The Jolie Kerr (AKA "Ask a Clean Person") interview

JK copy.jpgToday's interviewee is the author of the fun and fascinating column "Ask a Clean Person" that appears on various sites. She holds the wisdom of Martha Stewart, but encourages us all to be tidy people but in a real, achievable way, not "Oh you don't clean the homemade mulch you use to line the path to your country home?" (this is a real thing Martha did once.) Her advice is now collected in a very handy and entertaining book winningly titled My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. I would just like to note that I have a friend out there who once barfed in her own Coach purse but I'm sure the advice about the boyfriend's barf would have also applied to her own. You can follow her on Twitter here or Tumblr here. Oh, and her name is pronounced "JOE-lee" "Care."

OK, so you specifically told me to ask you about a cleaning problem and I'm giving you the biggest one I ever experienced. One night on the way home from Christmas dinner I got hit with a stomach virus and threw up in the car before my husband could pull over (we were on the highway.) It was horrible--on the seat upholstery, on the window. The worst part was trying to get the vomit out of the cardoor speaker the next day (I gave it a couple of cursory wipes with a wet washcloth until I had to throw up again.) What would you have done in this situation?

Oh man, that sounds awful. And on Christmas no less!

There are a couple of tricks when cleaning up car speakers. The first is to remove the speaker cover--generally, just wiping the speakers down will remove dirt and debris, but when you're talking about vomit that can get stuck in all those tiny holes you'll probably want to do a deeper cleaning--so you can either submerge them in a cleaning solution (plain old soapy water is fine) or use a foaming cleaner like Resolve. The other way to go is to use a shop vac to suck the barf out. While it's great for general cleaning of car speakers, in this case canned air is not the way to go because it will push the puke in, rather than pull it out, which is what we want here.

In terms of what I would have done in your situation, probably the exact same thing. Mostly because when you're that sick, it's unrealistic to get out the toolbox or shop vac and go to town.

The other fallout from that illness is that I threw up all over this Burberry coat that was easily one of my top five inanimate objects of all time. I threw the coat in a garbage bag to take to the dry cleaners and MY HUSBAND THREW IT AWAY!!! (Honest mistake but I still miss that coat.) I tell myself that it would have been poor form anyway to take a vomit-covered coat to the dry cleaners anyway, but tell me the truth--could I have done that? Could the dry cleaner could have salvaged it?
Oh yeah, the dry cleaner absolutely could have salvaged it--and you absolutely could have brought the coat in. You can expect that they've seen more or less everything. That doesn't, however, mean that you should just drop a big vommy pile of clothes off with them; they're people, and they deserve to be treated with courtesy just like everyone else. So before taking something with a nasty stain on it to the cleaners, it's a good idea to do a little at-home triage and wipe off as much debris as you can using a damp sponge and a tiny amount of dish soap.

Here is one final one: I have a down-filled pillow that I love because it smells comforting and is very squishy. I'm sure it's filthy, but my fear is that if I wash it too much it will lose its scent and/or get smaller until it disappears. Do you know if it is possible to buy a new, clean pillow like this and prime it so it will be a suitable, cleaner replacement or do I just need to hold onto my dirty old pillow?
The good news is that washing the pillow is not at all likely to cause it to disappear! The bad news is that, yeah, washing it will eliminate that delightful personal smell that's so comforting to you. The thing is with buying an exact replica of your current pillow is that it won't ever really break in like the current one, though that doesn't mean you won't grow to love a different version of the same model you already have.

Big picture, what are some of your biggest personal gross-outs? (Like for me I can't handle when people bare horrible feet.)
I hate the feeling of food underneath my fingernails, which is why I eat pizza with a knife and fork. (I cook a lot, which means I'm used to the feeling of food underneath my fingernails, because that will happen during prep, but I still hate it.)

I can't stand a dirty dish towel or hand towel. You just washed your hands! Why are you drying them on a filthy rag?!? Also a dirty bathroom sink will always trigger my gag reflex when I'm brushing my fangs.

What, if anything, do you most regret about being known for the clean person?
That people always feel the need to apologize to me for being "gross." That bums me out a wicked lot. I don't want anyone to feel bad! Life is hard enough without worrying that I think you're gross, and also it makes me feel bad that I made someone else feel bad and then it's a whole horrible feedback loop of feeling bad and that's no good at all. Related to that is that my friends--my real life, actual friends who I adore to bits and pieces--tend to fret about having me over, because they're worried I'm going to judge the cleanliness of their homes. Which? Oh God, no no. 1. I'm just thrilled to be invited into someone's home and 2. if everyone were as clean as me, I'd be out of a job. And I LOVE this job. Basically I want everyone to make more messes.

I know you are a clean PERSON and not a clean woman but without commentary about what it all means in terms of domestic relationships, how do you and your husband divide up household tasks?
This is a tricky one, because the answer I want to give for FEMINISM is that it's even steven. But it's not, and there are very good reasons that are specific to our situation for why I do the majority of the cleaning. They are, in no particular order:

  • I work from home, so I generally do my cleaning mid-day when I need a break from writing, while my husband has a M-F, 9-6-type office job;
  • We've only been married and living together for a few months, so our routines are still shaking out;
  • Compounding the newness of living together is the fact that we're living in what was my single gal apartment--so I already had my own routines and ways and such of keeping my tiny palace the way I like it;
  • I mean, I'm a capital C, capital P Clean Person. Of course I do most of the cleaning! But there's no resentment factor there, I genuinely enjoy keeping the home.

With that said, my husband enjoys that we have a nice home. If I need him to help with something, he does. And he pitches in on a bunch of the day-to-day stuff like doing the dishes after dinner, taking the trash and recycling down, making sure the clothes are put away. He's a pretty tidy fellow!

Also he brings me coffee every morning in bed, which is a tremendously fine quality in a man.

Why do you think people find talking about cleaning interesting?
Girl I have no earthly idea! Okay no, that's not fair, I have some ideas: Primarily, because it's a thing we all have to do, so there's a commonality there. And I think in the case of Ask a Clean Person the other draw is the delightful gross-out factor, as well as the empathy factor ("Hey! I also have that problem!"), that comes along with the Q&A format.

Who or what has been your biggest source over your life as a clean person?
Martha. Absolutely. I learned about bluing from Martha! I had just graduated from Barnard, which is of course Martha's alma mater as well, and was working at Sports Illustrated. One of the perks of that job was that we got all the Time Inc. magazines delivered to our desks gratis, and because Martha Stewart Living was originally a Time Inc. title it was grandfathered in. So there I am sitting at my desk at SI flipping through Martha Stewart Living and I see a reference to this stuff called blueing and was like, "Man, I gotta try that out." I've loved it ever since.

I don't typically conduct my interviews like this but the questions from here until #14 are from my mom, a clean person: Isn't it more fun to clean something that's really dirty than something that's just a little smudgy? 
Oh sure, it's way more satisfying to really get at something. But also cleaning smudges can be fun too because you get that instant "OOOH LOOK HOW SHINY!" gratification thing going on.

Isn't it gratifying to see the gunk on the paper towels that you've used?
Yes, and also kind of horrifying? Like, "Huh, that wall looked clean but eeeww why is this sponge black??" (Oh God, yes I wash my walls. I know, I know. Don't be like me! I am a crazy person.)

What scent of cleaner do you prefer?  Or no scent at all?
I like lemon scents, but also floral scents as well--I'm a total slut for the Mrs. Meyer's honeysuckle and bluebell products.

Do you find it true that any cleaner that touts itself as "green" doesn't really work as well as the conventional one?
For the most part, yes. There are exceptions! Simple Green is an awesome product. But generally speaking, yeah you're gonna have to use more elbow grease when working with gentler products, which is true of both DIY and commercial products.

If you saw a mess in someone else's house, would you clean it up for him while his back is turned?  And, do you think that person would even notice that you did?
It entirely depends on my relationship to the person. I would never clean someone's home if doing so would be disrespectful or an invasion of their space. But yeah, with close friends I'll totally clean stuff up. I don't even do it behind their backs most of the time! But you also have to remember that my friends know me. They know I'm like this. Mostly they tend to take advantage of it, which? Good for them!

Do you answer the doorbell/let someone in your place when your house is not exactly ship-shape?
I mean, of course! That would be ... insane not to answer the door? Is that a thing people are doing? Because life is too short for that, seriously.

But also let's be honest, my house is basically never not in ship-shape.

How does it feel to be the 379th person interviewed for
I kinda wish I were 400th, but only because it's a tidier number and, like I said, I'm a crazy person.