Now that Labor Day is past, fall is creeping toward us. It’s time to put away the beach towels, stash the pool toys, and start shuffling out the autumn sweaters. The only problem is, you’re paralyzed and can’t make the first step towards the transition because there is too much clutter in your life. It’s time to channel your inner Marie Kondo, roll up your sleeves and get started! Here are three easy tips to beginning to declutter your home so that you can get your house ready for fall:
1. Everything has a place.
Hit the pause button in your life and look around. There’s probably piles upon piles of mail, papers, bills, receipts lingering in your kitchen. When you peek around the corner, you might see piles of clothes, jackets, shoes littering the living room, scattered throughout your home. The bags you dragged in from shopping are right by the front door. Before you do anything, head to the part of the house that you spend the most time in and start there. Decide where things belong, and put them in that place. Whenever you use something, always put it back in its place.
2. Don’t do it all at once
If memory serves, this directly contradicts Marie Kondo’s advice, but in my experience, it’s much more realistic to do a little bit every day rather than set aside an entire day or weekend to devote to decluttering. Start with the spaces that you most often use, and get those up to speed. Then gradually fan out to the surrounding areas to rein in the clutter. A little decluttering every day keeps the hoarder away.
3. You can’t take it with you
Stop being sentimental about all your stuff. You do not need to hang onto every restaurant receipt from your last ill-fated relationship, nor keep holding on to clothes you had ten years ago. When you die, you can’t take it with you, and your life will be better off in a clean, uncluttered state. Heaps of clothes you haven’t worn in years? Donate them. Mementos from old relationships? Toss! Narrow down the things you surround yourself with to just those that you absolutely need. If you’re reluctant to throw things away, put them in a box in the back of the closet and set yourself a reminder for six months. If you haven’t opened the box to get anything, donate the whole thing to your local charity shop.
We hope these three ideas get you energized to clean up your home and prepare for fall. How else can you make room for your colorful Halloween and Christmas sweaters if you haven’t cleared space in your closet? Follow the blog to get more tips about keeping your house clean.
“Having someone clean your house is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity,” said Diane Butler, 51, who has seen her Boston-area cleaning business change over the last twenty five years. “Now you have both parents working and people don’t have time to clean their own house anymore.”
Diane started working in mutual funds for Fidelity when she was nineteen, but gave up the cushy desk job after a few years. “I was very good at it, but I was at a desk with headphones on in the city. I like to move, I like to go, I like not being in the same place all the time. It’s all about the journey,” she said.
She took that energy and, with her sister Maureen, founded D. Butler’s Cleaning. The transition to physical work was easy for her. “I loved it. The flexibility and diversity of places… it was like a holiday stroll every place you went in, seeing these big beautiful houses,” Diane said. She also played up the pun on her name, adding the tagline to her business, “The Maid didn’t do it, the Butler did.”
Diane, a Boston native, said that construction is on the upswing in the area, so she’s getting a crew together to handle night jobs cleaning up post-construction sites. Things weren’t always so rosy, as the city periodically had its ups and downs. “Construction is finally coming back. Fifteen years ago, I was shoveling and raking leaves, doing anything to stay afloat. But now it’s all coming back.” She’s investing in new equipment to help her new team stay on top of the cleanup work. In addition to the post-construction staff, she has a team of four full-time workers, along with 3-6 additional part-time helpers. Despite this, Diane is still out there every day helping to clean clients’ homes. “I work a lot of hours,” she admitted.
Besides running herself ragged by managing a busy cleaning business, Diane finds time to relax by hiking, biking, and rollerblading. “I’m going to Maine to hike next weekend,” she said. With such a demanding job, she also finds it necessary to remain grounded. “I love Reiki. I love to meditate… because I have to! I’m always on the go, I need to slow down and ground myself.”
One of her most reliable workers is friend Cheri Young, who has been with Diane for the last seven years. “She’s 63 now, still a hustler, out here every day scrubbing and working hard. She stays at it, and goes the extra mile,” said Diane.
Part of the reason the crew is so dedicated is the commitment the business has to giving back to the community. “We clean cancer patients’ homes when they’re going through chemotherapy,” Diane said. “We work through Cleaning for a Reason, who helps women with cancer. But we aren’t offering this service just for women, we help kids and men as well. If anybody who has cancer calls me, we clean their house for free.”
And Diane knows how to take care of her workers. “I pay them from the first job in the morning until they finish the last job of the day, which includes travel. I try to treat them well, and they’ve been with me for years. I give them Christmas bonuses, too.” How does she find high quality workers? “I know a lot of people in the area, so it’s mostly word of mouth. People are always calling me, either family or family friends, or people who have owned cleaning businesses in the past.”
When they go into a client’s home, they are precise, thorough, and efficient. “We go in like the Marines, start high and go low, dust everything, then vacuum at the end and sweep our way out. We work in teams, everybody picks up and helps the next person, we all work together,” she said. The crew favors Shaklee’s green cleaning products (“They make a great paste for bathrooms!”) and Oreck vacuums.
Despite running her cleaning operation like a well-oiled machine, occasionally there are slip ups. “One time the girls went and cleaned the wrong house, the house next door to the one they were supposed to clean. The guy who was at home thought the cleaning service was scheduled for that day, so he didn’t say anything. Meanwhile, they were supposed to be next door. Everybody got a good laugh out it,” said Diane.
Advice for someone just starting their own cleaning business? This veteran cleaner suggests that you “don’t give up, it will get better. Tomorrow is another day.”
We’ve spoken to hundreds of cleaning companies and culled their list of the essential tools for cleaning down to the top five. If you’re thinking about starting a cleaning company, or if you want to up your game at home, take a look at what professional cleaners prefer to use when they tackle client homes.
1. Microfiber cloths
No self-respecting cleaning crew leaves for a job without clean microfiber cloths ready to rumble on the surfaces of their customers’ houses. Mause Cleaning Service’s secret weapon is to wash kitchen and bathroom floors by hand with microfiber cloths. Perfect Lady Cleaning takes it up a notch and uses microfiber cloths in her Swiffer mop. Machine washable, you can toss these in the laundry at the end of a hard day’s work.
2. Electric cleaning brush
When you’re cleaning with green cleaning products, you usually have to give it some extra elbow grease to work the stains out, a healthy trade-off if it means you’re not exposing yourself to toxic fumes while getting a bit of a workout. Natalia Cleans finds that using an electric cleaning brush really helps her team get the job done faster. Some top brands are the Black & Decker and the Rubbermaid power scrubbers.
Not all cleaning companies are into green cleaning, so this is one tool that eco-friendly cleaners will want to skip. Saskatchewan’s Wizard Cleaning loves using a degreaser called Totally Awesome. “It takes out everything, whether you’re cleaning a really caked-on oven or spot cleaning carpet,” said Wizard’s Chris Mongowins. Unfortunately, it’s totally toxic. A green alternative would be Simple Green’s All-Purpose cleaner.
Firmly back on solid green cleaning ground, there are a few steamers that cleaning companies rely on. After all, what could be greener than cleaning your home with water? “All you need to clean a three bedroom, two bathroom house is a gallon of water and a vapor steam cleaner,” says Lee Latham of Chicago’s We Clean Green, who uses My Vapor Clean’s Pro 6 Duo steamer. Calgary Clean prefers using Karcher’s steamers to cut their cleaning time in half, efficiently cleaning things that would usually take more time and effort.
5. Window washing tools
For the cleaning companies that also focus on windows, there are a few tools they absolutely love. Glass scrapers are a favorite of Crystal Clean Windows, using them to scrape residue off of glass surfaces. Mike Desjardinsof Simply Sparkling Cleaning raves about a water-fed pole that extends up to forty feet. “It’s a great tool for window cleaning, very cost effective. We no longer need to rent man-lifts, and it can be operated by one man on the ground, which is very safe— no need to scramble up ladders.”
When these hard-working cleaning crews head out for the day, they want to be sure they’re prepared to handle any dirt, grime, or cleaning crisis they may face. These are the tools they make sure are in their bag before leaving for a client’s house.
What’s your favorite cleaning tool? Let us know in the comments!
Location – Mill Run, Pennsylvania Built in – 1939 Square footage – 5,300 Bi-weekly cleaning quote – $2,178 (includes the guest house)
We sent Vanessa and Oliver of Infinity Cleaning to the Fallingwater House, outside of Pittsburgh to get their opinion of what a cleaning quote for that magnificent house would be. This is the first installment of a series we’re doing on cleaning quotes for famous houses. Follow our blog to see what houses we feature!
Last Saturday my partner, Oliver, and I hopped in the car and drove a couple hours to do the guided house tour of Fallingwater. We had a wonderful time and learned so much from the tour— Frank Lloyd Wright was brilliant and quite the character!
The Fallingwater House was built between 1936-8 as a summer home for the Kaufmann family so they could escape the smog-filled city of Pittsburgh and breathe some fresh mountain air. Frank Lloyd Wright specifically designed the house for this dual purpose—relaxation and appreciation of nature. Wright did his best to encourage the family to be outside the house except when sleeping, using low ceilings and furniture to draw one outside. Originally, the house had no screens on the windows, since Wright considered it more natural to let the bugs in. (The Kaufmanns added screens later to restore their sanity). Natural colors like Cherokee red, semi-circles, and horizontal lines were used throughout the home. It was truly unlike any home I have ever seen!
Providing a quote for this home was much more difficult than I expected! Although the house was composed of only four materials (wood, concrete stone, and steel), Frank Lloyd Wright arranged them in such a way to create many distinct and extraordinary features, each of which would need to be cared for differently. For example, the floors throughout the home were made of stone taken from the boulders on which it was built (Pottsville Sandstone). The stone floors need to be buffed and coated with wax to maintain its glossy, wet look. However, this same type of stone was also used to surround the fireplace, but instead of being coated with wax to give it a wet look, Wright designed it to look dry, warm, and inviting to encourage the Kaufmann family to gather for quality time around the fire. This stone would need to be wiped with a dry cloth in order to preserve its dry look while keeping it clear of debris.
I was particularly surprised to find that the most “normal” room in the home was the kitchen, an area we usually find to be one of the most luxurious in the typical high-end home. This was because the kitchen was used by the Kaufmann staff, so it was very small and simple. The kitchen was the only room that had tile flooring, metal cabinets, and a bucket sink. The bathrooms were closed to the public, but I was able to peek in and see that they were also very small and basic. Perhaps this was because not much time was to be devoted to getting ready, and more time was focused on spending time outside appreciating nature.
Because of the home’s overall uniqueness, we chose to quote the cleaning for this home based off of the square footage, instead of using the set rate we usually use to quote homes. Typically, we only use square footage when quoting a post-construction clean or a large commercial building, but we felt it appropriate for this home simply because we could account for all the unconventional areas that we would encounter during a cleaning. Our average post-construction rate varies from $0.22-$0.26 per square foot.
We estimated that the rate for this home would be $0.36 per square foot. At 5,300 square feet, the total would come to a total of $1,908 for a cleaning of the whole home, including the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, and main living areas.
In addition, there was a guest house built in 1939 after completion of the main house. According to our tour guide, this guest home is 750 square feet, and although it was more modern, it still adhered to the same ideas and designs that Wright used in the main house. A rate for this cleaning would remain at $0.36 per square foot, coming to a total of $270 for the guest house.
This brings the total quote for cleaning this beautiful home to about $2,178! That’s not including the cost to pressure wash, care for outdoor maintenance, and even the cost to clean the windows would range from $2000-$4000! I did not have the opportunity to count the windows to created a more exact quote for those, but it was amazing how much glass was in the home. I was especially stunned by a section of about 12 windows that formed a corner of one of the bedrooms, yet offered no support to the home. These windows were able to be opened outward to virtually eliminate the corner of the room completely! Wright used this technique, along with many others, to incorporate a sense of freedom and one-with-nature throughout the entire home.
Clearly Vanessa and Oliver of Infinity Cleaning care about providing high-quality home cleaning services! If you’re in the Berks County, Pennsylvania area, be sure to book them for your next cleaning service. They promise not to compare your humble abode to Fallingwater.
The day after Natalia Dron finished studying economics and accounting in Poland, she moved to Ireland with some friends. This may be where her passion for the color green started. After spending a few weeks enjoying Dublin, they moved to a small town nearby and Natalia began working her way up the management chain at McDonald’s. By the time she left this town, her hard work pushed her into an assistant manager role and she was unable to progress any further up the ladder at the store.
A self-proclaimed “high-energy person,” while working full-time at McDonald’s, she also cleaned the home of a family on her day off. Some day off! “That was the first house that I ever cleaned, where I learned everything, sometimes the hard way! But this was where I learned that I love cleaning. It is so satisfying to leave a place sparkling clean that was dirty,” said Natalia.
After six years of hard work at McDonald’s and cleaning homes, Natalia took a vacation to visit friends in the U.S. where she met her future husband at a 4th of July party (fireworks, swoon!) and decided to move permanently to Chicago. Her first jobs in the U.S. were all cleaning-related, and she launched her own cleaning service, Natalia Cleans, in 2012. At first, she worked alongside her husband, but one of their clients offered him a property management position and Natalia now relies on her team of four workers to help handle the demand. “We work as a team to go above and beyond in satisfying our customers,” Natalia said.
As you can see in the pictures, the team gets decked out in green t-shirts when they head out to work. “When I was just starting my business, the first thing that I chose was the color green,” said Natalia. “I wanted green for two reasons– that it’s a calming and relaxing color, and to indicate green cleaning. I love using green products that are safe for us workers who use them all day long, and also safe for customers, their children, pets, and the whole house.”
One of the things Natalia and her team most appreciate from clients is being treated well, from leaving their air conditioning on in the summer to offering cold drinks to quench their thirst on a hot day. “We don’t take the drinks, but it’s a very kind gesture,” Natalia clarified. This type of respect from clients is especially necessary in the scorching hot summers in Chicago.
Her secret green cleaning weapon should come as no surprise to those who know the power of vinegar. “It’s the best product. If I spray it on shower glass or around faucets, it does the job by itself and takes all the buildup away.” And she also enjoyed discovering a new tool on the market—an electric cleaning brush. “We love to use it! It saves us time and energy.”
It helps to have a role model when you’re getting started, and Natalia found hers in a friend of her mother-in-law’s, who owns her own cleaning business. “She gave me the courage, support, and all the tips when I needed it the most. She always has a good word for me.” As far as advice for anyone thinking about starting their own cleaning business, Natalia cautions that it’s hard work and you have to be better than everyone else to get ahead. “But it’s priceless when you get a satisfied customer. It’s worth the hard work! Especially when customers tell us that their house looks like new.”
When not cleaning or running her business, Natalia loves reading books, traveling, and seeing theater. She and her husband recently had a good laugh seeing “The Book of Mormon.” And to keep up her reading, Natalia’s sister sends her a package filled with dozens of books from Poland three or four times a year. It takes a lot to tire her out, but we’re confident that this high energy entrepreneur will continue to lead her business to dazzling success and sparkling clean homes. If you’re in the Chicago area and would like to book a house cleaning service with Natalia Cleans, check them out here.
Great ideas are born out of necessity… or desperation. Catherine Ashurst and Rebecca Foley (or as they prefer to be known, Cat and Bex) came up with the idea for a “morning after” cleaning service after one particularly painful morning in their Auckland, New Zealand flat. “Bex was hungover one morning, and it was her turn to clean the house….the rest is history,” said Cat as we chatted via Skype.
I spoke with Cat as she left her day job as a fire safety instructor where she maintains fire safety protocols for commercial buildings in Auckland. That flammable hazard training comes in handy, because word has spread like wildfire about the service. The two launched their business just over three months ago and business is booming. A few weeks ago the pair just hired their first helpers, but up until then they were fielding all emergency calls by themselves.
The Morning After Maids can be booked ahead of time if you’re a savvy party planner or can be booked with an “emergency call out” up until noon on the weekends. The crew arrives with breakfast in hand (usually McDonalds or something equally hangover-friendly), then gets to work setting the party pad back in order.
I asked Cat if they had a special hangover cure that they brought for suffering clients. “Puppies,” she said. “And the fact that no one has to lift a finger to deal with the gross-ness.” Cat’s and Bex’s dogs come along for each session to provide support for everyone.
While they’ve only been at this for a few months, they’ve already seen their share of insanity. “Last weekend’s party was all-out. We turned up with our helpers and the party goers had just cracked open another bottle of bubbles. It was a carnival-themed party, with a candy floss machine, bubble machines, popcorn machines, real life traffic lights set up, and a full bar. It was crazy, and it was all still going when we got there,” said Cat. This was a group of friends in their 40s who knew how to party and who were smart enough to book the Morning After Maids! Next time, perhaps they’ll adjust their cleaning start time to a bit later to accommodate the party.
The one tool that Cat can’t live without? She didn’t hesitate– a mop. “We go through so many replacement foam heads,” she laughed, saying that they needed to get a mop sponsor ASAP.
Like most cleaning service owners, one of the best things Cat likes about the job is the feeling of satisfaction and appreciation from customers. The Morning After Maids swoop in like superheroes and save the day, taking a messy, sticky house and returning it to normal.
Cleaning has always been in her blood. Cat mentioned in a previous interview that she would always clean the silverware before using it when she stayed in hotels, calling herself a “clean freak.”
With summer approaching (hello Southern Hemisphere!), they expect jobs to start coming in fast and furious, and the plan is to spread throughout New Zealand, eventually launching franchises in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Hopefully they make it to the U.S. soon… we’re in desperate need of this type of service!
Recently there was a popular thread on Reddit focused on spilling the details of all the disturbing things that have been seen by housekeepers cleaning up hotel rooms. I put on my rubber gloves, adjusted my safety goggles, and held my nose before jumping into the 5300 comments so that I could present you with the TL;DR version of that thread.
So what disgusting things do the hotel cleaning staff have to deal with on a frequent basis? Put on your hazmat suit to read on.
Human waste (and sometimes dog and cat waste) was the most commonly reported thing that cleanup crews see. And not just a well placed turd on the nightstand, but feces smeared all over the rooms, walls, ceilings. It’s not possible to read the entire Reddit thread without seriously questioning what is wrong with humanity. Seriously, I could have made items 1 through 5 all about shit, but I’m collapsing them all into this single topic.
Blood is another very common sight that disturbs the hardiest of cleaning staff. Sometimes it’s the innocent blood of a woman unexpectedly getting her period, or a guy having a massive nocturnal nosebleed. Or sometimes it’s the grisly aftermath of a fight (or murder… see item 5). Regardless, the story of bloody tampons stashed in the bed is one that will leave your stomach a bit queasy.
Hotel rooms are notoriously good places to throw a party, and with massive consumption of alcohol comes massive expulsion of vomit for some people. One cleaner quit her job when she entered a particularly trashed bathroom that somehow had vomit on the ceiling as well. Non-hotel maids chimed in with stories of their own about how they would go to a client’s home to clean and be faced with day-old vomit that wasn’t cleaned up because they knew the maid was coming the next day. Aren’t people awesome?
#4 Sexual fluids.
One of the other common uses for hotel rooms is to do the dirty deed— either alone, with one partner, or with many. One courteous gentleman told his hotel cleaner that he left her a tip on the mirror… which ended up being covered in semen. There were lots of stories about used condoms littered throughout the rooms, and one tale of inadvertently walking in on an orgy porn shoot.
#5 Dead bodies.
Sadly, hotel rooms are also frequently used as a spot to off oneself, and hotel cleaning crews are the ones to find the suicides and clean up the aftermath. There’s also the occasional murder, and one gruesome discovery of ten severed heads (although that guy was supposedly just defrosting them for the next day’s dissection at a cadaver lab). And sometimes older people check into hotels in order to attend crucial doctor’s appointments that they miss when they die in their sleep.
Other notable mentions
In addition to all the dying, pooping, bleeding, vomiting, and sex people are having in hotels, there were a number of other strange tales that caught our attention because of their sheer weirdness. Some of our favorites:
Two men so distraught that the hotel maid turned down their generous offer to have sex that they smashed up boxes of Cheez-its and ground them into the carpet.
“A manila folder with print-outs from DeviantArt of celebrities with their noses morphed to be really large, [and] a single wingtip shoe with tons of cum inside.”
Four women in Anchorage gutting a seal in their room
A prosthetic leg left behind in an armoire
The posters who were hotel staff mentioned that they enjoyed all the beer, wine, and alcohol that guests leave behind, but they really enjoy cash tips more than anything. After reading this thread and questioning the basic humanity of the world, I’m convinced more than ever that we need to treat these service workers with the utmost respect and kindness. Tip your housekeepers, and don’t do anything in a hotel room that you wouldn’t do at home.
When I first spoke with the founder of Houston-area Lolli Maids, Chris Robin, he was stuck in traffic. This isn’t surprising, since Houston has some of the worst traffic congestion in the U.S. “I’m either stuck in traffic, training staff, or cleaning,” Chris said of his daily routine. Despite the hours spent in his car, he loves running his own business. “It feels wonderful to be an entrepreneur. I wake up and feel like I have a piece of clay that I’m molding. You’re always sculpting, shaping your destiny,” he said.
After a decade in the corporate world working for companies like Dell and Compaq, Chris was laid off during a downturn. When he found his savings dwindling and unable to find another corporate gig, he posted an ad on Craigslist listing his services as a house cleaner. He was surprised by the response, and found himself back on Craigslist looking for someone to do the actual cleaning. There he found Almita, a maid with 20 years experience who he hooked by saying that his (as yet non-existent) cleaning business was overbooked and looking for someone to do an extra job. She agreed to the cleaning and once it was complete Chris paid her. From there, Chris kept putting up listings and got a few more jobs that he hired Almita for. He realized that he couldn’t make money with this plan unless he started doing the cleaning, so he sent himself to the next job. “I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was supposed to clean. I stayed in the bathroom, cleaning, for two hours. That must have been the cleanest bathroom I’ve ever seen. But I was trying to stall because the customer was home and I didn’t know what to clean next,” he said.
He spent six hours on that first house and then repeated this process ten more times, each time getting a better idea of customer expectations and needs. As business grew, he reached out to Almita again for help and gave her a few jobs each day. After a few months, she gave up the regular houses she’d been cleaning on her own and hitched her wagon to Lolli Maids. When there was enough work to hire a few more people, Chris stepped back and started focusing on the business side of things. He focuses on providing a quality service, and not over-scheduling his cleaners so that they have enough time to do a final review of the house when it’s done. “If you give it an extra 15% once the cleaning is done, that job will be perfect,” Chris said.
Business is booming, but the bottleneck preventing more growth is his ability to hire people. “We could grow the business faster if I wasn’t picky about the people I hire. I do a full background check, interview them, see how they work with other people, and see how they clean. I make sure they’re trained properly and work with them myself. The only reason we haven’t grown another 35% is because I can’t hire enough good people. I’d rather grow slow with a focus on quality and a good reputation than to grow fast and end up with nothing.”
One of the ways that he tests potential employees is by putting cleaning supplies in front of them and seeing how they react. If the cleaners grab the products and head for the kitchen or bathroom, they’re on the right track. If they look like they aren’t quite sure what to do with the supplies, they’ll probably be weeded out quickly.
On the job, Chris likes to walk the property with the client before the team gets started. There are several benefits to the initial walk-through, like discovering damage that might be blamed on the cleaners, or pointing out issues that may be too tough to tackle in one session. The biggest advantage of the pre-cleaning walk-through is that Chris gets a feel for what’s important to the client and is able to focus on accomplishing that.
While every customer’s house is different, Chris notes that you can sum up a house’s main issue quickly once you walk in. The issue might be dust, clutter, pet hair, or any combination of those. His approach is to eliminate the big issue first to be able to see the extent of what remains. The team will clear up clutter, placing cushions on the couch, picking up clothes and toys off the floor, placing shoes in the closet, before they see what else needs to be done.
Despite all these precautions, the team sometimes finds surprises. One of his maids called during the middle of a job to let him know that she had just found a cache of semi-automatic weapons in the house along with stacks of cocaine bricks and guns under the pillows. “It wasn’t the first time we found a gun under the pillow. We’re in Texas and we’ve got a lot of gun-happy people here.” For this particular house, Chris put a note in the client’s file to remind himself not to accept another booking, penciling “semi-automatic weapons” by their name.
Chris loves all the challenges he encounters, saying it’s his favorite part of the job. He also loves dealing with customers, and has discovered that he talks a whole lot more than he used to. “I probably talk too much, but before I started this company I didn’t talk so much. I’m a people person. Dealing with so many things all the time, I find myself talking all the time. I don’t know how to shut myself up!” All that talking also has led to some television appearances for the Lolli Maids crew—they’ve been on MTV’s “Grossbusters” and SpikeTV’s “Bar Rescue.”
Working long days all week long, Chris considered the benefits of getting a hobby. “I might take up stamp collecting,” he joked. In reality, he’s working seven days a week—while the team takes Sundays off, he’s working on payroll and creating the schedule for the next day.
With his solid work ethic, it’s not surprising that he considers a role model “anybody who started from the bottom and worked their way up. My dad taught me to work hard, to do it yourself and not rely on other people to give it to you. If you want something out of life, go get it.”
His previous corporate background helps him relate well to customers and anticipate their needs. “They’re busy, they make a lot of money and want to spend time with their family. Cleaning is the last thing anyone wants to do. We’re doing a good thing by providing a service that lets families spend time together. We say, ‘Get back to what you love.’ ”
Jolie Kerr has been telling people how to clean up their disgusting messes for the past five years in a column called Ask a Clean Person. I stumbled across her advice in a recent issue of Lenny, the weekly newsletter from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner; don’t be fooled by the celebrity email newsletter—nothing like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, it actually contains amazing writing and interviews and stories.
Kerr’s column spawned a book titled My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag… and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha which is just as irreverent and funny as it sounds. Cleaning nerds who love a pinch of snark and fun should rush right out and acquire a copy by whatever means necessary (I found it at the library). It covers everything from getting bong water out of the carpet to how to clean your sex toys.
Overall it has a super-upbeat tone, lots of helpful charts on what tools and products to use in various situations. I found it a bit heavy on the chipper-ness, perhaps a bit bloated with enthusiastic words, but her notes on cleaning are spot on. She continues to beat the drum (rightfully so) of cautioning you not to mix bleach with ammonia (toxic gas ensues!), and admonishes you to use proper gloves and safety equipment and ventilation if you use the conventional cleaning supplies that she loves.
She starts by outlining the various types of cleaning you should wreak on your kitchen: the daily clean, the hard clean, and the full monty hard clean. Daily you should be doing the maintenance on your space so that it doesn’t appear that you live in a pig sty, like washing your dishes, putting away food, throwing garbage away, mopping up spills immediately. For the hard clean, she suggests tackling things you need to do once a month, like wiping down cabinets, cleaning walls and backsplashes, countertops, appliances, then the floor. The sink comes at the end so you can continue to dump the disgusting dirty water that you’re creating while cleaning the rest of the kitchen.
The kitchen chapter is filled with tips for every imaginable situation, from defrosting your freezer to using common food items to solve cleaning situations (tabasco can clean copper! And use olive oil to revitalize your dried up cutting board!). The full monty clean has you pulling out everything in your cabinets, tossing, cleaning, organizing. She channels Marie Kondo, saying “Remind your things that they’re special” and then you realize that she’s talking about cans of tomatoes or beans.
She gets fairly comfortable recommending some toxic solutions like trisodium phosphate and its slightly friendlier cousin, the phosphate-free version. While she does warn you that it’s a dangerous chemical, it seemed a bit blasé, like just opening a window would solve everything!
I got my first taste of her dislike of us eco-friendly green cleaners when she mentioned that “some people are opposed to serious chemicals, which is weird but okay, I guess, and those people can mix up a vinegar solution instead.” Yes, vinegar is your friend! Later she calls us filthy hippies for wanting to save the environment instead of bleaching away to our heart’s content, but she does give green alternatives with the caveat that you’ll have to expend a lot more elbow grease using non-toxic cleaners.
Once we get to cleaning the bathroom, Kerr unleashes a lot of Magic Bubbles, but thankfully knows the value of baking soda and vinegar, especially calling it out as a way to prevent slow drains (“hit your pipes with a half cup of baking soda followed by a half cup of vinegar once every month”).
Several of her cleaning tasks come with a warning that they will make you want to kill yourself, like cleaning the forced heat radiators and washing your floors on hands and knees. Oh, and she giddily mentions a tip for cleaning ceiling fans with a pillowcase that I previously found on the Reddit thread about cleaning (use a damp pillowcase wrapped around the blade and pull toward you– all the dust goes in the pillowcase!).
Not sure what to do about those dirty rags and whether you should toss them in with the rest of your laundry? Never fear, Kerr has ideas for this as well. Pre-wash the rags to remove most of the gunk and gross stuff before adding them in with the rest of your load.
One of my favorite tips was using denture tablets dropped into the bottom of a vase to get the gross build-up off spots that your brush can’t reach. And sweat stains can be tackled with lemon juice with salt gently rubbed into the fabric then letting it sit for half an hour, then rinse with white vinegar before a final rinse with warm water. She gets into specifics around protein stains (and how bleach is not their friend), these are basically stains that are from bodily fluids of all sorts. On the topic of stains, she says the best thing you’re going to learn from her is that almost every single stain (except ink and mud) will benefit from being flushed with cold water. “Hold the stained area taut under a running faucet and let the water pressure do a lot of the work for you.” Grease stain? WD-40 “is the thing for bike grease stains” and she suggests you hit up their website for over 2,000 other uses for the product.
She ends the book with the top hits from her column, including that boyfriend who puked in the purse. This last chapter was somewhat entertaining, but the real meat and potatoes of cleaning wisdom is hashed out in the earlier chapters.
Self-proclaimed “Georgia peach” Nichelle Brannon was born and raised in the Atlanta area. When she’s not antiquing with her best friend or turning front flips on the trampoline with her daughter, Nichelle runs her own cleaning company in Atlanta, La Femme De M’enage, which is French for “The Cleaning Lady.” She does not yet speak French fluently, but it’s on her to-do list, along with a trip to France in the next year or so. Actually the trampoline flips were a one-time thing. “It scared me half to death,” she said.
Nichelle has been running her cleaning business for five years now, and caters to her clients’ needs, expanding her business to include landscaping and light construction work—like painting— in addition to cleaning homes. “Once I get into a client’s house to talk about cleaning, I get a rapport going and mention that I do painting and landscaping work as well,” she said.
After getting laid off from her job at Metro PCS, Nichelle decided to start her own cleaning business because it was something she was good at. “And as a single mom, I needed flexibility as well as an opportunity to decide how much money I wanted to make,” she said.
Running her own business has presented some unique challenges. When she first expanded into landscaping and construction work she was hired by a mobile home community that had a payment schedule of thirty days after the work was completed. She was managing a large crew who would turn the whole house around, handling everything from demolition and trash clean out to laying new carpet, fixing holes and cleaning. With the thirty day payment policy, Nichelle found it difficult to cover the costs of paying her crew while waiting for the client to pay according to their schedule. While it was great money, she was unable to keep working with that company. She’s since hired a general contractor to manage that part of her business so she can focus on cleaning.
As part of her cleaning service to remove trash, she’s seen people leave behind nearly their entire lives. One family left everything except their large pieces of furniture, leaving behind a family tree of people since the 1800s and old pictures. “I’m amazed by the things people leave behind when they have to leave in a hurry,” she said.
A family that cleans together stays together
While none of her family members are full time employees, Nichelle’s father helps out when she needs an extra pair of hands and she enlists her sons (aged 10 and 13) and daughter (age 16) on weekends and in the summer. “Even if they don’t desire to go into my business, they get good experience helping out. $5 goes a long way with them, plus ice cream.”
Her clients have become a bit like family as well. There are some people she’s been cleaning for over the last four years who have gotten to see her children grow up. “We’ve formed this bond of friendship that’s beyond just ‘that’s the cleaning lady,’ “ said Nichelle.
Getting by with help from friends
Nichelle has a handful of friends and family that she considers role models. She’s been working part time for a fashion designer for the past fifteen years who she’s “seen do miraculous things… Anything she touches turns to gold.” Besides learning from this entrepreneur, she watched her aunt transition from corporate life to running her own business for the past thirteen years, helping nonprofits grow their business. An ex-boyfriend helped Nichelle with the nitty gritty details of getting set up as a business such as obtaining a business license and EIN number. “All of their stories inspire me,” she said.
Southern belle customers
When I asked Nichelle if she had a favorite customer, she laughed and said, “Yes! She is a Southern belle to the core, like Suzanne Sugarbaker from Designing Women. Everything has its place, everything smells good and must be coordinated. She doesn’t mind paying for quality service.” This client frequently has classic movies playing at her home and Nichelle enjoys listening to them and singing along with Gene Kelly to Singing In the Rain when it’s on. She’s also invited Nichelle’s daughter to come over for tea and “to talk about the old days when ladies were ladies.” When Nichelle was going through a divorce, this client took her under her wing and made sure she was taken care of.
Helping other entrepreneurs
Nichelle knows the value of her service, that it makes her clients’ lives easier. “They have a whole to-do list and cleaning is probably not #1 on that list. It’s amazing to come home to a clean home after working long hours and taking care of children or elderly parents. They don’t have to worry about dirty dishes or wonder when the last time they dusted. I make it easier for them so they can be more productive parents. Even if they’re entrepreneurs themselves, they don’t have to worry about cleaning,” she said. And speaking of knowing the value of her service, it’s one of the top things she recommends to anyone who might be starting their own cleaning business. “Know your worth, and know what you will and won’t do. Calculate how many hours it will take to do something and how much you want to earn per hour plus supplies and gas. You’ve got to know those numbers right off the bat,” Nichelle said.
Foaming “volcano” cleaning trick
Nichelle was trying to figure out how to get gum off a frosted sliding glass door and stumbled onto a recipe that brought back memories of elementary school. “In 6th grade, we did the volcano thing, and [my internet search] said to mix ammonia and baking soda with Dial soap, and it worked wonders. It’s just a little foam action, no explosives.” She shares this technique with customers to make her life easier when she’s back at their house to clean. “I don’t have to scrub as much!”