Once I left home for college, I kept it up, trimming my own hair into the simplest possible buzz cut, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. As I became more independent, I held on to the practice, even as I branched out into managing other responsibilities on my own for the first time. Once I had my first professional job, I had a choice to make: Keep cutting my own hair, or drop the habit and find a barber to do it for me. Even though I knew I needed a new look for my new life, I didn't even consider having someone else do it.
As silly as it might sound, the perspective that cutting my own hair has given me over the years has been essential to the person I've become. Through breakups, job layoffs, and everything else that life has thrown at me, I have still been able to keep my hair trimmed and neat, allowing me to retain some semblance of control as the world roils around me. The solitary act of a hair cut is relaxing, and at times a cleansing experience—I start looking one way, scruffy and unkempt, and finish differently, coiffed and clean—so when something needs to change, I can take that first step myself. Whenever anyone complements my haircut (which happens more often than you might expect) I feel doubly acknowledged, as both the bearer and the craftsman responsible for the look. Likewise, if I decide to try something new or change up my style, I can only blame myself if I look dumb. Now, in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic and quarantine, I'm grateful that I can at least maintain my head. Not everyone can say as much.
I'd like to share what I've learned from a decade's worth of self-haircuts for everyone else stuck inside with no barbershops or salons available—but I should first acknowledge that this advice comes from firsthand experience, not from any sort of professional training. I'm good with one type of hair (blond and straight as a line), so people with different types of hair might face some different challenges than I do. You might not be able to get the exact style you want with my methodology—but that's why there are professionals. If you're really concerned about nailing the perfect cut, get thee to a barber, whenever you can.
You have to go into your haircut with a plan. If you hit the bathroom, power up your clippers, and have at your head, you'll only ever be able to manage a buzz. You need to know how short you want to cut, what style you're aiming for, and which tools you'll need at your disposal.
If you're stuck in quarantine and need to be able to keep yourself from turning into Cousin Itt, just follow these 7 helpful tips to cut your own hair at home.
1. Get the Right Clippers to Cut Your Own Hair
You can't just grab a set of scissors out of your junk drawer and start cutting. You'll need a very particular set of tools to get the right cut.
Your most important tool will be your clippers. I've used all sorts—one of my first practical independent purchases before going to college was a cordless set, and my homestay family during my stint playing professional football in Germany had a whole cabinet full of abandoned kits from other American players who had come before me, then left them behind along with their football careers.
2. Use a Dual Mirror Setup for Your Haircut
Clippers are essential, but you'll never be able to do anything more than a blind buzz if you can't see what you're doing. You'll need a dual-mirror setup for that, with one mounted wall mirror, and one hand mirror you can use to check out the back of your head. Make sure that you get a durable option for that handheld glass—I've accumulated around 14 years of bad luck fumbling with flimsy handles.
Scissors and combs are important, but you'll only use them for the really focused work. Think of them as complements to your clippers.
3. Cut Your Hair in Your Bathroom
Your haircutting station should be in a well-lit room, and you should either put down a sheet to catch all the loose hair or have a broom or vacuum readily available for cleanup. I like to cut in front of a bathroom sink, so that water from the tap and the shower for immediate wash-off are both within easy reach. You can get a smock to keep the hair off your body too, if you're fancy—but I prefer to keep it simple and just cut in the nude.
4. Decide on the Haircut Style You Want
Thankfully, like everything else, there are YouTube guides for just about every style of haircut there is. Just type in what you want, and there will be plenty of chatty videos to show you how to do it. Rather than just finding one video and starting from there, however, I recommend watching at like two or three to find the similarities between the methods. Every self-cutter has their own quirks and tics; you'll surely develop some of your own. But there are certain procedures, like how and when to use the taper lever for a fade, for example, that will stay consistent.
5. Have Your Hair Tools Ready
Once you know what you're going to do, the actual hair cutting is pretty simple—but it helps to have exactly what you need at your disposal. That means you should pull out your clipper guards and have them at the ready. If you don't already know, these guards are how you control just how much of your hair you'll leave on your head when you take passes with your clipper. Typically numbered 1 through 8 (1 for an eighth of an inch through 8 for an inch), you'll mix and match what you need depending on your style. When I cut a fade, for example, I usually start with a 1 as a base, use a 3 as a secondary length, then blend with a 2.
6. Dampen Your Hair Before You Cut It
I typically just get my hair a little damp—or opt for a cut immediately post-workout, since I know I'll be showering after anyway—but some people advocate going for a full wash beforehand. That's up to you. But if you usually put any product in your hair, you should probably wash it out first.
7. Get in the Right Position to Cut Your Hair Properly
I stand in front of the mirror, holding the clippers in one hand and the hand mirror in the other. When I cut the sides and back of my head, I hold the hand mirror so I can see its reflection in the wall mirror in front of me, so I'm never cutting blind. This is especially helpful when the time comes to clean up my neck with the trimmer.
From there, it depends on what style you're aiming to pull off. Like I said, I use the scissors sparingly—and I recommend that you mostly use them to trim what you can see directly in front of you. If you were concerned about that level of exacting detail, you'd be in a barber's chair.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health