Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: I manage spring cleaning, and survive

By Michelle Castillo  | March 30, 2011 - 10:34AM

Spring cleaning: The most feared event of the year – well, for me at least. The idea of sorting through my packrat collection of junk frightened me. Unfortunately, my mother had drilled into me the importance of keeping house so to oblige my conscience I purge my apartment of all filth every spring.

My roommate Mike grudgingly agreed to join me in my quest after seeing the amount of lint that had accumulated behind the TV.  We could have hired a professional cleaner.There were even a few Groupons that offered cleaning and organizing services for a discount.

In the last place Mike had lived with roommates, the guys had all pitched in to hire a housekeeper once a month.  Being that we were poor Manhattanites struggling to get by, we opted to clean the apartment ourselves.

I was surprised at how much dust collected in our little railroad apartment. Living near drafty ledges and back alleyways lent itself to mold, dust bunnies and weird green stains that needed to be scrubbed with an industrial-strength scourer.

Since most people had hardwood floors, it was hard to find a vacuum cleaner to borrow. My parents ended up sending me an inexpensive rechargeable they saw offered on TV that made it look easy to clean floors. This was nowhere near the strength of a typical vacuum, especially since it ran on batteries. But it managed to pick up all the silt. A quick trip to Target for a broom and mop, and the whole place was shiny.

For those tough-to-remove stains (I know I'm sounding like a commercial for household cleansers, but seriously, these suckers were virtually glued on) we found that a little bit of scrubbing and a lot of old fashioned kitchen dish soap did the trick. The bathtub was another matter.

When we both were heading out for the day, we filled the tub with a disgusting mixture of Clorox, at least three different cleaning products, dish soap and hot water. When we got home we scrubbed and drained it, leaving it pearly white, with a few coarse spots where the toxic concoction had eaten through the paint. (Ooops.) The downside was that Mike and I had to work fast: Even though we left the windows open, the fumes gave us headaches (and maybe knocked a few months off our lives, but hey, the tub was pristine).

The hardest part of spring cleaning was narrowing down my wardrobe. While Mike easily filled garbage bags with clothes he knew he wasn’t going to wear, I spent hours debating whether this would be the year I would use those pink sandals that were still in the box from three summers ago.  I didn’t like the fit of some sweaters, but I kept them. Having survived my first real winter, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of weather-appropriate apparel for the colder months.

To decide what to do with the rest of my clothes, I used the simple hanger-turn rule:  I made sure that all my clothes were on hangers that were hooked over the rod the same way. Then when I wore an item I turned the hanger to hook from the other direction. If I washed something, I made sure to return it to the closet  exactly as I found it, so I would remember that item was used. By the end of the month, I could actually see which clothes I never wore and was able to fill my own garbage bag with get-rid-of-it stuff.

Next stop, the local church, where my unloved clothes would find new homes and I'd get credit for a tax-deductible donation.   

Up Next: How to find a new apartment in the city once you think you
know the ropes.



Michelle Castillo moved from Los Angeles to Manhattan to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's Techland. Rental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.




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