TIME advice

How to Make Your Apartment Look Clean in 5 Minutes

Getty Images

Focus on tidying the stuff at eye level

Whether you want to be prepared for a visit from a neighbor or you just need some peace of mind before you walk out of the door, you want your place looking presentable — fast. Here are 10 ways to eliminate mess, in under five minutes.

Snap A Pic

Before you dive in, take a quick photo of the space. “It’s so easy to get used to clutter that has been in one spot for a while,” points out Emma Chapman, the lifestyle blogger behind A Beautiful Mess. “Glancing at the photo and trying to spot anything that looks out of place helps me to notice little things that I may not have spotted before.” You can then quickly move those little things to a proper, or at least less noticeable, place.

Stash Clutter

In a pinch, toss out-of-place odds and ends into a laundry basket (like this woven one) or a bin that you can stow out of eye’s view for sorting later.

Repurpose Empty Spaces

An empty napkin holder can serve as a de facto mail sorter so bills don’t get lost in the shuffle. Corral rogue office supplies in a pretty mug or glass. Take the impromptu cleanup a step further by throwing a patterned tray underneath for a subtle organizational vibe.

MORE Where Would You Sleep In This 86-Square-Foot Paris Apartment?

Sweep Up

Your mission: Eliminate little crumbs or dust bunnies that will stick to people’s socks. “It just makes your guests feel dirty,” says Kadi Dulude, owner of NYC cleaning service Wizard of Homes.

Tackle The Bathroom

Wipe any gobs of toothpaste from the sink, and rinse crusted soap from the dish. Make sure the TP roll is plump, and swish a little bleach in the toilet bowl. Forget scrubbing any mildew-y grout — just pull the shower curtain closed.

Rub Down Surfaces

Don’t worry if your cleaning supplies aren’t well stocked: You don’t need anything fancy to give your shelves or tables a once-over. “Go ahead and use water for everyday cleaning. Just wet a microfiber cloth,” says Dulude. (Remember: This won’t disinfect any surfaces.)

MORE The Real Cost Of TV Apartments — And Who Could Actually Afford Them

Fluff The Living Room

Flip stained couch cushions to the clean(er) side, fluff your pillows, and fold your throw blanket. Light a scented candle for instant coziness.

Skip The Underneath

Focus on tidying the stuff at eye level. Don’t bother cleaning under furniture or dusting ceiling fans — people won’t be looking there, Dulude says.

Eliminate Pet Hair

Lint rollers are a must-have tool when it comes to tackling pet hairs. Even more effective than the sticky barrel? Throw on some rubber dish gloves and run your hands over your chairs or futon, balling up hair as you go.

MORE See New York’s First $100 Million Apartment

Attend To Allergies

We’re already sneezing and coughing a ton this time of year. Put visitors at ease by paying special attention to windowsills and radiators, which accumulate dust that can trigger serious sniffles, suggests Dulude.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

TIME advice

What I Learned From Purging Most of My Stuff (and Why I Wish I Hadn’t)

Getty Images

We’re not supposed to care too much about objects, but maybe we shouldn’t sell our stuff—or ourselves—short

I’m going to feel lighter. Fewer belongings means less clutter and a simplified life. This is what I told myself just before the tag sale my husband and I threw on my 50th birthday. And even as strangers carted away our possessions, I believed it. I looked forward to the relief I thought I’d feel at the end of the day, when the purging was over. But as night fell I didn’t feel unburdened. I deeply missed my stuff.

You wouldn’t think I could be so easily shaken, given the genuine trauma that my family and I have endured. In 2006 my husband, Bob, was hit by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq for ABC News. He spent five weeks in a coma and the next year in recovery. My priorities were quickly reordered: I had always been tidy; now I learned to leave dishes in the sink. I had always been punctual; now, if I ran late, I just shrugged. IF IT’S NOT FATAL, IT’S NO BIG DEAL, read a little plaque that my sister had given me, and it became our family’s jokey mantra.

In the aftermath of Bob’s amazing comeback (he went back to work in 2007), he decided not to defer his dreams. He wanted to create a home from the ground up—something environmentally responsible using solar and geothermal energy. “Why wait until we retire to do this?” he said. “We know there are no guarantees.” We both understood how life can change in an instant.

We ended up building a beautiful, modern, eco-friendly house that also happened to be smaller and more efficient. It’s the kind of place people move into after the little chicks have left the nest (our four are still pretty much present, ranging in age from 12 to 21). Initially, I hadn’t been daunted by the downsizing. But once we got ready to move in, I realized that the challenge would be greater than I had imagined.

I had spent the first 20 years of our marriage accumulating things. As newlyweds, Bob and I had returned from a year in Beijing with two backpacks, a few inexpensive Chinese knickknacks, and a burning desire to create our first grown-up household. From my parents, I had inherited a love of antiques, and I spent that first summer back in the States happily scouting garage sales, painting and refinishing my finds with my own hands. Over the next few years, as we crisscrossed the globe for Bob’s career, we added furniture and art. We would take with us a bit of the places we left—a pine table from Redding, California, a Navajo rug from the Adirondacks, an odd collection of egg cups from London flea markets.

There was joy in amassing these objects: Each thing had a purpose, if only to bring beauty into our home. I think of the chicken-wire pottery hutch from Napa, which housed our first baby’s clothes; the ice cream parlor chairs Bob’s mother gave us; the baroque mirror from his ribald aunt. These simple pieces helped define us as a family and created the backdrop of our life.

Throughout the year of construction on the new house, I rifled through closets and gave away dozens of items. There would be no room for the giant armoire from London or the bookshelf I had lovingly detailed in swirls of primary colors when we lived in Virginia. My son’s paint-stained handprint at age five was on the side. Still, it would have to go. All the while, I reminded myself that life wasn’t about stuff; it was about the people under your roof. Hadn’t we learned that when Bob was hit by the bomb? Besides, we would be moving into our new house with a clean slate. Who doesn’t want a clean slate?

Me, that’s who. In the two years since we moved into the new house, I’ve found myself cataloging the missing items in my head. When I shut my eyes, I can see the old desk from Bob’s parents, a drop leaf from the 1940s that housed our family documents, medical records, report cards, old photos, and diaries. With the desk gone, I had to find each of these items a new home. I picture the matching King Edward beds that used to be in my twin daughters’ room. They were their first big-girl beds and might have been passed down to grandchildren someday.

Reinventing ourselves in a new house with fewer things has been difficult. It’s like having long hair for years, then impulsively telling the hairdresser to just lop it off: You end up peering at yourself in the mirror and groping the back of your neck for weeks afterward. Since moving in, we have bought a few new items, but space is tight. There isn’t room for much.

Yes, the things I miss are just things. But this experience has made me think differently about my belongings. I’m more aware of how individual pieces fit together to create a whole home. I’m a person who likes older bones, pieces with a history. I understand that part of myself now.

If Bob and I move again someday, I will tell myself to slow down and take a moment before I toss goods away. I will try to keep the items that bring me pleasure or that anchor my family to our past. And I urge my friends who are downsizing or moving to do the same. I remind them that there is no shame in taking comfort in what their beloved objects represent. Sometimes, things do matter.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

More from Real Simple:

TIME health

These 8 Household Items Have Tons of Germs

Getty Images

Turns out, bacteria tends to linger on some of the most frequently used household items

Turns out, bacteria tends to linger on some of the most frequently used household items. Here, a list of germ-laden places—and how to tackle those trouble spots.

TIME Cleaning

The Best Handheld Vacuum Money Can Buy

It sucks—in a good way

This post was created in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article at TheWirecutter.com.

By Liam McCabe

For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.

We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.

Who needs a portable vacuum?

A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.

(That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)

Why we like this handheld vacuum above all else

The Black & Decker 20 V Max Lithium Flex Vac BDH2020FLFH looks more like a miniature canister vacuum than an old-school Dustbuster, but it’s a much more versatile cleaner because of that. The 4-foot stretchable hose can unwrap from around the body, making it more adept at cleaning at weird angles, in tight spaces, or above your head—i.e. the exact types of tasks you’d want a hand vac for. Since the hose unwraps from the body, it’s lighter and easier to wrangle than a regular all-in-one portable vac (and it’s actually smaller than it looks in pictures, too).

handheld vacuum

The BDH2020FLFH and (l-r) the crevice tool, combo brush (attached), and pet hair tool attachments.

The design advantages really stand out when the BDH2020FLFH goes to work where other hand vacs struggle—like under car seats, for example. Of course, you can also swing it around all in one piece like any other handheld vacuum, too.

A bunch of the Flex Vac’s cleaning prowess comes from its attachments. The combo brush helps knock loose the particles that want to cling to fabric or carpet, a task where other hand vacs can struggle. The crevice tool is helpful even just as a wand extender, but also makes it easier to get in nooks like the storage compartments built into car doors, the tight areas around car seats, and between the columns of old-school radiators, where decades of dust can build up.

And if you’re a pet owner, the pet hair removal tool is a big help. It’s nothing fancy: just a textured, rubberized head with a hole in the middle. Ideally, you’d use a mini turbo brush tool for hair, but not many hand vacs come with one of those, and this simple design does the job just fine. It’s not perfect, but it works better and faster than trying to pick hair up with a regular vacuum head, lint roller, or masking tape.

None of this versatility or thoughtful design would matter if the vacuum lacked the power to suck up what you put in front of it. Fortunately, it has plenty of it, producing 25 air watts (a metric used to measure the movement of air through a vacuum cleaner) of suction. On paper, that’s a bit stronger than last year’s version and many competing models, which already had plenty of suction, so anything extra is gravy.

Black & Decker claims that the BDH2020FLFH takes 4 hours to recharge and has a 16-minute runtime. In our testing, that was pretty accurate.

Once you’re done cleaning up whatever mess you’ve made, the BDH2020FLFH’s dirt canister is easy to clean out: pull a latch on the side of the vacuum’s body, tip it into the garbage, give it a thwack, and you’re done. It’s also washable, which is important for keeping airflow going strong since the filter gets dirty pretty fast.

handheld vacuum

The Flex Vac’s dust bin swings open for easy emptying, and can be removed from the vacuum for cleaning.

Flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The BDH2020FLFH pulls a respectable 25 air watts of suction, but that’s not quite as powerful as some cheaper Dustbuster-style models, which can hit 35 air watts. Sure, more suction works faster, but the Flex Vac’s other upsides meant that it cleaned more completely in our tests.

Other things to consider

In a nutshell, our favorite handheld vacuum is right for most. But we have other picks for people who need to spend a little less or want specific things out of theirs. The Dyson DC34 has even more suction than our pick, but at $185, it’s a little rich for a portable vacuum. The best $50 pick is the Black and Decker PHV1810 18V Pivot Vac, even if it can’t deal with pet hair very well and batteries are weaker and take longer to charge. For a specific corded handheld vacuum to deal with pet hair, the Eureka EasyClean 71B for $38 is a good pick.

After a lot of time researching testing handheld vacuums, its pretty clear to us that the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac is the handheld vacuum we’d get, however.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser