“What’s that smell?” I asked my son, wrinkling my nose as I hugged him hello. He had just walked in the door on break from college and my joy in seeing him was disrupted by something that didn’t exactly smell like roses.

“What smell?” he replied.

I pulled him in for another hug and inhaled.

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“Ugh,” I exclaimed.  “It’s your jacket.  When was the last time you washed this thing?”

“You’re supposed to wash them??” he wondered.

I shuddered.  Apparently there had been a gap in his domestic training.  While he got the memo on washing his clothes, he missed the part about cleaning his outerwear.  And since there wasn’t any visible dirt and he had clearly gone nose blind to the smell, he never had any reason to think the jacket would need to be cleaned.  I was only surprised the jacket wasn’t so disgusted with itself it hadn’t tapped him on the shoulder and begged to be washed.

“Please tell me you wash your sheets and towels?” I pleaded.

“Of course,” he replied.  “I washed them when I moved in and I brought them home to wash them again.”

“THAT’S THREE MONTHS!” I exclaimed.

“I don’t see the big deal,” he said.  “I’m clean when I use the towels to dry off after I shower, and I shower before bed so I’m clean when I sleep.”

“It doesn’t work that way cowboy,” I told him.  “Towels get mildew and sheets get stinky.”  I was stunned that someone who sometimes took two showers a day wouldn’t think to wash his jackets and linens. I was also kind of shocked none of his college friends had come to his apartment, noticed the smell, and said something.  But then I realized they probably all lived the same way so who would know the difference.

I decided I needed to see just how pervasive the problem was.

“Let me ask you something?” I said. “Do you empty the trash?”

“Eventually.”

“Do you clean out the fridge?”

“Occasionally.”

“Do you clean the bathroom?” I wondered.

“Never.”

“Okay, well two out of three isn’t bad,” I commented. “I think if we can just get a couple of things sorted out, you will be fit to live on your own without having the city condemn your apartment or the CDC quarantine your clothes.”

He rolled his eyes at me.

“Listen, wash sheets and towels once a week before they get up and walk away on their own.  Clean your jacket once a month unless you spill something on it and then wash it right away so you don’t attract bears. Clean the bathroom before it starts to look like there’s a rug growing on your floor. Clean out the fridge before the food becomes a science experiment.  And here’s the most radical concept:  Empty the trash when it’s full.  Got all that?”

He nodded. 

“Oh,” he piped up.  “One more thing?”

“What’s that?”

“When do I wash these?” he asked, holding up a pair of ratty, foul-smelling sneakers.

“You don’t.” I replied.

“I don’t?”

“No,” I said pinching my nose and taking the sneakers from him. “You throw them out.”