How To Prep Your Place For A Date

Is someone special swinging by for dinner or a DVD chez you? Quick, follow these steps on what to conceal and what to reveal before the doorbell rings.

By Celeste Perron

Make your space look appealing to the opposite sex…
This applies especially to men, whose pads often resemble frat houses — filled with mountains of laundry, grime-covered sports gear and empty beer bottles. First, clean up the mess — laundry in particular. “I’ve always found that the scent of dirty, sweaty clothes permeates single men’s apartments, so when I first visited my now-boyfriend Kevin’s apartment, I was happy to see that he had a real laundry basket with a lid,” says Esther, 31. No need to buy a whole new living-room set — folding a chenille blanket over the back of your austere leather sofa or adding some flowers can do wonders. “When I first saw my boyfriend’s place it was pretty unimpressive, but he had a vase of daffodils in the living room, which made a difference,” says one 25-year-old. “It showed he knew how to make an effort and was willing to do so for me.”

…but not like a page from House Beautiful.
While men’s pads may sorely lack atmosphere, women’s abodes tend to have other, um, issues, says Terah Kathryn Collins, author of The Western Guide to Feng Shui for Romance. Some have too many tchochkes; others keep everything too neat, which may make guys
“When I first saw my boyfriend’s place it was pretty unimpressive.”
think you’re a control freak. “My ex-girlfriend’s apartment was super-organized, and I never felt like I could relax there,” says Jay, 29. “I was always afraid I was going to get the sofa dirty or knock over some precious object.” So, take some of those accent pillows off the sofa and move any delicate items to high shelves where they’ll be out of harm’s way. Tempted to straighten that stack of books or magazines on the coffee table for the third time? Leave them, they’re fine.

Play down the playthings.
If you’re a single parent, move all toys and The Wiggles videos into your child’s room to keep the rest of your living space from looking like a kindergarten classroom. Of course your date knows you have a child and it’s obvious you adore your kid, but that doesn’t mean a romantic interest should have to jockey for position on the couch with Barbie or Dragonball Z action figures.

Edit what’s on your bookshelves.
Guys, stash Playboy or any similar “reading" material, and girls, put away books with titles like He’s Just Not That Into You — your self-help habit is something you should keep to yourself until further along in the relationship. “I always examine a woman’s bookshelf, because what she reads reveals a lot,” says Guy, 32. Some cool novels and travel books make a good impression, but too many books on cooking for one or a pile of creative visualization workbooks might be more personal than you’d like your date to see.

Stash the personal finances.
Never leave revealing financial documents (think bank statements, credit-card bills, pay stubs) lying around in plain sight. People do look. Even unopened, a mound of mail can still set off alarm bells. “I once saw a huge pile of unpaid bills on a guy’s kitchen counter, and I have to admit, it gave me the vibe that he was financially irresponsible,” says Catherine, 30. “I could hardly relax on the date — I kept thinking about all the late charges he was accumulating!”

Finesse your fridge.
Chances are high your date will get a glimpse in there when they help themselves to a drink, so make sure you’ve cleared out old takeout containers and rotting vegetables, which will lead your date to conclude one of three things: a) your cooking skills are Pop-Tart level, b) you’re a workaholic who has no time to tend to your personal life, or c) you’re wining and dining God knows whom every night of the week. None of these options reflect so well on you, now do they? Far be it from us to say you should “decorate” your fridge, but hey, a container of strawberries, some baby carrots, a wedge of Swiss cheese and half a pound of Virginia ham aren’t going to scare anyone off. That’ll send the message that you can provide for yourself and whip up a snack for company when required.

Tidy up the bedroom…
Even if you’re not hitting the sheets that night, your date will probably pop his or her head in your bedroom. Guys, heed your mother’s words and make your bed. And if your bedcover has a big ole stain on it (thanks to your chips-and-salsa-in-bed habit), now’s a good moment to wash it. Ladies, the number one decorative detail that makes a man uneasy is
Guys, stash Playboy or any similar "reading" material.
the overly poufy bed, so don’t go overboard with too many decorative pillows. Your bed is a place to relax and let loose, not carefully situate yourself amongst a sea of cushions — or risk suffocation by a collection of stuffed animals standing guard. And please, stash any dolls while you’re at it. Nothing screams emotional immaturity like a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Do a fast cleaning blitz on the bathroom.
A clean sink and toilet go without saying, but beyond that, scan your medicine cabinet. People really do peek, so if yours contains a boatload of prescription pills or anything else that sends a weird message (i.e., anti-fungal creams, a family-size bottle of antacids…), clear them out for the evening. Guys, also make sure you've wiped down the toilet bowl and surrounding surfaces. Also check that there’s an adequate supply of TP — you don’t use it as often as women do, so it can be easy to not notice when the roll has run low. “Once when I went over to a new guy’s house he not only had no toilet paper, he had no tissues, no nothing,” says Laura, 27. “It made me think he lived like an animal.”

Light it right.
Soft lighting can mean the difference between a romantic evening and feeling like you’re sitting in a hospital waiting room. First, flick off the ceiling lights. “Light sources that are at eye level or below are warm and flattering, but overhead light can be harsh and makes you look less attractive,” says Collins. Next, lower the lights, and if your lamps aren’t on dimmers, turn on just the softest one and light a couple of candles. Voilà; instant ambience. (One note, though: Don’t go overboard on the candles — a sea of flickering flames says you’re trying too hard to be seductive, not to mention being something of a fire hazard.)

Play the right music.
Background music can do wonders to fill awkward silences and can set a romantic mood, so pop in a CD at a low volume. You won’t go wrong with jazz (go classic with Miles Davis or contemporary with Diana Krall’s latest).

Silence your phone.
Turn off the ringer on your phone to prevent mood-killing interruptions — you want your date to feel like he or she is the only thing worthy of your attention. And if you’ve got an answering machine, mute the volume. After all, the last thing you want is the voice of your wacky friend, overbearing mom or psycho ex intruding when you’re snuggled on the sofa and just about to lean in for a kiss.

Celeste Perron is a freelance writer and the author of Playing House: A Starter Guide to Being a Grown Up.
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