Heading Out on Your Own — Day 14: Establish a Simple Cleaning Routine and Stick to It

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 14, 2012 · 31 comments

in Heading Out On Your Own

During my first semester of college, I roomed with my good friend from high school in a dorm at the University of Oklahoma. We were pretty much like The Odd Couple, with me playing the part of the slobby Oscar Madison and my friend taking on the role of neat freak Felix Ungar, minus the annoying neuroticism.

You could walk into our dorm room and instantly tell whose side was whose. My roommate’s side always looked presentable and clean: bed made, desk neat, clothes put away. My side looked like a disaster area: blankets and sheets askew, books and newspapers covering my bed, and laundry only half put away. The mess on my little twin bed sometimes got so big and unmanageable that I’d just sleep on top of all my crap, like you see those crazy people do on Hoarders. 

Thankfully, my roommate was quite patient with me and kindly nudged me to start routines that would keep our place looking spic and span. I soon discovered that keeping things clean didn’t take all that much time or effort. In less than 30 minutes a day, we created a haven of order and tidiness that would make Mr. Clean (and my mom) nod with approval. And my turning over a new leaf couldn’t have come at a better time, as I started dating Kate soon after. It was nice being able to invite her over to our place without having to worry she’d be frightened to use a bathroom that looked like a giant petri dish of mold, bacteria, and other gunk.

For many young men heading out on their own for the first time, maintaining a cleaning routine on their own wasn’t something they had to do at home. Sure, they might have helped with chores when asked, but they probably had their mom or dad telling them what to clean and when. But keeping your dwelling space clean and tidy is important for a variety of reasons: it’s hygienic, allows you to feel comfortable having people over (and inviting in surprise guests), gives you peace of mind, and even helps conserve your supply of willpower.

Establishing a Simple Cleaning Routine

The key to keeping your place clean is to break the job up into smaller daily and weekly tasks. A lot of young men won’t clean anything for a few weeks, and then when the mess gets so huge it can no longer be ignored, have to spend a whole Saturday digging themselves out from under it. Or, the job begins to seem so enormous they can’t motivate themselves to tackle it, and let the mess grow even bigger.

Below, I offer a simple suggested routine for a young man living in a dorm or apartment that will keep your place clean while only requiring a small effort every day. It goes without saying that if you’re living in an actual house, your routine will be a bit more complicated and involved. (I plan on writing about regular home maintenance later this year.)

What to Do Daily

Instead of letting messes pile-up, making them more of a pain in the arse to clean come Saturday morning, invest 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night in a daily cleaning routine.

Here’s a suggested daily attack plan to keep your place in tip-top shape.


  • Make bed
  • Spray down shower with a product that keeps it cleaner for a longer period of time, like Method Daily Shower (you can also make your own). Apply right after you get out.
  • Wipe down bathroom sink and counter with a disposable Clorox wipe after you’re done getting ready
  • Empty dishwasher (if you have one)
  • Wipe down kitchen counters and stove with a sponge and a 409-type product after you’re done with breakfast


  • Wipe down kitchen counters after dinner
  • Spot vacuum
  • Load dishwasher (or clean dishes by hand if you’re in a dorm)
  • Pre-bed clutter pick-up. Go through the house and put away all the clutter you find before you turn in at night.

What to Do Weekly

In addition to your morning/evening cleaning routine, do one bigger task each day of the week. Depending on the size of your place, each will take you 10-15 minutes.

Here’s a suggested schedule:

Monday: Dust

Tuesday: Scrub toilets, shower, and bathroom sinks

Wednesday: Vacuum and mop

Thursday: Clean mirrors and windows

Friday: Clean out leftovers and wipe down inside and outside of fridge, wipe microwave inside and out, clean kitchen sink

Saturday: Change and wash bed sheets

Adapt this schedule to fit your particular circumstances. For example, if you live in a dorm with communal bathrooms, you won’t need to scrub the toilets and shower floors. But you can still dust and vacuum.

That’s it. Together, the above routines only take about 30 minutes a day. If you have roommates, you can divvy up some of the tasks and shorten the time requirement even more.

Follow these routines, and your place will look great every day. All it takes is a bit of dedication and willpower to make these routines a habit, but the simplicity of this plan helps make it easier to stick with.

Any other cleaning tips for a young man heading out on his own? Share them in the comments!


{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shane-San August 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Great post, as always. I tend to be more on the neat freak end of the spectrum than the slob side, but I still find myself letting things accumulate over about 2 weeks, at which point I do a deep cleaning that takes me about an hour and a half to two hours. Doing little chores in 20 minutes a day is a much better idea; it’s focused on prevention rather than putting out fires. I’ve also started scheduling deep cleaning on the first of every month, where I will go through my desk drawers, move furniture and vacuum under it, and clean my car. It helps me feel more organized and ready to attack the coming month. Thanks again for the post!

2 John August 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I’ll advise against making your bed unless you plan on having guests seeing it. Making the bed traps moisture and heat from the previous night, under the sheets, providing a great environment for bedbugs to survive. I personally leave mine open and “messy”. Sure it looks bad, but really, who enters your room that often?

3 Stephen C. August 14, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Great Post! This is something that I’ve always struggled with, so it was great to see some pointers. Big fan of the site!

4 Jaxon August 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Very helpful post.

John, I think you are reffering to dust mites, not bed bugs. Bed bugs don’t have anything to do with moisture. And I looked up the dust mite bit and the only thing that reccomends that was based on computer model, but isn’t proven.


5 Moeregaard August 14, 2012 at 6:30 pm

As a reformed slob, this is great advice. Keeping things picked up and clean is far less work than taking care of a really big mess every three or six months. I still don’t make my bed every day–and will continue this tradition, thanks to John’s advice–but two things I can’t stand are dirty bathrooms and kitchen areas. They smell bad and are unsanitary. For cleaning, I use a 50/50 mix of water and a lavender-scented miracle product called Festival, and it leaves everything smelling fresh and clean. Home Depot carries this stuff in gallon-sized jugs for something like six bucks

6 Jeremy August 14, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Brett & Kate,

Respectfully, do we really have to be encouraging the use of a “disposable Clorox wipe” to clean your counter each day? Not only is it overly wasteful, but it seems in opposition to your entire blog.

If this blog has said anything, its that manliness is preferring quality over price (to a rational extent) and not taking the easy way out. In this same vein, a man is not wasteful and certainly doesn’t use Clorox wipes. My grandfather had a basement full of old clock parts and many men keep odd screws, nuts and bolts (amongst other things) in case a repair calls for them. Anyone who works on cars will keep a few grease rags around instead of cleaning up everything with a paper towel. Even this blog has often spoken of the benefits of a handkerchief. So this suggestion, along w/ a few others I’ve seen, seems out of alignment with this blog’s overall purpose.

On top of the practicality of it, there are numerous benefits to being more conscious of what you use and less wasteful. For example, women like men with a sense of responsibility for their actions. This will garner similar respect from other men. Meanwhile, a man with little care for the world around him will likely have little care for his own possessions and money. Not to mention, you could buy 10 terry cloth rags + soap for the cost of a box of wipes, and those rags will last 10x longer. I’ve seen many people keep a “washcloth” on their bathroom sinks just for this purpose.

With all due respect, I believe that a man’s responsibility for his actions extends to their impact on the world around him. If connecting with nature if one of man’s callings, he should likely do his best to respect it as well. However, as I’m not the blogger here, I just want to encourage you to consider such things in your articles as I, and likely many others, feel that sense of overarching responsibility is a cornerstone of manliness.


7 Moses B August 14, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Good post, I’m a junior in college and it’s been a chore being a little (not a lot) less slobbish than my roommates and trying to impose order without looking like a hypocrite or an autocrat.

That said, I found some of your suggestions a little extreme; spending three and a half hours a week cleaning seems a bit much.

For example, I don’t think you need to wipe down the shower every day unless you have some pathological fear of your own dead skin cells.

8 Dan August 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I am finding a lot of these articles very useful – and I’m 27 years old! Yeah, this is stuff young men still struggle with long after they have left their parents house. Thanks for the great series I am learning a lot.

9 S. Warl August 14, 2012 at 9:19 pm

This is a really great break down. I am one of those people who really loves a clean place (it is more relaxing and I even feel like I can breath better) but really struggles because I really don’t mind a bit of clutter. Unfortunately, this means that it just slowly builds until something snaps in my head and I finally decide that the level of junk is too high! By this point though the task of cleaning is pretty daunting so it can be hard to motivate to tackle.

I really like this plan and the way it has been laid out to minimize the general impact of the necessary cleaning. I would add ‘Spot Clean Walls’ to the mirrors and windows day. especially around door knobs and in tight hallways you would be amazed at how much dirt and dinge builds up and adds to the over all run down appearance a messy place can have. I use the ‘magic’ cleaning sponges, and they work like a charm on places where even bleach is having a tough time getting everything.

10 Cameron August 14, 2012 at 10:59 pm

I’ve always found that daily spurts of cleaning were much easier in the long run than the usual Saturday morning cleaning marathon. The mentality I’ve been brought up with is to leave a room cleaner than when you entered it, though it can be difficult with roommates (family or otherwise).

Reading this article is very timely as I just took 20 minutes to dust and vacuum my room, as well as make my bed (though admittedly I’ve been in the messiness-deters-bed-bugs mind set for a few years). Unfortunately I am not one to do the spot-clean method, as it would result in me just cleaning the whole floor/window/room anyways, though I try.

11 David August 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm

3.5 hours a week is nothing compared to how much time we typically waste on the internet.

I just use an old rag to wipe down the sink in between deep cleans, that does the trick. I think taking some time once or twice a month to thoroughly clean a room or two – down to the baseboards – is good too, but then I prioritize cleaning. It builds, and displays, discipline.

12 Randall August 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm

3 hours might seem like a lot, but that’s definitely what it takes me if I don’t do anything day to day and leave it for a week or two. But then it’s all at once and I’m hatin’ life…

I didn’t see anything in there about wiping down your shower every time you shower, but I do recommend using a squeegee every time you shower, especially if you have a shower with a glass door. This really helps. Well, it does help when I remember to do it. But oftentimes I don’t…

13 Jared Viljoen August 15, 2012 at 2:33 am

Brilliant article.

I just don’t agree with using a dishwasher though. If you “hand” clean the dishes after every meal it takes about 10 minutes, uses little water and soap and doesn’t waste electricity. I usually starts cleaning the dishes that I’ve finished cooking with during the cooking session so that after the meal its just a few plates and cutlery which need to be cleaned (this also doesn’t give the dirt in the pots time to get hard and caked which makes washing them a whole easier). I also leave the dishes to drip dry for half an hour and then pack them away, no need to whip out a drying cloth. Easy peasy.

14 Srinivas Kari August 15, 2012 at 3:00 am

I would suggest lighting a few incense sticks in the mornings to scent up the room without using harmful chemicals. Also, keeping your room well ventilated goes a long way toward maintaining good hygiene. Doing the dishes by hand while the food is cooking is a great idea.

15 MQ August 15, 2012 at 4:06 am

I’m one of those people who leave it until it’s too much. Great post; I’m going to give it a shot!

16 Ben August 15, 2012 at 9:01 am

Or you can do like I did: Hire a maid. Once a week, you return home and the house has magically polished itself while you’re at work. I highly recommend the expense. It frees up your evenings and weekends for socializing and networking, two activities that will return dividends.

17 Mary August 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Sometimes I’ll time how long it takes me to perform a specific task. Laundry is my personal bane and I always think it will take me longer to do than it actually does. In actuality, 1 load of laundry only takes me about 10 minutes to fold put away. Timing the task is my way of getting out of that mentality of “I don’t have time to do this,” because I probably do.

As to Jeremy’s comment on using Clorox disposable wipes. While we women like men with a sense of responsibility for their actions, nothing is worse then a 6 month old, bacteria ridden sponge or rag with black mold growing on it.

If a Clorox wipe is what motivates you to clean the counter, then use it. If you’re more environmentally conscious and want to use a rag — and you’re responsible to throw it in the wash ever couple of days, then great!

Just clean the dang counter!

18 Doug Tyson August 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Thanks for another great article.

An economical alternative to Clorox wipes is a spray bottle with 1 part white distilled vinegar to 3 parts water.

Between white distilled vinegar and baking soda, one can clean and disinfect just about anything from floor to ceiling.

I found this handy little site of recipes: http://www.vinegartips.com

19 Celso August 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I live alone and have many activities besides my job. The best thing I did was to hire a maid. She comes once every two weeks, does a nice cleaning on my apartment and even irons my clothes. She only needs one morning to do everything, and all I need to do to have my place in order is to wash my clothes on the washmachine, and clean kitchen stuff when (if) I make some food.

20 Znorton August 16, 2012 at 11:21 pm

This blog is so great for America! It gives me hope for our country, and the people therein, in a time when hope, (despite being promised by our current President) is in quite short supply.

The simple task of keeping things clean is such a virtue that so many Americans need to be informed of, instructed in, and straight up TOLD to do!

It seems so simple, but sadly, there are a multitude of people in this great country who live in filth. Thank you, AoM, for taking the time to complete the arduous, but essential, task of instructing Americans, especially us young Americans who are the FUTURE of AMERICA, in the value and the process of cleanliness!

GOD Bless America!

21 Kieran August 17, 2012 at 7:22 am

I cannot tell you how many years it has taken me to finally get some sort of rota going.

I grew up with a mother who was fastidious about cleaning, but would never teach me what she did or expect me to do any chores myself.

For the first few years of my adult life I struggled, at University and then at my own house. When I started dating my wife things improved but even up until recently we have struggled to stay on top of cleaning. Waiting a couple of weeks and then spending the entire weekend “Blitzing” the house.

It is MUCH EASIER to do the basics such as washing up and clearing clutter regularly and then bigger tasks stretched out during the week. Take it from someone who knows.

This is a very simple guide that gives sound advice. Follow it.

22 Dan August 23, 2012 at 10:42 am

One rule that has helped me a lot keeping things in order: if you leave a room (or an area of your studio/dorm), pick up at least one item and put it away where it belongs. As you’re most likely to do this quite often throughout a day you’ll have most of the tidying up done without even noticing.

23 Jr August 28, 2012 at 12:00 am

I feel like all I end up doing is leaving lessons learned in the military, but they apply so well. As for cleaning, I am a firm believer in the morning cleanup routine, with a weekly field day (thorough scrub down). Essentially, you allow your living area to be in whatever condition you can stand it being in for the evening, but, when you prepare to leave in the morning, you pick it up, sweep, wipe down the surfaces, so it is in a condition where whoever may enter throughout the day (or with you when you return) doesn’t see an unkempt area. Then, weekly, thoroughly scrub the area, including sweeping and mopping, dusting, and disinfecting surfaces. As a side bar to Mr. McKay’s theory of splitting the duties of the full service up, I feel that compiling it to one session per week allows it to be a little more efficient and faster over the long run.
This all leaves the area tidy during the week and ensures it is a healthy environment weekly.

24 Marc August 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Great breakdown. Should be required reading for anyone who lives, well, anywhere be it cave, box, foxhole, apartment, dorm, or mcmansion. There’s no need to waste away a weekend if you just spend a couple minutes a day at it.

25 BBinKC September 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm

I’d add that you should always give the toilet bowl and seat a scrub and wipe down before guests arrive. This is especially true if you are having a female guest that you would like to have return again.

26 Tiffany May 26, 2013 at 7:23 am

I grew up a Daddy’s girl, and being the only girl of 4 siblings (and the only girl in what seemed a mile radius) didn’t help. Even my mother was always seen as ‘one of the guys’, so it’s no surprise that while other girls are getting their nails painted pretty colors, and their hair dyed pretty colors, and their face covered in pretty colors, and go shopping for pretty colored things.. I’m in raggedy, worn out, faded, ripped, torn, plain clothes covered in oil and/or grease and/or carb cleaner and/or (insert other work shop filth here). Don’t get me wrong, I take pride in my appearance. Any guy who knows me can tell you I clean up good and can turn a more than a few heads, but the fact of the matter is I work for a living and I spend all my free time ‘working’ (volunteering) in various shops (there’s a Motorcycle repair shop, a PDR, and a mechanic within walking distance of each other, lucky me!). But where I live, the boys are still a looong way from being ‘men’ in my book. It’s a large College town where I’m more of a ‘guy’ than most of the boys around me. I self surveyed about 30 guys while working overnight at a gas station a couple years back (after helping one who couldn’t change his own tire and didn’t even know where to look for the spare and tool) and of the 30, about 5 of them were able to do much more than fill their gas tank… My husband isn’t much better and while I plan to book mark this on his computer, I have a feeling that I’ll be getting more out of this site than he will. So Kudos to you all and know that you’re helping many men AND women not strangle their friends/relatives/significant others by giving us something we can go “Here, read this” and walk away. ^_^

27 Kevin July 10, 2013 at 9:37 am

Any chance you’ll make this into a book? This would be a great guide to keep handy, or even give as a gift.

28 BMama October 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm

As a mother whose son has just gone out on his own I thank you for this article. There are plenty of cleaning charts etc. available, but few of them work well for a man. I also have a couple little tidbits to consider when cleaning. The hardness/softness of one’s water will play a role in how often one cleans as well as which products will or will not be effective in the shower, sink area etc. On the bedmaking issue, I deal with nighttime moisture by leaving the bed unmade while getting ready for the day. Waiting until after showering, dressing, and breakfast to make the bed provides sufficient time for bedding to air out while allowing me to return to a visually and mentally clutter free room at day’s end.

29 Klem February 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm

If dusting only takes you 10-15 minutes, either you live in a shoebox or you’re doing it wrong.

30 Zeus February 8, 2014 at 8:16 am

This doesn’t help me. I KNOW what needs to be cleaned, I just don’t have time to do it. Those chores that you say should take “10-15″ minutes are easily an hour apiece for my 4 bedroom, 3 bath, full basement house. Who has time in the morning to do all that? I have to leave the house at damn 6:00am.

31 Drew A February 9, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Zeus, I think you are looking at the monster of your task the wrong way according to the article. The post specifically states, “Adapt this schedule to fit your particular circumstances.”

You have a larger house and a tight morning schedule. One way to adapt this article to fit your circumstances is to literally spend 10-15 minutes doing *something* towards cleaning. If you don’t get through everything in that time, I think that’s fine as it will leave you less time spent on that chore for that part of the house.

Maybe throw in a rotation and do it by room instead of by task. You might be able to do several of the suggested daily tasks to one room in your allotted time that day.

Be creative. Be positive.

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