mad frenzy of not understanding why and how people are loving this stuff so much.)

My degreaser of choice is ammonia, mixed with water, which I use on the regular to wipe down the cabinetry, walls, the ventilation hood, my floors, young children with sticky fingers, etc. But that's just me! If you prefer a less toxic degreaser, try mixing Dawn dish soap with warm water and using that as your cleaning solution for greasy messes. But also, you're all grown adults with values and opinions and mothers who may have imparted upon you a devotion to certain products, and so by all means, you do you.

Once you've got all your products in hand, you'll need to assemble your accoutrements: A sponge, perhaps more than one. A few clean rags, swell things to have on hand. A roll of paper towels, yes, sure. BUT, BUT, BUT! Your hard clean should NOT be done with paper towels. First of all, it's foolishly wasteful, which is bad for our precious Mother Earth. But more important, paper towels will not cut it for the kind of cleaning we're talking about here. You'll want to have them nearby to do a final wipe-up, but you'll not want to rely on them to do the majority of your work.

If you choose to use something like bleach or ammonia that needs to be diluted into a solution, you'll also need a small bucket. You know what works really well for this and is kind of charming? Those plastic beach pails we all had as kids—why not add some fun and whimsy to your cleaning routine? The other nice thing about them is that they have a handle, so you can carry your washing solution around the kitchen easily as you move from space to space.

Last but absolutely not least, you'll need a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands, Miss Scarlett!

Step 4: Clear all the things out!

All of them. Every last thing on your countertops must be moved to a secure location. Clearing everything out includes washing, drying, and putting away any dirty dishes in the sink. Now, listen, I know you, and I know you're going to try to cheat and (1) I'll know and (2) you'll only end up making more work for yourself down the road if you skimp on this step. I really promise that something that will take so much less time than you think will save you so much energy and annoyance and extra work in the next stages, so just do it.

But actually here, you have a decision: does your situation call for just a surface clean, or do you require a full-on pantry purge? Probably for most of you the surface clean will suffice. We'll get to the pantry purge when we tackle the full monty hard clean.

Step 5: Take a break!

I'll let you in on a secret: the hardest part is over. More or less, from here you're going to coast, and that's because you took the time to prepare. Bet you didn't see this coming, eh? So as a reward for your hard work, would you care for a cold beer or soda? I bet you would. Remember to buy some before you start this project. You'll get to make the best shopping list! It'll be like:

• Soft Scrub

• Sponges

• Beer

• Paper towels

Step 6: CLEAN!

A HUGE rule of cleaning is to always work top to bottom. If you do your floors first and then wipe off a counter full of crumbs, guess where those crumbs are going? Yeah, right on your clean floor that's no longer clean and will need to be redone. So! Start from the top and work downward. Wipe the cabinetry, then the walls and backsplashes, then the countertops, then the appliances (refrigerator, stove, microwave, etc.), ending with the floors. Because cabinet and countertop materials vary so greatly from kitchen to kitchen, a bit later in the chapter we'll go over the particulars of which products should be used on which cabinet and counter types. Stay tuned for a handy chart!

Leave the sink be until the very, very end of the process; the sink will serve as your home base for dumping out dirty wash water, rinsing and wringing out sponges and rags, and probably some other gross things that we don't really need to talk about. (Dead bugs. I'm talking about dead bugs, you guys.)

If you're feeling really brave, you might even take a look- see at the top of your cabinets. You may discover that they are wearing a dirt sweater! I might have learned this the hard way! Prepare to be so, so, so, so, so grossed out!

Step 7: Put all the things back!

You're so close to done! Which means it's time to gather up all the things you removed to a secure location and return them to their homes. But before you do so, please consider grabbing your trash can to execute a merciless decluttering. Most normal people have a ton of junk that they don't need taking up space in their kitchens—and collecting filth! Old twist ties, unopened mail, mementos from three relation- ships ago that you're holding on to because you have an utter inability to admit when something is truly over, even though you're the one who ended it and frankly you've never regretted a thing except that that ceramic lighthouse that you bought together on a trip to Maine is really just so special to you.

Put that ceramic lighthouse in the trash.

Once you've thrown away anything you don't need, take a gander at what's going back into your squeaky-clean kitchen. Are things sticky or dusty or greasy or some combination of all three? Wipe them down. A damp rag should suffice, you probably don't even need a product, but if you do that's where all-purpose cleaner comes in handy. Later on, we'll go through the care and keeping of small appliances, like toasters and coffeepots, so stay with me for that.

Step 8: Clean up after yourself!

"But I've just cleaned for hours!" Which is true, and I'd like to take a moment to tell you that you did a great job! Hurrah for you! But you also created a little bit of a mess in that process, so: dump out the dirty washing water and rinse out your bucket, then rinse and wring out your sponges and rags. Put the cleaning products away. Throw paper towels in the trash, and tie up the bag and take it out if it's full.

Last but not least: clean the sink with an all-purpose spray and a sponge; you can also use a product for stainless steel or porcelain if that's what your sink is made of. The important thing is to rid it of the dirt and grime that accumulated when you rinsed rags and dumped out cleaning.

Actually, wait, no, that's not the last step, this is the last step: take a good look at your whole kitchen. Admire your work! Isn't it amazing?? It's okay if you want to lick the countertops; we can give you two a minute alone to get intimate with each other.

From My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag—And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha by Jolie Kerr. Copyright 2014 Jolie Kerr. Excerpted by permission of Plume, a member of Penguin Group.

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