Jolie is best known as the expert at “Ask A Clean Person,” where she dishes up advice on cleaning basically anything—and we mean anything. She’s also the dirtiest clean person we’ve ever met—like, who else is going to get tell you about the best way to wash your sex toys and clean cum stains off the couch?
We ask Jolie about becoming a cleaning expert, turning her part-time column into a media empire, and navigating the politics and gendered expectations around who cleans what. Plus, she gives us great advice on how we can all be just a little bit less gross.
> In my experience, men have found it very empowering to read my columns — to know that they’re geared towards them. They are written for a male audience and they’re not condescending. They’re funny. They’re oftentimes raunchy. I always say, you know, “Clean person. Dirty mind.”
> Jolie Kerr, “Ask A Clean Person” creator and NYT bestselling author
Also in this episode: Jenn shares some big news, Katel spends all her Swiss Francs on frites, and Sara shops for a therapist—with the help of Katel’s therapist (who we all met last season).Sponsors
This episode of NYG is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.Transcript
SWB This season of NYG is brought to you by our friends at Harvest, makers of awesome web software you can use to track your time, plan projects, and get paid. I love it, I use it, and I am so excited to have their support this season. So do me a favor: check them out for free at getharvest.com and if you’re ready to upgrade your account use code NOYOUGO to save 50 percent off your first month. That’s getharvest.com, offer code: NOYOUGO [intro music for 12 seconds].
Jenn Lukas Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.
Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher. And we are back for season three. We’re so excited to be joined together by Jolie Kerr who is perhaps best known as the voice behind Ask a Clean Person which is a podcast and column and so much more. She is an expert at cleaning basically anything and like we mean anything and she is also incredibly funny. We ask her about becoming a cleaning expert; the politics of domestic bliss; and, of course, how we can all be a little bit less gross. But first welcome back, friends.
KL Wooo! How was your off season, you two?
SWB I don’t feel like I took anytime off [Katel laughs] but like other than that part. You know, my summer break, as we say, has been pretty good. I didn’t like go to the beach and get a tan but I did have a little bit of down time and that was really helpful and gave me a little bit of recharge but then I got super duper busy again and so right now I’m in the middle of just a lot of travel and workshops and client stuff and so I feel like I’m a little bit stretched thin but I’m also feeling kind of like [pause] energized about it. So, you know, it could be worse.
KL Yeah, that sounds pretty good. I feel like my summer was looking kind of slow and low key for a while and it got kind of packed up too but I did get the chance to take a little trip with my mom to visit my grandmother who lives in the south of France. Which, I know, poor me. But we [chuckles] — we went down there and then we also made a little side trip to Switzerland which I had never been to before. Holy crap! Switzerland is fucking gorgeous and it’s also fucking expensive. So I didn’t do as much shopping as I [laughing] would’ve liked to but I got to see a lot of beautiful sights.
JL That’s amazing. Did you eat chocolate?
KL Yeah. I ate chocolate and I— Sara, you’ll appreciate this. I mean you both will. I ate a lot of french fries.
JL I would definitely appreciate that [Katel laughs].
SWB I always appreciate french fries but one thing that our listeners might not know is that like french fries are Katel’s favorite food. Or like, I dunno, it’s like you require a french fry course every meal.
KL Yeah. Yeah. I—
SWB Not every meal. But — [laughs] if available [laughs].
KL It’s totally true. You said that the other day when we — we all got together which was so nice after having had a little bit of time away and we got back together and had a happy hour and you said that, and I told Jon, my partner, and he was like, “That describes you to a T.” [Laughter]
SWB I mean I think we can all learn a little something from that mentality, right? [Katel laughs]
SWB Like don’t we all need a french fry course sometimes?
KL Yeah. Jen, what about you?
JL Well it’s been a little bit of like a [sighs] — it’s been a little of a rough summer. I gotta say. We’ve had baby sick, I have a sinus infection, my husband was in the hospital for a little bit. And if you’re a subscriber of our newsletter then you’ll know a little bit about all of this but on the good note about all of this: I’m pregnant again!
SWB Woo hoo!
Multiple Voices Yeah!
SWB How — how you feeling?
JL [Sighs] It changes day by day. Some days I feel a little bit like I want to throw up still, some days I forget that I’m pregnant, whether that’s because I’m like working or chasing around a toddler and then I’m like, “Oh shit. I’m pregnant.” And we’re like, you know, more than halfway there so the other day like lying in bed with Sutter I was just like, “Hey, we should like probably figure out what we’re doing about this second [laughing] child.” [Laughter] Yeah. We gotta probably like do some stuff.
SWB Jen, what are the things you’re feeling like [pause] prepared or unprepared about?
JL Heh. Well. So it’s like a little confusing, right? So we’re having another boy. So we’re going to have two boys. So we’ve got like clothes, right? Because we have all of Cooper’s clothes that we saved and stuff but then I’m like— and we have a crib because my sister had given me her old crib but I’m like, “Ok, yeah, we’re set, right?” And then it’s like, “Oh shit. We don’t have another mattress.” Like so this baby’s going to be born and it’s just going to be like, “Oh where are you sleeping?” So it’s almost like there’s this like comfort in like doing it again because you have this experience already but like it’s almost like, “Oh no. It’s like there’s still stuff we need and there’s still stuff we have to figure out.” Like do we need double strollers? Where are they going to sleep? How are we going to manage like everyone does that whole advice like sleep when baby sleeps, right? But how can you sleep when baby sleeps when you also have a toddler? So [sighs] I don’t know. Some of it is like [sighs] we’ll figure out when it comes. So I’m like not that worried which is a weird feeling for me [laughs] to not be that worried.
SWB I kind of want to stop and celebrate that though.
KL I know! And I feel like that — that makes a lot of sense, like you have been around the block, so to speak, you know, you — I mean at least like this time it’s not a complete — I don’t know like you’ve — you’ve done it, so it’s like you know a little bit about what to expect which I’m sure can feel reassuring.
SWB Yeah like we know your kid and like —
KL He’s awesome.
SWB He’s doing great. Look! He’s walking around, he’s saying stuff, he’s awesome.
JL He’s certainly eating [laughter]. You can tell by the mess all over my floor which we’ll probably talk more about today but yeah it’s like I don’t know it’s weird, again, there’s this like point where like before having a kid, you know, I had like all the time to like think about all these scenarios and now I just don’t because you’re already like — we’re already struggling for the time — like finding time without kids, right? And then every time you add something it’s like one more bit of time so now I’m just like — it’s sort of nice to be like, “Eh. I could worry about or I could not.” So.
JL I’m just sort of doing a lot of not trying to worry about it and being like, “We’ll figure it out.”
KL I mean I think that sounds completely solid.
JL Well, let’s hope so! [Laughter]
SWB And like you will figure it out, right?
KL Yeah. Yeah.
SWB Like I mean obviously. You’re super competent. Look at you and look at like all of the other shit you’ve already figured out. You got this.
JL Yeah, we’ll have a two-year-old so we’ll like have a babysitter, right? [Laughter]
KL Yeah, exactly.
KL I always joke with my sister. I’m like, “When do they start — when do you start like asking them to do stuff for you?” [Laughter]
JL Uh, Cooper has actually learned how to take stuff out of the washer and put it in the dryer.
JL But then he’ll want to put it right back. So. [Laughter] And then he’ll like get bored halfway through and walk away and you’re like, “Ok, well. You’re part of the way there.”
KL I mean, hey, that’s a start. That’s great.
SWB So, speaking of pulling things in and out of the washer, we talked to somebody for the show today all about cleaning and it was just so fucking great. I’m feeling like we should get to the interview with Jolie Kerr.
KL Let’s do it.
[Music fades in, plays for five seconds, fades out]
KL Hey, everyone, it’s time for a career chat brought to you by Shopify. Each week they’ll be bringing you info on a cool new job or a tip for advancing your career or landing the perfect gig. Let’s hear the first one.
Holly Hey, this is Holly and I work on UX recruitment at Shopify. One thing we look for in applications is when your personality shines through in your portfolio. Avoiding things like unsolicited redesigns and focusing more on projects that highlight your interests and your individuality can really set your application apart from the pack. Showing us your involvement in the design community is a huge bonus and can emphasize your impact even if you don’t have a ton of professional experience under your belt.
KL Oooh. I love this advice. If you’re interested in working with people like Holly, you’re in luck because Shopify is hiring. Visit shopify.com/careers for all the info.
[Music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]
JL Jolie Kerr is a writer, cleaning advice columnist, and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person. Her book, My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag and Other Thing You Can’t Ask Martha, was a New York Times bestseller. Welcome to the show, Jolie.
Jolie Kerr Hi! Thank you for having me!
JL Thanks for being here! We had some technical difficulties and I got to do your intro twice which was awesome because I still had just as much fun the second time doing it. So, Ask a Clean Person started as an advice column on The Hairpin in 2011. How’d you get into the advice columnist role?
JK Totally fell into it backwards. Like it was the most unplanned thing in the world. The Hairpin had started and the editor of The Hairpin was like, “I really want you to write for the site.” And I was like, “Yeah. I do, too. I’ll think of some ideas and let you know.” And another friend of mine was like, “You should write about cleaning.” And I was like, “Tyler, that is the worst idea you’ve ever had. Who would want to read about cleaning? That is so boring.” And he was like, “No, no, no, no. I really think it’s a great idea and I think you should do it,” and so I mentioned it to the editor of The Hairpin and she loved the idea and I was like, “I still do not see this at all but like, ok, if more than one person is saying I should do this, I’ll figure a way to do it.” And when I figured out— at least for me what made sense in my mind was to do it as a Q & A style column and advice column. To have people come to me with their actual problems. Messes that they needed cleaning up, problems that they had their life, whatever it was, and I could offer them some solutions to their problems. Otherwise I was like, “I’m not — I don’t want to write like, ‘Today you should make your bed. Tomorrow you should do your laundry.’” Like that didn’t seem compelling [laughs] but giving — giving people which like I guess I do sort of write that now but like [laughs] I don’t know I guess — I guess I figured like in my — in my real life, in my friend group, I’ve always been kind of the fixer friend. Like the one who people come to when there’s a problem that needs to be solved that maybe they don’t want to go like ask their parents about. So, I was like, “Ok, if I put that attitude into whatever this cleaning thing is going to be that — that makes sense in my mind as something that would be compelling for people to read,” and so we came up with Ask a Clean Person and I thought that it was going to like last for a month. Like I — I sent out an email [laughing] I really — I did not have any faith in this concept at all. Um [laughs] and to get the column going, I sent an email out to probably about 20 friends and I was just like, “Hey, I’m starting this thing for The Hairpin, do you have any questions about cleaning?” And I thought I would get back like three or four like pity emails of someone being like, “How do you fold a hoodie?” Oh no [laughter] I got — I got back like a deluge of questions just from this like small group of friends that I sent this email to.
JK [Continued] And they were wild like some of them were like things like, “I have this like silver trophy that’s like a fam— been in the family and it’s all tarnished and I don’t know what to do about it. I know the answer is silver polish but like how?” All the way to one of the very first questions I got from a friend was about male sexual fluids. And I was like, “Oh. Ok. Maybe there is something here.” So I launched the column and, again, I was like, “Well, maybe this’ll like run for a month or two and then it’ll kind of peter out.” Within two weeks of running the column I didn’t need to pull on questions from my friends anymore because I had so many reader questions that had come in the first two weeks and I was like, “Oh. Ok. This is great. I really like this.”
SWB Why do you think it struck such a nerve at the time? Like why was that an immediate hit for people?
JK Gosh. I don’t — I still don’t think I know the [laughing] answer to that question. I mean I was the one who didn’t think it was a great idea. I mean I think the thing is that cleaning is so incredibly universal, literally everybody had to do it. It touches every part of our life from, you know, just like the mundane like you gotta wash the dishes to our hobbies. When you — when you’re really passionate about something keeping the things that are involved in your hobby, whether it’s playing an instrument or playing a sport. Keeping that stuff clean becomes very important to you. So there’s such a spectrum of how cleaning touches all of our lives and it’s just a universal thing.
JL Yeah I mean it’s like — it’s such a bigger topic than people think it is, right?
JK Absolutely. It’s wild to me. When I tell people what I do — like I always describe myself as being like a doctor at parties like everyone— everyone wants to show me their proverbial mole, right? [Laughter] They want to like — they want to like either tell me about a horrible mess they’ve made, ask me a question about how to like get a stain out of something, or they want to tell me some secret that they know about cleaning.
JK It’s — it’s an amazing thing and I and the thing is like I socialize and I think I love my job and I don’t mind hearing people’s stories and learning their weird tricks and stuff and I certainly don’t mind helping people when they have questions for me but every time I leave a social gathering I’m like, “I must be the boringest person in the world. I just talked about cleaning exclusively for three hours.” [Laughs boisterously] But I think the thing is also, especially with the column and the — the tone of the column and — and sort of where it was placed in the world and placed in time was that there was just nothing like it. Like you could get cleaning advice, you know, at Good Housekeeping or you could get cleaning advice at Real Simple or you could buy, you know, Martha Stewart’s like Homekeeping Handbook that weighs 20 pounds but you couldn’t get cleaning advice that felt real and relevant to your life. And I think that the Q & A format of the column was really what created that atmosphere for people is that you’re reading the letters that people are really writing to me. You’re getting a glimpse into their life. You’re not only getting advice on how to remove Sharpie from toilet seat, you’re finding out how the Sharpie came to be on the toilet seat in the first place, and that’s very amusing for people.
SWB Yeah, you know, I was thinking a lot about this in advance of talking with you because it seemed to me like the column fit really neatly into the kind of the overall tone of The Hairpin at the time. Like there was Ask a Queer Chick or later on there was Ask a Swole Woman. So these are the sort of like I — I looked at them as like these kind of modern takes on a very traditional format of advice columnist and to me there was something about the way that your column and some of these others that it felt both like simultaneously really sincere like it wasn’t a joke but also sort of could be very funny and also kind of subversive [yeah] and I’m really curious like how much of that was intentional on you part? How much of that was like just kind of the nature of The Hairpin in 2011. Like how did that develop?
JK I think that it’s a little bit of both. I mean certainly it was the nature of The Hairpin in 2011. I think that — I always think of the OG Hairpin as being very akin to the OG Sassy Magazine. There was like a real editorial sensibility that we all had. I think that we picked from one another and certainly that we all picked up from Edith and I think that the — you know, you — you talk about the — the kind of sincerity of it. That — that was I think one of the defining things about The Hairpin was that our ethos was very much and it was never stated outright. It was just sort of how the voices that Edith was drawn to all had this commonality that we all felt it was ok to like things and that was a little bit new for our corner of the internet which our corner of the internet grew very much up out of kind of the Gawker sensibility, you know the guys who started The Awl who then spun off into The Hairpin. They came out of Gawker. And so there was kind of that like — in our corner of the world — that kind of like snarky, it’s not cool to like thing tone whereas at The Hairpin we were like, “It is ok to like things. It’s ok to be nice. And actually that is — that’s nice for the readers and it’s nice for us and it makes our lives better.” I think that was really genuine and I think that came through. I do think there was also a lot that was really subversive about what we did in that I think we were very voicey and we were true to who we were with our voices. And so that became subversive. It was subversive to have a Seven Sisters educated woman writing about cum stains and that’s who I am. I mean that — and that was real and was like from the jump that was how we were and I think that’s why it resonated so much with people.
SWB I am very glad. There’s a — there are women writing about cum stains because like you know they’re real.
JK Yeah! They are real! They’re very real [laughs]. And actually well I’ll say one thing that surprised me so much over the years is that I have a pretty like big audience of older women, like 60 plus women who read my column and I’m also like wh — like why? And my theory on the reason that they’re reading it is that they’re looking back at themselves when they were the age of my target demographic and thinking, “Gosh. I really wish I had this in the 60s and 70s like yeah you know young guys weren’t calling home to ask about — ask mom about cum stains.” [Laughter] And I think there’s like a — I think there’s kind of a girl power thing for that generation of women to read and think like, “Look at how far we’ve come that this — this exists in the world. And I wish I had had this but I’m glad it exists now and that’s part of like what we’ve fought for with our brand of feminism and so on.” And so I see it as just like part of the evolution of the women’s movement that like, you know, there was — there was definitely an anti — anti-housework bent and that’s a good thing for feminism and I’m very like rah rah on that but I think that it’s come full circle to be like, “But we still have to clean the cum stains.” [Chuckles] You know?
JL Yeah, and by like age 60 or 70 I really hope I figure that one that.
JK Yeah [laughs].
JL [Laughing] So maybe there’s just like, “Yeah, please, tell me! I’ve been searching for this for decades.” So, Jolie how did you become a clean person? Have you always been a clean person?
JK Oh yeah. Born this way. 10,000 percent born this way. There was actually — there was recently like a Twitter thing that was going around that was like, “Tell your most on-brand story from early childhood.” And I actually told a story, I have literally never told a soul this story until I shared it on Twitter. When I was at summer camp sleepaway camp when I was about ten or 11 years old, we had laundry service so you’d put all your dirty camp uniforms and underwear all that stuff into your laundry bag and it would get sent out and then it would come back. And one week for some reason — and I remember doing it. I don’t remember why I did it. I folded all of my dirty clothes before I put them into my laundry bag and they were dirty and — but I folded them which is insane [laughter]. Uh, crazy people have done — I can’t tell you why I did it. I just did. And later that week when the laundry came back our bunk got scolded for sending clean clothes to the laundry. And I just kept my mouth shut because I knew that if I said like, “No, they were dirty,” that it would like I was lying because it was such a crazy thing to have done and no— no one would’ve believed me and so I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t say anything but the fact of the matter is: I wouldn’t have been lying. They weren’t clean clothes. They were dirty clothes they were just folded. [Laughter] I’m not normal! [Laughs] And I really have always been like this. So yeah you ask like how do I become a clean person? Really kind of just always this way and I think like it’s actually — it’s always surprising for people to learn that when I started the column I was not a cleaning expert at all. I didn’t consider myself one. I was just a person who knew a lot about cleaning. By the time I finished writing my book and moved the column away from The Hairpin over to what at the time was Gawker Media Group I was like, “Oh! Now I’m a cleaning expert. Like I just wrote a whole book about cleaning and now I really can call myself an expert.” So that was when I made the shift between thinking of myself as a clean person and feeling comfortable calling myself a cleaning expert. That would’ve been probably in 2013. It’s been five years now that I, you know, have billed myself as a cleaning expert.
JL So I think some of our listeners struggle with imposter syndrome, you know, where they doubt their credentials to be in the position they are. Did you struggle with that ever when giving advice?
JK No! [Laughs boisterously] Actually I didn’t! [Laughs] I know you’re supposed to say, “Yes.” But I didn’t.
JL No, I think that’s great.
JK I think the thing is is that I, especially in the early years when I was not an expert, I put a tremendous amount of research into answering the questions. What happened early on in the column was that within like a month or two I started getting questions that I just didn’t have any clue as to what the answer was but I was like, “But I’m going to find out!” And so I put a tremendous amount of research into finding the right answers for the questions that I was being asked and then I started building up this body of knowledge and I think that because that was the way that I approached the job where like I didn’t bill myself early on as an expert I was just like, “I’m just a clean person. I’m going to help at solving problems. And if that means that I’m going to have to like three hours of research to figure out how to get this one weird stain out, I’m going to do that three hours of research.” And because I did that and because I think early on in my career I had started off as a fact checker at Sports Illustrated, so I’d started off with a— a journalism research background, I felt very comfortable with the methods that I was using. So I felt confident in the information that I was providing to people and the answers that I was giving to people because I knew that it was based in my experience having been a researcher for, you know, big magazines in the late 90s and early 2000s.
JL How did this become your full-time thing?
JK So I — when I first started writing the column for The Hairpin, so I was at The Hairpin for about two and a half years. I was working full-time as a business development and marketing manager at law firms. I had like a big corporate job. I wore suits. I wore pantyhose. I made six figures. Like I was like — they called me Corporate Barbie. And I started doing the column on the side as a hobby. I was totally unpaid for it and so I would write in the mornings, in the evenings, and on weekends. It literally never occurred to me that this would be a career at all until a publishing company came and asked me if I was interested in writing a book. And at that point I was like, “Huh. Maybe this is like something.” And so I had to, you know, go through the whole process. I had a to get an agent, I had to write a proposal, you know all of that stuff that you have to do. And I got the book deal and at that point because I was accepting payment for the first time for that work I had an ethical obligation to tell my manager at the law firm because for — at law firms even if you’re not a lawyer there are conflict issues that come out if you’re doing side work. So I went to my manager and I was like, “I have been keeping a secret [laughs] I have like a whole other life that you don’t know about.” And she was like, “What are you talking about? This is so wild. This is so cool. I’m so excited for you.” At that point we agreed that I was going to move to a part-time status while I was — you know to basically make time to write the book and all of that, and then after— after the book came out, I basically was in a position where I was like, “Yeah, I can write full-time.” I did at one point, maybe about six months after the book came out, I did go back to a different law firm as a consultant and within like two days I was like, “Nope, this is not what I want to be doing at all.” It was supposed to be like a year long consulting gig and I think I stuck it out for like four or six months and then I was like, “Bye, guys! I’m out of here. I’m going back to writing.”
SWB So you left that gig and you started throwing yourself full-time into writing and then now into the podcast which I know is a pretty big part of Ask a Clean Person today [yes]. So there was some topics that we saw had come up relatively recently on the show that were specific to trans audiences and I was really curious about that. And so I think it’s something I think is awesome like not only talking obviously about things like cum stains, but getting [Jolie laughs] into all kinds of topics that people don’t traditionally think of asking an advice columnist. So you were talking about washing a chest binder [mm hmm] and then also talking about how to keep your shirts clean after top surgery if you have to put like ointment or whatever on stuff. And so I was really interested like how do you think about the sort of inclusivity of what you’re writing about in sort of the topics that you cover and making sure I guess that you’re — you’re answering lots of questions from groups that maybe other people aren’t speaking to.
JK Yeah. I mean one of the things about the podcast: so I’m partnered with a podcast network that handles all of my — all of the technical stuff and all of the business side stuff but the show is independent in terms of I have full editorial control over it. And I don’t answer to anybody but me. And so that freedom allows me to do, you know, what I would refer to as a niche episode certainly. That episode that you’re talking about, I think it was Episode 126 that had— how did you — with questions from people — trans people on cleaning issues that they’re facing and that are specific to their community and really are not going to be relevant to the majority of people listening to my show but I think that it’s important for me to take them on because they are — they are real and legitimate questions and if one person has that question it means at least, you know, 20 other people do too. I think also — my listeners know I’m quite liberal and so representing communities that are oftentimes marginalized is really important for me. There’s another kind of element to it which is that historically I have had — the format of the show has changed. It’s bounced between a guest format and a permanent co-host, and when I do have a co-host it is always my preference that that co-host be a man and preferably a straight man because I don’t really want the show to turn into what I — what I refer to as “two bitches gabbing about cleaning” because I think that that reinforces like a hideous gender norm about cleaning that I do everything in my power to like rail against and so one — one way in which I coach the show in terms of the topics that I cover is when to think about, you know, certainly mar— you know, marginalized audiences who aren’t represented as well which I think the think trans episode is a good example of but also to do a lot of episodes that are geared towards like, you know, the straight, white man. Like, you know, one of my most popular episodes is my hockey gear episode is all about how to wash hockey gear and that’s not a male problem. Women play hockey too, obviously, but you know, generally speaking, like that’s like — that’s one my “dude episodes”. So I just always want to have a balance, really, in thinking about who the shows are for and making sure that it’s as diverse as possible in terms of the topics that I’m taking on but also the audience who they’re geared towards.
SWB Yeah, I really — I love that and I mean there’s a lot in there that I would love to talk about more. So one of the things that you brought up was kind of the gendered aspect of cleaning or people’s perception of cleaning like cleaning is tied to domesticity and it’s definitely historically pretty feminized.
JK Mm hmm [laughs].
SWB We don’t typically expect men to give a shit about whether things are clean or to like take the lead on cleaning. I mean plenty of men do.
JK Yeah. But that’s the thing: they do. They really do. I mean I could say it until I’m blue in the face: men clean, they care about cleaning. The biggest problem is that they are not socialized to clean [pause] from a young age the way that women are. My attitude about writing about cleaning for men and podcasting about cleaning for men is just to say like, “I’m not going to wag a finger at you. I’m not going to shame you for not knowing something. I’m just going to teach you how to do something [pause] and now you know.” And I think that in my experience men have found it very empowering to read my columns, to know that they’re — they’re geared towards them [pause]. They are written for a male audience and they’re not condescending. They’re funny. They’re oftentimes raunchy. I mean obviously I’m a very raunchy person. I always say, you know, “Clean person. Dirty mind.” And I — and I think that it’s just like very relatable and I get I mean just beautiful, touching feedback from the most unlikely sources. You know, you just — you just wouldn’t imagine that like a bunch of guys reading like a sports gossip blog would be like obsessed with a cleaning advice column but they are. They’re like, “It’s just — we’re so happy when you show up with your advice and like the weird questions that people are asking. I really learn something and I can’t believe I’m reading a column about cleaning but here I am,” you know, like and it’s just really nice for me.
SWB Yeah. One of the things that I notice about it too is that it kind of gives it that like cleaning is for everybody. Like everybody is gross and messy, everybody needs to clean things, and you know I’m wondering if you’ve thought about how your work plays into changing people’s perceptions about cleaning and changing people’s perceptions about sort of divvying of that labor in households or the way that assumptions are made about who should be cleaning what. I mean do you hope to get people thinking about that kind of stuff even though obviously for the most part you’re like — also you just want to teach them how to clean a blood stain out of something.
JK Oh yeah. For sure. For sure. And I think that’s part of the socializing. I, like I made a really, really deliberate decision when I left The Hairpin. I was like, “I want to be writing for a male and a female audience. That’s really important to me.” Because at the especially there were like a lot of like think pieces going around about the — the division— the unfair division of labor and, you know, how women, you know, really carry so much more of the — of the load when it comes to household chores. And I was like, “Look: all of that is true and good but you’re really not going to get any progress by just writing these like scoldy thought pieces, wagging your finger at men, telling them all of the stuff they don’t do. That’s not going to motivate them to do it. They way to motivate them to do it is one: to say — one to acknowledge that they haven’t been socialized and they haven’t been taught. They don’t know how! They don’t know how! You know?!” Like let’s start at the fundamentals. You can’t expect someone to do something if they don’t how to do it [laughs]. So I was like, “Let’s just go teach them how to do it then they’re going to be thinking about it and it’s not going to change overnight but this is part of the — the teaching and socializing process that will bring us up to a little bit more equality when it comes to household chores.” So you know you teach a guy how to get his pits stains out the next thing that happens out of that is that he starts noticing other laundry issues or he has a sense of pride in the fact that like, “Oh god! I got the pit stains out of my shirt. I’m so happy. What else can I do? Like I didn’t expect to feel happy after doing laundry but I do. Where else can I get that high from?”
SWB Yeah I was thinking a lot about the whole thing about like it’s both not knowing how to do it but like you said it’s like noticing, right? Like noticing the things that need to be done or like recognizing that they are things.
JK Yeah. I mean that’s the socializing, right? You know women are socialized to, you know, put the dishes away. Men aren’t as necessarily as socialized. They’re not even socialized to see it. It’s like, you know, I hear people talking — women, mostly women. I know some women actually do this themselves, too but like this a refrain I hear from women all the time that like men leave the kitchen cabinets open, just like walk away [laughter] like with the cabinet, like don’t close the cabinet [laughter] and they’re like, “I’m going to have to go and close the damn cabinet.” Like you don’t even see it. I’m like, “No, that’s the thing. He doesn’t see it. Because someone has always closed the cabinet behind him.” Like [laughs] so you know yes of course it’s frustrating, you get mad but like he doesn’t even know he’s doing it! He doesn’t see it! He’s not seeing it the way we see it.
JL This is why my husband had open shelving [laughter].
SWB Yeah it’s so funny like I grew up in a household that was just kind of messy and not terribly gross or anything but it’s kind of messy and so I am the one who didn’t used to see the cabinet open and or like, you know, you like make something and you leave things out on the counter and my husband is a — he’s a [chuckles] clean person so he actually very much notices and I think I’ve really like turned corner on that one like I put things away in the kitchen typically, you know, and I’m much more organized about it. But I go to like my brother’s house and I’m like, “Why is this knife with mayo on it just sitting on the counter? Who are you?”
JK Uh!! [Laughter] Mayo freaks me out to begin with.
SWB “You’re a grown man!” Ok. So we have asked a bunch of questions that are like around how you started doing what you do and sort of like that whole kind of social or political framework it’s — it’s sitting in but we also definitely want to ask you a few questions that are a little bit more about the cleaning itself. If we could move to some of those.
JK Yes, you sure can.
JL So, my husband and I we actually — we have a pretty good division of labor here. Or I should say we did prior to we now have one son at home and we also have another one on the way and everyone always like— we’re all busy. Right? We definitely have that busy thing but like how do we find time for cleaning when life gets so unpredictable with schedules?
JK I think prob — well, and there’s no great answer to that. I’m sorry [chuckles] I can’t — I can’t create time for you [laughs] I’m magic in many ways but like [laughs] I can’t create time. I think one thing to think about is using small chunks of time for small tasks. So a lot of times people think about cleaning as kind of like, “Ok, I’m going to dive in and do an hour of cleaning and get the whole house cleaned all at once.” And frankly that’s not realistic for most people. It’s how some people work best and if they do that’s — that’s fine. But you can get actually quite a lot done in one minute, two minute, five minutes, ten minutes. Much much more than you think. So I think it’s like a little bit of just grabbing, you know, a few minutes here and there to take care of things. Just put things away, do a couple of dishes, you know, load the dishwasher, whatever it is. So focusing on small tasks that add up is probably the right strategy for someone who is in your particular situation which is short on time, busy, busy, busy, want to stay on top of things.
JL Right. I love that. I mean I try to do that sometimes with work too like set aside like, “Here’s two minutes to do an email.” Or like that so sort of same thing around the house except the problem is when I’m home the couch looks so good in those minutes.
JK Yeah. I know.
JL But then there’s times, right? Where I feel like myself and other people, they’ll use cleaning to procrastinate doing other things. Right? So maybe like is procrastination the secret to cleaning? [Laughs]
JK I do that. For sure. For sure. When I have writer’s block, I’m like, “Oh, I’ll just go clean something.” [Laughs] Or like if I’m just being — I shouldn’t say even when I have writer’s block because I don’t have writer’s block that often but like just when I’m being like a lazy writer, I’ll just be like, “Oh I’ll just like instead of writing this kicker [laughs] that like will take me five minutes if I just actually sit down and write the damn kicker.” I’ll be like, “I’m going to go clean something and I’ll call it work [laughs and others join]. It’s like really dangerous so like [laughs] I could always convince myself that it’s work when really like, “No, Jolie, you’re procrastinating. Like go write the kicker!”
JL That’s amazing.
JK “Yeah because writing is your work. Like cleaning is not actually — cleaning your apartment is actually not your job.” [Laughs and others laugh]
SWB I totally feel like I’ve never been cleaner than when I had a book contract [laughter]. But you know when you’re writing about the internet like I do then you have a whole other problem which is that you tell yourself that doing stuff on Twitter is work because [Jolie laughs] you’re writing about it and in fact you are not only wasting time on Twitter but like have you been on Twitter? It’s terrible! [Laughter] Anyway, back to the cleaning.
JL Yeah, I mean that’s like, you know, sometimes I’m like, “Mm. I don’t know. I gotta put away my son’s stuff. I’m really just being a good parent right now. It’s not that I’m not getting to these ten projects I wanted to do.” So no shortage of excuses I don’t think. Um, you know, the reason that I feel like in the last few years there’s been a lot of attention to cleaning philosophies like hygge or the art of tidying up. You know how do — how do we find the right balance?
JK I can’t answer that question because what balance looks like for one person is totally different from what balance looks like for another person. And I think that like all of these philosophies are great. They’re like diets. You know? They all work. You just have to find the one that works for you.
JL Right. It’s so confusing because some people are like, “Get rid of everything.” And then some people are like, “Surround yourself with comfortable, wonderful things.”
JK Right. And — and you know the thing is is that for a certain set of people get rid of all your things works and resonates with them. For another subset of people, you know, surround yourself with cozy plush things works for them. For other people, you know, Jolie Kerr foul mouthed dirty minded talking about cum stains works for them. You know, like [laughs]. So—
SWB Works for me!
JK There’s — I think, you know, I don’t ever see people who espoused cleaning philosophies that are different from mine as being competitors because to me it’s just all part of a landscape that creates a buffet for people to choose from and find solutions that are right for them. Like I really — I really am in the business of solving problems. And so [right] — if someone’s going to find the solution to their problem in, you know, the art of tidying up, by all means I want them to do that. If someone’s going to find the solutions to their problem by, you know, reading my columns or listening to my podcast and feeling like, “Ok. I’m going to —” A lot of people, actually this is kind of a funny little like aside about how people consume me is that a lot of people listen to my podcast while they’re doing their weekly cleaning. And I love that [laughter] I think that’s like the best thing in the world! Like because they’re listening — they’re not cleaning the thing I’m talking about. They’re not listening for active advice while they’re cleaning, they’re listening because it’s like a way that they can pass the time and they — people always say to me, they’re like, “It actually makes me excited about cleaning because you’re so excited about whatever it is you’re talking about that like it makes me excited while I’m scrubbing the tub.” That makes complete sense to me. I totally get it [laughs].
JL Oh my god. Yes! I have like binged on your podcast this week and now I’ve wanted to like clean everything.
JK Oh my god. I’m so — I’m so sorry. That’s a lot of Jolie Kerr in one week [laughs and others laughing]. But yeah I mean it — it’s so genuine so I feel comfortable saying this: I have so much enthusiasm for my job and I just love what I do so much that I can understand why it motivates people to clean. I get it. Like I get why it’s — why listening to me being like hysterical about hand washing a bra makes people want to go like hand wash their bras. And I love that because I want everyone to hand wash their bras! [Laughs]
JL I’ve got a setting on my washing machine to do that, don’t I?
JK You do. You do. [Laughs]
SWB I feel so judged right now.
JK Yeah. Don’t feel judged.
SWB I have a mesh baggy.
JK Mesh bagging it is fine.
SWB And I air dry. I’m doing ok, right?
JK You’re doing fine. So we do [chuckles] we just recorded an episode about — about bras and I said exactly that. But yes, indeed, the mesh bag and air dry is totally fine. I say this all the time: first of all, I’m not here to judge. At all. And also I live here in the real world with all of the rest of you. And, yeah, I would like you to hand wash your bras. It’s actually an incredibly painless process but I also completely and totally recognize that most people are not going to do that and that’s ok. So like there are other options, the mesh bag, the delicate cycles, air dry. That’s fine! That’s totally fine. Do not feel judged.
JL I love it and I feel like I’m like with you. Like listening to you makes me want to clean out of excitement whereas like when I was younger if I’d be like really unmotivated and hungover on a couch on a Saturday, I’d put like an episode of Hoarders because then it would make me get up and do something because I like feared myself into cleaning my house.
JK [Laughs boisterously] But you know what? If that works — if that works for people, that’s fine too. You know what I mean? Life if you need to be like scared straight by Hoarders to like put your underwear away. Like, by all means, whatever it takes.
JL So we’re just about out of time but before we go we’d love to hear more about where people can get more Jolie and like what everything’s looking like for you now.
JK Sure thing! The best place to get the most Jolie is to listen to my podcast. It’s called Ask a Clean Person. It is available basically everywhere that you get podcasts. You should definitely consider downloading the Acast app. Acast is my wonderful podcast network. I love, love, love them and their app is wonderful and I am primarily these days writing for The New York Times but I also have regular columns at Lifehacker and Jalopnik and probably a new one rolling out sometime soon. And you can find me on social, I’m very, very, very active on Twitter. I’m great on Twitter. You can find me @joliekerr. Same handle for Instagram and on Facebook it is facebook.com/askacleanperson.
JL Awesome! I can’t wait! And I’m excited to hear more about this new thing that’s potentially coming out so thank you so much for being on our show today!
JK Thank you so much for having me. This was really, really fine [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out].
JL So, at the end of each episode, we like to have a little bit of a Fuck Yeah for those of you who haven’t heard our previous seasons before. Where each week we just sort of celebrate something that makes us go, “Fuck yeah!” in life. So, Sara, you got something for us today?
SWB Uh. I definitely have a Fuck Yeah today because I’m feeling really good about some — some work I’ve been doing. So, last season we actually had Katel’s therapist on the show, Dr. Allison Chabot. And she was so encouraging about how you go about finding a therapist and sort of recommendations for how to kind of like try out therapists and get a sense of finding somebody you really click with and I was so encouraged by that because it was something I’d been meaning to do for awhile and it’s really daunting and I just felt like, “Where do I even start?” Well, I did it. So, what I did is I actually asked Katel if her therapist would have any recommendations for referrals, got a handful of referrals, called a couple of them. Just like she said, I took time out of my day to like have phone conversations with a couple different therapists. We spent like half an hour on the phone with each of them. And then I scheduled preliminary appointments with them because I liked them both and I just wanted to kind of feel it out in person. And I had both of those appointments this week. And it was a little bit funny to have like first time visits with two different therapists in the same week, where it’s like, “Am I going to talk about the stuff?” Or whatever. But it was really helpful for having like this kind of direct comparison and feeling like I had basically somebody else to compare against. And so my Fuck Yeah is that I did that work, first off, of like getting it together to make those phone calls and go through the process and figure out what your insurance will pay or whatever. Like that is no joke. And then fuck yeah I like both of them!
KL Oh my god. Fuck yeah! I love this so much! I feel so proud of you. Seriously like I think that’s so awesome. I feel like this was such a cool, positive story. Also, oh my gosh, what are you going to do? I mean I’m sure you’re still thinking about it but you have to like give one of them a rose, right? [Chuckles]
SWB Right. Yeah. So, here’s my plan. So I was going to call them both and ask if they can meet me at a special location and then I was going to make sure they’re both there and — yeah, no. I guess, I actually don’t know what I’m going to do.
JL Katel and I will hide in the bushes and wear an earpiece and tell you what to say to each one.
SWB Oh my gosh.
KL I like this idea so much.
SWB So, I have kind of a small lean in one direction with one of them and I can’t quite figure out if it’s because I happened to see her first [mm hmm] or if she was actually like clicking a little bit more. Like part of me thinks that I had a couple of like real eye opening moments in the session with her that maybe were just because I saw her before I saw the other person because they were both really good. I mean first up like I think the recommendations I got from Dr. Chabot were really good and I read about them and kind of like picked a couple who felt right to me based on their websites. All — all along the way I was kind of gut checking it, same with the phone calls. So anyway I don’t necessarily feel like [pause] this one versus the other is much better but obviously, you know, I gotta make a decision and so anything that helps make a decision at this point seems fine because like I think that they’d both be great. So, yeah, I’m going to kind of follow up on that. I’m giving myself a few more days to mull it over and then I’m just going to try to get my shit together and go to therapy regularly with a therapist I actually like.
KL That is so cool. I love that. Fuck yeah!
JL Fuck yeah!
KL That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious — and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Jolie Kerr for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please make sure to subscribe and rate us. It helps more listeners like you find us. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter! We will back next week with another great guest [music fades in, plays alone for 32 seconds, fades out to end].
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