I need to learn how to clean

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My girlfriend and I have been dating for several months now and things have been going really well. The only issue, however, is that she is quite clean and I am more on the messy side. I am determined to step up my game, but I am realizing I may be in over my head. She is Brazilian, and her extended family always jokes about how dirty Americans like me are. How can I improve my cleanliness to not only make my girlfriend happy, but also one day impress her parents and extended family? Is the "dirty American" stereotype something I'll ever overcome?

– Messy and in love

Don't think of this issue as a test you have to pass. Instead, focus on making your place comfortable for your girlfriend. Before she visits, think, "Will she feel OK in this space right now?" If not, make adjustments.

You didn't say what kind of mess you are, but that makes a difference too. There's clutter, and then there's filth. Make a list of what you see. It’s pretty simple advice: if you want to be less dirty, clean. Make a schedule. Stick to it.

I am not a TikTok person, but I have consumed some cleaning content there. I find it deeply soothing to watch some person show off a new, inventive way to make things spotless. You could go there for ideas. Remember that small changes can look big. A close friend was just telling me how her life feels organized – more manageable – after she folds the blanket on her couch. I folded mine and everything did seem a bit better.

I can't speak to the stereotype you're trying to overcome, but I can say that Americans are also known for spending money on things. I have made some big investments after browsing the container aisle at Target – and now my place is more organized. Sometimes organization tools are a worthy expense (especially if you’re living in a small place). Also, some people can afford cleaning services. If that's you, call a service, even if it's something you sign up for once a quarter. It can help to know what a place looks like clean – so you can maintain.

If she continues to make jokes about this in a way that hurts your feelings, let her know. You're learning to make each other happy. Boundaries and empathy are part of that.

– Meredith

Readers? Thoughts? Tips?