I walk into the fourth-floor condo with one eye closed. I brace myself. I know what you get when you put one man and two teenagers in one small space with two dogs and no housekeeper. And I'm right. The place is a sordid blend of sorority house, locker room and kennel.
Two months ago, my family moved out of our spacious Denver home and split ourselves into two smaller households, one in Orlando, where I moved for a new job, and the condo in Denver, where Dan and the girls stayed so the girls could finish school. Ever since, they had been doing their own, uh, housekeeping.
I got a glimpse of the mayhem one night when my younger daughter showed me around on Skype. But nothing could have fully prepared me for my first visit.
The stove was covered in grease. My shoes stuck to the wood floors. Scummy film lined the bathroom sinks. I felt the urge to run and check into a clean hotel.
The place proved what I'd long suspected: If I've taught my family anything, it's that if they don't clean up, someone else will.
I know some metro male types keep a tidy home, but Dan is your stereotypic clutter-creating, anti-folding, do-it-later, just-ignore-it household slob. He's exactly the kind of guy Tom McNulty, author of "Clean Like a Man" (Planet Productions, 2010), addresses.
"The difference between what men and women find acceptable dates back to the days of hunters and gatherers," McNulty told me. "As gatherers, women were wired to see little stuff: nuts, berries and fingerprints on the window. Men were wired to focus on big stuff: the wooly mastodon or the big screen."
If a man were raised in a home where his mother did everything, that got reinforced, McNulty said.
My family's place needed a woman's touch. I got busy clearing counters, busting clutter and putting things in logical places. By evening you could see the counters. The stove was gleaming. The family and dining rooms were decorated. Art was on the walls. The place looked cared for, and lasagna was on the table.
Over drinks with friends that night, the subject of Dan's new place came up. I managed to withhold comment but couldn't suppress an eye roll.
Then Dan replied, "For as long as we've been married, Marni has always asked, 'Am I the only one around here with standards?' Now we know the answer."
McNulty's book and website remind men - and the women who love them - that they need to prove they are smarter than dirt. Then he hits guys where it counts, telling them that if they clean house, they will not only please the women in their lives, or catch one in the first place, but will also save money because clean stuff lasts longer.
His guy-friendly primer tells men how to clean house without getting too Felix Unger about it. It offers these "Men Commandments":
Focus on one area at a time. Start with the one that will improve your place the most. Examples: Clear and clean the kitchen counter. Make your bed. Get the shoes and pizza cartons out of the living room. Break chores into small, manageable quadrants. Then move out an area at a time.
Say no to knickknacks. A tabletop filled with junk ruins your dusting momentum. Get this stuff out of your life, with the exception of your sports memorabilia.
Carry your supplies with you. Tote your essentials - sprays, sponges, rags - in a bucket (think toolbox) or hang them from a tool belt. You'll feel manly.
Spritz don't splash. Skip the heavy, sloshing buckets of dirty water. Put as many cleaning solutions as possible into spray bottles. Spritz surfaces and wipe.
Go for gadgets. "They get guys interested," McNulty said. "Men love vacuums with all the attachments." Whatever works.
Don't clean too much. To most men, if it looks clean, it is. Women need to know things are clean inside and out. Thus, men may never dust the top of the refrigerator, and that's OK. We're after improvement, not miracles.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.