Quick Not Dirty

Five projects you can do in fifteen minutes to improve your life.

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Five years ago, I stumbled into a career that turned my lifelong tidiness into a job offering advice to people who had made a mess of something when I started writing the column "Ask a Clean Person." That column became the basis of my book, My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha, and spun off into a podcast. I spend a lot of time thinking about home care, as you might imagine, including and especially the amount of time and effort involved in everything from hand-washing a beloved stuffed animal to doing a major overhaul of an impossibly messy bedroom.

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It's the time-and-effort aspect that inspired this new column, Quick, Not Dirty; each month, I'll suggest a set of cleaning and organizing projects that can be completed in 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes. These discrete jobs are easy to pick off and will earn you the satisfaction of seeing a task to completion without an enormous amount of effort. Maybe you're feeling down and need to focus on something other than your circular thoughts. Maybe you'd like to justify an otherwise slothful weekend of Seamless and binge-watching by completing a task that sounds impressive but really didn't take much effort. Or maybe you'll read this and think, Huh! I never really thought about how little time it takes to do my chores. Yeah, I've got fifteen minutes I can spare.

Whatever your reasoning may be, here are a few cleaning and organization projects that will make your life so much better in just fifteen minutes, a.k.a. the time it takes to watch a quarter-episode of The Bachelor and wonder when your Thai food's coming.

Tupperware purge

May I confess something to you? I am a jar hoarder. I just find them so enticing! But there came a day when I had to admit to myself that I was keeping more empty jars than I could ever hope to use in my lifetime, and since then I've managed my jar-hoarding tendency by having a dedicated space in one of my kitchen cabinets in which jars may be kept. When that space is full, no more jars are allowed in.

Like jars, Tupperware (and food-storage containers in general) is an easy thing to keep too much of — luckily, it is also blessedly easy to cull a collection down to a manageable assortment. So if you've got fifteen minutes, do yourself a favor and get that mess under control. Here are a few helpful parameters:

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● Take everything out so you can assess your collection in its entirety.

● Sort all the storage containers into groups by size and/or shape, and then match the lids to their containers.

● Stained, warped, and lidless containers, as well as items you just never use for food storage, can go.

● Plastic or glass storage containers can be repurposed for use in places like basements, garages, and toolboxes to corral tiny things like nails, cords, coins, etcetera.

Once you've pared down your collection, put everything back into one specific place, which will help you to keep it under control.

Wash your bras

Fact: None of you are washing your bras often enough. OK, maybe one of you is washing your bras enough. The general rule is that bras should be washed every three to six wears, and I'm sorry to tell you this, but hand-washing is ideal. But also, hand-washing is really easy and truly will take you only fifteen minutes*. Here are the basics of how to proceed: the kitchen sink is a good place for this operation, because it will be roomy enough for you to submerge several bras under water without creating a huge drippy mess (just be sure that it's clean!). Fill the sink with lukewarm water and add a small amount of detergent — you don't need a specialty detergent, but if you'd like one, may I suggest Soak? It comes highly recommended by the product-testing geniuses at the Sweethome and is a no-rinse formula. That's right! No rinsing, how marvelous.

Add your bras to the mix and swirl 'em around in the water to allow the detergent to get into the fibers, then leave them alone to soak for ten minutes. If you're using a no-rinse detergent, drain the sink and roll the bras in a towel to press out as much water as you can, then hang the bras by their center gore (never hang them by the straps!) to air dry. If you used a regular detergent, rinse the bras very well before drying.

*Drying time not included.

Clean the bathroom sink, mirror, and toilet

This is an easy one, which is great because I know that cleaning the bathroom isn't super-high on most people's lists of fun activities. But with just a small amount of time and effort, you can make your bathroom look visibly better. This is helpful to remember if you have last-minute guests dropping by and aren't keen on showing off the toothpaste Rorschach art project you've installed in your sink, or in the event the Rorschach art is obscuring the mirror, keeping you from seeing your lovely face. This isn't exactly a deep clean, but man, will it ever make a difference. Here's what you're going to do:

● Get a can of foaming bathroom cleaner like Scrubbing Bubbles and hit the sink and toilet with it, including the inside of the toilet bowl.

● While the Bubbles do their work, grab some paper towels and glass cleaner and clean the mirror(s). And hang on to those paper towels for a sec.

● Once the Scrubbing Bubbles have had a few minutes to do a lot of the work for you, wipe them away using a damp sponge. Start with the sink, then wipe off the toilet seat and rim of the bowl. Use a toilet brush to scrub the bowl itself.

● Then, using that same wad of paper towels, remove any lingering residue.

That's all! That wasn't so bad, was it?

Wash your makeup brushes

Even I am guilty of not washing my makeup brushes often enough, and I know better. Keeping makeup brushes clean will help to prevent breakouts, is crucial if you've had any kind of eye-infection situation, and, most important, will save you from looking like this. Don't let muddy makeup happen to you!

Here's how to do it: fill a small bowl about halfway up with brush cleaner (or use the recipe below), then place just the bristles of the brushes in the cleaning solution, with the handles leaning against the side of the bowl. Let them soak for 30 seconds or so. Once the bristles have absorbed some of the cleaner, take the brush out and swipe it back and forth on a paper towel, repeating the process if necessary (this will be especially true of bronzer and blush brushes) until there is no more residue. Once the brush is clean, lay it flat, reshape the bristles, and allow it to air dry.

DIY Brush-Cleaner Recipe

● 1 cup distilled water

● ¼ cup isopropyl alcohol

● ½ tablespoon grease-cutting dish soap

● ½ tablespoon baby shampoo

Combine ingredients and pour into a 12-ounce bottle to store.

Clean your sex toys

There are nuances, of course, when it comes to cleaning your sex toys — are they motorized or no? Are they made of stainless steel or glass? Are you using them solo or with a partner? — but, generally speaking, a damp cloth and dish soap are all you need to keep your toys clean. And cleaning your sex toys is a thing you should be doing! Allowing sexual fluids to build up on toys can lead to yeast infections, or, worse, can transmit STDs. Plus, your toys give you so much and ask for very little in return. Surely you can show them a little love from time to time!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. Her weekly column "Ask a Clean Person" appears on esquire.com.

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