10 Things I’m Stress-Cleaning This Week

updated Mar 25, 2020
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A person cleaning a kitchen counter with a cloth and spray bottle
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

It’s a strange time right now. Everyone, myself included, is feeling anxious. Under normal circumstances, it’s fair to say that I have more than an average amount of anxiety. Under normal circumstances, I would deal with that anxiety by cleaning. You might call this behavior stress-cleaning; I call it everyday coping.

Wiping down my kitchen counters and loading and running the dishwasher means there are at least two items I can cross off of my running mental checklist. Organizing my mail, creating to-do lists, folding my laundry — these are things that make me feel better while I’m doing them and when I’m done. Cleaning and organizing, for me, are deeply-satisfying, deeply-calming activities.

Which is why the current state of my apartment is so unusual: My sink is full of dirty dishes (that’s a definite don’t; the sink is clearly for cleaning dishes, not storing them); my cat’s food is everywhere (she is an unexpectedly messy eater); the floors are unswept; the bed is unmade; and there is dried up, spilled-over oatmeal on my stovetop.

Instead of cleaning and organizing this past week, I have been voraciously consuming information, worrying myself into inaction, working not just from home, but from my bed, in my pajamas, with my hair sticking straight up. Who can think about showering right now?

I understand this reaction and I am trying to be gentle with myself, to allow myself to, say, spend an entire day reading YA novels in bed. But I also know that the things that always make me feel better will make me feel better now. No, giving my oven a deep clean will not protect me against coronavirus, but it is a positive, concrete, mindless thing that will almost certainly make me feel a little bit better.

Cleaning and organizing are also infinitely scalable — i.e. I don’t have to tackle every thing at once and I can start with small tasks, like unloading my dishwasher. It takes about two minutes. And then I can go back to reading about the Grishaverse (which, by the way, is about to become a Netflix show). I could also tackle something more ambitious, like cleaning and organizing my “pantry” (really just a single cabinet). This would be both super-satisfying and super-practical as it is now more stocked than it has ever been.

My point is this: This week, I’m making it a point to clean and organize the complete disaster that is my apartment. I may only get to one or two small projects or I may get inspired and start deep-cleaning all of my rugs. Here are some things on my list.

1. Organize the mail.

This is a pretty easy one, but I find it really helps to calm me down. I hate it when I have stacks of mail on my kitchen counter or table and yet … there they are. Most of it is junk, so I just have to sort that out and put it in the recycling, open the two or three pieces of real mail and figure out if I need to do anything with them. All in all it doesn’t take long and it can be done in front of the TV.

2. Take out the trash and recycling.

Seriously, so easy. The trash chute and the recycling bins are down the hall from my apartment. Take out the trash, put new liners in my bins, feel better, basically immediately.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Clean my casserole dish.

I have a handsome red casserole dish that I have mostly used to catch drippings in my oven. Every time I open my oven and see it, I feel a little bit gross. It’s actually sitting in my sink right now, soaking in hot water and dish soap, but there will definitely be some scrubbing and scraping involved. Maybe this will be a good outlet for anger and frustration?

4. Organize my cooking utensils.

My current kitchen has limited drawer space (and shelf space and counter space). Right now, I have most of my tools and utensils in three canisters next to the stovetop. It’s a fine solution, but not the best one. I’m not 100% sure what the solution is — maybe more canisters? Maybe additional wall rails? But there’s one out there. While I’m at it, maybe I’ll add one or two tools to my collection. (I’ve been thinking about a spider.)

Credit: Robert Daly/Getty Images

5. Vacuum the kitchen.

I could do more than vacuum — I could sweep and dust the floorboards and mop — but right now vacuuming feels like a good first step. I have two vacuums, a Miele cannister and an Oreck upright, and I’ll usually use them both. The Oreck is better for my rugs, while the Miele lets me get hard-to-reach areas like under the cabinets and dishwasher.

6. Clean the cat’s food station.

Since we said goodbye to my dog Charlie earlier this year, I’ve moved my cat Ramona’s food from the counter to the floor. (Previously, Charlie would have eaten it in record time.) And while I prefer this set up because I don’t really love cat food on my counters, it’s actually harder to clean. Ramona is a very messy eater. On the counter, the mess is contained and easily cleaned with a sponge; on the floor, it’s somehow … everywhere.

7. Clean the refrigerator.

This has been on my to-do list for a while. For me, cleaning the refrigerator is kind of an ordeal. It involves taking all food items out, making sure they are still good to eat and also free of sticky drips. If there’s something that’s about to expire or past-due but still usable (right now, about a cup of milk), I’ll make a mental note of it and think about how I can use it up. Next, I’ll remove and clean all the shelves with dish soap and hot water and put them back in. Then I’ll put the food back in, making sure to keep items that need to be used in plain view and also organizing my condiments by type (mustards, mayos, hot sauces, fish sauces). I’ll also wipe down the outside of the fridge and move it away from the wall and vacuum behind it. If I’m really ambitious, I’ll get up on a step stool and clean the top of the fridge, but that’s definitely a point of weakness for me.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. Clean the stovetop.

Remember that dried up oatmeal? Yeah, that has to go. I usually start cleaning my stovetop with a vacuum (again, I have a Miele and I love it), then cleaning it with dish soap and water, then investigating any stuck-on foods that haven’t come off. I’ll soak the stove top grates while I’m using something like Comet or Barkeepers Friend to make sure the stovetop is 100% clean. I like to use a microfiber cloth to wipe everything down and make sure it’s shiny before I put the grates back. Read more on cleaning your oven here.

9. Organize my spices.

I don’t have a very large pantry: It’s literally a cabinet over my kitchen counter. It is stocked right now with canned beans (black beans and chickpeas), coconut milk, canned fish, tinned tomatoes, rice, dried lentils, olive oil, vinegar, and lots of spices. Literally two of the three shelves are spices — three different types of salt, various peppers, paprika, cumin, coriander, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. There are some spice blends as well, some labeled, some mysterious. What I like most about organizing my spices is that it’s really a moment of taking stock and thinking about what I could or should be cooking rather than a real cleaning out. For example, I am wondering what to do with the bag of

whole dried chipotles

Credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images

10. Clean out (and restock) my cleaning supplies.

I tend to keep cleaning arsenal fairly lean: I rely on dish soap (right now from the Unscented Company), bleach, all-purpose cleaner, and Windex. I sometimes have Comet or Barkeepers Friend. I have sponges, one microfiber cloth, which I love, but have conflicting feelings about, and paper towels which I use sparingly. So, again, cleaning out is probably the wrong word; it’s more like assessing — and figuring out what I’ll need to get more of for the next few weeks.

What, if anything, are you stress-cleaning this week?