Illustration by Hattie

Oh no, no, no, no, no! Your room is a HUGE disaster: clothes all over the floor, books in your bed, hair ties and necklaces and chargers and cords snaking around the room, empty Peach Snapple bottles, hairspray-sticky surfaces, snot-hardened tissues, and a dresser buried under a mountain of crap.

You were supposed to clean your room all week but you DIDN’T, and now the very cool person you like-like/want to impress is coming over in 10 minutes to study/hang out for the first time and you just got home from school and OMG YOUR ROOM IS SO GROSS THEY WILL NEVER LIKE YOU AND YOU’LL DIE ALONE IN A PILE OF JUNK AND GET EATEN BY THE CAT.

OK. Deep breaths. Do. Not. Panic.

I’ve been a secret slob all my life, and no one but my family and close friends knows. At one point during college, I was picking my way, barefoot, along the tiny path to my dorm room door in the middle of the night, and I tripped. A huge pile came tumbling down. My roommate, Cayla, woke up to the sounds of my low groans. When she flipped on the light we found: the paper I had printed out and then lost and then had to frantically re-print and turn in late, the extra set of dorm keys we’d been charged $50 for losing, the scissors Cayla had accused me of moving and we’d proceeded to have an epic fight about, a half-eaten block of cheddar, 14 soda bottles, live ants, an open container of pink glitter (you can’t get rid of glitter), and my passport, which I had been tearing the room apart looking for because the study-abroad office needed it, like, now.

I know about messes. And I am here to help you. Let’s get to speed-cleaning. Ready?


Here’s what you need to do immediately:

1. Prioritize.

Take a step back and reaaaaally look at your room. What is the biggest offender? Shoe piles? No visible floor space? Crusty old dishes? Crusty old dishes and half-empty glasses of curdled milk under the bed that are creating a sour odor? Crusty UNDERWEAR? Try to see your room for the first time, treating a shared room as if it were completely yours. What’s most immediately shocking? What’s the first thing that might snag someone’s gaze? (Hint: it’s the underwear.) Time spent: 10 seconds.

2. Get rid of the major offender(s).
Refer to the Priority Messes identified in step one and TAKE CARE OF THEM. If it’s clothes and shoes all over the floor, run and get the laundry basket, pile everything into it (shoes at the bottom), and set it against a wall. Oh, ha ha, you were just about to do a load of laundry! Alternately, you can grab a garbage bag, stuff everything into that, and throw it in your closet. It’s just a bag of stuff you’re donating and, no, they cannot look through it. Time spent: two minutes.

If it’s books and papers, fly around your room, picking up every single book and sheet of paper, regardless of what they are, and put them all in two tidy piles on your desk or on the floor by your bed, with the smartest/trendiest books and magazines on display. The Hunger Games and On the Road can go on top of the latest issue of Highlights (still a really good magazine). Look how much you read! You’re so cultured! Time spent: one minute.

3. Hide anything super-personal.

We all have crap we don’t want other people to see, especially the first time they come over. Scan the room for potentially embarrassing items, such as dental headgear, wart-removing cream, the Justin Bieber singing toothbrush (gag gift, right?!), prescription bottles, the notebook in which you’ve practiced writing your crush’s name linked with yours, Vagisil, Monostat, foot fungus spray, the neti pot, Preparation H, used Q-tips, and anything aiding digestion. None of these things are shameful, OBVS, but they’re not exactly things you need your new friends to be intimately acquainted with. Time spent: 30 seconds.

4. Open all the windows.
Seriously, even if it’s freezing. Air the cave out! Now spray one (ONLY ONE) squirt of your perfume right in front of your door, close to the ceiling, and fan it around with your hands. Perfect! Now anyone walking in will have a first impression of a good-smelling room. And your crush will get a waft of your scent, which is always good. Time spent: 30 seconds.

5. Quickly make the bed.

The bed is the biggest thing in your room; making it will give the impression that the room is a lot more tidy. Don’t spend too long on this, just pull the sheets up and drag the coverlet over the top. Tip: if you want it to look like you definitely did not just make the bed, lie down and then get up again to leave an I’ve-been-sitting-on-this-bed body imprint. Place the one item you were obviously just engaged with (e.g., laptop, book of poetry, collage) on your now-neatened bed next to your pillows. You were totally just lying here a minute ago, doing something awesome! You are always doing cool shit. Time spent: one minute.

6. Get rid of anything perishable that has already perished.

Grab all crusty dishes/water glasses/Tupperware from old lunches and run them to the kitchen sink. Then take the overflowing trash out. Remember: there’s a HUGE difference between “messy” and “gross.” Clutter = messy. Anything that mice and roaches might like to make a nest in = gross. Time spent: three minutes.

7. Put a clean gym sock on each of your hands.
Get one wet. Now you have a scrubber and a duster. Use the wet one on anything sticky, like rings from juice glasses. Run the dry one over all surfaces at eye level and anything truly, horribly dusty. Time spent: two minutes.

Great! Your room is now passably neat (ish)! If Cool Person hasn’t shown up yet, it’s time to make your room look like someone mysterious and fascinating lives in it (which is true!). Got a lamp? Got more than one lamp? Throw a red or pink sheer scarf over the tops of them, like they do in Almost Famous. A sheer T-shirt or tank top will work as well. When you flip the lamps on, the room will be bathed in a rosy, cozy glow. (Don’t forget to take the scarves off after your visitor leaves—this is a potential fire hazard!)

Attack the top of your dresser, grouping and clustering items together until it looks like you planned for them to be with one another: makeup/scented items lined up in a row, photos in a cluster, and all figurines/toy models grouped together like a mini-shrine to teenagehood.

Finally, add carefully edited “mess” back into the room for realism. For example, hang a pendant necklace off the edge of your dresser, held in place by a trophy or figurine. “Accidentally” drape your favorite concert T-shirt on the closet doorknob. Do a last lightning check. Did you: (1) put all garbage bags full of clothes or trash out of eyesight? (2) Hide your journal? (3) Erase any blinking computer chats that say something like “OMG!!! I JUST LOVE HIM/HER SO MUCH I CAN’T BELIEVE HE/SHE’S COMING OVER”?

Excellent. Your room looks like it belongs to a casually neat person, a person who never has to worry about someone coming over unexpectedly, because everything is always this way! Now put on your favorite album, starting it smack in the middle, because you’ve been listening to it this whole time, alone in your awesome room. ♦