Dear Captain Awkward,
So, I live in a small home with my boyfriend and one of our mutual friends. Before we moved in with said friend, we thought she was far cleaner than she actually is, as she often complained about her parents’ cleanliness and messiness when she lived with them.
Turns out, that is not the case.
She doesn’t clean up after herself. Dirty dishes remain in the sink, or in her room, for days, and when she went away for a week on a trip, she dumped all the dirty dishes from her room into the sink before peacing on out, leaving us to deal with it. When she cleans up her cat’s poop on the carpet, she just picks it up and doesn’t spray anything on the carpet itself to actually deal with the bacteria left behind, saying “it’s okay, it was dry!” She leaves splatters all over the stove and counters, grit all over the floors, crumbs all over, and her hair all over the bathroom floor.
And now there are the bugs.
We got fruit flies everywhere one day. Upstairs where our rooms are, swarming in the bathroom, and downstairs in the kitchen. I cleaned like crazy and set up natural fruit fly traps to deal with the issue, but the flies just weren’t diminishing even after killing literally hundreds.
After dealing with them actually coming into mine and my boyfriend’s room, I had enough. I did investigating and followed the trail of flies…to my roommate’s room. (She never closes the door.) Her trashcan is overflowing, trash all over the floor, and full of fruit flies, and she has ants all over her bedside table swarming over left behind food. There is food in her bed.
The ants and food are STILL THERE. Days later. She has to have noticed. It’s right by her bed, where she sets everything.
Captain, how do I even broach this conversation? I don’t care what she does in her room, but this is affecting us all, the flies are already everywhere and I don’t want those ants to come our way next. Or for us to get roaches or rats or other pests.
That, and I feel like me and my boyfriend are constantly cleaning. It’s exhausting, since again, her one contribution is to maybe take out the trash every now and then. We do all the bathroom cleaning, mopping, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen…everything. And most of it is cleaning up her messes, as both of us are kind of neat freaks who clean up after ourselves as we go. Just. What do. I love my friend, but her lack of cleanliness is driving me crazy.
I am not your maid.
Dear I Am Not Your Maid,
Thank you for your question. You are not alone, there are several “We are living together and it turns out we are really, really incompatible about this cleaning stuff” questions in the inbox.
From where I sit you have two main choices for conversations and strategies here:
Choice 1: A Series of Talks
Conversation 1a (Bug Triage!!!!):
“Friend, we’ve got an urgent bug problem, and it’s definitely originating from and concentrated in your room. I need you to get all garbage and anything with food residue out of there now, today, and going forward, please do not bring food into your room. Please also do not throw food away anywhere but the kitchen garbage can (which gets emptied every day), and please do all of your dishes within 24 hours of getting them dirty.”
When you have (especially preventable, source-traceable) bugs in your house, feelings take a back seat. Get the bugs out! Get them out now!
Conversation 1b (Overall Clean):
“I’ve noticed since living together that we have some pretty different ideas of what clean means and how to clean. For example, [RECENT BUG PROBLEM] and [CAT POOP PROBLEM]* are a really big deal to me. When it comes to everyday stuff, I need you to wipe off all kitchen surfaces every time you use them and make sure stuff like hair from your hairbrush and trash actually makes it into the trash can. We also need to make a rotating schedule for cleaning the bathroom, washing floors, and doing other household chores. What do you suggest?”
If you want someone to help you solve a problem, ask them for their assistance in solving the problem and give them a chance to step up.
Conversation 1c – Infinity (Reminders):
“Thanks for doing better at cleaning X and Y! Can you also please make sure to do Z today?”
It won’t come naturally and you’ll have to do some follow-up conversations.
After each of these conversations, brace yourself for a possible shame spiral from her. I say this because: If she complains about her family’s cleanliness standards but there is food in her bed when she’s out of there, it’s possible she does not know how to clean or know what it really means to live in a clean house or perhaps there is some lingering…emotional or executive function…stuff…going on. That stuff is a) VERY REAL and b) not diagnosable by us or solvable by you and c) not a reason for you to live with bugs and cat poop residue on the floor. If you want to keep trying to live with her and you want to live in a clean house where you are comfortable, it will help a lot if you can anticipate the shame spiral and keep gently setting boundaries about what you need in your living space:
“Hey, I know, this is a really, really awkward conversation to have and I definitely don’t want to hurt your feelings, but also, we cannot have bugs and it’s going to make me really upset if every time I want to use the kitchen I have to scrub it down first, so, what will help us get this done? Do you need help learning HOW to clean**? Do we need to budget for a weekly cleaning person that we all pay for as part of rent? Do we need to set a timer for 30 minutes every night, throw on some music, and wipe down/scrub up whatever we can? All of the above? I’m willing to help but I’m not willing to pick up after you and I’m not willing to keep living with this level of mess. Help me figure out how to make this work, please!”
This also means setting yourself up for a lot of emotional labor around this topic, so, before you make a choice think about how much of that you want to take on.
Conversation 2a (Bug Triage + Skip Directly ‘To Time To Move Out’):
You are allowed to want to live with someone who is more compatible with you around housekeeping, without taking on an enormous load of emotional labor and household labor. Script:
“Friend, I love you and I would like us to be friends forever, but I don’t think living together is working for us. It’s clear that we just have really different levels of how clean we’d like the apartment to be, and the way things are going right now is stressing me out a lot. I’d like you to look for a new place by [date].
Also, since we’ve got quite a bug problem going on, between now and then, I need you to get all garbage and anything with food residue out of your room today. Going forward, please do not throw food away anywhere but the kitchen garbage can (which gets emptied every day), and please do all of your dishes within 24 hours of getting them dirty so we can get this under control.”
Your friend will have feelings about all of this. Nobody wants to be told “You are making there be bugs in our house, FIX IT NOW!” or “Hey this thing we thought was going to be so great actually sucks, please leave” and whatever happens it will affect your friendship. Before you decide you can’t possibly begin any of these awkward conversations, ask yourself, how is it already affecting our friendship to have a house full of bugs and to not be able to talk about it with her? How is it already affecting your friendship to live with someone so incompatible?
I am not a naturally tidy person and I’m going to close out by talking (again) about the one roommate situation I have ever lived in that was both impeccably clean and 100% friction-and-upset-feelings free where cleaning was concerned despite at least two of the housemates having diagnosed mental health issues:
- We had a written agreement of house rules that we agreed to as part of the living situation. Roommate JL, the apartment’s anchor-tenant, was a tidy person who had lived with lots of roommates, and he designed the agreement so that he could be happy in his house.
- JL assumed nothing about what our cleanliness habits were like before we lived with him and did not need to know about any executive function issues or feelings about cleanliness or childhood history. There were no assumptions and no guess-work. Did we want to live there? Great, then this is what was expected, agree to it or find another situation.
- The agreement was detailed, with rules for having houseguests, expectations about noise levels, right down to which shelf in the fridge belonged to each person.
- “Keep your food on your own shelf in the fridge and in the assigned cabinet.”
- “Take a bag of trash or recycling downstairs each day when you leave.”
- “Mail, books, or other clutter on the kitchen table or coffee table need to go back to your room within 24 hours.”
- “Don’t leave dishes in the sink overnight.”
- “Wipe out the bathroom sink after you use it.”
- “If you buy something for the apartment, like toilet paper or trash bags, put the receipt in the envelope on the fridge and we’ll settle up so it’s all even at the end of the month.”
- There were clear steps and consequences spelled out in the agreement if a housemate didn’t respect the rules. JL emphatically did not want to spend his time policing this crap, so, if you made him have to have more than one awkward conversation about household stuff that made living there unpleasant for him or other people, he was within his rights to give you 30 day notice to move out.
- Best of all: A (well-paid, independent) cleaning person came 2x/month and scrubbed things down.
I know there are very, very good reasons people don’t want to hire cleaning services – from expense, strong potential for exploitation of the workers, “to my grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew I was betraying my class origins this way,” and “But I know how to clean so why should I pay someone? My roommate should be able to clean already,” but I can honestly say that this was the best decision ever for this executive-function challenged human and for our little NYC walk-up family. Why?
- The $45/month it cost each of us was built into rent/utilities from the start. No scrounging up the money on an ad hoc basis, no “I can’t afford it,” no “why should we pay someone, I’ll just clean?” – it was a non-negotiable cost of living there, like the gas bill.
- “The whole house gets cleaned!” happened on a set schedule. Not “when we get around to it…” or “when we feel like it…” or “it’s your turn…” but “The ritual occurs every other Tuesday, without fail.” When something like this becomes automatic, you spend fewer executive function units on it.
- The night before the cleaner came, it was in the agreement that all of your personal crap needed to be out of the common areas and off any surfaces like counters or tables. This made the cleaning go faster the cleaner (and cheaper for us) and nothing could ever build up to a gross level.
- There are legit “This is my small business and I charge a fee that covers a decent wage” services to be found if you do your research. Housework is work!
- Our house was always pleasant, relaxed, and company-ready.
- The time we spent together as roommates was on fun stuff like watching kung-fu movies late at night and not arguing about household chores.
- NO ONE EVER HAD TO HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT CLEANING OR WHOSE TURN IT WAS, AT ALL, EVER.
With Mr. Awkward I’ve hopefully entered into the last roommate agreement I’ll need for a while, but if I could go back in time and populate every group housing situation I’ve ever had with a version Roommate JL’s Agreement For Peaceful Co-Habitation, I would.
*In my experience cats can sometimes rage-pee but they don’t generally poop on the carpet unless something is WRONG, litter-box-wise or medically. Is this an ancient cat that can’t climb into the box? Is your floor covered in sand? I am so sorry this is an ongoing problem in your home.
**There are resources for that: Unfuck Your Habitat & Jolie Kerr of Ask A Clean Person fame both come to mind.
A “how do we live here together” agreement could include anything you want it to! Get together before you move into a place and hammer it out. For example (taking a glance at my inbox):
- “No, your boyfriend/girlfriend/ummfriend cannot live here,” i.e., “Overnight guests max 2x/week.”
- “We’re both kinda messy, so, let’s agree: Let’s each pick 3 things we care a lot about and those always have to be clean.”
- “Morning time is quiet time” (This was an unwritten rule in my last group-share situation and it was the greatest! I didn’t even notice how great it was until a friendly, morning-person houseguest would come to stay and we’d all be blearily staring at each other, like “WHY IS HAPPENING”).
- “This is your morning shower time window/That is my morning shower time window.”
- “Mustard is a communal house resource…My special favorite expensive coffee is not.”
- “How do we want to handle parties/alcohol/drugs/smoking in the house?”
- “Your cat = your cat box.” “Your dog = your dog-walking schedule.”
- “Here’s how we’re going to figure out what we record on the DVR and what nights each person gets to drive the TV choices.”
- “If she’s wearing her giant cap with a bow, that means Jo March is writing and doesn’t want to be disturbed.” “If my door is closed after 9pm, don’t knock unless it’s an emergency.”
- “If one of us wants to move out before the lease is up, here’s how we will handle money/the work of finding a new roommate.” (Figure this out while you are happy and you all like each other).
We all come from different backgrounds and have different needs and assumptions about what’s okay in a shared living space. If you want to live with other people, sometimes that means changing your habits and expectations for the sake of a harmonious situation, and it means spelling out some things that it might not be so comfortable to spell out. For example, if your prospective roommate smokes a lot of weed and you hate the smell of weed, maybe don’t live together? Or, figure out a system for managing the smoke and the smell before you live together (It will never magically work itself out). Assume nothing about what your roommates know or need or like, and work it out beforehand.
Can we agree that if the house is full of flies and ants and the roommate’s room is full of food-garbage that is attracting said bugs, that that’s gross and needs to be immediately fixed? Like, can this not be up for argument? Thank you.
Comment-wise, here’s what I’d be most interested in knowing about:
- Has anyone successfully managed a situation with a really messy housemate where it got better and stayed better? TELL US OF YOUR MAGICK!
- Has anyone successfully implemented a detailed roommate agreement after you’d already embarked on living together? TELL US OF YOUR MAGICK!
- Say you recognize yourself in the messy housemate here, either now, or once upon a time. Is there anything that a friend or fellow housemate could have done or said at the time that would have spurred you to clean up after yourself and make the living situation workable? TELL US OF THIS MAGICK!
- Do you have an example of an intentional roommate agreement that you made that really worked?
371 thoughts on “#973: Messy housemate blues with a side of bugs.”
Excellent advice! I just wonder–from the phrasing of the beginning of the question, it sounds like the LW/boyfriend moved in with friend into friend’s place. If so, that might be a bigger issue if friend misrepresented her cleanliness levels, as I would assume that the LW/boyfriend saw the place before they moved in.
Alternately, has friend become depressed or something? I KNOW it is Not Their Problem on the cleanliness front if she is. I was friend in that situation when I was in law school–I would let dishes and trash pile up for weeks at a time because I just could barely get out of bed and go to class (sometimes), much less eat, much LESS do the dishes. It would have helped, I think, if my roommate, instead of sighing BUT DOING THEM HERSELF ANYWAY, had sat me down and gently but firmly said, look, I am not the dishes fairy, this cannot continue, either eat off paper plates or do the damn dishes. (Paper plates! That is also an option for friend.) We lived in student housing, so I feel like she also should have gotten the RA involved. But since that’s not an option here, I think a gentle BUT FIRM conversation is needed.
I also wonder if roomie owns the house. The phrase “before we moved in with said friend” made me think that.l
I read the phrase as meaning “before Partner and I joined Friend, and we moved together to Current Home”
In other words, I didn’t perceive the phrase indicating ownership of the home (or lease). This may be a regionalism that I share with LW.
Fair! It’s not super relevant for now, but it would matter as far as the moving out part went.
Honestly, it’s much better if the offender does the work of opening the conversation and says, “Hey, I know I’ve been not doing the dishes. I also know you’ve been doing them and I really appreciate it. I’m trying my best right now,” because then the roommate is not doing the work of dishes + initiating awkward/hurtful conversation + bringing in outside forces to help solve it + worrying about how the conversation is going to impact you. That’s a lot to expect from a roommate.
I’m guessing this did not end well on her end, but it sounds like you were expecting a lot of work from her that she was not expecting to have to do.
OP, I said that to tell you it is okay to be angry about having to initiate this particular conversation in the first place. It’s okay to decide that the fact that you had to have this conversation at all means that you’re done with this particular living situation. This is far beyond the normal roommate cleanliness tension of “everybody priorities different housework and has different norms of what to do when” where everyone needs to do the work of acknowledging and negotiating.
I know sometimes my roommate or I gets stressed and fall behind on housework. We’ve learned the best thing is a quick acknowledgement of, “Sorry I’ve been such a mess! I’m planning on taking care of it as soon as Stressor is gone!” and sometimes the response is, “Ugh, Stressor is hard. Can you do it by Tuesday?” and sometimes it’s, “I took care of Pigsty, so no worries! Can you do Other Chore for me?” It makes everyone more forgiving and willing to help out, because we don’t feel like “not only is she not doing it but she doesn’t realize/care it’s a problem and now I have to sit down and say it’s a problem and that is so hard and awkward!”
That is an excellent point! I used to live in a houseshare with a friend from college (we were not the only tenants, but we got on best), and she and I had a solid routine for keeping ourselves mostly happy, which mostly involved just asking the other person “Hey, can you deal with X?” and the other person did it within a day. Sadly, this did not work with the roommate who didn’t take out the trash for three weeks when I was out of the country, but we did our best.
I understand your point, but I was answering CA’s question of what my roommate could have said/done in my case, which was similar to friend’s. (As are many other people, so I feel like singling my comment out is inappropriate.) It’s definitely much better if the offender opens the conversation! But it’s most likely not going to happen in a lot of cases where friend is that bad. My situation now is far better as I am no longer disgustingly messy and I share the labor equally with my husband! But sometimes it takes an uncomfortable conversation if you’re in OP’s situation. And yes, no one is saying OP can’t feel angry about that. I’m certainly not.
I think the thing that bothered me was that you framed it as “she should have also gotten the RA involved” which implied she should have also talked to you about it first, then gotten the RA involved. I don’t think she had an inherent obligation to do any of that, though it probably would’ve helped. (Again; this is the specific nature of the problem, not for any problem)
So I wanted to point out the OP doesn’t have any inherent obligation to do this and it’s reasonable for her to be upset and angry that she is now having to, and it’s also reasonable to tell her roommate that she does not like to have to initiate these conversations and expects to never do it again/decide having to is a good enough reason to end the living situation.
We all moved in together at the same time. BF and I are on the lease, roomie is not. (:
I do think that this changes things a bit, especially in the immediate Get Rid of Bugs and Clean Up After Cat departments. Because with roommate not being on the lease, you are not equals in liability, power, or responsibility here. Which means that roommate can walk away from all of this and move in somewhere else, without absorbing any personal damage at all, and leave you and boyfriend with a massive mess to clean up, along with a lot of expense and hassle that could endanger your credit and your ability to be accepted as a tenant elsewhere. Any damage to the property and/or failure to maintain safe/hygienic/bug-free living conditions falls on yours and boyfriend’s shoulders – not roommates’. This is a risk you are assuming on roommate’s behalf (so roommate, ideally, does eventually need to be on the the lease) but right now roommate is not assuring you that the risk is actually worth it. And roommate could be expecting that you will play housekeeper because the house is your legal responsibility. They need to be dissuaded of that notion (if that is the case). “Landlord will not allow us to keep the property this way” or “This is in violation of the terms of our lease” are both excellent reasons well above and beyond any personal environment preferences/needs (which are perfectly valid all on their own), and that might be able to absorb some of the load-bearing here in the immediate, to keep the conversation impersonal and take some of the awkward spotlight off of you. Roommate can’t turn that into an argument; it’s a legal obligation that you have no choice but to enforce. Your hands are tied; you have to protect yourself. And in no uncertain terms are you going to be the designated housekeeper just because roommate’s name isn’t on the lease. So, roommate has to clean up to a level that will not cause you and boyfriend to violate terms of the lease (and therefore become homeless while forfeiting any deposit and paying damages for things like replacing carpets and calling in exterminators), or roommate has to leave. Framing it that way removes the awkward burden of, “I am telling you to clean up, friend” and displaces it onto a higher authority of, “Landlord will not accept these conditions.”
Agree with EVERYTHING here. As a former apartment manager I have had to clean up bug situations and general “we don’t understand how living on Planet Grownup works” abandoned shitpiles that made me want to invest in a paid assassin. You will earn no sympathy points with your landlord if he/she has to call in an exterminator, replace flooring, deal with a mold infestation, etc. At the very least you’ll be kissing your security deposit goodbye when you move out, at worst you can be evicted and have to pay a king’s ransom in first/last and deposits anywhere else you can find.
It’s not that she isn’t your friend, or that she may not be having a hard time. It’s that your landlord, however nice he/she may be, doesn’t care about that more than they care about property depreciation values, and you can’t care more about her than about your ability to rent elsewhere in the future or not be evicted.
THIS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU–let me tell you how I know! Luckily not involving cat poop or bugs of any sort *shudder*.
I lived with my fiance and several housemates. One of them moved out and left over 40 EMPTY bottles (mostly 2 liters) and cans of Mountain Dew along with several pizza boxes, and various dirty cups and plates and forks (so THAT’S why there were no big plates/coffee cups/forks!!) and a host of other paper garbage just burying the floor of his room. We had to clean the entire thing. We did not get rich off the $0.05 soda deposit. 😦 Oh and my fiance was going through a serious (hospitalized regularly) illness and was moving home with his mom, which was why the roommate situation was breaking up.
Kick her out. You and your bf are going to be on the hook for all the damage that she is doing to the place, and, well, you deserve not to live in filth.
Just a word of warning for the kick-out plan – even though she isn’t on the lease, she still almost certainly needs to be given some sort of notice, and the method and duration of lead time will vary by location. The OP will need to tread carefully – especially if Roomie decides to get vindictive and tell the landlord about the (possibly) un-allowed third person in the residence.
But the roomie IS the third person.
I think RabbitRabbit is saying that Roommate, if ordered to leave, could tell the land lord of her unofficial status, and jeopardize the lease of LW and her boyfriend.
Yeah, we’re very much not allowed to have people living with us who aren’t on the lease. (I think my downstairs neighbours got in trouble for that, tbh.) Different situations in all circumstances honestly, but that’s my first thought as well.
One suggestion that I would have if you want to try salvaging the relationship/living situation, AND you and/or friend are very conflict averse is to leave a note. I lived with a roommate in law school who was occasionally very thoughtless. She was an accountant, and she would not hold up her end of the cleaning/shopping/everything else during busy season. Leaving a note about the fact that she’d eaten the last of my peanut butter and would need to replace it helped with that.
Then, when I started dating seriously and she was single and jealous and completely freezing me out/being really, really weird about the situation, I left her a Hallmark card on her pillow with a “hope we’re still friends! Things are kinda weird, dude,” message. It actually worked really well for us. Plus, putting a “hey, there are bugs, and I need you to do X, Y, and Z things to fix it” might help if she’s got some kind of impairment. (Assuming that impairment doesn’t prevent her from reading.)
I will say that that Hallmark card probably salvaged what was left of our relationship at that point.
I highly recommend hiring someone to help clean, if that is feasible for your situation. Roommate will still have to get her trash out, but even a messy person like me can keep it relatively together for two weeks in between when my cleaner comes. I found my life-saver through care dot com – she owns her own business, had copious references for me to check, and was willing to work with my budget.
What wasn’t clear to me was how the tenant situation is set up. Are all three of you on a lease? Does one of you own the house? Did she move in with you, you with her, or all three at the same time? All that can play into whether you have the ability to move her out (if it comes to that) or have to find your own place.
Best of luck. This sounds untenable. Ugh, BUGS.
LW, I was once kicked out of my aunt’s house, where I was living, because of my incompatibility with her cleanliness/ house care needs. It sucked, and I felt bad, but it was ABSOLUTELY the right thing for her to do, and we are both better off because of it. (For the record, I was an adult, with a job and the means to find somewhere else to live.) My staying was only ever going to build up resentment on both sides, and the longer that goes on, the worse it would be for our relationship.
I lived with a guy who 100% agreed that housework should be split between us, and 100% agreed on all the housework that should be done, and 100% agreed on whose turn it was to do things—and then, just, didn’t do it unless I specifically bossed him, nagged him, etc., and would pull crap such as leaving for work with something undone that HAD to be done that day. I had the discussion a certain number of times before I was at my “I’m not willing to live this way” point. I started researching different apartments—but as a last-ditch attempt, I set a price schedule: “When it is YOUR turn, but you don’t do it and yet someone HAS to (e.g., it is YOUR turn to take out the trash but it is overflowing and you have left for work and I have to put something into the trash that won’t fit), then I am willing to do it for you for $2”—and so on. Since we split expenses on utilities, rent, certain groceries, etc., I added those tasks into that system, and factored them in when we were settling up who owed whom for that month. I tried to pick prices that I was genuinely willing to do the work for—and so it ended up being an arrangement where we split expenses and he paid me to do his share of housework. It wouldn’t have worked for me long-term, but as a short-term solution that brought me considerable relief from considerable resentment and frustration, it worked pretty well.
I did similar with a housemate and it worked great. 🙂 My housemate was lovely but between her working very long hours and having only recently moved out of home, I found myself doing all the housework. I can’t remember which one of us brought it up, but we talked it over and agreed an alternating schedule for cleaning the shared areas, and also that if when it was her turn she hadn’t done it within x number of days, I would do it and she’d pay me £15. Both of us were much happier with this arrangement.
Nb this was our workaround for me not being able to afford to chip in for a cleaner at that time.
Captain, just dropping in to say that this was an extremely timely and important reply for me – I live in a house right now with (in my book unreasonable, but also unclear) cleanliness demands – where I am without warning, schedule or consideration for my physical limits told to do [chores], then screamed at when I can’t immediately do them all.
As a result, I hate living here, but I have also had to expend all my spoons to (let’s be real, fail to) meet these demands, and thus my bedroom is a disaster. There are no bugs, but…it’s not pretty, and if I continue to leave it like this, bugs might eventually turn up. Ew.
So. I’m going to fix that. And, I don’t know, ignore the other stuff. It’s stressful being surrounded by guilt-tripping and hilariously unreasonable expectations, but I also am not actually a huge slob and don’t enjoy sleeping in a gross pit.
(I’m also leaving in 3 months, which helps).
LW, I’ve been on friend’s end of things when my health was much worse, and it is really shitty, but also totally not your fault. The Captain’a script is great and your friend will eventually get over it.
(I’m still friends with the person who kicked me out, though it took a while, and I recommend giving people reasonable notice before doing that if you’re in a position to do it, if you possibly can).
You wouldn’t happen to be renting from a landlord in Seattle, would you? That sounds…eerily…like my first living situation out there. Probably shouldn’t name names.
Adults don’t treat other adults that way. This person should not be housemates with anyone. Sounds like they enjoy yelling and controlling more than actual cleanliness? (Are they your parents?)
Reply to all the cool nice people who replied:
Yup! You just gotta *love* being kicked out of one house and having to crawl back to live at your parents’ house at the age of 25, when you really are over having every little thing you do weirdly commented on and picked apart!
(on the other hand, I now have a job, a decent reference, and some money in the bank, so from that point of view it’s been at least nearly worth it to go to university with those things).
Cleaning and living in houses is unexpectedly hard. I didn’t expect just doing basic staying-alive stuff to be this hard when I was a kid. I think that’s what we’re all struggling with, honestly, to a greater or lesser degree.
*hugs* if you’d like them, from a fellow Spoonie who also can’t do as much cleaning as she wants to be able to do! I can’t imagine how you’ve coped with such erratic demands – thank goodness you’re going to be out of that situation fairly soon.
I always swore I’d be more tidy once I moved out of my parents’ home (my Mum has some emotional issues with getting rid of things) and it was just my own mess to worry about – and then I got a cat with emotional issues, who deliberately knocks stuff over when she’s trying to get my attention! Thankfully I can (just about) afford to pay for a housekeeper/cleaner to come and help me for an hour or so a week – she does the heavy stuff like hoovering, weighs out dry cat food into a week’s worth of daily portions in zip-lock bags, and when I’m well enough to take part, we often work on lighter tidying tasks together.
a cat with emotional issues, who deliberately knocks stuff over when she’s trying to get my attention!
Laughing. This is the definition of a cat, period. 🙂
Even if it’s just for the last three months, could you maybe draw up a proposed list of reasonable cleanliness rules, and negotiate to get something written down that’s manageable?
I once was housemate! I have avoided roommate situations but I can tell you what didn’t help- my parents yelling, the guilt trip from hell, and my dad threatening to come in with a trash bag and throw away everything on the floor, which generally wasn’t trash and was all my favorite things I used all the time.
What would have helped- choice 1, basically. A feelings free discussion of the problem because I always knew there was a problem.
-Someone helping me make a mental health appointment because I had TROUBLE with the phone and that was the only option and then going with me to the first appointment – actually treating my depression has helped immensely.
-Knowing about UFYH – I still do binge cleaning because that works for me, but she has checklists and schedules and instructions for cleaning. When I would get it together to clean all the things, I would automatically know what to prioritize, but when I was miserable and needed to clean to be less miserable?
-To that end, a schedule. Like, a schedule for everyone on the fridge. With gold stars if it suits your sense of humor, which it did for a group of my friends sharing a house in college. It helps with accountability but also lets everyone know what is getting done because a lot of housework is invisible until it isn’t done.
-Rules – this is where we call living with my parents over the summer while in grad school “housemates” – in our case it was 1) put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, 2) if the dishwasher is full, run it, 3) if the dishwasher needs to be emptied, empty it. Others could have been helpful because it would have given me boundaries within which to operate. If I don’t have to think/make a decision, there’s a better shot at things getting done.
Thanks for this comment. When you have mental health stuff going on and it means that you Just Can’t Right Now, more structure and more rules and having someone say “this is where the line is” are helpful. Avoiding the conversation and the problem does nothing. Yelling does nothing. Shame does nothing. Only matter-of-fact “Ok but we still need to get the garbage to not be in the house, let’s do it” really works.
Yes, so much agree. No yelling, no passive-aggressive eyerolls (as much as it’s warranted!!), just “here is how it needs to be so we can do this roommate thing.” That is what I really needed when I was in that situation and I didn’t get it and I lost a friend over it.
All of this. If I didn’t have specific days/times when I need to do [housework task] every week, I wouldn’t do any of it, because executive dysfunction stuff makes me go, “Ah, I’ll get to it before it gets too bad,” and then suddenly it’s terrible and I’m too overwhelmed to touch it. But if, for instance, every Thursday is my day to cook dinner and do the dishes, then every Thursday I cook dinner and do the dishes.
Re: the gold stars, I have found Habitica immensely helpful. I have a lot of trouble with cleaning and communications (my emails, etc), and habitica helps me take those out of the amorphous “big scary thing” ether, put them on a list, and get them done – for each scary thing, I also put a task in there to give myself a treat (staring at the trees outside from my favorite window, a cup of tea, etc). It’s great for once you’ve worked out those rules and schedules, PLUS you get to ride dragons.
How I wosh I had Habitica when I had cohabitants!
I’m using it without cohabitants! But to make it work better for me (because I need some accountability to other people), I have a questing group with two other people. All three of us live in different places!
I am a Spoonie with comorbid depression. Just helping me get started would be the most helpful thing I can think of, because I tend to get overwhelmed and afraid. In OP’s situation, even “Those dirty dishes need to be washed – here, I’ll help you carry the first load to the sink” could jump-start me from inertia and get me started on a 2-hour cleaning jag.
Yes! This is super helpful. I’ve also found that just sitting and talking to someone while they clean makes it so much easier. My sister and I use to try to get the other one help us clean our rooms. Finally we realized, the other person didn’t need to actually help. I think it would especially help someone who’s prone to shame spirals.
Very true and directly responsive to a question the Captain asked. But I think it also bears stating? the LW is not wrong if she is just not up for providing structure on this. (Usual responsibility to be kind and decent about it all.)
It can be significant toil to provide executive function support in your home — especially if it’s not just “write down some procedures once” but ongoing work. And if there’s emotional labor, like to help someone un-spiral or get past inertia, that also counts.
It can be really helpful if the roommate on this situation can be active about being aware and asking for accommodations, rather than the other person needing to bring it up and fish for what might help. Especially repeatedly.
But sometimes it’s just better for people not to live together, and that’s not s judgement.
Definitely second hiring someone to clean. Only time I’ve been in a strictly-defined situation where everything (including chores) was defined was in a landlord situation that was…not good. If the guy wasn’t horribly toxic and abusive, it would’ve been fine. But he’d come over and scream at us, if we didn’t do our chores to his liking.
After a midnight move out, I moved to a place that had no such expectations, and was as messy as you’d expect. The difference was that we paid to have someone come in and clean common areas (kitchen, living room, bathrooms). It kept us from killing each other, and was money well spent.
Did you have my landlord? Because I also had to do a midnight move-out from a horribly toxic landlord who screamed at us about chores during his (illegal, without notice) checkup visits.
I think hiring a cleaner is an amazing idea as long as housemates agree on it beforehand or it’s an explicit expectation of moving in together; it was once announced to me 2 months into a lease that the (messiest) of our housemates wasn’t happy with the state of the place, so she was hiring a cleaner which she insisted we all paid for together. Her parents were the landlords and we were all newbies at rentals, so we didn’t know how to say no and it became a festering ball of hate for the rest of the lease.
One issue may be that she doesn’t know how long it takes to clean something or how often it has to be cleaned. Time has to be budgeted for cleaning – you can’t just fit it in your schedule – and you need to be realistic. One hour to dust and vacuum a one-bedroom apartment, mop the floos, and wipe down the appliances might work for some people, but others may need longer (and some of us might need to spread that out over more than one day).
Yes, this. I live in a two bedroom apartment by myself, and I consider myself a clean and tidy person. However! When I first moved out of my parents’ home, it was just a real shock how often things needed to be cleaned and how long it took, since I wasn’t expected to take on any of those responsibilities at home. Once I started budgeting time specifically for housework and errands it fit into my routine a lot more smoothly. I work full time from home, so I tend to do one room (~30 minutes) whenever I need a little break from my work, but of course that isn’t an option for everybody. The key is to make it work with your lifestyle and schedule.
Kitty was pooping on the carpet because cat box was full. Cats do that, and is it any wonder that she wasn’t keeping up with the cat box?
Are you OP?
My cat has only ever pooped outside the box accidentally. I was thinking if the box is against an outside wall (including shared-with-neighbours wall) or near something that randomly goes THUNK, a poorly timed noise/neighbour dog/outside THING can startle the cat in the middle of business, with the results being stinky.
My cat will come fetch me afterward when this happens, which has been all of twice so far.
So…. Maybe move the box to a quieter location?
And also clean it more, yes. Cat mom cleans the cat box.
My cat used to climb into the litter box, turn around several times … and then hang his butt over the side and poop on the floor. I bought one with a lid, he’d hang his butt out the door and poop on the floor. Even in a freshly cleaned box.
I think my cat was just not very smart, though.
One of my parents’ cats did that 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time he kicked cat litter and poo out the door after he was done.
They got him a cat litter box that’s basically a super deep plastic bin with a lid with a big round hole in it. He cannot hang his butt out the door and he cannot kick litter out. VICTORY.
Good iaea — I noticed tht sometimes, my cats would accidentally fling dry, older poop out of the box when they were burying the newest deposit. And before anyone gets on me for not cleaning the box out enough, yes I did, but not when I had my leg in a cast.
Could also be a health problem. My cat passed away two weeks ago and at the end her mouth was really sore and it was really hard for her to get the poop to detach from her behind so she did the scooting thing and I’d find random poop pieces around occasionally. (Sorry if that’s TMI but BUGS and CAT POOP discussions warrant such talk.)
Although chances are good that it is in fact b/c the litterbox isn’t cleaned, given the situation, but I hate to presume anything. Perhaps Roommate is fastidious about the litterbox and nothing else? Unlikely, but possible.
It is possible! Sometimes there is One Single Activity that you (by which I mean me) can handle during a difficult period. I usually pick dishes, but I can imagine someone picking Cat Box.
Once my former cat had some constipation and she dragged her butt all over my black and white tiled kitchen floor, basically drawing me an evil picture with a foul crayon. Poor buddy! It shouldn’t happen on the regular, though, without a serious look at either health or litter box conditions.
My cat did that when he was having some digestive issues (he’s also very fluffy, and very fastidious, so when he had diarrhea and couldn’t get clean, he dragged his ass EVERYWHERE in a frantic effort to getitoffgetitoff). The only other time I’ve ever had a cat poop outside the litterbox was when we made the mistake of putting the litterbox in our basement, where the floor is crumbling to the point that it’s basically dirt, and all three cats figured that this was obviously Outside and therefore a good place to go.
I’ve had a few cats rage poop when the box isn’t cleaned to their liking or right after I get back from a long trip. It can be a sign of sickness but can also be a sign of stress. And if kitty has to live in a nightmare of a bug filled room, she probably is stressed!
My very elderly cat has this brain glitch where every single time she has to poop, she will:
1) Get into the litter box
2) Get out of the litter box
3) Poop on the floor directly in front of the litter box
4) Scrabble at the linoleum as though she’s digging to cover up the poop.
It’s baffling. She clearly knows where she is supposed to poop, just…her brain tells her she’s a foot away from where she actually is?
I feel like a lot of old animals have dementia that impacts their spatial perception/spatial reasoning abilities. My family’s last dog did not go blind or deaf, but he became increasingly confused about the location of rooms, people, and objects (sigh, rest in peace, Mr. Stubbs.)
Yeah, it’s probably that. She seems happy and healthy otherwise and at least we always know *where* she’s pooped. It’s just a little surreal and frustrating.
We also had a rabbit that used to, when we put food in the top level of his cage, run up the ramp, see the food and then rather than go straight to it he would backtrack to take the long way round to get it every. single. time. It was like some sort of bunny OCD. I have OCD and I don’t say that to belittle it, it genuinely reminded me of some of the rituals I have had in the past. Animals are weird.
Sadly our doggo just . . . lost the ability to know that he was pooping. So he would poop anywhere and everywhere.
I suppose a similar thing might happen in cats, and might explain the issue with the cat in the letter, but it seems like the issue is not so much the cat as the lack-o-follow-up to kitty messes. LW actually sounds like she’d be cool about it if the roommate was willing to Lysol where kitty had been.
Towards the end of her life, a little 5# dog of mine started doing stuff like walking across one of the cats or just randomly bumping into them. The cats seemed to know that her mind was going, because they would just give her a “Really?” look instead of swatting at her.
Weird question, but have you tried moving the litter box out a foot? (Also switching litters might work – my senile cat got super weird about her litter choices, and stuff that had been totally fine up until that point was suddenly Totally Unacceptable.) Please to be ignoring if you’re not interested in advice, but I feel your pain with the Senile Car Problems. She’d also get lost in the house in the middle of the night and stagger about howling, which was cute until I had a newborn.
Our first senile elder kitty ended up living in a HUGE dog crate, with a small litter box, a bed, and food & water all tucked inside it and kept scrupulously clean. She was SO HAPPY. She could find EVERYTHING. There was a morning sunbeam!
I felt super strange and unnatural doing it, but it kept our house from being Turd City and kept her from being lost, confused, and distressed.
her GPS calibration got knocked off kilter. 😉
Also–is her litter box covered? Mine is, and sometimes I think my cat would “aim” better if it weren’t. (She tends to pee directly against the back wall, and it runs down the lid and out the seam. Then again, w/ no lid, maybe she’d be spraying the wall directly.
I use the “clever cat” box with the top entry. It won’t work for all cats(my last elderly cat could not use it) but it solves the “aiming high” problem nicely. It also seems to corral more of the litter.
I’m going to advice against trying the “no lid” option, because you may have “Elevator Butt”.
We have a cat who has developed this odd urinating behavior. The Internet calls it “elevator butt”. No health problems, no mental health problems, he starts at a squat and then … just … the back end rises until DING! he’s aiming up. And then he’s confused when there’s not as much covering to do, oh and who is the nasty human that peed on the floor while he was busy?! So we humans get glared at.
Right now we’re trying a covered bin with a flap, but he has good hydraulic pressure so that is not working. We should try these top-hole-entry ones that Jenna and other folks are mentioning, thank you!
@Jarissa: you can also just get a giant rubbermaid tub so he’s pretty much got nowhere to go but into the litter, if he’s not so old he can’t make it in.
My older cat became terrified of covered litter boxes when he was about 15 so I haven’t had a covered box in 6 years. We got one with really high sides and no top and our younger cat likes it but even that’s a bit much for him. He also prefers a specific set of litter brands (he hates “natural” litters except Swheat Scoop, which smells so bad to me I can’t have it in the house, so we are back to clumping clay) and likes 4+ inches of litter for his pottying pleasure.
Cats, man. It’s a good thing they’re so adorable.
My cat pooped on the floor every day for the first year I had him. I did all the things — took him to the vet, changed litter, changed boxes, added boxes, moved boxes — nothing worked. Then I finally a found the special magic litter (wood pellets that didn’t stick to his long hair) and figured out that he liked much less litter than everything I had ever read recommended. Finally! He used the box for poop!
Except when he is mad at me. If I have been away to much, or if my roommate whom he loves has been away too much, he poops right in the middle of the floor of my bedroom to let me know he is NOT PLEASED.
Whatever the reason, though, poop must be cleaned…and before it dries up, preferably.
We have a very elderly cat who sometimes does the same thing. Why? Dunno. But at least it’s on tile and right there.
We have a slightly less elderly, but chronically ill cat, and she poops on carpet when she’s having a flareup. “oh, there’s a turd there? time to up the meds. also, find a better signal, you furry jerk.”
Hah this sounds like the comment I made above about my dimwitted cat and his “pooping over the side” habit.
Would putting a puppy pad/plastic tarp underneath the litter box/that spot help with cleanup at least?
Roommate is not sweeping up/vacuuming the litter that gets tracked outside the box.
Roommate is not cleaning the box itself (dumping the old litter, scrubbing it down, and refilling with fresh litter.)
Cat is sick (sometimes “rage pee” is also “I have an infection, please help” pee and that goes for poop too.)
Cat is upset about the state of the apartment in general!
It’s possible that the cat is pooping in the box and then kicking the poop out the next time they use the box – the “even though it’s dry” line made me think of this. My cats occasionally do this and I scoop their box every day! Different types of litter or scooping schedules (or lack thereof) may make accidental poop kicking more likely to occur.
Yeah, my cat does this. And then, erm, bats the turd around like it’s a toy.
We keep the litter in the basement, which is a strict no-baby zone, for a reason. And even then: EWWWWW.
Cats. Why do we let them in our house.
(1) They purr.
(2) Toxoplasmosis is a helluva drug.
I am kind of your roommate. Like, not to bug level, bugs are where I draw the line. In fact, bugs are a thing that makes me CLEAN LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER. (Seriously we got carpenter ants a couple of years ago… OMG, the nightmares that I had. And the furious cleaning that ensued.)
I don’t know how to explain a lot of it, but basically my brain doesn’t see mess, or react to it the way it should. Work is the place where I am the neatest, and this morning I came in and while sitting here threw away a bag of bread from last week and two soda cans that sat here all weekend. They were probably here for multiple days before I threw them out. Sometimes it takes another person being in my office for me to even see the empty soda cans.
Things that are helpful for me:
1. Making cleaning as easy as possible. (Keeping the dishwasher empty, keeping laundry baskets in places where I actually change clothes, having enough storage space, having a garbage can by where I sort the mail.) These little things that mean that throwing things in the right spot is just a difference of where I put my hand make a big difference for me. (Keeping the disenfectant near the cat box, also.)
This reduces my tendency to “optimize” and wait until I have a bunch of tasks to do to do them. It’s right here, so why not just do it right now. If I have to go looking for supplies or places to put things, for get it.
2. Rules – I like the captain’s “no food in bedroom” rule. My parents had rules like that for me growing up and it helped. Partially it helped because I knew I was breaking the rule so I was extra careful to not leave evidence behind. You might want to implement a strike or fine system for this. (I’m sure my parent’s method of long drawn out lectures and or yelling will be less effective with an adult roommate.)
3. Cleaning Person! This helps so much, and I am planning to get one soon.
I theorize part of my struggle with mess is that at a certain point if I start noticing any of it I’m going to notice ALLL OF IT. like right now, I can see the flecks of dust on my desk and the clutter of business cards and post it notes. I don’t have the time or energy to deep clean my desk right now, so I’m just going to ignore ALL of it. It’s possible that your roommate is still sort of in this mode from living with her parents. It’s very hard to break out of and I pretty much am only neatish when I’m in completely pristine environments like hotels. Having someone keep your house next level clean will make the mess more obvious to everyone. PLUS you won’t have to do this.
I like the idea of group decluttering time at the end of each day. I think that would help me actually do the cleaning instead of thinking about cleaning and not doing it. I know if you do it all the time it gets easier, but but…. tired.
Also, EXTERMINATOR. Make her pay for one. They have non toxic options for pets, we had them come during the great carpenter ant debacle and they also helped with our drain fly issue. It wont address your root cause, but if you make her “greet” and manage the exterminator they will for sure mess shame her. Yuck.
“I theorize part of my struggle with mess is that at a certain point if I start noticing any of it I’m going to notice ALLL OF IT.” ARE YOU ME? This all sounds hella familiar. And it would be lovely if there were a way to change it instead of working around it, but I dunno if it’s possible.
My parnter would really like to keep a super minimalist low clutter environment. And I’d LIKE to believe that in that kind of environment I would have an easier time. But even when I’m in hotel rooms I tend to clutter on surfaces and spread out all over the place. So my own clutter is always a problem.
I feel you :). Last year, I worked in a setting where I had a paraeducator, who had her own desk in the classroom. In many classrooms, the teacher and para desks are placed very near to each other in order to maximize classroom space. But not us! I told her that I didn’t care where she put her desk but she could NOT have her desk touching mine. If it was close to mine, I would colonize it. I would feel really bad about it, and I would totally intend not to do it, but it WOULD happen.
I’m in the ‘struggle to see mess’ club, too. This might be related to the fact that I’m not a very visual person – sights don’t disturb me the way that sounds or feel will.
I’ve always drawn a hard line at hygiene – food and pets need to be kept meticulously clean, and I have mostly (there were bad times when kitchen counters and sinks did not get wiped as often as they should, and I’ve always struggled with washing dishes) kept to this.
What helps me is not routines (extra pressure: OMG, it’s Tuesday, and I’m supposed to hoover) but habits. Every evening Partner and I do the dishes (and have a conversation), every time we do the dishes, I wipe down the counters. Every week I hoover. Every time I drop something on the floor, I pick it up. Every time there’s more than five books stacked on the sofa, I put them away. Some of these things mean that I need to pay attention – have I hoovered recently? How many books are here? Did something fall down and is now lying on the floor?
The trick is not to come in and survey all you own and go ‘OMG so much clutter everywhere, where do I start’ but to focus your attention on one thing: Is there anything on the table that shouldn’t be here? Then you deal with that. As you make progress in keeping areas clear of clutter, it will become easier to scan them for intruders, and even the brainweasel of ‘the sofa is completely full of crap’ (cue panic) can be sent packing by ‘I cleared it last week, so it can’t be that much and there will be no unpleasant surprises’.
I also get easily overwhelmed by Where Do I Start?!/Clean ALL THE THINGS and one strategy that has helped me is to pick one of the following options:
1. Pick a single task. This means JUST vacuum the floor, or JUST clean the mirrors, or JUST pick up clothes, or JUST clean off the bed, even if that means just shifting stuff elsewhere.
2. Set a time constraint, like thirty minutes, and give yourself permission to stop when it’s over.
3. Pick an area, like I will just clean THIS wedge of the room, or just clean THAT portion of the kitchen.
For bigger projects, like a kitchen deep clean or closet clean-out, I have to block out time in my schedule for that and keep it clear, instead of trying to fit it in around the rest of my life.
When all else fails, I will take a vacation day from work to clean, because it’s like found time that I didn’t have anything else scheduled during.
This times a million. My last apartment I was living in a weird mix of all aforementioned problems involved — having a roommate like the LW had but also at the same time learning to deal with my own reasonings for problems with keeping clean for my own self. I would always imagine how much of a hypocrite I would have been when needing to talk, so my own path to wellness was always stymied by not talking about the literal and figurative roach in the room … communication or at least attempting it is key!!
Your advice would have been perfect for me then, but it is even more important for progressing folks like me, as I’m in a position wherein after having said roommate with violent narcissist tendencies on top of the mess I am adamant about living alone, and while my ability to know when I NEED to clean has improved and is pretty good, verus when I actually CAN and HOW — your advice to know when it’s important to chill out and take stock of a task and do as best as one can is succoring: (like after long days at work, not knowing where to start a clean, etc… especially when one gotta pay that studio-having living-alone premium). Your advice is invaluable for all parties involved. Thank you!
Me too. This also means that when I am actually cleaning, I keep seeing more dirt as long as I am working on it, so that the room doesn’t seem to be getting cleaner. For a long time I thought that I really don’t know how to clean, because after I finish there is still some dirt in the room. It takes going out of the room and coming back in to see the improvement.
But, too quote my mother: You don’t have to make everything clean, you have to remove a certain amount of dirt from time to time.
She ran into the same problem when she was in kindergarten and was asked to clean the sink; but after she finished, she needed to wash her hands, which got the sink wet again. So she needed to clean it again, and so on, until she got scolded for playing around with the water.
A few years back, my house had the Summer Of Fire Ants. Living where I do, this wasn’t a mess problem, this was a “fire ants gonna fire ant” thing. And yeah, the first time I picked something off the floor and it started biting me, it was “CALL ALL THE BUG KILLERS” time. They were in the walls, so it took a few treatments, but eventually they all got murderated.
Carpenter ants would be a relief by comparison.
As someone who has been the messy roommate, I’ll give my perspective. My roommate would jokingly “threaten” to give me a honey-do list, because she wanted me to clean more often. I finally sat her down and said “hey, you know that honey-do list? Please do that! I’m not always clear on what needs to be done, or what you specifically want me to do. Please write it down, or email it to me, so I a) know what you want and b) don’t forget between the time you tell me as I walk out the door to go to work and the time that I get home at night!”
So, I recommend being explicit and having things in writing. I know some people think that chore charts are for little kids, but they can be for any humans that share living space. There were a number of housework things that, for various reasons, I never developed as a habit, and I wonder if Messy Roommate is the same.
How do you handle home maintenance now? I ask because the thought part of cleaning (the emotional labor) is possibly larger than the cleaning itself.
I still live with the same roommate, and now we have a written agreement of “LadyCrymsyn will do these chores at these times and Roommate will do these chores at these times, and these other chores get done on these days and we will alternate whose turn it is.” For example – we don’t have a dishwasher, but roommate likes washing dishes, so they agree to wash dishes on cooking days (usually weekends), or every other day if it’s just takeout and dishes from feeding the cat. As I am taller than roommate, one of my agreed chores is putting dishes away, and that is done if I come home and there are dishes in the dish drainer. And then we agree that we both use the bathroom, so once-weekly bathroom cleaning (tub, toilet, sink, floor washing, the whole enchilada) alternates – I put my weeks on the calendar for my own sake. It makes it much less stressful for both of us, because we both know what is expected, and if something new comes up, we know we need to discuss it and add it to the chore list.
I am still nowhere near as neat as roommate in my personal spaces (my bedroom tends to look like a library exploded, because I have books everywhere), but that’s also part of the agreement – as long as it doesn’t spill into shared spaces, it’s up to each of us to determine our level of comfort with clutter.
Oh, and to add to the idea of bugs – I never kept food in my room, but we did once end up with an ant problem because my cat would spill some of his food on the floor and I wasn’t good about cleaning it up. That became *my* problem, because he was my cat. So, careful cleanup of his food area each night was added to the chore list.
Thank you for answering.
It sounds like you and your roommate both take responsibility for the emotional labor now. I’m really impressed!
I leverage my phone to help me remember to do things. Habitica is fun if you like gamification, but even a good to-do list app like Cultured Code’s Things is helpful. Trying to remember to do X resulted in multiple fails, and seeing the full list staring at me meant that I’d start tuning it out due to guilt and mess-shame.
So I have both apps set to tell me what I need to do TODAY and maaaaaaaybe tomorrow (if it’s something that needs advance prep) so all I see is what I need to do. Then I get to tick off the little boxes and see it all go away, and it’s so much better.
Thank you! That makes lots of sense
The emotional labor part is what keeps tripping me up, I must admit. I spent a year in college sharing a house with three people (1 man, 2 women) who were bad at cleaning for various reasons (ranging from “never learned to do it” to “clutter blind” to mental health issues–I also have serious mental health issues, for what that may or may not be worth). And getting them to do their agreed-upon chores was so much harder than doing them myself! It wasn’t my job to clean the refrigerator, but it was so exhausting to remind the person who was responsible for it, because she needed a reminder before the fact (“you can’t just spring it on me at the last minute!”) and then on the day of (“you can’t just tell me two days before and expect me to remember!”) and then it’d turn out that despite the fact that we’d agreed that ‘refrigerator cleaning’ meant things like wiping up spills and disposing of expired shared food (produce, condiments, etc.), she’d just thrown out her own leftovers and left the rest of it, and so if we didn’t want the refrigerator to reek to high heaven of rotting spinach by the next time it was fridge cleaning day, someone–guess who?–had to remind her. And if I reminded her in anything but the gentlest and kindest terms, she’d go off and have a cry because I was so mean. But if I didn’t remind her, it never got done.
It was so exhausting that I started just cleaning the fridge. And then washing the dishes. And then doing the vacuuming. Because it was easier than doing the emotional labor of gently, patiently, repeatedly, kindly reminding people.
Which lasted until one of my female housemates jokingly referred to me as “the housewife,” which they all thought was funny and which made me want to smash things, because I realized that I was basically going to be expected to do the labor one way or another–the emotional labor of gently, kindly, patiently reminding people over and over, or of just fucking doing it. Because I apparently was “the housewife.”
Oh hell. That’s a horrible situation.
Oh my god. Your “housewife” comment gave me an awful flashback to when I lived in a house with ten other people in college– there were 2-3 people opposed to making a shifting chore chart because that would ruin the sense of “community” in the house. Guess which 2-3 people NEVER cleaned up their messes in communal spaces? I had to clean the whole kitchen in order to cook in it, because dirty dishes would pile on every surface, including the oven. And I was the only one who ever cleaned it at all (I experimented- if I didn’t do it, it would just stay that way, for weeks. We even got rats during one of these times). One night, we were sitting around shooting the shit and making up family roles for everyone in the house (mom, uncle, kid sister, etc)… and one of my housemates decided that I was the nanny. I felt such a cold rage- I think she knew from the look on my face just how shitty that was. I effectively moved out a month later.
Epilogue- I ran into one of my former housemates a year later. About half of the ten people had moved out of the house at the end of the academic year, new batch moved in at the start. He told me that things just weren’t the same with the new housemates, that there was no communal spirit anymore. His example? The kitchen never got clean. I bit my tongue but in hindsight I wish I’d had the mind to tell him exactly where his “communal spirit” had gone, and why.
Ugh. What a bunch of assholes (the roommates).
That happened to my husband back in the day: he shared a house with a bunch of other people, and was the ONLY one who ever cleaned (rotting black liquid that once was a bag of potatoes, anybody?), bought toilet paper, or did the dishes. If he didn’t do it, the housemates apparently would happily have lived with rotting potatoes oozing through the kitchen and wiping their butts on notebook paper.
In my household, I do pretty much 100% of the emotional labour/mental load–*as explicitly one of my chores*. Before we all moved in, I made a giant list of everything that needed going, and wrote that on it. I felt uncomfortable about it: “Am I really going to try to say that I shouldn’t have to was dishes because I plan the weekly family meeting and project manage our chores?” We are not used to seeing this as work, obvs. But I am so glad I did, because keeping up with it is exhausting–but doable because I haven’t touched a vacuum or a dirty dish or a dust rag wince we moved in.
Chore Charts x1000. Every time I get a new roommate, I tell them up front before they move in: “I use a chore chart, this is how it works (one person does kitchen cleaning & common-area vacuuming every other week, the other person does the bathroom, and we switch on each turn each person does each chore once a month), if you have a different way to split up chores we can talk about it but this has worked well for me in the past.” Even when everyone is an responsible adult who has basic cleanliness, this ensures that things are well-coordinated and keeps things running smoothly.
So far no one has proposed anything else. What HAS happened is some really shitty half assed cleaning, which I’ve found is easiest to respond to quickly, casually, and in person so my tone isn’t misinterpreted: “Hey, I noticed there’s still grimy residue in the tub; could you finish cleaning up in there when you get a chance? Thanks!” “Hey, when you clean the kitchen in the future, could you make sure you’re also mopping? The floor ends up getting super nasty if you just stop at sweeping.”
When it’s been REALLY shitty, I just give a friendly reminder that it’s their turn to clean [whatever], and if they say they DID clean it, I give a number of specific examples of what led me to believe it was not actually cleaned so that they know exactly what needs to be addressed. As someone who used to live in filth, who understands that seeing filth is genuinely hard when you’re acclimated to living in it, I just try to be understanding but firm that this is what needs to happen and try to make my demeanor reflect that this is a boring practical issue rather than a moral or emotional one.
This has always resulted in a basically-clean apartment. A couple people have clearly not been into the cleaning and in the long term I don’t think they really liked living here, but the most I ever got back from them was a couple slightly awkward conversations and them eventually moving out (and then emphasizing cleanliness in my Roommate Wanted ads going forward).
Their feelings about you implying they are messy are their problem to manage. Learning to take gentle/professional/friendly criticism is a crucial skill for adults, so hopefully she can develop that but if not: not your problem! Your problem is that you are living in a filth hole where one housemate is neglecting basic responsibilities, and the only way to solve it is with professional communication and setting expectations. Making a schedule is the most effective and businesslike method I’ve found so far.
OP, I’d call a house meeting, say you feel like the chores right now aren’t being split evenly so you want to make a schedule to address it so that it’s fair for everyone, and get her feedback of how she might like to break up the work. I prefer a rotating schedule, but if you hate cleaning the bathroom, she hates cleaning the kitchen, and boyfriend hates cleaning the shared space, then maybe each person having a specific realm is ideal. Post the chart on the fridge when it’s decided on, and be sure to list specific tasks that each job entails so that EVERYONE knows what they are responsible for (and not responsible for).
We had a slightly different list system in my worst sharehouse, which we started because the youngest housemates *thought the house just didn’t get dirty*. They didn’t realize that I was doing all the cleaning.
None of them were going to do well trying to stick to a schedule around weird lab hours and med student/law student stuff, so I made an “honour roll” and stuck it on the fridge. A couple of whiteboard magnets stuck on the fridge, with a list of all the possible chores you could do on them, and if you did it you got to wipe off the last person’s name and write your own. No time pressure, just the awareness that the chores existed and some positive reinforcement when you did them. Suddenly it engaged their competitive sides and they were doing chores left right and centre….. except for the one dude in the house *eye roll*. But it made it much easier for us to say to him, hey, Scientist has taken out the rubbish bins for the last three weeks, don’t you think it’d be nice for her not to have to do it after lab tonight? Wouldn’t it be cool to see your name on the board?
I’m sure it could be combined with other reward methods to increase its efficacy.
Ooooh I might just have to steal that.
I do recognise myself somewhat in the messy housemate, although I haven’t yet caused a bug infestation. I have ADHD and sometimes depression/anxiety, so this is from the perspective of accommodating low spoons days and other disability issues. Some stuff that helps me (IF you are willing to do the work, I recognise it requires emotional labour):
*When asking me to do something, include a time frame on the request which is not immediate but also not infinite. “Please vacuum the floor some time this afternoon” is more helpful than “Please vacuum the floor right now” (I often need transition time between tasks, especially for tasks I don’t want to do/which require a lot of executive functioning) or just “Please vacuum the floor” (in my head I will be just about to do it for two weeks and you’ll want to strangle me)
*For shared mess, make explicit the teamwork approach and sharing of tasks. For example, “I’m going to clean the bathroom, would you please vacuum the floor some time this afternoon?” or “We need to take out the trash and wipe down the kitchen, do you have a preference?” This makes me feel both less resentful and less ashamed about being prompted to do housework – rather than it being about me failing to do the thing it’s about coordinating a group approach to get the thing done.
*Explicitly writing stuff down in some form often helps a lot – whether that be on a whiteboard, a spreadsheet, a contract or whatever. If I can see it, it reminds me and it feels more like a permanent fixed thing that I am going to do.
*Be a little flexible. If you ask me to vacuum today and I do it tomorrow, I know that’s not ideal but we’ll all be much happier if you recognise that I’m trying.
*This might be advice more for your friend than you but what I find perhaps the most helpful is doing a lot when I have the spoons/energy for it and cutting myself some slack when I don’t. This sometimes means doing more even than required – if I take on a couple of your tasks when I’m able, you’ll be more willing to help me out when I can’t manage (and vice versa – living in a household with multiple disabled people is an experience xD).
I think that whatever the block your friend has around cleaning, whether it’s related to a disability or not knowing how to do it or whatever, it’s probably not going to be fixed overnight but I also think it will be clear very quickly whether or not she’s trying and acting in good faith. It’s also possible that even if she IS trying and acting in good faith, she won’t improve quickly/enough to make living with her tolerable for you and that doesn’t make you a bad person. Whatever you end up deciding, I hope some of this is helpful to you.
Seconding your suggestions, especially the flexible timeframe and teamwork coordination approach.
And visibility of the written agreement is essential. When I finally got my housemate who owned the house to agree to a written chore list, she put it in a drawer, which made it like it was never written for me because I had to remember to open the drawer.
As a fellow ADD person who has trouble seeing/noticing clutter and mess, some of these suggestions look really helpful. Especially the one about deadlines/time windows (“in my head I will be just about to do it for two weeks” is so familiar that I winced a little).
I have recently begun thinking I have ADD and all these things resonate sooo much! Maybe I should get tested.
YES. So much truth in “I will be just about to do it for two weeks”.
Are you me? These all sound so much like the ways I trick myself into doing chores around the house that it’s spooky.
If Roommate is anything like me, another thing that may help is setting aside a small, manageable block of time (I do 20 minutes or less) to Clean As Much As You Can. For me it helps short circuit the procrastination/prioritization loop (“I will start as soon as I determine the Best Possible First Thing/I will determine that in a minute”) because perfection doesn’t matter, volume and speed matter. At the end of the 20 minutes I can sit down and evaluate what still needs doing. When I lived at home, this worked pretty well as a group activity, too.
I have found 20-minute blocks to be a revelation. If I am working for 20 minutes, there is no expectation that Thing will be finished, only that it will be worked on. This has kept me from burnout — toggling from clutter-blind to seeing all the things leads to me only cleaning when I can pull together the hyper-focus, but then I am useless at housework for many days thereafter. And I continue to be blind to how mess accumulates slowly.
I tried Flylady for a while, and the thing that struck me was that my lifelong assumption had been “cleaning is a response to mess/dirt,” which isn’t wrong, but a) means different people will get bothered much sooner, and b) my blindness to mess (which is directly related to my overwhelm if I let myself be constantly aware of all sensory input around me) makes this a terrible foundation for cleaning. When I clean be sure it’s what comes next in the sequence of my day or week, I bypass the whole faulty system. It has been a revelation to wipe down the counters and toilet twice a week in order to keep grime from building up in the first. Some weeks I slip, but the sense of wrongness and “really need to get to that soon” build up much faster and stronger.
Your whole post is a revelation to me. Thanks for giving me some stuff to really chew on.
The way to get around the emotional labor problem – and to find a way that works – is for YOU, the messy person, to be involved in crafting the solution.
Some people need chore lists. Some people need game-ifying apps. Some people do just fine with ‘hey, don’t forget today is garbage day’ called to them when they go out the door. BUT, and especially if you have ADD or other executive-function related issues, you likely know way better than your roommate what methods work for you and what don’t.
Yes this is a good point and it will probably be one of the ways the LW can be sure their friend really wants to change – if they are keen to become actively involved in creating a solution.
LW, the reason I am emphasising your friend’s desire to change is that whether or not they want to, it likely won’t be smooth sailing from the get go but if they want to change and become more active participants in maintaining the household, when they backslide they will catch themselves without or with minimal prompting from you. Not to be pessimistic but if they don’t want to change it’s highly unlikely they will.
The good news is that if you make changing seem possible they’re much more likely to want to. I strongly second the ufyh recommendation, it made a HUGE difference to my life, and I would like to add that regardless of whether your friend has a diagnosed disability, pointing her towards the stuff tagged as being for people with disabilities is likely to help a lot. Explain to her that it’s neither a judgement on her nor is she being disrespectful or lazy by using those resources but rather that when you’re just starting out, this stuff can seem overwhelming and sometimes being reminded that just doing ANYTHING is a victory is what you need. When I started trying to change, I hadn’t been diagnosed with any of my mental health stuff and I felt hugely guilty about using those resources but it was the only way I could convince myself to do anything. Realsocialskills makes some great points about how accommodations are for everybody and the more people who use them the more normalized they become and, in general, the easier it is for people with disabilities to access them, so there’s no need for your friend to feel that same guilt I went through.
This advice is largely for maintenance cleaning though, and may not strictly apply to emergency operation De-Bugify the House (though if you can keep a positive and supportive rather than judgemental approach, while still giving your friend the tools to do it rather than doing it yourself, I’m guessing you’ll see better results)
I can’t tell if your roommate was your friend, your partner’s friend, or someone who was part of a common friend group but not a particular friend of either one of you.
This might be germane in terms of figuring out who should have the talk with her. My opinion is that your male partner should, but that’s because I keep hoping the world has changed and boys now perform emotional labor.
That being said, I do think the talk will be heard more willingly if it comes from the one of you who is closer to your roommate.
I’d like to add one thing to the Captain’s advice: you’re not having a gripe session for all things roommates gripe about. You’re having a conversation (or series of conversations) on the sole topic of cleanliness.
That means, for example, if your roommate says that she hates it when you leave the windows open your response will be to say that that’s a different conversation, this one is Get Rid Of The Bugs.
It also means that you don’t bring up her musical tastes or how much you hate her coffee.
LW, it’s ok if you and your partner can’t deal anymore, and want her out. It’s ok if you move yourselves. Vermin are beyond the pale.
I was ready to pack a bag and flee when I got to the bedside table covered with ants…
Is this a rental situation? A landlord can be useful in somewhat the same way as a cleaning person: this Non-Housemate Person is coming in on x date (to clean / to spray for bugs) so you need to have tidied your stuff before that deadline. (And if they still don’t clean up, having the landlord see the state of the room might go a long way towards congenial lease-breaking, depending on the landlord/situation.)
There is probably something in the lease about “maintaining the premises in a clean, safe, sanitary condition.”
Only I assume that the LW and her partner want to keep living where they do and don’t want a record of having been thrown out because of a mess. I don’t think this is a solution. Also, I don’t think this is a solution that should come before the ‘clean up or move out’ ultimatum.
As the usually messier person:
If you DO go the first route, involve your roommate in making the rules. Make sure she knows these are dealbreakers. Remind her if the cleaning is not being done, and/or have consequences spelled out clearly in the agreement.
My first roommate didn’t tell me that she wanted a cleaner house. Instead, she made a cleaning schedule, showed it to me, without asking me to do more around the house, and I guess magically expected me to follow it. She never followed up, stopped talking to me, then asked me to move out in a month. At the time I was bewildered and hurt, although we never fought about it.
That last month was hell. She studiously avoided all contact with me, not even emerging from her room if I was in the apartment. It felt like I was being treated like an aggressor, and the victim was hiding from me. To be clear, my reaction to things is to ‘implode’, not ‘explode, and we had never had so much as a fight before or after she kicked me out. It was the most uncomfortable month of my life.
With 10+ years of hindsight, I acknowledge that I was probably a messy and loud person to live with (although not nearly on the scale described above). But her passive aggressive attempt to get me to take more cleaning responsibility didn’t even show up on my radar. Please be direct. Set rules, set limits – even kick her out – but be direct about it.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think she *magically* intended you to follow it, but communicated it pretty clearly to you. From the moment she created the schedule, it was your job to follow it and you chose not to.
It’s pretty unfair to unilaterally hand your roommate a schedule without even discussing with them what would work. “It was your job to follow [a plan they had no input in] and you chose not to” is a pretty rigid and ungenerous viewpoint to someone who acknowledges that with current hindsight they understand they were hard to live with.
I’m with Sophie on this one; one of the things I love about the Captain’s answer is that it acknowledges that trying to figure out the household chores is mental and emotional LABOR that needs acknowledging. I really don’t understand how notlob1986 just… chose to ignore this attempt to redistribute the labor more equitably. It was on them to push back on the schedule if they didn’t like or didn’t understand it.
Oh please. If someone handed you an unexpected terms of habitation just so one could be able to safely live somewhere I would hope one would hopefully call it as the BS it is.
Perhaps the OP’s story is an egregious outlier, but shouldn’t we attempt to create safe and healthy living situations for all people?
Acting like an ersatz landlord just because you have an extra room to rent is just more capitalistic violence & terror for folks trying to get their selves into wellness.
You can want good housing situations for everyone without personally signing up to live with someone who is deeply incompatible with you. How a shared living situation will be kept & maintained is negotiable.
“From the moment she created the schedule, it was your job to follow it and you chose not to.”
Unless notlob1986 had signed a contract obligating her to perform any and all labor dictated by her housemate, on the schedule dictated by her housemate, and, as necessary, psychically divine her housemate’s standards of satisfactory performance, then NO, it was not “her job” to unquestioningly follow her housemate’s schedule.
I don’t think adults get to make schedules for other adults. Even if you do something like that with kids, it is better to involve them in making it.
Thing is, though, a lot of the messy/formerly messy folks showing up are saying, “I need rules! Give me rules! Make me a schedule and I will follow it!” You can see where this roommate might have gotten the idea where making a schedule for a messy roommate is the right thing to do, no? She may not have done it in the nicest, most gentle, most cooperative way, but… notlob created the problem in the first place by causing messes and not cleaning them up.
This is in reply to adios pantalones, but yeah, I’m struggling a little with the comments that boil down to “If you want me to do my share of the housework in a shared living situation, ask me in the following very specific way.” I’m definitely coming at this from the perspective of the clean person who has dealt with roommates of varying levels of not clean (from “slightly less tidy” to “are these… maggots in the cabinet where you keep your food???!!???”) and the thought of having to frame my requests a specific way as opposed to just saying, “There are three cereal bowls with scuds of sour milk residue in them in the six inches between the couch and the wall. Can you please deal with it?” or “I just pulled six pairs of your dirty socks out from under the couch. Stop leaving your dirty socks all over the place” (real life examples!) literally makes me want to put my head down on my desk and go to sleep. Like I’m already dealing with socks and sour milk and moldy dishes and maggots (real. life. example.) in my living area and I don’t know if I would have the wherewithal to do more than point out the problem.
tl;dr I live alone.
@halfmanhalfshark — yes, exactly. The idea that there are forty-seven rules I need to follow to point out that you have left your underpants behind the TV or that the burrito you bought three days ago is quietly decaying on the counter or even that, yes, when the trash can is full it needs to go out….
…I just cannot. I can’t. And I say that as someone with mental health issues! I say that BECAUSE I have mental health issues. I have panic disorder. I can’t do basically IEPs where one housemate needs schedules made but one finds schedules infantilizing… and three more love schedules but all have different schedule needs that I have to accommodate.
It is, simply, too much.
And that’s more than okay! Hopefully comment threads like this will empower people who need roommates to find people who are more compatible to live with. Someone who doesn’t mind mentoring a newbie cleaner
and issuing a lot of gentle reminders should hook up with people with executive function issues. Messy people should live with messy people (and be honest about who they are), like the joyful hippie co-op described upthread. People who are 100% over it or not down for it should live together (or alone). We do no one any favors when we live with people who are profoundly mismatched with what we need in a house.
Another point that comes up in other threads, often: If you are really incompatible around cleaning and messiness and household stuff, “falling in love” and/or “sexual chemistry out the wazoo” does not bridge that gap, like, ever.
My point is , instead of making a vague cleaning schedule, you need to TELL the person that you have a problem. I’m not saying the clean person is responsible for making a rule list. BUT if you never say “I’m unhappy with the state of cleanliness” then I’m not going to magically change my habits.
As soon as I know there’s a problem I take responsibility and fix it.
Yeah, I mean there were so many stages in that story where notlob could have intervened. 1. Noticing they were not cleaning and talking about it, and pro-actively figuring out a way to manage it themselves. 2. post-schedule, initiating a discussion about whether it worked for them, and what expectations were. 3. noticing the passive-aggressiveness, and opening up a dialogue about it during the awkward month. It goes both ways.
i meant, that’s my read on the situation, i don’t know all the details ofc. And I don’t mean this as a personal attack at all. I just have some lingering resentment around housemates not cleaning and this story reminded me.
By showing it to me, I meant I was in the room when she put it up.
My name was not listed as a participant for any chores.
She never asked me to change a specific behavior, or told me she was unhappy.
Ohhh, that makes so much more sense! When you said she showed it to you, I thought you meant she showed it directly to you as in “Hey notlob1986, I made a cleaning schedule! Here are your tasks! I’m going to put the schedule on the fridge now.”
Now that I understand what you meant, wow, that is amazingly passive-aggressive. No wonder you were bewildered and hurt when she asked you to move out.
Oh one more thing that really, really helped/helps me: Roommate being super matter-of-fact about setting boundaries around this stuff. Like, empathetic and non-judgemental but also not tip-toeing around it or making it more awkward than it has to be. Just a simple, “Hey, allya, most of the stuff on the table is yours, can you do something about that?” (This would probably coincide with conversation 1c, once you’ve had the Big Talk, although the same sort of tone would probably help). We don’t have to do a weird dance around being apologetic about asking for the chores to get done or around being guilty and sorry about the mess, we just have to communicate what needs to be resolved and follow through.
I was the messiest, laziest pup when I first lived in a proper shared house. Partly because I was very much a ‘oh, I don’t see mess’ kind of girl, but mostly because I had no idea how to clean. Like, I could wash dishes (even though I didn’t. Erica, Bridget, I’m so sorry. I was awful), but if you’d said ‘here’s a bunch of cleaning supplies, go clean the bathroom’ I would have been lost at sea. They should have evicted me, luckily the apartment got sold and we all went our separate ways. And while I would have benefited SO MUCH from someone saying ‘this is what you use to clean a toilet. And this is what you clean an oven with’, the reality, of course is that I would have hard out shame-spiraled and answered ‘do you know how to clean things’ with ‘DUH I OBVIOUSLY DO and I just have to go out right now but I’ll clean when I get back oh whoops now it’s midnight oh now I’m at work thanks so much for just doing it for me’
I then moved into a shabby, victorian terrace with five people. But we all rubbed along because we had a cleaner come in for two hours every friday to clean all the communal areas. My room was a mess but luckily no bugs. LW, if you can get a cleaner, do it. And, if your flatmate can’t keep her room clean to the extent that there’s bugs, she might be amenable to paying more than a third and having the cleaner do her room as well? Two of the guys I worked with used to pay more to have the cleaner do their ironing.
Now I am a clean-ish person who can does her fair share. What helped me was what my gf did, when we started living together: ‘let me show you how I do it, because I love you and hate fighting about this’. LW, that might not work for you guys, I would have been v resistant to hearing that from a friend.
What was also helpful for me was figuring out which things I actually hate, and which things I just don’t like. I don’t like cleaning the bathroom, or hoovering, or decluttering/tidying surfaces, but I don’t hate it. I hate, and am disgusted by food waste in the sink, so my partner handles anything that involves, say, soaking and cleaning a lasagna dish. She is revolted by hair so I clean hairbrushes and do the hoovering to keep the carpet free of it. I don’t know if this will help your roommate. Everything relating to bugs/ her own space is of course non-negotiable, but perhaps you’re happy to handle the kitchen and she has responsibility for the bathroom?
I’m looking at all of this and there’s a lot of emotional work for you & your partner. I think the Captain’s second script – ‘love ya, can’t live with ya’ is sound and reasonable and if you go down that route I’m sure your roommate will be sad but not that surprised
Good luck to you all.
Not knowing how to clean makes such a big difference! Not everyone had caregivers who taught them how to clean, or a beautifully thorough Home Ec teacher (Mrs. Casavecchia, you will always have my gratitude!) to make it a straightforward process. As someone who enjoys reading domestic manuals for fun, Jolie Kerr’s book is excellent, as is “Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House” by Cheryl Mendelson (warning: this one is HIGHLY detailed, so speaking from experience it is totally possible to get so engrossed in instructions for cleaning window tracks that you don’t actually clean your window tracks).
If the roommate’s parents are indeed messy, then it’s very likely that roommate was never taught to clean by them. That’s a huge factor. My mom was very clean but she didn’t involve us very much in chores as a kids (too busy, it was faster and easier for her just to get it done), so I had a LOT to learn when I moved out. Roommate might in fact be *quite* tidy…. compared to her parents. Something else to keep in mind when having these conversations–sometimes the other person’s frame of reference on what constitutes “clean” can be radically different based on what they’re used to. (My roommate and I are both fairly tidy, BUT we tend to be tidy about different things, so there was still an adjustment phase.)
“My mom was very clean but she didn’t involve us very much in chores as kids (too busy, it was faster and easier for her just to get it done),”
I read a study that found that the kids who do the most chores are the children of at-home mothers.
The ones that do the fewest are the kids in two-parent working households.
Single-parents households are in the middle.
That’s because it’s a lot of work to teach a kid how to do a chore, and a LOT of work to make sure they actually DO the chores they are assigned.
There aren’t enough spoons in the world sometimes.
This thread makes me thank my lucky stars my parents taught my brother and me how to clean and maintain everything in a home as well as maintain a yard. (I’ve only had 1 yard since I’ve moved out but still. Useful. This knowledge let me get some decent temp jobs back in the day.) If “knowledge resource privilege” isn’t a term it probably should be.
Anyway back on topic, Captain Awkward’s advice is on point as usual. The choice you pick will depend on how much you want to live with this friend. Don’t make it a choice on how much you like her, just on how much you cohabitate. Choice 1 if you want to try to make living together work, and choice 2 if you’d rather be friends who don’t live together.
I mean “a choice on how much you want to cohabitate” oops.
Cheryl Mendelson’s book is an enjoyable read; you’re right, it’s easy to get sucked in.
Hopefully, knowing that will make someone more willing to pick it up.
Bonus insider info: Martha Stewart was PISSED that she hadn’t beaten Cheryl M. to that book. And so she came out with “Homekeeping” a little later.
Speaking as a reformed messy person, this is SO TRUE.
However – that being said, it’s 20 dangit 17. Never has it been easier to spend thirty seconds looking up every knowledge source known to humanity on “how to scrub a toilet”. It isn’t fair to expect a roommate or partner to do the work of teaching. Of course, if they want to, that’s great! But “nobody ever showed me how” is kind of a thin excuse today.
That’s true for “never learned” or “don’t see mess”, but when it’s “different expectations of clean”, it can be helpful for the person with higher standards to show their roommate what to aim for. Yes, that’s extra work, but so is the added stress of things not being how you’d like them (particularly if the cohabitees haven’t Used Their Words to discover they have different definitions of what “cleaning the kitchen” looks like, and both are just fuming about how unreasonable the other is).
As a generally messy person with a loathing of housework and a side order of mental health issues, I can testify to “giving specifics is good and judging is bad” (“can you wash, dry and put away the dishes before bed?” is better than “God, just do the dishes, you slattern!”). Which is why CA’s scripts are awesome. And also why I like living alone!
Oh, of course. But that’s really about communicating expectations.
I once had a housemate who did all the yard work when I moved in (I did more inside stuff). At some point this wasn’t sustainable for her and she asked for my help–all fine. But i’d never lived in a place with a yard, I kill all green things I touch, and I was realy afraid of damaging her garden and hedges. So I told her “I am totally happy to do that, but you’re going to have to show me how you want it done, what to do, how often and where you keep the equipment, etc. please because I have no clue what I’m doing. Now?” and she said “when it needs doing next” and then she never mentioned it again. And then she sat on her resentment that I never did it (while I thought it just wasn’t time yet) and yelled at me for it when I moved out 2-3 months later amongst friendship break down.
Now, I could have been proactive checking in about it, but there was no way I was taking hedge clippers and weed poison to her yard when I didn’t even know which plants she was trying to kill and which should live, googling yard maintenance be damned. Was it unfair I expected her to “treat me like a child” (her words) and show me once? Maybe? Maybe not?
I think of this experience whenever I am frustrated with a housemate for not doing something I find really obvious. People have all kinds of weird gaps in their knowledge and sometimes being like “Hey, you haven’t been wiping down the stovetop when you wipe down the counters, here’s how you clean around the gas burners” can be awkward but save SOOOO much resentment.
I lived with a roommate who didn’t clean for three years. Luckily we never had a bug problem. The entire time we lived together she never once took the trash out. I solved the problem by not being roommates with her any longer but I was very frustrated the entire time. I’m not a neat-freak but having an overflowing trash can or cat hair everywhere really bothers me. At the time some people recommended that I tell her I was hiring a cleaning person, have her pay me directly for the “cleaning person” and then continue to do all the cleaning myself. Seems very passive aggressive to me but maybe doing something like this with your roommate but having her be aware that you’re still doing all the cleaning would work. However, I agree with the suggestion to really hire someone for all the reasons stated above but also because having an unconnected third-party would save you from feeling resentful about cleaning up after a grown-up who really should know enough to keep foodtrash out of her bedroom.
I have been that roommate–sort of. Not to the point of bugs or not cleaning up cat poop properly, but I was often messy. In my case, I grew up with a very mentally ill mother and a dad who was pretty checked out most of the time. Cleaning was something I pretty much had to figure out on my own. I hated cleaning and truthfully I had no idea how to. I mean, I knew how to wash dishes and do laundry but timelines of things escaped me and it took me a lot of time to understand that I should laundry every week, not just when I couldn’t find anything to wear and laundry was piled everywhere. I knew how to wash dishes but sometimes I would leave them with every intention of doing them later. And I did not see clutter at all. I was happy to help people clean but I probably didn’t initiate cleaning the bathroom on my own for example–because I just didn’t think about it–not because I was selfish or thoughtless or because I didn’t know how to use the vacuum/mop/sponge/cleaning solution, but I had no idea of timelines or when I was expected to do it or not. From time to time this caused conflict with roommates. Given that the roommate complained about her family’s cleanliness level, I think it is very likely that she has no idea what to do. Or maybe she truly misrepresented her cleanliness level, who knows. That isn’t LW’s problem and hello–bugs. Either I feel the best approach is to simply state your expectations with specific tasks. Roomie, going forward, this is what I need you to do: Wash dishes immediately after a meal (or within 24 hours or whatever timeline you expect), vacuum rooms X,Y,Z once a week; no food in the bedroom; empty bedroom trash by Tuesdays (or whenever trash day is), wipe up counters after cooking, use this particular spray on the carpet if the cat poops outside the litter box even if it is dry, take turns with the bathroom every other week, etc. Obviously make your own list. I would leave any sort of value judgement or speculation as to why these things are happening completely out of the conversation. Statements like “do you need help learning how to clean” are honestly kind of irrelevant. After giving a specific list, if Roomie needs clarification, she will ask at that time. Ultimately it doesn’t matter WHY its happening, it just needs to change. Offering specific tasks and timelines and expectations is helpful regardless if she doesn’t know what to do or if she has just been lazy. I also think this approach has the best chance of heading off a shame spiral. If you want to be extra gentle, you can list some of the things you love about living with this person but you are under no obligation to do so. Back in the day, had someone asked me if I needed help learning to clean I would have said no, been defensive and it would have triggered my “I have to hide the situation happening at home” situation I grew up in. It would not have been a productive conversation. The best situations with roommates were the ones where we discussed expectations and divisions of tasks. And over time, this probably greatly helped me learn what needed to be done cleaning. I have completely changed over time, I hate clutter and most of the time, my house is pretty darn clean if I do say so myself despite having a young child and 2 shedding dogs.
“Given that the roommate complained about her family’s cleanliness level, I think it is very likely that she has no idea what to do.”
That was my thought too.
When my partner and I moved in together 10 years ago, I had a pet bird (cockatiel) and he wasn’t a bird person. I suggested the following as a “bird contract” for what I expected from him, and what I promised to do (or try to do, birds can be ornery). We discussed and made changes as necessary, and over time it’s become more organic, but here’s what we started with.
Here are a few things that I’d like you to agree to.
1) No chemical cleaners, bug sprays, etc., in bird room/s.
2) When cooking w/ Teflon, ALWAYS use a timer.
3) If the bird has some negative behavior, we’ll discuss what both of us might be doing and might need to do to discourage the bad behavior and reinforce the good behavior.
4) Should I have an emergency and need to be away from the home for a few days, you will ensure the bird’s/birds’ survival until I return.
(Honestly, I didn’t think this needed to be stated, but after reading about that guy who killed his wife’s bird…)
5) Should the unthinkable happen and I pass away while we live together, you will see to it that my bird/s end up in a loving home that is capable of providing for them, or to a bird rescue facility. You are welcome to be that home, but you don’t have to be. If I create a legally binding Will at any point in time that conflicts with this, that document would (of course) supercede this.
1) I will be responsible for daily care, cage cleaning, attention.
2) I will keep bird/s out of any places you designate as off-limits.
3) I will attempt to modify any behavior you find undesirable.
4) I will attempt to clean all bird-related messes outside the bird areas as soon as they happen.
5) Should I leave town either for a few days to visit family or for a summer to teach, we will discuss options for the bird/s – I won’t
automatically assume you’ll do it.
Is there anything here you think should be modified? Are there any other concessions you’d like me to make about other things in return for this?
I had a roommate… A lovely man, who introduced me to his girlfriend, who introduced me to her roommate who introduced me to my wife of 30 years! So how could I be upset with him? This guy could destroy a kitchen microwaving a burrito. He could walk into a clean living room and turn it into a frat house in 30 seconds. I have no idea what his room looked like, but I shudder to think. I laster 2 months (it was his place) and then noped on out of there.
OP, if you go the Choice 2 route (bug triage + time to move out), make sure you first check whether your roommate has legal rights as a tenant. It’s not clear to me from your letter whether this is a “my boyfriend and I are the legal owners of the house and our friend lives in our spare room” kind of situation, or a “we all pay rent to a landlord and our three names are all on the lease” kind of thing. If it’s the latter, it’s usually a lot more work to get someone out of the house, unfortunately.
“*In my experience cats can sometimes rage-pee but they don’t generally poop on the carpet unless something is WRONG, litter-box-wise or medically. Is this an ancient cat that can’t climb into the box?”
The first year I had my cat, I would occasionally find little…leavings…elsewhere in the room, usually Under A Thing. My cat was pooping IN the litter box. But. I used a treat-toy to feed her and put it on the carpet. I have really long hair (even longer then) and I shed like a dog. So she’d accidentally hoover up some hair and sometimes, well…the poop would chase her, if you follow. So I learned not to let her eat where there was carpet (and also figured out a way to get hair off the carpet without killing the vacuum). If there’s food crumbs and hair, that might be part of the issue.
But also, if the roommate’s bedroom is on the corner of Bedlam and Squalor, the more likely scenario is that the litter box is UNCLEAN, and the cat doesn’t want to use the feline equivalent of a truckstop bathroom.
My last boyfriend (whom I lived with for 5 years) was a messy individual of a level similar to the one described by LW. Swarms of fruit flies, in particular, were a recurring issue because he would eat huge amounts of fruit and leave his peels/cores lying around the apartment. While we never quite got to a point where I was truly happy with the state of our shared living space (or a point where we really split chores equally), we did manage to get significant improvement over the years – improvement that actually lasted. It’s low-level magick and might not fully apply here, but I’m still happy to share:
-The first step to making stuff better in my case was to convince Messy Boyfriend that he should, in fact, care that I was unhappy about the perpetual ickiness of my home. That cancelled access to his favorite excuse for not cleaning, which was that he didn’t see the mess or care about it, so why should HE be the one cleaning it up? I had to make it crystal clear that this is not an ok way to think when you’re imposing the consequences of your messiness on other people, and “difference in standards” wasn’t a valid excuse to do so. LW’s roomie may or may not share this attitude – if she ever busts out the “why should I clean since it’s not affecting ME”, you’ll know.
-2nd step was to implement a few stone cold rigid rules. “No food in the bedroom” and “all trash has to be put in the garbage can the same day” were the ones that stopped the fruit fly tide. “No wet towels on the floor” was the one that stopped the silverfish tide. Those rules can be hard to enforce so there shouldn’t be too many.
-3rd step was for me to take the mental load of identifying and solving all the individual cleaning issues. I got baskets for Messy Boyfriend to just shove his clothes in since folding and putting away never got done, leading to the creation of a huge clothes mountain at the foot of the bed. I made lists of tasks that had to be done and divided them up every week. I came up with creative solutions, like make a Fallout-themed box to collect bottlecaps in since he’d drink beer around the apartment with friends and leave the caps on the floor for me to step on. Etc. I’m pretty sure LW wouldn’t be willing to go that level of involvment for a roommate though (I know I wouldn’t) but implementing systemic fixes for specific issues is the only thing that works in the long run in my experience, because a person solving their deep issues regarding housework takes a long-ass time, so in the meantime, you need ways to get shit done. Those fixes work especially well if the problematic housemate comes up with the idea themselves – if they’re really on board they’ll be more likely to actually use the solution.
The good part of this strategy was that it allowed me to get our living situation to a tolerable level, which enabled me to keep living with a person I loved even though we were ferociously incompatible when it came to housekeeping. The bad part is that it took a LOT of effort on my part since I organized everything on top of doing my share of the work (and both our jobs were about 40 hours a week so it’s not like I had more time or energy). When we broke up (for unrelated reasons) I was legit amazed at how my mind and schedule felt so much lighter.
Next time I move in with someone, I’m definetely going to try what Captain Awkward suggests and do the roommate agreement thing. I really believe now that setting rules and expectations beforehand makes things way easier.
Lastly, since LW’s messy housemate isn’t also their significant other, I think they have more leverage to make the situation better, faster – including the ability to resort to option 2 without necessarily ending the relationship completely. Best of luck!
This is a good comment with some good strategies which can maybe be adapted to the LW’s situation?
The fact that roommate has experienced living with people with lower cleaning standards than herself might work in LW’s favor. If the roommate tries to claim the mess doesn’t bother her so why should she have to clean, LW can refer back to when she was living with her parents and how much that bothered her (however, if she does try to use this argument I’d be skeptical that she’ll be especially inclined to change at an acceptable pace).
I definitely agree that solving deep rooted issues around cleaning can take a long time – it’s about six years since I started trying to get my act together and I’m still only halfway there – but LW doesn’t necessarily have to solve all the interim problems alone. I think identifying the things that are the biggest problems and asking roommate to propose solutions like these might help. Perhaps give one example so they’re on the same page and discuss things before they commit to it but if the roommate comes up with the solutions herself, she’s more likely to find things she can stick to and which will work for her, and also feel a sense of autonomy and capability around the whole process. This is good for both of them!
So a couple of years back while at university my depression made it hard to do anything. I was struggling to make minimum attendance at labs and general doing an awful job at keeping my room liveable. I made a depression pit and proceeded to avoid thinking about it because it was too much. I was lucky that my university employs cleaners to go through every students room once a week and clean. It was a massive help. I could not keep on top of my room but I could shame tidy for half an hour before she came round.
Having said that, my panicking tidying did include putting kitchen stuff including pans (because a cleaning a bowl to eat from was too much work) in what I actually dubbed the shame drawer. It was not pleasant when I felt better and had to deal with it. There was mould, it was bad and I ended up ditching one pan because nope.
So yeah, cleaning person coming around regularly does help but I do think it’s worth watching for roommate hiding mess in there room if they do feel bad about it and OP gets tougher on communal space.
My college roommate and I were randomly assigned freshman year and ended up living together for all four years (and we would have continued to do so but post grad life led us to different cities!). We had kinda different levels of cleanliness-and I was messier (generally not in a gross way, mostly clutter. Although once as an 18yo I forgot about a glass of milk and it curdled into a solid chunk of cheese and yes roommate has held this over my head ever since).
So here’s what worked for us (verbal agreement), including living in a dorm room where we both slept in the same room. My space=my space. So if my half of the room consisted of piles of books, papers, clean clothes, anything not gross, that was fine. If it intruded into her space or the common space, not fine. Every 1-2 weeks I would clean up my stuff. She was neater and generally kept her side tidier but also cleaned her space weekly. Communal sink space got alternately cleaned depending on who looked at and realized it needed done. Dishes were allowed to sit by the sink for a maximum of 72 hours if rinsed first, and could sit longer if we knew someone was having a particularly stressful week. She enjoyed cleaning as a study break and stress relief and would clean every Saturday while I was at work. I usually bought cleaning supplies since she did most of the work. If i made a significant mess (got home drunk, puked in the bathroom for example) i cleaned it. The shower curtain was my nemesis and I cleaned it of mold every month.
This worked really well. We were also very comfortable telling each other when something needed done. For example, senior year was REALLY stressful for her, and she would often forget to clean out old food from the fridge. We just had a cheap mini fridge and I would usually assume it was just fridge smell, but if i opened it and saw her Chinese food I knew she got a week ago, I’d let her know she needed to throw it out. Or if my dishes had sat too long, or I absentmindedly left dishes in the middle of the floor, she’d let me know and we would immediately stop what we were doing to take care of it. We also both just took out trash when it was full.
This worked super well for us, setting limits but being flexible at times, and being comfortable enough to enforce rules. One year we lived in a six person suite (terrible never again) and one roommate could not stop leaving dirty dishes on all of our common spaces, we only had two small tables to eat off of and she always had her dirty dishes stacked on them, we got fruit flies because of it and she tried to blame it on me having a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter…she would not clean anything always claiming she was too busy! We were all busy but the rest of us managed to clean! Even confronting her did NOTHING but she was leaving after one semester to study abroad and so we just told her we couldn’t live with her again the next year. She didn’t take it well but I’ve always thought that some people you can be friends with but not live with and she is definitely one of those people for me.
This is more applicable to general roommate situations rather than the already at bugs situation in the OP. In addition to agreements and the question of learning to clean, make sure you have mutual understandings of the terms you mean. At home growing up, things weren’t just one thing.
Vacuum = move all furniture, vacuum carpet, vacuum under anything not moveable, damp cloth to dust baseboards
There was never an option to vacuum just the exposed carpet today, get to the rest another time.
Wash dishes = wash dishes, clear and wash all counters, clear and wash stovetop. If you didn’t do ALL of those, you didn’t really do the dishes.
Sweep floor = move all furniture, sweep, sweep under anything not moveable, damp cloth to dust baseboards Again, if you didn’t do ALL of those steps, you didn’t really do the job.
I still quite clearly remember the time I told my roommate who *owned the house* that she hadn’t really swept the dining room because she didn’t do all of those things, and added a “what did *your* mother teach you?” for terrible measure. Fortunately, I learned from her response looking at me like I was from Planet Harsh and she is still a friend. But until then, in addition to all of the other ADD stuff, I hadn’t been doing my full share of cleaning because I thought everyone else was under the same impressions I was. If I didn’t have time to do ALL of the steps, it was better to not do anyway and put it off until I had time to do everything, by which point they’d have noticed and taken care of the situation. In my warped mind, if I did part but not all of the job, they would notice that more than me doing nothing, and then I would get yelled at. (They never yelled, BTW, I just expected that.)
Discovering as an adult that incremental cleaning was not only possible but effective was painful in a roommate situation and glorious living solo. It is so much nicer to be kind to myself and just do a bit here and there until it’s all done.
Are you my husband? His mother was “it’s not clean unless you’ve gotten down and scrubbed the floor on your hands and knees,” so when I wipe down the counters and the stove after I do the dishes, I’m “not really cleaning” and he won’t start cleaning unless he’s prepared to do all.the.things. We have, for the most part, worked that out, but yeesh.
My mom used the phrase “hotel clean” as the standard I needed to meet. I am 32 and have dusted perhaps twice since moving out at 18. I’m still working through this shit, and the worst of it is that I truly love living in a clean and tidy home… I just can’t clean to that standard often enough to stay on top of the mess, and anything else isn’t really “clean” as we all know! 😉
Partner and I just moved across the country, and I’m taking an intentional employment break and trying to use the extra spoons to keep the new house as clean as it was when we got here. This is actually my secret: just declare mess bankruptcy every few years, pay someone to pack and move my stuff somewhere I haven’t wrecked yet, and tell myself I’ll be better at cleaning this time. Lol.
This chore+ mindset is so why I hired a cleaning lady. I’ve never been able to work my way out of it, so I work around it. Luckily I’m much better at picking-up and putting things away.
Yeah, I’ve gotten better, but it was great having a cleaning lady while I had income. Now I feel bad about putting that on my credit card when I am looking for work, but don’t take time off from job-searching to clean, so I just live in a mess.
I use this for roommates/anyone I live with: http://www.polyfamilies.com/polycohab.html
Cuts through so much disagreement later on.
Hello, I’m a potential messy roommate (only that I live alone and have lived alone all my adult life).
How to get me to clean up? Turns out that my negligence is directly tied to depression. When I’m not feeling well and slipping into a depressive episode (which is way more often than I like), my apartment reflects this almost immediately. This in turn leads to me being ashamed, not receiveing any visitors, accidentally ghosting on people I really like … the spiral goes only down. The only way to fix this is to treat my depression and keep stress factors low by addressing problems immediately or apply those self-soothing techniques one learns in therapy. On the bright side, you can always tell how I am and how I feel at the moment by simply looking at my apartment. If it’s clean, all is well. If not, it is … not.
Hey there! Captain Awkward suggested an excellent resource in her answer called Unfuck Your Habitat (http://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/). Many people on the writing team live with mental illnesses and disabilities so their approach takes those things into account. It’s a really great website.
From what I’ve read the cornerstones are to do what you can, and not aim to do everything at once. They advise cleaning in 20 minute periods to not get burned out and to form habit.
It’s very likely that treating your depression would help you feel better in general and help you get on top of housework (I’m a firm believer in therapy so if you have access to that, definetely go for it). That being said, you can start improving your situation right now if you respect your limits and just do what you can, even if what you can doesn’t feel like much. Every small victory will lead you to feel better about yourself and your environment.
I wish you the best!
My wife and I both struggle with depression and she has a few physical limitations. Our home hasn’t been faring well these past few months… But I followed this link in Captain’s response and OhMyGosh it might be life changing! I got the app, followed on Facebook, and requested the book from the library!
UFYH actually makes me SUPER anxious, but I think I’m the only person ever with that problem. I read it when depressed and I’m just like, “…nope now I feel worse”. But again, that’s just me.
Same, though, and also when I don’t take my vitamins because my deficencies are all things that lead to low-engery/fatigue which does not help anything.
It doesn’t work for me either. I’m really happy that it helps people, but I just get crabby at anything that seems to be telling me how to clean/to clean more/to make my bed/to do laundry and put it away on the same day.
Yeah, bed-making is NEVER going to be priority for me. I think I’ve done it twice this year and those were both times someone was gonna be in my bedroom to do repair-type stuff. I also can’t do dishes at night, and a lot of the other things just don’t apply to me.
I actually read somewhere that leaving your bed unmade is better if you react to dust mites. Apparently the exposure to light and air during the day can kill them through dehydration.
Even if you make it every day you should leave it unmade with the covers thrown back for an hour or two after you get up. You exude a lot of moisture during your sleep and you want it to dry completely so you don’t hospital-corner all the funk into your bed daily.
Phew. I have lived in many housing situations, with many different roommates, and I have been both the unclean person asked to move out (sigh) and the clean person aggressively tidying up after the less clean.
I have witnessed one pretty successful re-negotiation of cleaning duties (but only one. I think they’re rare.) In the student house where I lived my last two years of college, we originally had a system where people were assigned one part of the house to clean once a week for a semester. This did not work. There was zero accountability, and people preferentially picked things that no one would realize they hadn’t cleaned for months on end. This meant people just didn’t volunteer for the kitchen (hellooooooo cockroaches,) while avoiding actually sweeping the back stairs like they promised to.
My last year, we bumped to a system where there were set “cleaning hours” where everybody cleaned whatever needed it most en masse. There were ~15 people in the house, so the schedule worked out such that usually 3-4 people were cleaning during any given set of cleaning hour. (Because of busy student schedules, there were multiple options — I want to say Saturday morning or evening and Sunday morning or evening.)
Cleaning WITH other people is SO MUCH EASIER for me, by and large. If I’m not accountable to anyone, my natural state is “living in a dirt cave, made of dirt.”
2nding the cleaning with other people. I feel shame around that but I have found it is really helpful.
Fascinating! For me, I can not only NOT clean with other people, I can’t clean effectively with other people even in the same house. I always have to wait until my roommate is out of the house (frequently, fortunately–I work from home and she doesn’t), in order to do a good cleaning of anything because my executive function falls apart when I am trying to focus on cleaning while Other People Exist (brains why).
I am MUCH cleaner for having a roommate though. Even when she goes away for a week, the dishes start piling up right away. When I lived alone, the clutter was terrible.
I’ve been very sloppy since childhood, and had to learn new rules/routines as an adult. A romantic partner helped me with a list of What to Do When the Mess Overwhelms
1. Pick up all trash, and sort into wastebin, & recycling.
2. Gather all stray coffee cups, etc & take to kitchen
3. Pick up all laundry and put in hamper. Strip sheets from bed and add to hamper.
4. Put away books, hobby projects, etc.
5. Start laundry — sheets first if you’ve only one set.
6. Do dishes/load dishwasher. Wipe counters
7. Sweep/Vaccuum floors, starting with kitchen and heavily trafficked areas. Damp mop hard floors.
8. Make bed.
9. Prepare a cup of tea (glass of soda, mug of beer, etc) and relax in your newly clean space
Notes: if you’re sloppy, you must be extra vigilant about food wastes. Use a smaller trash can with a cover specifically for compost (i.e. Big attracting) items, even if you don’t compost). Store all unused food in sealed containers. Wipe counters frequently for spilled food/honey, put dishes in sink. Pro tip: if you live alone and don’t have the time or energy to do dishes as you use them, at LEAST douse them with soapy water to discourage bugs, and make a non-negotiatiable time every day to empty the sink.
I have been the messy housemate from time to time, due to physical disability that fluctuates in severity. There are times when I’m in great shadow and go on binges where I organize my sock drawer, and times when it is literally more painful than the immediate aftermath of major surgery to get out of bed. In the latter times, I’m not even able to fetch my own food and need someone to bring it to me; it certainly wasn’t possible for me to take it away again after, no matter how much I wanted to.
I live with two dear friends, one of whom has even worse messy-causing disabilities than I do. We agreed from minute one, when we moved in together, that the cost of a first class housekeeper twice a week was going to be part of the household budget — it was built into the foundations of the finances so deeply that we literally budgeted for the housekeeper first and then calculated the mortgage we could afford second. It was the best thing we could have done to prevent hard feelings over issues that nobody, ever, was willingly causing… sickness is sickness, and we accepted the housekeeping bill as the price of putting two severely physically incapacitated people in the same house.
That keeps things from getting outrageous, since we go a maximum of 4 days before a cleaning; but it doesn’t address the stuff which needs to be done daily. We do have an advantage in the daily chores, in that we have teenagers — my daughter handles the vast boxes and cat food residue, and my son is responsible for daily dishwashing. But we also instituted a plan which has really helped keep the resentment down over the things each of us can’t do: we asked what each of us CAN do, and put that ability in service to the household in some way, so that even if our one adult able-bodied member is doing more physical labor, there are things he *isn’t* doing that he can’t or doesn’t want to have to do for himself and we can.
I am the household speaker-to-businesses. I research any major purchase and all hiring of services, present my findings to the family, and once we make a decision together I’m the one to call that company or individual and handle all the arrangements. I’ve done this for everything from hiring a junk hauling service to buying a new house. This is work that my able-bodied housemate hates with the fiery passion of a thousands hells — if I take that off his plate, he doesn’t really mind having to come through my room and clear out the dishes when I’m feeling terrible. My mobility-disabled housemate does almost all the cooking. It’s something she can do from her wheelchair, she likes to, and neither of the other two adults in the family typically have the energy. So even those of us who can’t clean are contributing, and specifically contributing tasks which the members who CAN clean hate as much as they hate cleaning.
So even though only one adult is reliably “cleaning-capable” much of the time, he manages with the help we’ve arranged to buy him AND he gets out of other jobs he wants to avoid. Between him, the kids, and the semi-weekly housekeeper, we’re usually okay without anyone having to be exhausted, frustrated, resentful, do anything they cannot do… or deal with bugs.
This is excellent.
Hello! Messy person here. Messy person who — wait for it — hates when other people are messy. Why? Because my mess is the only okay mess.
My Mess Is The Only Okay Mess: The Story Of Literally All Roommates*
(*i know, not all)
This perception problem has come into play in every roommate situation I’ve ever had, and I hear my friends who currently have roommates express nearly non-stop annoyance about it, even in living situations that are otherwise pretty chill. We all think we’re the only clean person, or the only person whose mess is not a REAL mess. Why? Because our mess has a story.
I mean, MY mess has a story. I don’t just see the quarter-empty can of Dr. Pepper on the coffee table — I see myself enjoying that can of Dr. Pepper, and then getting sidetracked by needing to sign for the delivery person, and then having to run off to work, and then coming home to the can of Dr. Pepper, which I will clean up of course TOMORROW** when I am not so tired.
(** not actually tomorrow, probably)
My quarter-empty can of Dr. Pepper has a story. It had a purpose, it has a reason for being there, and most importantly, in my story, there is a fantastical future in which it is cleaned up.
When my roommate comes home and sees the Dr. Pepper, they see a can of Dr. Pepper calling out to bugs from near and far. My roommate does not know the special story of this Dr. Pepper, the Dr. Pepper that had a birth, a purpose, a future! They see a gross sugar can. They’re stewing about the quarter-empty can of Dr. Pepper, meanwhile I can’t believe they’ve left *that f_cking spoon in the f_cking sink* for 36 HOURS.
Because their mess has a story. They fondly recall using the spoon to make macaroni and cheese. They especially fondly recall the macaroni and cheese. But the spoon was all goopy right after cooking, so they figured they’d soak it for a while and then clean it up. That is, until they realized they were about to lose out on several important time-sensitive quests in their fave video game, and then they had to take their mom to the doctor, and now it’s been nearly two days but that spoon is SOAKING FOR A REASON and it WILL GET CLEANED!***
(*** definitely!! at some point!! just not now!)
When I look at *my* mess, I don’t totally see the mess — I see the future in which I have cleaned the mess (the mess which, by the way, has a history and context and meaning to me and to no one else). The future which is right around the corner. When you change your environment (to make it messy) it becomes part of the continuum of your life. When your roommate changes your environment to make it messy, it *interrupts* the continuum of your life. It interrupts your story. Someone is putting the messy parts of their story into the clean part of your story.
The only way I know to get around this is to agree mutually not to intrude on the clean parts of the other person’s story, and most of all, to agree to believe the other person when they tell you that X Behavior is messing with their story. That usually means making a cleaning and tasks list and sticking to it on pain of getting booted out, hiring a cleaning person, or a fight to the death.
This. Is. Awesome.
I’ll never looked at a mess the same way again. Thank you, Andrea!
I love this, Andrea! Thank you.
Brilliant! I noted this elsewhere, but I believe this is also why it’s easier for me to clean other people’s mess than my own — I get so stuck in the “story” of my mess that I am overwhelmed and Just Can’t.
In college, my lovely roommate helped me through one of these bad periods by literally just holding up items in front of me and saying “Keep or throw,” “keep or throw.” Just the fact of having her there, asking that question, sort of shocked me into considering my junk from a different perspective that wasn’t completely occupied by all the ideas and memories and questions it conjured up.
Obviously not feasible in most cases or for most messes, but it’s a useful mindset to be able to recognize.
This is SO hard for me. Getting rid of stuff is getting rid of all of the potential uses for that stuff. My family is definitely a family that puts value in stuff, in its potential future uses, in the history of what it is and where it came from.
i’ve learned to take pictures of things like “that thing so and so brought me from china but has no practical use.” Or “The item I got at comic con that has no potential location.” That’s helped a lot. But I still have just an insane quantity of stuff that serves no actual purpose.
I literally had to go sit in the car and cry when partner and I had to throw out partially used bottles of condiments on moving day. I was going to cook so many things with all of them!! Ugh. He took care of the throwing out while I sobbed and we are okay now in the new house. But damn. The potential futures of inanimate objects are too fascinating and infinitely varied for my poor imaginative brain to deal with discarding en masses.
I had a roommate do this for me when I was moving house on short notice, and it was so helpful that when I decided to downsize my closet last year I specifically brought a friend who I loved but hadn’t known me for a terribly long time, so she wouldn’t be caught in the history of “this shirt I wore on a date with that one guy to that one place” and instead would see “shirt two sizes too small and also her least favourite colour, toss.”
For me, a breakthrough came when I realised that my stuff falls into three categories: definitely throw, definitely keep, and ‘not sure <wibble>’ I learnt to put the ‘not sure’ stuff aside for later: it cuts the time needed to deal with clutter by 80%, it cuts the stress by 80%, and it’s not as if I don’t have other items that need to be dealt with. Plus, the mess has been reduced by two thirds: a good amount of stuff will leave the house, and the rest can be put away.
Six months to a year later, the process can be repeated with almost the same results. After that, there are not many item in any one box/category that need emotional labour.
This is really smart, I love this.
Wow this is incredibly insightful! I wish my now husband, then boyfriend could have figured this out before we spent years arguing about cleaning!! We both used to get into argument spirals around “who is the messier one” which was completely counterproductive and always completely derailed whatever usually minor thing we were actually annoyed about (towels on the bed, dishes in the sink, laundry etc)!! What often happened was I would come across aggressive and demanding, he would tell me about some thing I hadn’t done the day/week/weeks before that he never told me about and we would end up arguing about the entirety of our chores rather than the minor thing.
At this point, the main thing we have done to solve our own cohabitation issues has been to be timely, very specific and judgement free about our requests (i.e. “Husband, please run the dishwasher and empty it tonight before you go to bed.” vs. “You never run the dishwasher until we have absolutely no spoons, why do I have to do everything around here FEELINGSBOMB.”).
Genius! Hilarious, but so spot on.
How did you know about the Dr. Pepper?
This is brilliant +eleventy
This is brilliant. My husband and I figured out early on in our cohabitation that we both had a, “My Stuff, Your Crap” perspective — my stuff is just stuff that I’ll get to, your stuff is garbage that is in my way. The idea of stuff having “stories” really makes a lot of sense.
That…that is utterly brilliant, and spot-on. I have other things to add, but don’t want to dilute the point of this comment, which is to say thank you and bravisima.
I like this a lot.
When you change your environment (to make it messy) it becomes part of the continuum of your life. When your roommate changes your environment to make it messy, it *interrupts* the continuum of your life. It interrupts your story. Someone is putting the messy parts of their story into the clean part of your story.
Brava. That is such a compassionate way of putting things, both for yourself and for other people.
This speaks to some of the issues I had when my metamour lived with us for several years after their divorce. I know full well that I’m more okay with my messes than with other people’s, so before I spelled out what I needed, I spent a month living by the rules I wanted to make sure I could do it consistently. In my case, even doing that it still didn’t work out. Metamour couldn’t handle rules like, for example, every time you cook, also deal with dishes (i.e. put away dishes from dishwasher, load all dishes from sink into dishwasher, run dishwasher if full). Or things like put kitchen scraps into compost the same day. There were huge stresses in their life and there were executive function things and Aspberger’s things and things about verbal abuse around cleaning from their ex. But I still couldn’t deal and ultimately had to have them move out, which took way longer than I wanted.
It didn’t help that there were other housemate incompatibilities around noise, introversion/extraversion, interruptions, etc; or that I definitely got to an eating crackers state. There was a good two months or so in which I never initiated any kind of conversation or greeting and gave only minimal response to anything they said to me. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but the reason was that I was so stressed and angry about the situation that I really didn’t feel able to have a friendly conversation. I felt like if I talked for any length of time, I would blow up in an irreparable way. I spent very little time in the common areas of the house if they were home. It also didn’t help that this wasn’t a rent paying situation. We were doing them a favor by letting them stay; they didn’t really have money after the divorce because of the circumstances of their marriage. But I felt like since it was our house, my spouse and I should get to set the rules, and that Metamour needed to find a way to make it work or find another situation. Thing is, a lot of the things that bothered me didn’t bother my spouse, and my spouse cared very much about whether Metamour could stay in town, and it got really messy.
Amazingly, we’re back to being friends now, but it took about a year to get to that point. And neither of us probably would have bothered if not for our shared relationship with my spouse. But the part about my mess vs. other people’s messes is definitely true. My clutter all over the table and my kitchen scraps don’t bother me nearly as much (though I do also keep them in the deepest available container until I take them out). My spouse and I work together okay because we’ve been together since college, I do a lot more cooking so I’m mostly in charge of the area I really care about, we have similar enough tolerances for messes and similar enough thresholds for doing something about them, and we have a cleaning service come in once a month (this was the case while Metamour was living with us as well).
This is life-changing. Thank you!
Holy cow, this comment is amazingly insightful. Thank you!
Whoa. This is…Whoa. Yes. This.
A lot of commenters have stated that they were like Roommate and $various_suggestions would help them. If any of you who were like that feel up to it, what did you do then ( or what do you do now) to take up your share of the planning and directing aspects of household maintenance?
So, for example, if your then roommates and you put up a task board, did you make task suggestions as well as accept assignments? Do you now create the task boards and organize the household meetings?
I ask because if I were LW, my willingness to take on the emotional labor of teaching a roommate how to clean, and organizing, and all of the things, would be greater if I thought it wasn’t a permanent task. If I thought that I’d always have to organize and direct my roommate, always have to remind them, always be in charge, if I thought that I wouldn’t take it on.
Basically, for me, it took getting out of my depressive funk and into a new roommate situation. (I KNOW THAT’S NOT HELPFUL IN THIS CASE) But seriously though, a change of scenery is what I needed to establish new routines. Then, my new roommate, with whom I did NOT have a lot of resentful cleaning/not-cleaning history, established the rules at the beginning.
We would each be responsible for our own bedroom and bathroom, and that we would trade off weeks for vacuuming/dusting the living/dining room, and that since we shared dishes, dishes had to go back to the kitchen so other people could use dishes–and since we had a dishwasher that handled crap pretty well, it took a quick rinse and they were in and when it got full we ran it. We sort of organically traded off unloading the dishes, and I generally took out the trash since she did not want to handle germy things. Then, the rule was you wiped down the stove and counter after you finished using the kitchen, every single time. Any deeper cleaning (fridge, oven, stuff like that) happened occasionally when we as two single women in our twenties had a drunken bored Saturday night. We lived in an apartment building, so laundry was just kept in our own rooms and we would do it in the basement laundry room whenever. Super, super, super basic. It turns out I’m actually a pretty neat person when I have a structure that I had a hand in creating–and we basically never had to get on each other’s case ever.
tl;dr that last sentence. I am neat when I have rules and a structure–but I would like to help decide what those rules/structure are. Everyone feels less like OP’s a parent when friend gets to help decide what chores friend takes on and when chores need doing. If they still can’t come to an agreement or friend then doesn’t hold up her end of the bargain… well, that’s a new problem that I think you’d have to solve by leaving, personally.
Your teal deer is such a cool explanation.
Think of it less as teaching the person how to clean and more as organizing roommate responsibilities and making them clear and explicit. I think it’s a great idea even if the house is full of inherently tidy people. It’s a pain for everybody if each person is expecting the other to clean the toilet one week for whatever reason and it just sits there dirty as a result, after all!
Even being older and married something like that is still something I find helpful, and we avoid some of the marital problems I hear my friends having.
You shouldn’t be responsible for teaching them how to clean if they don’t know, I agree – hence why the Captain suggested hiring a cleaner. (I would’ve learned by myself though)
I think you’re stating that doing all the emotional labor becomes more palatable if a person doesn’t perceive emotional labor as teaching.
If I’m right, then I think we’re talking at cross purposes.
I’m asking what emotional work have (formerly) messy people taken on.
Yup, this is what I was thinking as well. One of the beautiful things about CA’s answer to this is that she acknowledges how much work coaching Roommate into maintaining baseline levels of sanitation is probably going to take, and proposes a solution from her old living situation that would be a lot of work to set up retroactively but sounds like a relatively stress-free way to go about things once it’s in place.
I think a lot of the problems I have with these answers that say “If my roommates had given me a task board…” or even “My roommate gave me a task board, but never TOLD me to do what was on it…” (…really?) is that it still requires the roommates to do SO MUCH emotional labor they shouldn’t have to do. It’s pretty unreasonable for an adult to ask of a fellow adult.
That’s why I’m really happy to read of so many people who now can take on the logistics in whole or in part.
For me, the hardest part of taking on that emotional labor was that everything had to be so perfectly calibrated. I didn’t just have to remind them, I had to do it at the exact right time: not too far before the “deadline” or they’d forget, but not too close to the “deadline” or they felt rushed. Not when they were busy because they’d be too distracted to do it but also not when they were too relaxed because duh, nobody wants to interrupt chill time with chores. Not when they were heading out the door or coming in the door, not when they were doing another chore, not when they were playing video games, on and on. I never did find that perfect five minutes where my reminder was going to work (but on the other hand, if I didn’t remind, then it was also my fault).
And the tone had to be perfectly measured too. I had to be patient and understanding or they would shame spiral and I’d spend the evening talking them down. BUT, if I was too gentle, then I wasn’t being clear and direct enough for them to understand. So I had to be rigorously clear and direct and also simultaneously perfectly kind and understanding and never ever tired or frustrated. And never to use certain words that reminded them of their mother or etc., as I learned when “hey could you take out the trash soon? it’s getting to be a mess in here” led to a meltdown.
So every “yo don’t forget it’s your turn to take out the trash this week” or “hey can you clear your elderly leftovers out of the fridge?” became a lengthy process of determining perfect timing and planning every word like a fucking Oscar speech. And I still usually failed, which made me feel crappy (it triggered my social anxiety and depression like whoa to walk on those eggshells) and led to long sessions of me reassuring them that they were a good person.
And then the task still wasn’t done, so I could do it myself or… start the whole cycle again. Because not only was the task not done, it wasn’t done and it was my fault, because I hadn’t done the emotional labor perfectly.
(In retrospect I suspect that it was the message, not the medium, that was the problem, and my failure to remind in the perfect way at the perfect time was more or less an excuse. But boy did I tie myself in knots to express “hey, it’s your week to clean the fridge” in some magical way that would make it happen.)
That roommate was a piece of work.
I’m glad you’re no longer in that situation.
Thank you. I’m glad I’m out, too.
In retrospect, the whole thing reminded me of the Sick Systems explanation here: http://www.issendai.com/psychology/sick-systems.html
Turtle Candle: that Sick Systems thread is probably one of the most helpful things I’ve ever run across on the internet. I first read it in 2010 when I was getting out of a bad relationship, and I’ve kept referring to it since then when weirdness happened. I’m glad it’s still getting shared around.
I actually took on pretty much ALL of the emotional labor around task management, as part of my share of the work. Because I’m good at it, and because I’m physically incapacitated — which is why I’m often messy in the first place; no physical functioning energy and chronic pain — I made an explicit agreement with my housemates in which I do substantially more than my share of the emotional and cognitive labor surrounding the maintenance of our shared space, in exchange for less of the physical labor.
Basically, when anybody in the household brings up a problem in family meeting that we decide we need to deal with (ranging from “Nobody is doing the cooking except G, and he’s getting sick of it,” to “S needs to retire by yesterday due to his health, and so we need a plan to get this house in shape to sell, and sell it, and find a less expensive one, and move”) it is my specific job to research the options, present possible solutions at a subsequent meeting, and follow up by making any arrangements to accomplish whichever solution we agree on.
What this involves varies, of course. In the case of nobody else cooking, I went around to the other housemates individually and asked what each would be able to do, brainstormed a few possible alternative schedules, and presented those. In the case of the move, I literally put my job on hold for six months to plan, hire all relevant people for, and execute the four part process of prepare/sell/buy/ move, with a side order of downsizing and therefore sorting through every object that six of us owned.
The move was, obviously, special circumstances; but it’s been explicit in my household for a long time that I do as much as possible of the work which I can do from my computer and my phone and my brain, instead of that which requires the use of my body… because my computer, phone and brain all work better than my body does. It helps to keep the extra physical labor that my housemates have to do for my sake from being too much of a burden on them, because they know that I’m doing my share of work — and work that they especially dislike, at that. It’s just a different kind.
I could definitely see this backfiring in some contexts. A housemate who offers to do the scheduling and planning stuff but not the physical labor risks appearing to be a petty dictator: “I’ll assign the work, and the rest of y’all can actually DO it!” I get away with it because 1) my household hashed out together that this stuff was my job, I didn’t just offer to take it; 2) I live with people who really, REALLY loathe the kind of planning and arrangement work that I do, so I’m taking something very important off their plates in exchange for the physical work they take off mine; 3) my housemates know that I’m ill, and the fact that I don’t do very much physical work isn’t my own choice; and 4) I *do* do what little I can — willingly, and when possible without being asked. Probably also involved is 5) we hire a housekeeper to do the heavy stuff, so nobody in the house is feeling overburdened with work as a whole.
But it does work for us, and it’s become something I even take pride in. We’re finishing up the last stages of the Mammoth Moving Project now — house has been sold, new one is bought, and we just have to get some minor work done on it and then move ourselves into it — and watching S enjoy his first weeks of retirement feels like a victory.
It sounds like you came up with a fabulous, workable long-term solution! Well done, you.
It also seems like one of the key parts of the arrangement and relationship you have with your roommates is deep mutual family-level trust. I would find it a lot easier to negotiate such an agreement with that level of trust. In the average home-sharing situation, though, people may just be friends or not know each other at all. My spouse and I can do task-sharing like this because I trust him to cook me a good meal and he trusts me to fold his underwear (and vice versa).
But when I lived with roommates, I couldn’t just say, for instance, “I’ll clean out the fridge if you make a shopping list and plan meals for the week” because we didn’t have the level of trust and mutual dependence to cook together and share food like that. Roomie just had to clean the fridge already when it was her turn.
Yeah, I can understand that. The friends with whom I share a household are family in every way that matters. I help them make retirement arrangements. They help me raise my children. We’re each other’s emergency contacts. We share finances, and we’re in exchange other’s wills.
I definitely agree with you that casual friends may not be able to handle things the same way we can. That’s probably true in many ways, not just this one! But Mrs. Morley had asked whether there were messy people who had taken on their share of the emotional labor involved in house-sharing, not just the physical… which would presumably only apply if there existed *some* emotional labor tasks which were actually necessary to do for that version of a combined household. I feel that, whenever there are, it may help both messy and non-messy roommates if the emotional labor involved — including that of planning and scheduling labor — gets included among the tasks being divided up, rather than just being dumped without even discussing it on the more proactive household member. And as soon as you are dividing up emotional labor, one possible way to handle the situation is to divide emotional and physical labor deliberately unevenly, so that whoever can do more of one category can be set up with more of those chores, and fewer of the other kind.
That wouldn’t get roomie out of doing the fridge, in your scenario. .. and it shouldn’t! But it might mean that somebody could deal with a terminally disorganized roommate by saying, for example, “If it would help, I’ll do the work of making up your weekly chore schedule as well as my own. But that’ll take me an additional half-hour or so every week, and therefore, I’d like you to take on an extra half-hour weekly of something which would normally be my job, but which we’re agreeing will be yours to compensate for the scheduling work I’m doing.” Instead of just saying instead, “Oh, FINE, then. I’ll make up your schedule TOO, since you don’t seem able to make one for yourself!” and resenting it.
Ohhh, that’s a great idea!
Yes. When some friends of mine put together a household division of chores, it explicitly included planning meals and making shopping lists as separate tasks from shopping and cooking. In their case, one person does all the cooking, meal planning, and list-making, but those are understood as separate tasks, which helps keep things balanced and avoids the failure mode where A has decided what to cook, B goes shopping, and gets whatever they can remember is needed, which doesn’t include half the ingredients needed for that night’s dinner.
That’s a bit different from what you’re describing, since I gather it was a mutual agreement that everyone has “Sunday chores.” So there’s mental labor, which takes executive function, but not the sort of emotional labor involved in opening difficult conversations, or reminding the other person of their chores.
I’m so glad you answered! You are brilliant in the way you detail the ins and outs and difficulties around task management.
Thank you 😊
*blush* Thanks. Glad if I could offer a useful perspective on your question. I am really glad you asked it, by the way, because I think it’s a really important piece of addressing this LW’s situation — how to make sure they aren’t letting themselves in for a chronic state of “Doing All The Emotional Work” instead of “Doing All The Physical Work,” since that is just as frustrating and exhausting.
My spouse and I worked out something similar. We both do the physical labor part of house management, but I’ve taken almost all of the planning and emotional labor component, and I explicitly count that as part of my share of the work. (Spouse has ADHD and, when we both tried sharing the planning work, it was just a recipe for constant tears and frustration.)
I’ve avoided the petty dictator risk by doing regular check-ins with spouse, along the lines of “Hey, how are you feeling about the workload lately? Do you feel like I’ve been doing my share? Do you feel it’s been too heavy for you?,” etc.
Granted, a spousal relationship is often different than other roommate dynamics, but I figured it was worth sharing. Oh, and I’ve definitely become a convert to the task board. We have ours set up by priority/deadline–stuff to be done today, this week, this month/sometime. I’ve been surprised at how much less stressed I am when I can just jot down something on the board and stop obsessing about it, because I know my spouse will take care of it.
I should also add you should do the planning together, though you may have to push them to accept a fair schedule and may disproportionally end up reminding them they need to do X.
Making the schedule together also allows people to pick chores they like, as sometimes those preferences differ in a convenient way. (I for example really like cleaning the bathroom – but I hate most kitchen tasks)
I don’t know if my comment was eaten or is in the spam trap (will check back later) but my tl;dr is that I got out of my depressive slump, got a new roommate without angry cleaning baggage, and we set up a system together, with together being the operative term. (If you don’t have any control over it and feel like you’re being ordered to do x tasks, then you’re not going to do x tasks–human nature. Also prevents the emotional labor of divvying up and making suggestions and whatever falling on one person if you both agree that you’re going to do it.) It worked super well and we lived cleanly ever after.
Thank you for answering automaticdoor!
I’m glad to hear you got out of a bad situation, and are in a good one.
Your take on the why’s and how’s really interests me.
Basically I woke up one morning right before we moved into our new place together and was like, I cannot do this again. I absolutely cannot do this again to someone else. (Nor can I personally live in squalor again.) It helped that my new roommate was a longtime friend and a super neat freak. So after we (definitely WE) divided up who was going to do what, I cleaned to her standards at first just because I wanted to keep our friendship, basically. And then it became a habit because I enjoyed having a nice place to live. So OP may just want to start over fresh with someone else–as the reformed gross person, I think this may have gone too far to work out with everyone’s anger/frustration levels able to return to normalcy.
For me, it was much easier to do chores (take out garbage, do dishes etc) because I want my partner to live in a nice environment than it was to do myself the same favours. I found that somewhat sobering – *I* deserve to live in a nice place, too.
Well, like I said in my comment above, I have successfully Changed My Ways mid-living arrangement *one* time. But, importantly: it was a big group house, I wasn’t the only one contributing to the problem, and we all arrived at a solution arrangement together.
In living situations where it was just me, the Unclean One, and a flatmate, the Righteously Clean Person, the only thing that worked for me was to move out and start over with new people who I didn’t associate with a miasma of guilt and shame (or to get my own space.) I honestly suspect my best long-term option for cohabitating is going to have to be finding someone of a similar level of cleanliness to me — that is, someone who can keep the dishes clean and the fridge clear of rotten food, but who stores her clean clothes unfolded in a hamper, covers all flat surfaces in clutter, and regards the vacuum with mild hatred (IT MAKES A NOISE.)
To be clear: I really kind of favor the LW and her boyfriend jumping straight to option #2, proposed by the Captain above. I think it’s easier on them, but I also think it’s easier on their roommate in the long run. I think the wake-up call will do her good, and also: while the insects are unacceptable, I sincerely doubt she’s going to just jump automatically to being as clean and tidy as LW&co. as son as that’s dealt with. Based on my experience, it would probably be beneficial for her to seek out people who are more on her level cleaning-wise. (Weirdly, I often find it easier to clean when living with people who are dirtier than me; it’s easier to see other people’s messes, and their dirtiness doesn’t provoke the same shame/hide spiral that my own does.)
It’s not the LW’s problem, except that it might make it easier to choose route 2 if they know that their friend is probably going to be okay anyway.
I feel you so hard on the vacuum thing. I would rather do three days worth of dishes for my six-person family than vacuum for ten minutes. It makes a BAD NOISE! It’s so invasive and upsetting! (My siblings, who don’t mind the vacuum at all, regard this as a stroke of luck because I will voluntarily take the yucky hard chores and all they have to do is vacuum.)
Another cat-masquerading-as-human chiming in to show solidarity in vacuum hatred. *waves*
I’ll scrub out other people’s disgusting toilets over running a vacuum.
I loathe vacuum cleaners because of the smell. (Ok, I hate the noise too)
My comment is currently in moderation (this one probably will be too! Thanks mods, this subject can get mean fast sometimes), but I’m one of the people with brain Stuff and I’m generally super super happy to help make plans, add to plans, create processes, make visual reminders, etc. etc. etc. Because of my Stuff I have to go away and work on the list somewhere else where I’m not getting bogged down and trying to catalog all the books instead of sweeping or whatever, and I often need someone else’s help getting the kitchen to a clean state once so that I can take a picture for reference or whatever, but I don’t mind the emotional (or moreover, mental) labor, and I’m fine building systems that only apply to me.
But it does get discouraging when people don’t understand why I’d need to do this, or worse, see it as excuse-making for laziness and sloth. And the fact is that, for whatever reason (my experience is often that “mess” is too complex a category + emotional stuff) mess itself doesn’t cue me to start dealing with it. Right now I have a friend I talk to on Skype every day, and I do my dishes when I talk to her = dishes get done because there’s a cue external to myself, even though we don’t talk about dishes and she doesn’t call me to get me to do the dishes. But I have no cue for taking my laundry down from the living room rack = it gets done ???? ???? ???? Idk????
Right now honestly my most consistent cue is that my roommate, like me, actually suffers from “my mess is the only mess” where we both feel guilty and overwhelmed a lot, and so whenever she starts apologizing for her mess I start cleaning up mine (because hers isn’t so bad!) and then when I start cleaning up mine she is cued to do hers. It’s working, haphazardly. No bugs so far, food waste gets dealt with. Neat people hate our apartment, though, because of the inorganic elements of mess (like that laundry rack), and I don’t think that that would be fixable unless the neat person was willing to do some initial handholding and then set up a cue WITH me.
TL;DR comment, but anyway, the last few roommates I had I had already worked out my before-after pictures and my flowchart and my checklist and I was trying to think of a very low-work way for them to tell me when they were getting bothered by mess. I wanted to put a red-and-green card by the door that they could flip whenever this magical messiness sensor in their brains went off to cue me to re-check my “is this clean?” checklist. Probably I just should have done it instead of asking for buy-in and then they might have used it. It seemed easier than post-its or saying something! But they all thought this was super silly. Oh well.
I’m not sure how well the red/green card would work for me, but the pictures and flow charts are brilliant ideas.
Making clean visible (pictures) is obvious now that you say it, and yet so few people think of it.
I have! I am a former (messy, depressed, slacker at housework) roommate who is now super organised and clean and the manager of household tasks!
For me it took: people calling me on my bullshit, people helping me find patterns that work for me (I am a big weekly cleaner, and shit at the daily stuff), and finding people who fit those patterns (most “cleaner than me” people are super happy to do all the daily stuff if they know i’ll do the heavy lifting regularly and consistently).
I think doing the emotional labour of setting expectations and figuring out how to meet those expectations as a household is worth it (if unfair) if a change needs to happen BUT I think it will quickly become apparent whether the person is going to step up and figure out their shit or expect you to do it forever.
Also, as I mentioned upthread, if you think it might be a long term thing, making the emotional labour/mental load of the household *an explicit chore that means you do less other chores* can be a sustainable strategy. (I have one partner who Just Can’t plan what needs to be done or make sure it happens on their own, but point them in a direction, and it will fucking Get Done. This is okay because my job is now the pointing and theirs is the doing.)
Like automaticdoor’s, my reformation is going to be profoundly unhelpful to most, because what finally flipped the switch in my brain was buying the condo in which I now live.
There’s a pride in homeownership working subconsciously, I’m sure – the real estate market in my city is booming, so even though there was little in the way of actual work involved obtaining it, I’m so happy that I did win out over the two competing bids for my home that I feel like, I dunno, I need to constantly prove to myself that I’m worthy of having my name on the title and property tax bills? I get that many might not want to/be able to buy a place, even if they don’t live in the Off-Coast San Francisco, hence why I offer *all* the grains of salt with my comment.
Mostly, though, I’d say the biggest contributors to my shift from what Dave Barry would call a Cleaning-Impaired Person were a) having an in-unit washer and dryer for the first time in my adult life (somehow, it’s easier to keep the clothes from overfilling the laundry basket and creeping over the available floor space in the bedroom when you can carry them two rooms over to dump them in the washing machine, rather than down the stairs and over to the next building or, worse yet, to the laundromat) and b) having a dishwasher (similar principle: it’s easier for someone with my levels of executive [dys]function to keep the dishes from piling up in the sink if I can tuck them out of sight in a place that will magically clean them with the press of a button with only the most casual of rinses beforehand!).
I’d also throw in a shout-out to the even-greater prevalence of online billpay and notifications – paper clutter, my former nemesis, is far less likely to accumulate for me when I can toss 95% of my mail straight into Recycling.
Extra special thanks, however, go to the delightful cleaner who maintains homes for all but one household among my family members who also live in my city. She’s independent, so I know the $$ are going straight to her and her family, and she gives us good rates collectively, probably because we’re consistent, longstanding customers.
I haven’t lived in the sort of roommate situation LW has in, what, ten years, though, so all my messes were strictly my own to contend with. Or my ex-boyfriend’s. But that’s a whole ‘nother story with a far less happy ending.
My senior year of college I knew going in that my housemates were people who loved to show off with cooking but hadn’t grown up in households where they were expected to do a lot cleaning. What we ended up doing was having one person (me) be responsible for keeping the kitchen clean in exchange for paying less rent. We ended up renegotiating for more money for me because I was spending 1-2 hours every morning cleaning up after them, but it was worth it because
1. I was the one who cared most about this particular shared space being clean and I was way less stressed out by being in control of it- no seething over half-washed dishes and competing definitions of “clean”
2. Having one person being responsible for cleaning expensive/fancy/fussy kitchenware meant fewer rusty knives/broken crockery/crusty blenders
3. We were broke college students, so professional cleaning was a non-starter
The worst kitchen offender did try the “Well, why don’t we just clean up after ourselves?” but the other roommates overruled him. (Their response was, “Yeah….but you don’t.”) In my experience, the most sustainable approach is for people to be responsible for what they care about the most, but it’s difficult to make that equitable in a situation like OP’s. This may be a “cheapest way to pay is with money” situation.
As somebody who had undiagnosed ADHD at the time and was often a terrible roommate (and felt horrible shame about it), though nowhere near as bad:
“Hey let’s all have a kitchen and fridge cleaning party [day you’re less busy], we can even leave out this big trash can and rock some music, then make a schedule for cleaning the kitchen in the future” would’ve been way more helpful to me than a long, passive aggressive, and somewhat judgmental note about me having expired food in the fridge, left in the middle of a very busy week.
The real topic of the note was a bag of moldy cheese I’d left, a bag I would’ve immediately removed if she’d just said “hey there’s some moldy cheese in there and I think it’s yours, can you throw it away? Thanks!”.
Try to keep problem with the trash, not the person. That’ll work better for people no matter what their reason is for slacking.
All that note did was upset me and stress me out during a time I legitimately did have difficulty making time for not day to day chores, and I know it was intentionally left while I was busy so she wouldn’t have to confront me.
If she’d politely asked me to address the immediate problems and stated what needed to be done in a way that focused on behavior I needed to do in the future rather than on me the person, I’d not only have felt less upset but likely would’ve had an effective framework for doing a better job in the future.
(As an aside – those of us with executive functioning difficulties absolutely need to be held accountable for not adhering to the schedule for something like that to work, so all the more reason not to be tempted to give your friend an excuse not to be held accountable. But do keep the “problem not the person” part in mind)
“If she’d politely asked me to address the immediate problems and stated what needed to be done in a way that focused on behavior I needed to do in the future rather than on me the person, I’d not only have felt less upset but likely would’ve had an effective framework for doing a better job in the future.”
I totally agree with this statement, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to expect other people to know the magical combination of words that will prompt you to action, you know?
“I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to expect other people to know the magical combination of words that will prompt you to action, you know?”
Generally speaking, sure. Communication that is focused on behavior not identity is best practices for kindness and effectiveness across a wide spectrum of people. My memory of listening to Brene Brown’s book is that shame is rarely effective.
Also, CA asked us to tell of the magic words (“Is there anything that a friend or fellow housemate could have done or said at the time that would have spurred you to clean up after yourself and make the living situation workable? TELL US OF THIS MAGICK!”) and “if she’d politely asked” sentence is ADDled’s direct answer to that question.
I guess I’m more thinking of some of my more ogre-ish behavior during the Dark Years when I had severe undiagnosed depression. There are a lot of things people could have done or said that really would have helped – but they had no idea I had it and I didn’t either, and ADDled mentioned that their ADHD was undiagnosed at the time. But, of course I agree that an approach that isn’t based on shaming/passive-aggressiveness is the best one.
I think I must be a huge outlier, because I personally don’t mind someone leaving me a note – I actually prefer it.
I think we agree some, then. For me, I’ve noticed verbal request = I interpret as “please, give this a good try” and written = “this is really critically important,” so I prefer written communication to back up verbal. It just can’t be mean / passive-aggressive / shaming.
One thing that works in my household is having a whiteboard on the fridge. For the first two or three months my roommate and I lived together we used it exclusively to write terrible jokes back and forth to each other but eventually we started using it to communicate about chores. I do feel like a whiteboard message is less passive aggressive than a note (something about the effort required to make it?), plus usually we just communicate verbally and then either independently or at the other’s request, we’ll add it to the whiteboard ourselves.
I’m a bit of a neat freak, and I have lived with a lot of messy people. At first I handled it by doing all the cleaning. That was a terrible idea for many reasons.
In creating successful arrangements with messy people, the following things have been really helpful:
– Have a really clear idea of what CLEAN means. This should be agreed upon by everyone who lives there. It helps to take a picture of what clean means, if possible, or spell it out with details. Like for the kitchen, it means no dirty dishes in the sink, counter clear and wiped down, garbage emptied, etc. If you’re trying to have this conversation and the other person is being obstinate and trying to warp it to their benefit (i.e. a slob arguing that dishes in the sink are fine as long as you still have room to fill a glass of water, or a neat freak arguing that it’s not clean unless every surface was disinfected with bleach that day) then do not live with that person.
– Have very clear expectations. What are people responsible for, and on what timeline? Clarity is essential. Don’t leave room for interpretation.
– SIGNAGE. If it doesn’t mess with your aesthetic too much, this can really help. There’s a reason commercial kitchens are full of signs that spell out the proper procedures for cleaning various things, and on what timeline, with little tick boxes etc.. It works. This can be a great kindness for people who don’t have a lot of experience cleaning or running a household.
– TECHNOLOGY. Sit yourselves down and put a whole bunch of calendar reminders into your phones. Let google remind your roommate that Tuesday is vacuum day because if your roommate makes a face at google, nobody’s feelings get hurt.
– Have a plan for what happens if they don’t follow through, starting with reminders, going all the way through to being asked to move out.
– Related: have a practical plan for what happens when someone is sick or their life implodes and they can’t pull their weight temporarily. Do people cover for them? Do you hire someone? Is rent adjusted accordingly? Seriously – this is not something you want to be trying to negotiate while your roommate is depressed and in crutches and mourning the recent death of their beloved aunt.
– If it goes wrong, do your best not to make it about character or relationships or feelings. Address the situation, refer to the agreement, and focus on the concrete physical reality of the apartment and the agreed-upon standards.
– Have regular roommate meetings (once a month?) where people can check in about how they feel about household systems. Is everyone happy with the cleanliness? Do they feel the division of labour is fair? Is it time to upgrade to 2-ply?
A good structure can make a living arrangement work with people of widely varying levels of cleanliness provided there is also a mutual respect and genuine desire to deal in good faith with one another.
If you truly cannot negotiate a mutually agreeable structure with someone, then the problem isn’t their cleanliness preference.
Structure and pictures: great ideas.
Your comment on “signage” reminded me of a quirky youth hostel I stayed in in Killarney, Ireland, around 2000. The intro tour included an introduction to all the kitchen appliances, which had names (“This is Moira, the toaster”) and had nametags as well as info on when they went “off shift”, and how they liked to be cleaned. It appealed to my sense of humor and was a great low-key way to remind everyone of the house rules.
That’s adorable and is exactly the sort of thing I’d do 😀
I am messy in the BOOKS/PAPERS/LAUNDRY ON ALL THE SURFACES way, but I am also squeamish to the point of borderline-phobic about bugs after a traumatic incident + bedbug scare mashup caused my trauma feels and my bug feels to get all intermingled. I cannot deal with bugs. If I was the letter writer I would be making a keening noise like an almost-finished whistling kettle continuously, which would not be helpful.
What is helpful: I have had minimal luck with natural fruit fly traps but super good luck with a commercial but non-toxic trap from a company called Terro. They have wiped out minor fruit fly explosions in under 48 hours, including times when homemade traps did little or nothing. Also they are cute and made to look like apples, which is nice because your solution to a fruit fly infestation might as well be cute.
Also from a childhood spent in a house that was built on top of an ant hill, Formula 409 kills ants and is safe for food prep surfaces.
I think the captain has everything interpersonal covered, so I hope this is helpful re: bug destruction.
Yup, I once had a palmetto bug crawl up my leg in an apartment – so I moved out and bought a house. Not necessarily recommending this, because if I find one in my house I may have to just bun it down and take the insurance money.
I CANNOT with insects, which is part of me being super-vigilant when it comes to stuff like food waste, cans, etc.
Unfortunately my gut reaction is that “burn it down” is a perfectly legit reaction to finding a palmetto bug in your house.
I once rented a room in Tokyo, and every time I was gone over the weekend there was one (1) cockroach in my room when I returned. I could not sleep until it was destroyed. I smashed one with a can of deodorant, and I think I may have crushed another a copy of the Bible (I certainly tried, anyway. “Must kill a bug without touching it” is a somewhat problematic paradigm.)
*with a copy. not doing good with the typos today.
Oh man, are you me?? I live in Florida, so I encounter at least 2 or 3 palmetto bugs every summer. But my reaction is “get the fuck out” every time. I can’t afford to move, but I have taken my cat and fled to my parents’ place for days at a time.
Also I feel you on the need to kill roaches without touching them.
I don’t know about Palmetto bugs, but this is me: http://imgur.com/gallery/iunJB
Oh my GOD. Roaches freak me out and the ones in Osaka were large enough to throw a saddle on and use as a horse. Finding one just hanging out in the kitchen, or in my room, or near the threshold would precede me hyperventilating.
I cannot recommend bug wands/bug vacs highly enough.
1. No need to get within a foot of the bug.
2. No need to touch the bug.
3. No bug guts on the implement of smashing and/or the smashed-upon surface.
4. No killing-things-related guilt if you’re a person who experiences same (i.e., me)
5. Ability to laugh mockingly at said bug once it’s locked inside a plastic tube and cannot touch you again ever.
These will always and forever be essential household implements for me. The only way they could be better is if someone invents one which allows you to reverse the airflow to blow any currently occupying bugs *out*, to make emptying easier.
This is amazing and I’m going to buy one right now. I can avoid fleeing my home this summer!
My worst two ant stories:
1) I used to keep my retainer in a mug of water, because it’s easier to brush everything off if it never has a chance to solidify. Woke up one morning, put retainer in mug without looking. Read a book or went outside or something. Finally looked inside mug around 2pm. Full of ants. Too poor to buy new retainer. Had to wash it, soaked it in mouthwash, and continued using it.
2) I had an electric kettle in my dorm room so I didn’t have to walk outside to the kitchen to make tea. I usually had a cup or two of water in it. I flicked it on, smelled something weird. Didn’t think much about it…poured the boiling water into my cup, and the smell got worse. Looked in my cup, and there was half of a single ant torso.
Gross, right? Opened up the kettle just to see, and it had hundreds of boiled ants inside. They hadn’t poured out because this kettle had a little mesh screen for some reason.
Too poor to buy new kettle. It took 8 washes to get all the ants out.
Screaming. I am screaming.
I have a legit phobia of bugs (although weirdly, not spiders – it’s like my brain accidentally connected seeing certain types of bugs with IMMINENT DEATH in my brain-wiring) and if it’s something like a centipede or roach, I absolutely cannot deal. I get shaky, dizzy, and nauseated. Oddly it seems to get worse when my depression is worse, and I will start seeing bugs that aren’t there (like seeing a leaf out of the corner of my eye and my brain goes IT’S A GIANT DEATH BUG! I call this my nightmare filter.).
Fortunately my partner is willing to be the designated bug killer.
I know in my soul that if a cockroach/NYC “water bug”/palmetto bug ever touched my bare skin, I would die. Literally die. Like one of Tolkien’s elves after experiencing [trigger-warning-requiring stuff], I would no longer be able to go on living and would have to flee screaming into the West.
All bugs should be ideally be killed without having to touch them them, especially roaches, centipedes, and spiders. My “most horrifying insect-murder” story is the time I had to kill a wolf spider* by throwing a shoe at it and then sucking the stunned spider into the vacuum cleaner using the very longest vacuum cleaner wand, then, because our vacuum was one of those fancy Rainbow ones with water inside, pouring the dirty-water-plus-drowned-spider-the-size-of-a-human-hand out outside with great care so that the spider-contaminated water also didn’t touch me. (Meanwhile, the German Shepherd just sat there looking at me like “WTF are you doing, human?” Thanks, dog, you bravely defended me from squirrels and the neighbor’s cat, but where were your protective instincts when I really needed them?)
*Don’t google it. Just don’t.
Ach. I once was taking a shower (in my old apartment) and saw a centipede on the ceiling, right above me. Luckily I was almost done cleaning myself, but for the 3 seconds or so that I stayed in there I was terrified that it would fall on me. Then I removed the showerhead from its hook, aimed it at the ceiling (in the 2nd floor of a pre-war duplex), and sprayed until it fell off. Then I continued to spray into the tub, and when I thought it was well and drowned, I grabbed one of my boots and stomped its guts, then washed it away down the drain.
I am so glad I don’t live near the Great Lakes anymore. And that after that incident, I discovered that my cats were actually great centipede killers.
This is the sound of me ABSOLUTELY NOT GOOGLING “palmetto bug”, because I’m sure it is horrifying.
I googled that for you! Apparently it’s another term for what I would have called an “American cockroach” or a “Texas cockroach.” Now you know and you do not have to see any pictures! 😀
Yeah, it’s essentially a euphemism for a roach. They hang out in palmetto trees where I’m from, so I gather that’s where the name comes from. Tbh I think they’re a bit bigger than most cockroaches, which makes them even more terrifying imo.
correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m also under the impression that most roaches, aside from the Palmetto bug, DO NOT FLY.
A palmetto bug is a large cockroach, like 2-3 inches long. That can fly.
I’m not scared of most bugs, but palmetto bugs are my limit.
Terro (borax dissolved in sugar syrup) is also very good for getting rid of ants in a safe way.
We have… tree caterpillars? I think that’s their actual name and you can google them and find them with that. This is why we have the air conditioning on even though it’s not hot, because I’m not giving those suckers a chance to get inside. I’ll open the windows when they’re all dead.
(It’s a provincal thing, not an us thing – has to do with weather and stuff.)
Oh yeah, haven’t seen those in years, but they were common where I grew up. I was the kind of kid who would play with them (NB: not squish/hurt/kill them!) when I got bored at family picnics. If I lived nearby I would totally move them for you!
Luckily they’re just outside and there are so many less than last year. You’d go outside and the deck would be COVERED. We aren’t opening doors/windows til they die though.
I just went and took recycling out and there was a bunch of kids very concerned about how far one was from the nearest tree and trying to get it to go on a leaf XD
Seconding the Terro fruit fly traps. They work amazingly well, and quickly. HOWEVER, you also have to remove the food that is drawing the fruit flies, or the Terro traps will only reduce the total and not eliminate the problem. If the LW’s roommate still has food in their room, there will continue to be bugs.
LW mentioned the roommate leaving for a week and dumping all the dishes. I had a roommate do that exact thing; leaving all their dishes in the sink (after they’d already been there for over a week; I had hoped if I stopped doing the dishes they would notice) and then peacing out for a week. I cleaned and disinfected EVERYTHING, including the MOLD that covered the bottom of the sink. Spending the rest of the week in a clean space was worth the work.
When my roommate came back, they noticed noticed the stark contrast between the clean and dirty states and it actually caused some awareness! (especially when I informed them “yes, I did clean your dishes, there was mold, they are disinfected now” in the gentlest way possible) This roommate’s issue was mostly one of AGE- this was their first living situation away from parents who literally did not let them use common household items like screwdrivers and always cleaned after them to the point that roommate never had the chance to realize that “leave dirty dish= dirtiness until you do something about it”
Sounds like LW roommate might not have had the same helicopter parents, but might also be young if her previous living situation was with parents. It can take a while to understand those kinds of consequences. It might be helpful when talking to them to frame things in terms of consequences. Also, while her parents may not have caused the messes, sounds like they did not equip her with ways of dealing with it, so maybe follow that up with opportunities to learn. She may just have no idea how to do it.
Something like: “Hey, I love you, but you left garbage out and now there are bugs eating garbage in our house. Do you need help figuring out how to fix that?” Or “Hey, you left your dishes in the sink and I spent X amount of time cleaning them last week before I got to use the kitchen to feed myself. I know it’s hard to keep up with but I need this time for something else. I can show you how I manage my own dishes if that would be helpful.” Actions = Consequences. Her actions = Her responsibility. Following up with support- caring enough to give her some tools to fix HER problems- means that you get to be a friend again instead of a maid.
Anyway, that’s something in the past that worked for me, hope everything works out! Jedi internet hugs!
LW, it really sounds like maybe your friend is just not meant to be your roommate. I have close friends I’ve successfully lived with and ones I would never want to live with (and ones that I’m sure would not want to live with me).
I am a cluttery person (clean folded clothes not put away, books stacked up, shoes in a trail) but a clean surfaces one. I hate, hate hate messy surfaces, crumbs, dust, stickiness, etc.
I’ve been fortunate to never have lived with a roommate so messy I couldn’t stand it, but I have (briefly!) dated guys whose apartments made my skin crawl.
I own my house and rent part of it out which kind of changes the dynamic, because ultimately I call the shots. Both my roommates are pretty good about cleaning up as they go, and I tend to do more of the deep-clean stuff like the kitchen floor, etc., but fortunately the shared areas of my house are pretty small, so even deep cleaning the kitchen floor only takes so long.
As someone who grew up in a messy house with a LOT of house shame, whose parents are still having the SAME FUCKING ARGUMENT after thirty-something years of marriage about messiness, oh my god, here are some things that might be of use to you:
1. Having an infestation in your house because of a roommates’ messiness is not okay, and it is 100% okay to take steps to stop that.
2. It is quite possible your roommate’s inability to keep stuff clean is from an executive dysfunction disorder or depression or chronic fatigue or whatever. However, it is still not okay and you should be able to live in a house without bugs. Point 1 still applies.
3. It is quite possible your roommate doesn’t really know how to clean, like I didn’t until I taught myself as an adult. Point 1 still applies.
If you feel inclined you could send her towards some helpful blogs or share some strategies for keeping stuff clean.
I am a big fan of unfuck your habitat, setting a timer and doing just 15 minutes of a task, devoting one morning/afternoon to Wife Duties (what we jokingly call cleaning) and taking time off of work for twice-yearly closet clean-outs.
I would say that I think you’ll have a lot more success framing the conversation as a matter-of-fact “this is what needs to change/this is how we’ll change it/how do you plan on changing it” conversation and not turning it into (or letting her turn it into) a referendum on what type of person she is.
I do think a cleaning person will work wonders for the common areas of your house and is something you should consider, even if it’s just until you can get the house back to an acceptable level of cleanliness.
That being said, it really may be the case that she is not someone you can continue to have as a roommate, and that’s okay!
Hi LW – I recommend not living with this person anymore and choosing Option 2 to handle it. I personally did not improve in my ability to SEE mess without a lot of emotional labor from loving and unloving housemates, and no one I ever lived with improved at cleaning through my approach (passive aggression and eventual conversations where I was clearly suppressing a lot of rage). If you do not want to take that on, I understand at my very core why not, and applaud you.
(Also I’d like to just recall a certain housemate – a young man of maybe 20 – who spilled a whole gallon of juice and decided to leave it until it dried because “it would be easier to clean up.” I did not let him do that, but…..oh my god.)
WHAT? WHAT? NO IT WOULD NOT! How would it be easier to clean up when it was DRY AND STUCK TO EVERYTHING???
..er. Excuse me.
As someone with (ellipses) executive function and emotional stuff (ellipses) – clear, straightforward, measurable, checkable asks that then get re-cued (like by a google calendar reminder!) or documented somehow are KIND. I can’t tell you how many times someone has been upset because I didn’t know not to do something that “everyone should know not to do”, but because “everyone should know not to do it” they never TOLD me what it was. They said “hey, this place looks messy, could we neaten it?” and then because of my … stuff… I’d alphabetize all the spices for them and not realize that they meant “you dropped smoothie dribbles on the floor and then forgot that they were there and ew no help”. And if you really want to see a shame spiral, tell someone who has stuff to “be neater”. I don’t know how to be a neater person! I will panic, choose the wrong thing, and then feel like a failure and stop trying. But “please don’t take food into your room, and please put all your food waste in this one trash can” is actionable. I don’t have to be a different person to do it, who’s “neat”. The standards aren’t some kind of spiritual attainment of understanding why the smoothie glorps are more important than the spice rack. Is there garbage in the room? No? Is the garbage in the one can? Yes? PURPOSE ACHIEVED.
I may be belaboring the point, but people who are “neat”, whatever that is, do seem to find it really hard to understand that I literally don’t understand how to make something cleaner, but I can absolutely understand “put all the dirty dishes in the room into this bus bin, then wash all those dishes, then wipe the counter, every day” and do it at least with 95% success. I’m not saying that LW has to set these kinds of objectives as opposed to just not wanting to live with this roommate anymore, but if she does, setting them will feel socially weird! It will! and it is _kinder_ and _better_ than having a vague conversation about please… be… neater… I don’t like – mess? that never clears up what counts as success in this situation.
I’m neat. It wasn’t easy becoming neat. It took years of practice.
Even now, in my 50s, I have mental checklists of what to do so that my home is both clean (easy for me) and tidy (very difficult for me) before I walk out the door.
I have checklists of what to do as soon as I come home too.
Most people I know operate this way. That’s how we manage our innate tendencies to mess things up.
See, I think I know a lot of people who are instinctively and successfully neat. They pass through a place and if it’s their own mess, they tidy it. Breaking cleaning down into lists seems childish and silly to them. They look at a messy space and they see what that mess consists of and envision steps that carry them through handling those parts. I look at a messy space and I experience overwhelming, unbroken noise, and the only starting steps that I could understand until I spent a LOT of time working on lists including in my case with a therapist were “sort all the cups by size and color” or “alphabetize cookbooks”. I’m neuroatypical, but so is my mother, and she’s instinctively neat (part of why she couldn’t help me). She had no idea how to teach a person to clean because since she was a little kid she’s tidied to soothe herself. So it must be different for different people.
The whole time, people kept getting angry at me for making excuses, and I’ll be honest, I just wanted someone to either give me actionable items about what bothered them or _ask me what was going on_. I’m not saying LW needs to put up with anything from her roommate. The house sounds gross. Even I am generally pretty good at using bugs or smells as action cues of WHATEVER THIS IS, EVEN IF I JUST PITCH THESE PLATES INTO THE WOODS, THIS CANNOT STAND. But surely I am not the only person whose brain stuff has meant that roommates who think they’re being diplomatic with “wow, sure is messy, please tidy up” are going to get less successful results and cause more stress than roommates who go “please never leave your dirty dishes in the sink and go to sleep or leave the house.”
My point is that most people I know who are seemingly instinctively tidy had to work at it. It’s learnable.
I don’t know what you needed to be able to learn to clean. I do know that other people won’t volunteer to teach most of the time.
This stuff is hard.
I worked with a mental health professional to learn it. I’m an edge case for sure. What I needed and still need from other people is to see a thing that pisses them off and specifically name it and state a preference. My experience is that most people who are mad about their messy roommates can give endless lists behind the roommate’s back, and to their roommate’s face they think that it seems less conflict-causing to not deliver the list but instead say something amazingly vague. The Captain recommends actually saying what you need. I am agreeing with her, and pointing out that being specific is often kinder and more helpful than being vague.
… I feel like maybe you are trying to argue with me about a wider philosophical point, and I’m pretty sure that we disagree. Some cognitive tasks are genuinely harder for some people than others. I’m not diagnosing the LW’s rm with an executive function problem, but I am explaining how mine works. I wouldn’t have diagnostic codes if my experience was perfectly normal. I am genuinely telling you that it is harder for me than other people.
And as they say in one of my therapies, that’s not my fault, but it is my problem. Which is why when it caused domestic conflict, among other things, I took the issue to an actual counselor, and while I read a lot of books the ones that helped the best were specific to my diagnoses.
The only things I needed from my roommates were to a) believe me, which does not mean enduring mess or cleaning up after me b) tell me what they meant when they said “this room is messy” in list form and c) be at least passingly positive about my attempts to fix the situation. I don’t mind “I support your chore calendar but I’d prefer to just do the chores I do without a calendar”. I do mind “we’re all adults here and should know how to clean up after ourselves” as the only acceptable solution. Feelings don’t clean floors. The reason I mentioned the smoothie is that a roommate who generally would communicate through passive aggressive post-its about being tidy said “it makes me crazy when you don’t clean up your drips immediately and carefully” and I wanted to build her a monument for it.
You know what, I’m being defensive. As you can tell, I had an uphill battle with LOTS of people (like the “clean when the mood takes you” roommate below) definitely giving me the very firm impression that they were fundamentally able to perceive and disassemble mess, and that they thought I was just purposefully deactivating that capacity to be inconvenient. But you also have the right to be proud of what you went through to learn to clean, and I don’t know anything about your brain and your life.
I realize that I sound more aggressive than I feel.
I’m sad that former roommates were so stuck in their “But I figured it out” narratives that they (and I ) didn’t listen to you.
You’re right, your issues make some things objectively harder for you than for me
Again, I apologize for my aggression and lacknot uunderstanding.
“lacknot” = “lack of”
I love both of you guys for working hard to understand each other and apologise where appropriate. xx
It’s very hard. I’ve had a similar situation to this but with socializing: I had paralyzing social anxiety for most of my adolescence (I still have it, but it’s much less paralyzing), and so I didn’t learn a lot of basic things about socializing–how to make small talk, how to host a gathering, how to invite people to things, etc. So I put a lot of work into teaching myself during college, how to make small talk, how to host a party, how to keep in touch with friends, all of that kind of thing. It was hard work, scary work, work made more difficult by my anxiety. But I did it, and I learned, and I was proud of what I had accomplished.
It was immensely frustrating, then, when a friend later expected me to do all the hard work of socializing more or less for him–throw all the parties, do all the inviting, break the ice with new people, etc. His stated reason? “You’re just naturally so good at it.” I know he sincerely meant it as praise (well, and also presumably because he wanted me to keep doing the work for him, because it was hard and scary–hell, I know it’s hard and scary, it was hard and scary for me too at one point), but it kind of stung that I’d worked so hard to develop certain skills and it just got subsumed into “being naturally good at it.”
You can live with me. I’m good at saying what needs to be done, bad at doing it XD
Give you a dollar to clean the gunk behind my kitchen tap.
Cleaning faucet gunk is so satisfying!
…dear God, I’m turning into my grandmother.
tensions around housemate dom in my house are historically very low, despite always being 5-7 mostly unrelated adults, spanning a 30 year age difference most of the time, with a variety of backgrounds (THO I WILL NOTE: many of us at some point in our life, even if not now, could have id’ed as white & middle class. that has gotta play some major factors in things ‘naturally’ being harmonious, but it is hard to parse from inside the fishbowl.) so these are some things that have helped us, though i think a lot of this is not super replicable –
– our anchor housemate is a full-ass grown up, in his 50s, who has been co-opping in the house for 30+ years. he is a saint, he does a lot of emotional labor around keeping things smooth, because a smooth co-op is integral to his life.
– this really doesn’t in any way compensate for the magic of St Roommate, but to the extent we can, his emotional and logistical labor is factored into his share of chores. he does almost no “dishes/raking/vacuuming” but he does ALL the emergncies, landlord negotiations, lending money when things get suddenly expensive and weird, craiglist posting, and bill organizing and general slack picking. this means that there is a point person on emergencies and a person who is doing the labor of keeping an eye on things (like, when is the best month to get the good deal to buy oil? who will trim the hedge? are we in violation of town firecode? -> all of that is St Roomie)
-moving into this house means you have already agreed that this guy is a little bit in your business, in a good way, kinda taking care of things, and in exchange, we do the manual grunt stuff. (he also has physical reasons for him that this makes sense.) if you don’t like this, you don’t move in, but if you do like it, you have kind of hit a roommate jackpot with this guy.
– we share all food and have a general agreement on what food cost/unit is too expensive. shopping for this food is a chore, so there is no shelves/milk owing arguing, St. Roommate will float you money if you are the shopper but dont have $. at the end of the month St Roommie tells us who owes what. food wise, if you put your name on it, it’s yours. otherwise it’s house food. alcohol is never assumed communal unless labeled. illicit shit is kept in your own room, always.
– we make a really concereted effort to find friends. like, not best friends, but we are very upfront about operating communally and discourage people who don’t want to be friends with us from moving in.
– we have a chore rotation with chore “units” and we rotate ever 4-8 months who is assigned to what, and have a system for making it fair how we sign up.
– we have always had at least one intentionally un/underemployed housemate who is cheerful about joining St Roomie in slackpicking. this is financially inaccessible to most people, i realize, but it helps immensely. we have a pretty lefty view of class stuff, so often, the idea is that if someone is able to afford to chose not to work, it’s reasonable that they help things instead of overworking the working people.
– our cleanliness standard is kinda low. like, we draw the line at “not filthy” but we don’t police low key disorganized. so there is dirt on our carpets that we wear our shoes on, and we keep some clutter, but it is really clear that’s how we are when you tour our house so there is no surprises. clean people will not pick us. we are kinda hippies but we are ont hes ame page, have no filth, and therefore don’t need to police each other that much.
– we have a spare room for guests that you can arrange to use in advance so it makes it low tension to have guests over.
– because we share food communally, we ask that people just honor “don’t give your friends more food than they give you” and call that square. if someone is staying for like a week, then we ask them to throw into our food fund. our food costs are less per person than they would be living solo becuase we can buy in bulk so people still feel okay about cost and it keeps tensions low.
I will cut it there, but this is just some of what we do, The basic idea is that we have a lot of built in systems that carry themselves, paired with as low standards as we can reasonably manage. It limits the need to check in with people and police their habits.
Also a final thing!! Because St Roomie is recognized as such by everyone who knows him, we have a really strong culture of favor doing. You forgot it was your night to take out trash? St Roomie will find someone who inevitably owes him 40 favors, and is not gonna be super pissed about doing it for you. don’t make it a habit, and next time soemone forgot to shop – maybe it’s your turn to pick it up. if you are not chill about a free flow of favor giving you are not a good fit for us. we have a “life is too short to count it” feeling unless someone is severly slacking.
i also cannot overehmphasize the extent we rely on st. roomie’s saintliness. it is the grease that keeps everything else calm and salubrious. if there is anything i could suggest i think it would be seeing if your group living situation is able to be honest and straight forward about the amount of emotional labor it takes to keep people living in close quarters happy, and compensate that when dividing up the chores.
You also rely on his authority.
Sometimes I think that’s key to these sorts of group situations’ working.
There is one person who has final authority, and they has the social capital, the confidence, and the authority (both in their own head and in yours) to set rules and have conversations, issue ultimatums, issue instruction, and if necessary make someone move out.
well, not really. we make a lot of decisions based on negotiation and consensus. st roomie is considered ‘an authority’ in the sense that he is also super technically knowledgable. he does the labor of research and we often trust his opinions. but we all weigh in on philosophical/political decisions the house needs to make, and if anything, i think my opinion might hold a bit more sway because i’ve been here really long and i tend to care a bunch.
I’ve noticed that the common thread in both this and the Successful Chore Situation the captain described is that they both have a project manager. Tech gets a lot of things wrong, but one of the things I think it gets right is that it accepts that cat-herding is difficult and has made it a well-compensated job title in its own right. Organizing everyone to Get Shit Done is work! It’s actually kind of a lot of work! And it’s hard!
yes!!! St Roomie is deffo our loving cat herder. ❤ and it is absolutely hard work! st roommate is always three steps ahead of us thinking of everything that could go wrong and saving our asses from a lot of annoyances. it's genuinely specialized knowledge, and he's really good at it!
And you can only do it if you have the authority to make consequences stick, too. Part of the reason that I prefer PMing at work to “PMing” a household is that at work, if someone consistently doesn’t do their bit and I’ve talked to them, at some point I can actually make there be real genuine consequences–I can’t fire people, but I can go to their bosses and be like, “Thus-and-such is repeatedly not doing this task, and I’ve talked to them and it’s not worked,” and their boss will make something happen. And I note that in the Captain’s example, part of the deal was that JL was willing and able to make there be consequences–“JL emphatically did not want to spend his time policing this crap, so, if you made him have to have more than one awkward conversation about household stuff that made living there unpleasant for him or other people, he was within his rights to give you 30 day notice to move out.”
But if you are unable or unwilling to make there be consequences and make them stick (and kicking someone out of your house is hard, so I can’t be hard on people who are unwilling, really), you can’t really PM. All you can do is plead and cajole and remind, endlessly. And while PMing a household is real work and should be acknowledged and appreciated as such, being the Pleader and Cajoler and Reminder (or, as society is wont to unfairly label it, the Shrew, the Nag, the Not Chill Girl) is even worse.
Yup, this – the dynamic is definitely different now that I live in a house that I own and rent parts of it out vs. when I lived with roommates. I also set it up so that my roommates have monthly leases that automatically renew unless I or they terminate – which also means that if someone is a problem, I can get them out in a month versus whatever is left on their lease. And it’s not their house, ultimately.
I switched to monthly after dealing with a roommate who had a girlfriend living with him as a non-rent-paying roommate (if you are sleeping at my house seven nights a week and doing laundry in my washer…you are a roommate, sorry.).
This sounds fantastic! I wouldn’t mind living in a communal situation if it were like this.
moving in here is the luckiest thing that could have ever happened to me, and i still sometimes have to pinch myself. i went through some Hard Times in my early twenties, and a fuck ton of childhood trauma, and so this is the longest I have ever ‘consensually’ lived anywhere, and it’s kind of a dream and low key saved my life ^^
LW, the Captain and other commenters have addressed so much of this beautifully. I just want to add that if you decide that you don’t want to do the emotional labor and take on the added responsibility of Teaching Friend How to Clean Person, it does NOT make you a bad friend, and you should not feel guilty.
I have discovered that I am not good with delivering reminders and follow-ups. Asking someone, even a dearly loved person, more than once or twice, to please remember to do a Thing, sets my brain on edge and primes me for resentment. Even if they have asked for my help reminding them. Even if I know there are Extremely Good Reasons why Thing hasnt happened yet, and everyone is acting in good faith. I now know that I have to either 1) do Thing myself, as a gift to that person, or 2) let go of caring whether Thing gets done at all.
This fine where Thing is “order birthday present” or “make restaurant reservations”, but obviously will not work where Thing is “clean up after yourself every day.”
If, like me, you also can’t take on the designated Coach/Nag role without feeling it burrowing into your Id, the kindest thing you can do for your friend and yourself is part ways as roommates. Not everyone is live-in compatible, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I am a messy person living with MUCH LESS messy people. I do my best, but I can’t say we’re like, happy and content. But it’s not actively a problem anymore.
What helped me was a whiteboard, dedicated for notes. It FEELS passive-aggressive, but it also let me handle shame-feelings and such while not having to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who I felt like was judging me for not being clean enough. Like, she’s well within her rights to want a cleaner house – leaving a note is easier for her and me emotionally than having to have a face-to-face conversation about it every time.
I don’t think I’ve seen this suggestion yet–apologies if I missed it–but LW, if you want to continue to give living with this roommate a shot, and if you have the cash to do so, it might be helpful to bring in cleaners for an initial cleaning and insect expulsion triage. When things get dirty enough, it can be really intimidating to try to tackle them, whereas if you’re starting from a baseline of pretty clean, it’s less daunting.
Agree! Cleaners are amazing for getting the place back to neutral, so you can start your cleaning routine from scratch and don’t have to burn through all your energy getting to “not an immediate health hazard”.
Yes we did that when our house got too messy! We have a cleaner come every two weeks now to do maintenance cleaning, but the first time she came, she did a BIG clean that helped us to reset from Disaster Mess to Acceptable Baseline.
Here is my “we all stayed friends” house rules that worked very well:
I lived in a house with 5 other college women (and one bathroom!). The agreement we had wasn’t perfect but we had a rotating chore schedule based on a 6 week cycle and you moved duties each week.
Week 1 – Bathroom
Week 2 – Living Room + front porch
3 – Kitchen
4 – Trash and recycling
5 – House fund ($5 was added to house fund for things like TP, cleaning supplies, etc.)
6 – Floors
Dishes were not included in the kitchen week task, each person was expected to do their own within one day of use. Parties were to be agreed upon by ALL roommates and were not to be held on week nights during the school year. BF/GF could stay over but could not use the shower or take up the bathroom for longer than normal….toilet needs.
If a friend was coming to visit and needed to sleep on the couch in the shared living room, ALL roommates needed to agree to it, there needed to be at least a week’s notice and said guest would need to be awake and out of the common area by 9am.
I think we had some others that we tweaked as time went on since it was a first for all of us just out of the dorms. There were a couple times that someone was slacking on their chore that week but since there was 6 of us, the other 5 would lean on the slacker and the group shame seemed to keep everyone in line. We all worked and went to school full time and managed to make the time in the week to do our chores. Some of us were more thorough cleaners than others but expectations were simply that shared spaces need to be tidy and livable.
I have many fond memories of the house and the ladies I lived with and none of them involve fighting over cleaning 🙂
Almost 10 years ago I and my then-boyfriend (now known to my friends and family as Voldemort) moved in with a former coworker of his (I’ll call her N) to share her 2BR/2BA apartment. We all agreed on a general level of cleanliness before the move-in but didn’t make a schedule for most things because I guess we all assumed that if we agreed on what “clean” meant we must also all intuitively know what it took to maintain that. The only hard rule was that dishes had to be done within 24 hours of using them. Since I did the cooking for myself and Voldemort, he did the dishes. And since he had 24 hours though, he’d leave them in the sink until the next meal, then wash them so I could use them again…rinse and repeat.
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t fly with N. She started leaving us notes stuck to the fridge telling us to do any dishes left in the sink as soon as we saw the note, and within a few weeks she changed the rule–via note–to “dishes must be washed immediately after use.” Voldemort’s position was that we were following the letter of the rule we had agreed to and N could not unilaterally change the rule like that, so he stopped even reading the notes and didn’t change his behavior.
I understood where N was coming from and agreed that there should not be dishes in the sink constantly, but as far as Voldemort was concerned that was not his problem. I also didn’t want to keep getting notes because they made me feel really stressed out and ambushed and attacked–also not Voldemort’s problem. We had a lot of fights about that. A lot. The upshot was that I had two choices. I could join him in the land of no fucks to give, or I could do all the dishes myself if I wanted them done sooner. So I started doing the dishes after I had finished eating (not exactly what N was asking for, but damn it, if I’m going to do the cooking and the washing up, I’m going to eat my food while it’s still hot).
When I went to N in person and explained the situation and asked her to speak to Voldemort directly because he had stopped reading the notes, she said she didn’t care which of us did the dishes as long as they got done–and she kept leaving notes. Notes about the dishes, notes about cleaning out the refrigerator, notes about vacuuming her cats’ hair off the couches… I get that she may have felt like she would be meddling in our relationship if she spoke to him about the dishes, but on the other hand she knew that even though she was addressing the notes to us-as-a-unit they were only reaching me, so she already was very concretely meddling in our relationship (soooo many fights). It was just less awkward for her to write notes than it was to have conversations.
So, now that I’ve got that off my chest, and realizing that my situation isn’t quite analogous to OP’s, here’s my point for OP and anyone else who finds themselves in OP’s / N’s position:
You definitely want to take the Cap’s advice about having the initial conversation(s) face to face. Although it will almost certainly be awkward for you to do this in person, it’ll be awkward for your roommate whether you do it in person or via note, and I think you’re more likely to achieve something productive if you do it in person. 10 or 20 minutes of face to face conversation can cover as much ground as a couple weeks’ worth of notes, minus many of the misunderstandings you get with notes. And it would be a good idea while you’re having this face to face conversation to discuss what role, if any, notes should have in future communication. Can you leave short notes with keywords to remind your roommate of something you’ve already discussed? Can you introduce new topics / change “rules” in a note? Does your roommate have clutter blindness that might mean they won’t even notice a note? Do you feel like you shouldn’t even have to leave notes? All of that stuff matters and none of it should be assumed.
My last roommate was the first person I’d lived with who was actually messier than I am (though we’re talking clutter and things left out, here, not bugs-attracting kind of mess). I learned a couple key strategies from the experience:
-Be upfront about the situation. You are cleaner/tidier than your housemate is. Everyone should be on the same page about this. It makes it so much easier to discuss things if problems do arise, because everyone’s already aware of it as a potential problem–there’s no dancing around it involved anymore.
-Define clear boundaries where possible. For example, bugs are a NO WAY BURN IT WITH FIRE thing for me. If we had an issue with that, I probably would have set up a boundary about ‘all food/food waste must stay exclusively in the kitchen, no matter what’.
-Set up general guidelines where firm lines aren’t so easy to draw. For example, I basically told my roommate, “Heads up, sometimes I need to declutter, when that happens I will take all your random stuff that’s scattered around the common space and shove it in your bedroom for you to do whatever you want with, let me know if you have a better plan.” It worked great because I could pick up when I needed to, I always knew what to do with her stuff, and she knew that I wasn’t going to randomly grab her and expect her to clean RIGHT THEN even if she was busy or tired.
-If there are chores that one of you is pretty much always more willing to do, then make it explicit and just divide them up. I did the dishes. She took out the trash. Sure, we’d help out with the other’s chores if one of us was sick or super overwhelmed, but this was way easier overall than trying to wheedle her into doing the dishes (painful) or cajole me into taking out the trash (I hate doing this for some reason).
-Every so often I’d schedule big cleaning days. Tidy the apartment, dust, vacuum, mop, scrub toilets, get everything put away, etc. I scheduled it with her, so she had some say in what day we’d do it on, and we tackled different zones of the house so we weren’t tripping over each other. We probably did this every 3 or 4 months (I’m not THAT neat >.>) but you could do whatever timing you wanted.
In one roommate situation I was living in, we sat down and designed a chore wheel that rotated on a weekly basis. There were a lot initial discussions about what each chore entailed when we created the wheel, for example is “sweeping the kitchen floor” a once a week chore when it’s your turn or a daily chore? My favorite part of the chore wheel was that one of the chores was “Enforcer”. That meant that when “Enforcer” was your chore, it was your job to make sure everyone else was doing their chores. It worked really well for us and eliminated a lot of the awkwardness surrounding chore conversations. We also had weekly (I think) roommate meetings that became less frequent as we got to know each other better and didn’t need them as much. The combination of scheduled communication + chore wheel really worked for me. I’m a really clean person and while my roommates didn’t keep things as clean as I would *prefer*, I felt comfortable bringing things up if something was getting really stressful for me. But being able to look at the chore wheel and say “it’s not my job to make sure the sink isn’t full of dishes this week” made a huge difference for me psychologically. I was in a different living situation than the letter writer, but just wanted to throw in my experience with an intentional roommate agreement around chores that worked for me.
Love the idea of an Enforcer. Even better if they wear sunglasses indoors and fold their arms menacingly.
Captain, do you have a copy of the agreement your old roommate had written up, or could you contact them and get a copy? This sounds like it would make a really great template for these kinds of agreements.
There are actually a billion online, if you’re interested – some very pretty!!!
The Captain’s advice was brilliant as usual. However, there are a few situations that, IMO, would automatically require the use of Option 2:
1. The LW and/or her boyfriend has a chronic illness and/or is immune-compromised.
2. The LW and/or her boyfriend is allergic to bugs, mold, etc.
3. The LW and her boyfriend are expecting a child or planning on starting a family.
In any of these situations, a filthy house is a serious, if not life-threatening, health hazard to the LW and/or her boyfriend/future child(ren). The roommate and her mess needs to be removed if the living conditions are a biohazard to others.
I’m mystified by “I don’t even know how to broach the subject.” You just say it straight out. “Roommate, you need to clean up your dishes and not leave them in the sink or in your room.” “Roommate, when cat shits on the floor, please use the (whatever you have) to clean the floor. Yes I know it was dry. Please clean up anyway, it grosses me out.”
It can sometimes be surprisingly hard to bring up subjects like this! It’s kind of like, say you share an office with a smelly officemate. I personally would suffer the Seven Hells of Squirming Shame before being able to bring it up. Maybe because it’s something that seems SO not a thing that people should do? I can’t imagine keeping food that attracts bugs in my bed/living in filth, and trying to tell someone not to do that seems like trying to tell someone not to, I don’t know, tapdance in traffic. No one should be doing it!
I don’t know about the dynamics for LW, but it also fucking sucks to feel like the Nagging Woman of Naggington, which is a feeling I hate with a thousand burning suns, and it sometimes feels really dang weird to ask a roommate who is ostensibly an adult who should be doing this stuff on their own initiative to do things that seem really self-evident.
I did have a younger (male) roommate who had been gently reared by a mom who did everything for him, and because of that, stuff that to me seems so obvious, like not putting wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher/picking up the floor when you spill food on it/not running the dishwasher with a bowl and one spoon in it and/or using it as a drying rack, was NOT obvious to him.
I was getting angry because I assumed he knew what to do and was choosing not to do it, when in fact he really didn’t know that doing stuff like putting wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher causes them to warp.
Saying it straight out sounds like a great strategy (and it is! it’s definitely the best option!) but it’s sometimes just not that easy – especially if you’ve got someone who is going to hit you with a wall of defensiveness/anger/tears/what have you, and then maybe just continue on with their trash-lovin’ ways.
I think you can head off defensiveness if you approach this sort of thing–whatever it is, and no matter how obvious it is–as though there’s a fact that the other person doesn’t know. Or hasn’t noticed. Assume that of course they’re a person of good will, and if they knew the problem was there, they’d surely want to do something about it.
So inform them, as a helpful person who has noticed something they didn’t. Sort of as if they have toilet paper stuck to their shoe.
I aim for the same tone of voice I would use to tell someone the tag is sticking out of the back of their shirt–this is a thing to fix, but it is also Not A Huge Deal. I’ve had to practice this tone, because my default tendency is “UGH WHY?!?!” which helps no one.
I have lost so many wooden cutting boards to the dishwashers of relationships past. Also nonstick pans to brillo pads, bras and knit sweaters to hot dryers, IKEA furniture to clumsy work done without instructions… Yeesh you have sparked some memories for me with that cutting board comment lol. Apparently I have dated a lot of very “helpful” menfolk.
Yeah, stuff like putting wooden spoons in the dishwasher so they split and warp, using scratchy pads on nonstick pans, scrubbing the finish off of tables, cooking oil at such a super high temperature it’s then baked onto the stainless steel pan and then not knowing to use Barkeeper’s Friend to get it off, etc. etc….I hate feeling like I’m micromanaging someone and I don’t want to be like UGH I’LL JUST DO IT but when someone is legit ruining your stuff (all the cookware and furniture in the common areas is mine) it’s hard to just be like eh it’s not that big of a deal, especially when it means having to replace things more frequently.
The knitting! Oh, God. My dad accidentally did this last week–he handles laundry, but he grabbed my mother’s new shawl that she had just finished knitting for herself, and threw it in the wash with all the other stuff, and it felted. A month’s worth of knitting, GONE.
Oh gods this sends me right back to my first year at university /o\ I used to share a with 9 roommates, and it was Hell On Earth. But it was also like the sixth level of hell rather than the ninth because really early on we established some basic ground rules (or rather, ground compromises that weren’t perfect but were absolutely necessary because I had no kicking-out-roommates power):
-If you didn’t want to do your dishes, don’t put them in the sink. Sounds counter productive, but ten people sharing one kitchen sink, this was a definite ground rule. We had a dedicated box with a sealed lid for dirty dishes that the owners didn’t want to wash, and it made certain that we didn’t have bugs around.
-Make sure at least half your dishes get cleaned every two weeks. Admittedly, less than half of them stuck to this, but it made the whole place so much less of a death trap.
-One person is in charge of any major flat emergencies – injuries, making sure that everything was at least decently safe, making sure nothing was going to catch fire, contacting maintenance, etc. In this case, that person was me.
-Want a party? No problem! Keep all the trash in your rooms, and don’t forget you’re responsible for moving anyone who ends up passed out in the shower before everyone needs to use it. (this happened so many times, we had to make a rule for it)
-There was a kitchen deep clean that happened every three months, and we were allowed to rib you incessantly if you didn’t come and help out.
-If someone asked you to clean something, you cleaned it. No questions asked. No excuses. You did it there and then.
-We all had the right to throw out each other’s rancid milk/meat/leftovers, and you were not allowed to complain about it.
It didn’t create a 100% perfect household, but it at least made it livable. Only six of the nine roommates left their (six-month old) dirty dishes and unused food behind when they left (which I see as a plus because at least it wasn’t all nine of them), and had the bonus of me having a relatively livable house and being on the good side of the house warden. Also, since I was the last tenant in the house, it meant I could have a ceremonial trashing of dishes/deep clean of the kitchen when everyone left, which was satisfying.
My mom hit one of those “I can’t not do my own housework, what will people think?!” walls when her abilities (and let’s face it, willingness) to clean began flagging. I insisted she hire help, and told her to look at it not as being lazy, but as being a Job Creator. She loved that.
“and told her to look at it not as being lazy, but as being a Job Creator.” OMG YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS this is fantastic, thank you, love this reframe.
This was how my parents got around it. My dad was retired, but has back issues and was caring for his mother, who had dementia and lived with them. My mother had taken a new job in a city an hour away. They were both exhausted. Dad was the one who pumped for Team Cleaner, and eventually talked her into it on those grounds. Now, I know as much about what’s going on with Mara and Simone as I do my stepsiblings.
I know! Mom loved Jennifer. When she finally had to move to hospice, she made sure to tell me to pay her a couple months’ worth of fees as a thank-you.
FYI: it is possible to have a clean home and still have ants and rodents. I know. In the last month I have had both. Yes, in my case it’s due to having a basement level apartment and a dry winter followed by a very dry summer. I am very uptight about being clean. I can be cluttered, but I am always clean so this infestation was upsetting. So far we’ve disposed of two mice and had to lay out poisoned ant bait traps. The ant problem seems to have vanished, but the mice aren’t fully gone. I know our cat has been instrumental in why we’re not seeing them as much as others in the building have.
LW, I think CA has great advice on this one. I lived with a messy roommate and it was awful. She was dirty. She was the kind of person who would work out, shower and then get right back into her sweaty clothes. She left food out, she wouldn’t wash dishes, she barely ever did her laundry. I ended up snapping one night and told her that she needed to keep her filth out of the common areas: living room, bathroom, kitchen. I told her to be as gross as she wanted within the confines of her room, but that in order for us to stay friends and roommates she needed to do this. She did. She kept the shared spaces super tidy and her room was a pit to which the door was always closed. We did lose our security deposit because of her room though. The carpet was stained gray in every area that didn’t have a piece of furniture on it (we rented a rug cleaner to try to fix it and it didn’t work) and the smell that lingered in her room required professional cleaners. My mom and aunt helped us move and they literally wouldn’t go into her room because they gagged every time they tried.
My childhood home was, as I mentioned in another comment, constructed on an ant hill. My mother was pretty darned clean but we had ants all the time no matter what we did because even if there was no food sometimes the ants decided they did not care for the weather outside and would prefer to come inside. Also rats. Same reason. We lived in the desert and it was soul-destroyingly hot outside most of the year, and it turns out ants and rats like air conditioning too.
The ants actually “helped” with cleaning because there would be an inch-wide ant trail to the one tiny crumb you missed when you wiped the counter. A lot of the time they were just passing through, though.
Having said all of that, while you can definitely get bugs with no filth (all of my fruit fly infestations have ridden in on fruit I bought), if you have enough filth you will probably eventually get bugs. And no one wants bugs.
Both my friend and I are very messy, and we both have depression. We don’t live together, but when we visit each other, we help clean the applicable room. I’m good at the motivation, but can’t do a lot physically; he has executive dysfunction out the wazoo but usually has plenty of energy. Together, we are one entire capable person. I like to say that of the phrase “get up and go,” I have the get up and he has the go.
I like the way you worded the get up and go about the two of you! 🙂
In my current house we have developed a chore chart, which works really well for us. We are only three people, so this might not work elsewhere. But basically each week one of us has to clean all the communal spaces (as I said, the house is not too big, so you can do this in an hour), there is a list of stuff you have to do (eg wipe kitchen surfaces, clean toilets, vacuum first floor) and every time you have done something, you can put a sticker on the chart. This helps you keep track of what exactly you need to do and, if you don’t do it all in one go, what you have already done, and it also works great for everyone else to check. No more ppassive aggressive vacuum cleaning late at night, when finally everyone is at home, so they can witness you cleaning… We currently have glitter donuts and dinosaurs for stickers I think and adults can get quite motivated by the promise of a sticker!
One of the best roommate agreements I had was that once a month we make dinner together and then have House Meeting, where we can talk about anything house-related. There is no wondering “is this hair-in-the-bathroom thing worth bringing up? if so when, and how? what if this is a bad time for them, they seem busy with work…?”
If there is a thing and it’s not too urgent, you automatically talk about it at house meeting.
Rituals that also happened at house meeting:
– Paying the bills
– Sharing appreciations of each other and the house (we had an Appreciation Station, a big jar where we could leave post-it notes to be read at house meeting… cute, right?)
– Scheduling the next house meeting
– Scheduling the monthly everyone-cleans-all-the-things blitz
In that house I was the less-clean roommate who was insecure that maybe I don’t know how to clean (and everyone thinks I’m a slob and I don’t even know what I’m doing wrong). My cleaner roommate ended up writing detailed cleaning checklists like CA described, which (a) ensured the house was how they like it, (b) actually taught me to *see* dirt where I hadn’t looked for it before, and (c) resolved my anxiety about living in a different reality from Clean People and being judged for it.
(No thanks, btw, to previous roommates – in London – who were like, HOW could you not KNOW that you’re supposed to wipe up water from the counter after you do the dishes, YOU AMERICANS ARE THE WORST.)
Oh my god, the Appreciation Station is the BEST! I live alone now, but damn I wish I had thought of that.
Also, your London roommates sound terrible.
I actually understand how the LW’s roommate might have gone from feeling like a clean person to being the messiest person in her house, even if it sounds like an extreme example (BUGS! JUST NO!). At University I was the cleanest person in the house, I organised a rota where we each had to clean one room in the house once a week and each had one week off a month. If I saw someone else clean, I would clean my room for that week, otherwise I tended to leave it until Sunday and then seeing me clean would spur the others.
Anyway, this year I live with a very neat guy in his thirties who organises letting out the spare room in our house as an airbnb so…the house is very clean and it is very rarely because I cleaned it. He made some passive aggressive comments about how I never clean and I offered to organise a rota or take responsibility for a set list of tasks, and he got upset and was basically like ‘I’m not interested in managing you, I’m just saying you aren’t clean. Just clean when the mood takes you, that’s what I do.’ Aaaand the mood doesn’t take me? I clean when I cook any kind of slow dinner like risotto, so in practice my contribution is like, cleaning the bathroom once every couple of weeks. It’s one of those things where I feel guilty but not guilty enough to ever actually do anything.
So I guess my advice is 1) being ‘the clean one’ in one situation has no bearing on whether you will stay ‘the clean one’ in your next living situation and 2) some people need different incentives to clean – for my flatmate, the idea of a rota stresses him out. For me, it is very hard to motivate myself to clean without one. Also nothing ever gets dirty enough for me to think about cleaning it, and if I’m not sure whether my flatmate mopped the floors yesterday and they seem fine to me, I’m not going to the effort of mopping them.
Maybe if he doesn’t want a rota and you do, you could create a schedule for yourself and share it with him … ? With a script something like ‘I know you don’t need this and that’s cool … and I DO need this because of the way my brain works. So I want to check in with you that you think this is a reasonable schedule for me, that we’re not doubling up in areas that don’t need doubling up, and I’m not missing anything that you think you ought to be doing.’
If he’s determined to not understand that people’s brains work differently, there might not be much you can do. But if he can accept that you need a schedule for yourself, and you’re not trying to impose a schedule on HIM, maybe there’s a way forward where you can both be happier … ?
I live with my boyfriend and my best friend. All three of us have mental health issues and come from chaotic homes where we didn’t have great role models for keeping things clean. We’re all getting better, and we all have our up and down periods. When I’m at a low point, between the lack of energy and the abundance of self-recrimination, staying on top of housework can be so intimidating that I don’t even start. What helps me during those times is asking my housemates what’s the highest priority for them. Like if I can only do one thing that day, in their opinion, what thing should I pick to focus on? In OP’s situation, it sounds like the biggest priorities are food garbage and animal waste. So if Roommate can’t handle all the changes she needs to make at once, focusing on those two things could be a good place to start.
I’m really glad that the Captain flagged the first approach as requiring a lot of emotional labor, because it’s that–the constant drain of emotional labor–rather than the mess itself that made a similar situation untenable for me.
My roommate was clutter-blind, mildly depressed (by her own report and her psychiatrist’s diagnosis, that isn’t me judging her level of depression), and had moderate executive function issues.
I was fine sitting down with her to sort out the level of cleanliness we wanted in the house, which we categorized in three ways: necessities (things like ‘if you we don’t do this it will attract ants/cause the bathroom to develop mold/wreck the carpet and lose our security deposit/render our refrigerator unusable:’ cleaning up sticky spills, washing the dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning up cat pee on the carpet, and at least occasionally removing expired food from the fridge), things we both wanted (we agreed that we wanted our shared living area to not raise above a moderate level of clutter–mail on the table, okay; boxes stacked up in the living room for months on end, not okay, vacuuming at least occasionally so you could walk barefoot without grossness sticking to your soles, and I don’t care how often you do the laundry as long as the dirties stay in your room and don’t get piled up in the corners of the living room), and things that were nice but not really vital to either of us (I dunno, cleaning the windows and dusting?).
I was fine with dividing these things up as equitably as possible.
I was fine with making a schedule based on our mutual decision and printing it out and sticking it on the notice board that we both used.
I was even fine picking up some of her slack when she was having a bad week–wiping down the sticky counters for her when she was out of cope, doing a fridge cleaning when it wasn’t my turn.
What made the situation untenable was none of that. It was that she needed to be reminded constantly. It wasn’t enough that alternate Tuesdays were her turn to take out the trash and it was carefully marked on a prominent calendar and also sent to her as an email reminder (the use of which she agreed to–this was before everyone had a smartphone and a calendar app to remind them). If I didn’t remind her out loud in person on Tuesday mornings, it was my fault that it didn’t get done. It wasn’t enough that she’d agreed that we’d each wipe up spilled gunk in the kitchen in the moment, so that the weekly full-on kitchen cleaning task was less onerous (and to keep from attracting ants): if I didn’t notice the spilled gunk for her and tell her about it, it was my fault that it didn’t get done. What did I expect? She certainly wasn’t going to notice; if I wanted an ant-free kitchen it was on me to follow along after her reminding her that when you spill soda you should wipe it up. And the “keep the common areas free of clutter” thing fell completely apart on her part from day one–which I probably could have lived with, except that then whenever she’d invite friends over, an hour before they arrived she’d have a complete meltdown and sob on the couch about how humiliated she was to live like this and why didn’t I remind her earlier and we were so horrible to be such slobs (….we?…), while I ran around trying to simultaneously calm her down and tidy up the worst of the underpants-behind-the-TV.
I do some project management at work, and I realized after a while that the effort that I was putting into “project managing” our household was wayyyyy more than needed to put into project managing major software releases. It was exhausting. If I’d had to project manage someone like that, we would have had a Serious Conversation, and if that didn’t work I would have had a Serious Conversation with their boss, because it’s so fucking tiring–and that’s in a context where I am being paid.
We had another frank conversation, eventually, and she said that, yeah, she wasn’t going to change–she was always going to need to have each and every task enumerated for her, and be reminded of them. “The trash is so full that when you put something in it, that thing falls on the floor” wasn’t enough of a signal to take out the trash. “It’s an alternate Tuesday and both my calendar and my email tell me to take out the trash” wasn’t enough of a signal to take out the trash. The only workable signal was me taking note of those things for her and then personally reminding her at the exact right moment (if I caught her when she was busy, or on the way out the door, or etc., I’d have to ask again later).
So I moved out. Because I could not deal with that amount of what I now know to call emotional labor.
LW, I hope that your solution, whatever you choose, works well for you. But if you choose the non-moving-out option first, be aware that it is not unfair, nor is it cruel, nor is it selfish, to eventually decide “okay, this is more work than I signed up for to do unpaid” and to switch to the moving-out option. Sometimes you have no other realistic choices.
We had a conversation upthread about how this level of work (and I agree. I got a counselor to deal with my issues) isn’t something that people will do for free – I also want to note that while some professional organizers are quite expensive and/or judgmental and impractical, some will come to your house for $20-$30 for an hour and do exactly this – issue prompts, provide ideas, and build systems. It just occurred to me as something that’s helped me a couple of times – especially when I was living by myself, and couldn’t tune my definition of “clean” to someone else’s.
But this might also be a good referral for someone who’s trying to salvage this roommate situation: to say “I hear that this is hard and you need prompting. I’m not comfortable doing that. Why don’t you get a professional organizer or cleaning coach to come out and work with you twice a month? That way you can work on it one-on-one with an expert.” It sounds like spilled-soda roommate needed more handholding than would have been affordable, but it strikes me as one more concrete suggestion that’s not “I don’t know! Just make it clean!” Or conversely “I, the cleaner roommate, have now taken on a second job”.
Anyway, Turtle Candle, speaking as someone with brain problems that make cleaning hard, the way your roommate treated you was _incredibly unfair_. There’s a difference between “I can’t sort out what other people mean by mess without direct guidance right now” and “helping me cultivate the exact perfect emotional state to engage with it is someone else’s problem”. Jeez.
LW, I hope that your solution, whatever you choose, works well for you. But if you choose the non-moving-out option first, be aware that it is not unfair, nor is it cruel, nor is it selfish, to eventually decide “okay, this is more work than I signed up for to do unpaid” and to switch to the moving-out option.
That is a great point! LW (and everyone else, for that matter), it is 100% okay to try a thing, discover the thing does not work for you, and change plans. Agreeing to try a thing is not a promise to carry out that exact plan exactly as it was originally negotiated FOREVER.
What made the situation untenable was none of that. It was that she needed to be reminded constantly. It wasn’t enough that alternate Tuesdays were her turn to take out the trash and it was carefully marked on a prominent calendar and also sent to her as an email reminder (the use of which she agreed to–this was before everyone had a smartphone and a calendar app to remind them). If I didn’t remind her out loud in person on Tuesday mornings, it was my fault that it didn’t get done. It wasn’t enough that she’d agreed that we’d each wipe up spilled gunk in the kitchen in the moment, so that the weekly full-on kitchen cleaning task was less onerous (and to keep from attracting ants): if I didn’t notice the spilled gunk for her and tell her about it, it was my fault that it didn’t get done.
I can’t nope hard enough. There is just not enough nope for that situation. To even begin to describe it would leave me in total nope-ruptcy for years to come. I would end up so nope-deficient I would absorb the nope from everyone around me, leaving everyone I came near unable to nope.
Totally get why Captain suggested asking the roommate to move out as she is causing the problem, but if I were in LW situation I would find this so stressful and anxiety inducing that it would actually be easier to move out myself!
*hugs* LW really hope you can find a solution that works for you and saves the friendship.
I have a Roommate Cleaning negotiation story. It might not work for everyone, and I am not sure it would work for me now, but here it is.
In my senior year of college, I shared an apartment-style dorm with three other girls. We each had our own bedroom but a shared living room, kitchen, and bath. It was shockingly spacious and we were proud of it.
Midway through the year, a roommate unofficially moved out and stayed with a friend who was the sole occupant of a double. After some time, she wanted to moved back in, but wanted a few things to change first. She enlisted another friend and non-roommate to act as a mediator for a house meeting in which we hashed out all our house issues. The mediation came as a surprise, as did some of her complaints–both in that they reflected different cleaning priorities (this roommate hated hair left in the shower, but was a big culprit of the half-drunk soda cans in the living room) and in that we weren’t 100% positive we’d heard the complaints before. So, to start: talking about your cleaning priorities, designating an Important Conversation Time where said priorities would be heard, and enlisting a neutral third party = all good ideas! Assuming roommates will share your priorities and moving out but not explaining why = not conducive to change!
Our mediator acquitted himself admirably and by the end of the conversation we had established a rotating chore wheel. There were four of us and three shared rooms, so everyone had the responsibility to clean one shared room per week, with one week off per month. That meant some weeks were heftier or grosser than others, but you had ample notice to make time for your chores or swap weeks with someone–and because everyone took turns, everyone was a little more considerate about emptying the soda cans or removing long hair from the drain even on their off weeks. The apartment was always clean and comfortable, and became a gathering place for our friends, which we all wanted.
So some people can’t do chore wheels because there’s a job they HATE or a job they LOVE, but for four kids who just needed a reminder and a schedule, it worked beautifully.
“Can’t do chore wheels”? Don’t want to do chore wheels, I’d say.
Of course, if there is a person who likes a particular chore and one who hates it, one can negotiate who does it. But in the end, my Mode to Operate in Household Affairs was always “You hate mopping the floor? And you don’t want to mop the floor because you don’t like doing it? Too bad, because I can tell you a secret: No one really *loves* cleaning. Some people might like a clean house and mind cleaning less than living in filth, but if you ask if someone would like to mop your floor, no one craves doing it. So get over it and mop the goddamn floor!”
(I always heard this “arguments” from dudes and it drives me absolutely nuts. And, even more disturbing, most of them seemed *genuinely surprised* that there aren’t any people (= women) who do cleaning as a hobby.)
The closest I ever came to cleaning as a hobby was cleaning as procrastination when I had assignments due in college. Have to write a 12-page paper? Guess who suddenly has a spotless dorm and piles of clean folded laundry?
I actually do find (certain types of) cleaning soothing, if I’m in the right mood, but I’m also not continually cleaning up after another grown adult, which may have an impact on my feelings.
I’m also of the ‘minimal clutter, no garbage, surfaces that are sticky or actively gross should be wiped down’ school of thought, but I don’t, for example, dust or wash windows more than once every couple of months, if that (tbh, it’s probably been a year since I’ve wiped down the walls or cleaned the windows).
I mean there are some things where if you want me to do them, you also have to plan that I won’t be able to do anything else the next day. Or three. At all. Because pain/allergies.
Sometimes “can’t” is a thing.
Captain asked to hear from messy people who found solutions and from anyone who made a division-of-labour system work, so here I am! I am both!
I am not naturally a messy person, but I am disabled with mobility issues and limited energy. I currently live alone. Most of my energy goes into my job, caring for my dog, and managing my excessive health crap (juggling appointments, symptom tracking, disability paperwork, medication refills, arranging transportation, etc) so there isn’t very much left over for cleaning. I also made the decision to put energy into a small garden because it improved my mental health and my dog’s, but that also takes energy that could be spent on cleaning. So I live in a mess and I’m not happy about it but it’s a situation I try to make peace with under the circumstances.
In my best ever roommate situation, back before all my friends got married and didn’t need or want roommates anymore, I was upfront about this: “I will never be able to clean as much as either of us would prefer that I did. So what else can we do to offset that? Can we barter away my share of chores in exchange for something I can do more easily, like being the household organizer/secretary, or using me as the go-to emergency free childcare option, or free editing and web services for your small business? Can I contribute more in rent in exchange for having most of my chores redistributed to other people? If these don’t feel fair, can we hire a cleaning service that we all pay for equally so that no one has to do those chores anymore, not just me?”
We worked out things I could do in exchange for other roommates taking on my chores, and we made sure everyone was on board with the idea (rather than it being an agreement I made with the “anchor roommate” that we foisted on everyone else) and it was nice. Occasionally someone would express resentment after awhile but we’d sit down to talk about it, and usually it came down to them just having a bad day and finding stuff to kick at. But I was always open to adjusting the arrangement and once we did that too. No agreement should be set in stone, IMO, especially before you’ve had a chance to put it through real-would stress tests. Plus circumstances change over time and what worked for someone a few years ago may not work for them now.
Anyway, my point is: working around the weak link in the chore chain in a way that is still ethical and equitable to everyone involved is totally possible, but it shouldn’t just be a problem that they surprise you with and then expect you to solve. Like, I’m disabled, and that’s not my fault, but it also doesn’t mean I magically make no messes, so I still have to take responsibility for that. Your roommate does too.
I wonder if the roommate might use disposable plates/bowls/utensils? Then even if food went in the room, everything could be dealt with quickly and easily instead of sitting out. I eat a lot of food upstairs in my own bedroom and because I can’t go up and down stairs easily and trash up there doesn’t get emptied as often I will frequently just put my plates/utensils in a plastic ziploc bag so smells aren’t as much of a problem before throwing everything away.
There are obviously cons in having disposable things, and this wouldn’t address the overflowing trash, but if it could maybe cut down on bugs it could be worth it.
Also maybe if the cat poops in the same location outside the litterbox, putting a pee pad down might help, obviously this doesn’t address the underlying concerns (litterbox comfort and medical issues) but while those are hopefully getting addressed it might be a bit more sanitary than having poo on the carpet.
I have definitely been *that* messy housemate. A good part of it (I’ve since learned) was an executive functioning issue, which was misdiagnosed and ignored and put off for years and years and years until I recently was put on ADD meds and suddenly I can… DO THE THINGS?!?!?! And not have to fight with myself or bargain or bribe the childish lil dude in my head screaming “I don’t wanna!” So that might be part of it. And some of it was a very odd thing where my housemates and I saw things differently, so they’d ask me to do the dishes and they just wanted me to clean and dry what pots I had used the night before, but I saw the completely overloaded dish rack and had to empty that out first, and that took way longer and I was tired by the end so the dishes never got done.
In the more immediate term, what did help me eventually in that situation was sitting down and rehashing shared responsibilities, with a concrete schedule and expectations. Depending on your selection of Cap’s options, OP, this may not be relevant, but “Smarmodon must sweep and vacuum every Sunday by midnight” was very helpful because I knew what the expectations were. It was much easier to hold myself accountable with a strict deadline. Often that meant I’d be vacuuming at 10 PM on Sunday, but it got done.
This is about the cat poop. I have a cat who, if the litter box walls are too low or the box itself is too small, will sometimes have all four FEET in the litter box but her butt sometimes hung over the edge. Solution: litter box is now a much-larger “plastic storage bin with litter in the bottom” and not something marketed as a “litter box”. Everyone is happier, there is no poop on the floor.
I am the messy one, and it is partially personality and partially Executive Functioning, because severe, severe ADHD, that’s why.
I will never be as clean and organized as most people. I will put things down, wander off, come back and see ANTS, rage freak out, clean it all up, and do it again two days later. It is exhausting, I am exhausting, and I’m slowly but surely working on this.
But agreements mean nothing to people who have impulse control and focus issues, because I don’t remember them. Regular cleaning schedules only work if someone reminds me. Boring tasks–like dishes–are an ordeal. And nagging me makes me associate you with being miserable, embarrassed, resentful, and bored.
LW, if she is your friend, be blunt with her, and ask for honestly. Is she capable and willing to do the level of clean you need? If no, this will not work–and the answer may be no. A lot of people aren’t compatible! It’s ok!
And guess what? I have a boyfriend that works with me and has a lot of the same issues! And together, we manage to keep the dishes clean and the laundry put away and the fridge stocked. There is someone who will live happily with your friend. It may not be you.
I moved in with four other people. We were all friends. We made an explicit, written contract before we moved in detailing who would pay for what and who would do what. I was the house manager in exchange for partial rent. My bf was the house cook in exchange for partial rent. The person who opted to do no chores or run no errands paid the majority of the rent. It worked very well. If I were to do it again, though, I’d hire a housekeeper.
Here’s how we arranged chores. Each person who didn’t pay to opt out of chores listed the thing they hated most to do. For example, one of my friends HATES to clean toilets. I don’t mind cleaning toilets. So she didn’t ever have to clean them. I didn’t have to do the dishes. And so forth. It works a lot better if you start with “this is what I hate” than “this is what I’m okay doing.”
Now I’m going to put on another cap. Before I was a history teacher, I was a professional housecleaner. I negotiated my rates with each person who hired me. I never worked for less than $12.50/hr, and I worked for some people for up to $25/hr. I was not exploited because I worked for myself. What I did for my clients was also negotiated. For one couple, I changed their sheets, did their laundry, and put away all their dishes. For another, I cleaned her windows. There are services where the people aren’t exploited, and where people will bring their own cleansers (costs extra) or use what you provide. Many housecleaners work for themselves or in small teams of co-owners (like two sisters in business together) and it actually costs us money if you won’t hire us because you think it exploits the masses. Find people who want to be housecleaners and hire them. And be kind. Even your maid isn’t your maid.
I am one of those people who is very bad at seeing mess. One thing that worked great for me was deciding that no matter what my feelings about it were and whether I actually thought it needed to happen, Y-task got done every X-period of time. (I take my cues from Unfuck Your Habitat, but for you this may mean a spelled out agreement with roommates, etc.) This is especially important the more housemates you have, thus greater room for unequal expectations around cleaning. Sweeping floors is a big one for me where I just have to do it because they never. Ever. Look dirty to me. (Whereas if the mirror hasn’t been Windexed in the last 24 hours I used to go mad and I had to train myself to let it go because it doesn’t need to be done that often it really, really doesn’t. Go figure.)
One thing housemates do that helps is remind me that “Hey, you need to do Y-task, because it gets done every X-period, as we agreed.” Delivered as matter of factly as possible. Not a “why the hell didn’t you do this”, but also not a negotiation. If I have something that’s come up, this is where I mention it and propose an alternative schedule for this time of trouble. Otherwise, I do the damn task, because it needs to be done, whether I think it does or not, because that’s what we agreed.
Having the conversation when everyone is in a good mood and prepared to have to conversation is also a big one. Don’t sit someone down for a big SURPRISE! house meeting, don’t wait till tax season or midterms or the night before the landlord is coming to inspect, and for heaven’s sake try to plan it for a time of day when you know everyone will be awake, coherent, and fed. Give a day or two’s notice that y’all need to chat about expectations and then talk about them. Do it as early as possible!!! An ounce of prevention is better then a pound of cure. And schedule a few followup meetings, because renegotiation when faced with practical realities is a necessary part of room-mate agreements.
Having had pretty much this exact situation last year (right down to complaining about her parent’s messiness!), I’d pretty strongly recommend Captain’s option 2 over option 1.
Option 1 is what my other (non-messy) flatmate and I tried for months, and it just resulted in a massive shame spiral and escalation of the poor hygiene as well as manipulative behaviour around it (if you’re bothered by me leaving my clean laundry in the washer for three days to grow mould, why don’t you hang it out! if you’re bothered by the bugs why don’t you clean them up! If you want to use the kitchen why don’t you clean the week-old dishes yourself! etc. etc. with no regards for the amount of time we were both already spending cleaning up after her). A roommate situation is not a familial or other intimate relationship, you expect to be able to live in a safe and healthy manner and have use of all facilities, and it is in no way your responsibility to teach a grown adult about household hygiene. Also, I’m pretty convinced in roommate situations that as soon as you start putting explicit numerical limits on guidelines (dishes done within 24 hours, partners only two nights / week) the good will has already been shattered.
Eventually Other Flatmate and I got to option 2, except we had to move out and it was all kinds of more nasty because the whole sorry affair had dragged on so long. So, I’d also recommend making sure you know your full legal rights regarding your tenancy before employing option 2.
I have a Worst Outcome story and a Best Outcome story.
Worst Outcome Story:
Had a roommate in college. She was generally messy and thoughtless, like shoving a can of Mountain Dew between the couch cushions so she could use both her hands while playing video games, forgetting about the can of Mountain Dew, and leaving the room so that some unsuspecting gentleperson could sit on a surprise can of Mountain Dew lurking inside the couch. Things like that, ridiculous things that could be fixed relatively quickly and led to funny commiseration among friends between classes. Irritating, but livable.
Then things got worse. First, bedbugs. She worked in a hotel. She brought home bedbugs. I was nineteen years old and had never had bedbugs, so I did not know what the rash I was getting was supposed to be. I showed it to her one day, and she told me she thought I had scabies. I went to the doctor, who told me I had bedbugs, a diagnosis which cost me $198. I returned to my roommate, who admitted that she knew my rash was bedbugs all along. I told her she would be splitting the bill for a bedbug expert. I thought I was being more than generous offering to pay half of the bill, considering it was her fault in the first place. I slept in my car for a week. I left the bill out on the coffee table. She put a can of Mountain Dew on it.
Finally, I was gone for three (3) days for an out-of-state funeral. When I returned, my roommate was out, but fruit flies were in. They were everywhere, just coasting around in the air like dust motes on vacation. There were three old pizzas on the counter: she had bought a large pizza every day that I was gone, eaten two slices, removed the entire remaining pizza from the box (?!), and left the remaining pizza sitting on the counter. Every day. For three days. There were three large pizzas, each missing two slices, stuck to the counter. That explained the fruit flies. I went to her room, because I didn’t yet know she was out. I banged on her door, and it swung open, and all my expensive towels were in her room. I liked fluffy towels at the time, it was a phase. I had treated myself to ten nice, fluffy towels. She had treated herself to my towels. Six of them were in a pile on her floor. Three were in a pile on the bathroom floor. Every day I was gone, she had taken a shower, laid one of my towels on the floor to step on, used one of my towels to wrap up her hair, and used another of my towels to wrap around her body. Then she had dumped them all on the floor. They were all still very damp when I picked them up. Also, they were full of ants.
I threw the biggest tantrum I have ever thrown in my entire life when she got home that night. I stuffed all three pizzas down the garbage disposal and spent the week running through the disposal with copious amounts of bleach. This cut the fly situation down by two thirds. I locked up my towels in my armoire. I cried a lot and started vigorously apartment searching. When the landlord found out about the bug trifecta, we lost out on the deposit. I told my roommate she would be reimbursing me, and then I moved out one day while she was at work.
She never paid me back for anything, she never even apologized, and we didn’t speak for, like, five years.
Best Outcome Story:
Had two roommates later on in college. At first things were rough, because one roommate adopted a kitten and the kitten peed on things, and the second roommate would “run out of time” to clean up any of his things before going to his ridiculous class load, and the dishwasher broke. I was stressed, but after the bug wars, nothing really phased me. All the same, we decided pretty early on to have A Roommate Meeting. Turns out I left hair all over the bathroom, who knew.
We came out with a Roommate Compact.
Every time Roommate 1’s kitten peed on something, Roommate 1 had to wash the pee thing, and someone – we were all cat people, so it did not matter who – had to bathe the kitten. She learned that she would be forcibly bathed if she continued to pee on things, and she stopped peeing on things. In the meantime, she smelled like flowers.
Roommate 2 could run out of time if he needed to, but he had to designate ten minutes per day to cleaning up. He could put the ten minutes at any time of the day or night, as long as they happened. Sometimes he put them at midnight, but it didn’t bother us.
I had to put my glasses on as soon as I got out of the shower, so I could see the state of the bathroom and clean it up immediately. To atone for two months of toothpaste globs with hair stuck in them, I was also tasked with purchasing a bath mat, which I did gladly. I chose hot pink.
And finally, we bought a clearanced desk calendar and used highlighters to indicate who would wash the dishes and clean the kitchen every night. I had Mondays and Thursdays. Roommate 1 had Tuesdays and Fridays. Roommate 2 had Wednesdays and Saturdays. And on the seventh day, we rested.
We also instituted a Whiteboard Policy, where we put up a dollar store whiteboard in the living room on which work schedules, impending parental visits, shopping lists, rent reminders, ugly drawings of unicorns, and complaints could be scrawled. Communication is key.
We did not have punishments for failing to uphold our end of the compact, because we all cared about keeping our shared space comfortable for everyone. That’s also key: if each person in a situation cares about making the situation good for everyone, it’s super easy to come to agreements. Not everybody agreed on the appeal of a hot pink bath mat, but I was right.
We left that housing situation on excellent terms, having learned a lot about cleaning habits from each other, and having bonded with Roommate 1’s floral-scented kitten. Even though we all subsequently moved in with our respective SO’s, we all occasionally remarked that we kinda missed living together.
I later implemented the Whiteboard Policy when I moved in with my now-husband. It’s a good system.
“I left the bill out on the coffee table. She put a can of Mountain Dew on it.”
That is a horrible situation and having lived through similar, I can empathize deeply, but that line made me laugh out loud for real.
I cackled at that line, too. Because OF COURSE SHE DID.
I was messy housemate in my old house. Sort of. One of several messy housemates.
The factor for me was some severe issues with executive function – the mess would get worse every time I was having a harder time managing my ADHD re: other aspects of my life. This is still the case. My pattern tends to be, when left alone, ignore-panic-deep clean-repeat every few days.
What did NOT work:
How Clean (former) Roommate handled living with me & other messy housemate. Generally, if someone reminds me nicely, at a time when I’m not leaving for work or like, in the shower, I can take a moment to clean it up, or organize things. Clean Roommate never actually asked for help, or asked either of us to clean up a mess. She would bottle up her feelings and wait until she was at the point of screaming at us at the top of her lungs, leave passive aggressive notes taped to my door or food, and at one point piled up food that had gone bad while I was out of town and left it in a box in my bedroom for me to find as a rotting mass when I came back. We completely stopped using a chore wheel, sharing expenses equally, & talking things over calmly, because we were always shut up in separate bedrooms avoiding one another.
Neither of us was handling this…. in a good way. Other messy roommate and I associated her with never knowing when someone was going to start screaming at us without warning, and she associated us with living in literal filth half the time. It totally wrecked our friendship.
What DID work:
With my next roommate and my boyfriend, we had all come from bad house situations, and made a point of talking things over and discussing our feelings constantly, and not making discussions about money & cleanliness weird for one another. We’d order a pizza or make dinner and sit around and make notes like, “is this chore setup working? does anyone feel like they are doing an unfair amount of the work?”
The social aspect of figuring out chores and our household made it feel less judgmental and scary, and reduced the pressure on everyone.
So yeah. I guess my suggestion as a recovering messy roommate is, opening up communication as much as possible, if you aren’t already, LW. House meetings are lovely, and adding positive incentives like friend time and dinner might be a good way to bring up small changes you can implement over time.
I was once a person with (a) some executive function issues and (b) who grew up in a messy house who lived with a neat/clean freak for a while. Unfortunately in that particular situation I had no choice about her moving in. She could have helped me by NOT unilaterally posting a cleaning schedule in the kitchen with “done: tick” written above columns. Also by NOT claiming that the scale left behind from some evaporated water in a bowl of candles was “bacteria and fungi” – you alluded to the shame spirals and I would say it’s important not to use any language that implies that the messier person is “dirty”. I get the impression that neat/clean freaks think about messier people in these terms but I could be wrong. It’s definitely essential to involve the messier person in the solution with complete respect for their dignity.
Good luck in getting rid of the bugs, LW. Ants are easy enough to poison but fruit flies are probably one of those species that would survive a nuclear holocaust. I just wanted to mention that pouring boiling water down sink drains really helps as that seems to be where they lay eggs.
So this is the series of videos (free) on youtube that I use (used) to help teach my kids how to do their chores. Not that I’m comparing a grown adult roommate to a child, but it really helped the power struggle dynamic to have someone other than me do the teaching on this topic.
For those that haven’t learned, there are efficient ways to make this stuff slightly less hellish.
sadly I have had this problem numerous times, and am in fact experiencing it right now.
Most revolting instance I’ve experienced thus far is the wok filled with old cooked meat and water that was inexplicably left on the stove. it soon disappeared and I assumed it had been cleaned up until I found it on my deck (???) and have been asking for it to be cleaned up ever since because I consider it a defeat to do so myself. but actually what the hell
I am part of the Adulting is Hard Club and I remember watching My Fair Lady and the cleaning staff are all singing about “poor Professor Higgins” and dusting clean tables. And my first thought was “ha ha, they had to clean a clean table for the scene” and then it hit me like thunder: if you have a cleaning staff, they clean the things BEFORE they are noticeably dirty. Oh my god, is this how people are supposed to behave? Is that what I’m SUPPOSED to do?!
Typically, musicals don’t seem to give me major insight into Life Lessons (TM) but YMMV.
LW, I was in your shoes once, living with a dear friend whose mess was driving me up the wall. For me, the constant physical and emotional labor of keeping my home to a level I considered habitable burnt me out to where I unfortunately no longer cared if the friendship was saved, even though the roommate and I had been friends for ages. Every time I walked into the kitchen I felt disrespected and used, and I was absolutely not my best self about it, so I’m sure she’d have some stories to tell about what a peach I was to live with, too.
After she moved out, however, our friendship did recover. Not immediately, but we got there. My situation is not your situation and it may not work the same for you–but if you do go with Option Two and stop living with this person, it doesn’t necessarily have to doom the friendship. If both parties are willing to step back and let the roommate situation go once it’s over, you may have a chance. I don’t want to dump advice on you about how to do this because that’s not the question you asked, but if you or the Captain would find it helpful I can tell you what worked (and didn’t) for me.
This next thing doesn’t apply to roommate situations, because roommates are not caregivers and it’s not their job to manage their roommates’ ADHD. But since folks have been talking about how their ADHD impacts their household responsibilities: I’ve got an ADHD coach who helps me with life skills, and a large part of his practice is providing couples therapy to couples where one party has ADHD and the other party is burnt all the way out by managing the other person’s ADHD. This is a form of couples therapy I didn’t even know existed, so I leave that there in case it’s helpful to anyone else. In the US, the term to google to find services like this for adult ADHD is “ADHD Center [city/area].”
Fights over cleaning became a significant issue with my partner but we are 90% on the same page now, the main changes were thus:
1. HIRING A CLEANING SERVICE. For the cost of one session of couples therapy magical people will clean for you!
2. Accept my partner’s executive function issues related to ADHD were always going to limit their planning and execution abilities in this realm.
3. Choose my battles when it comes to hygienic messes (clutter, clothes piles, etc.).
Things that did not work: chore charts, chore schedules, Serious Conversations about following the chore chart/schedule, to do lists for each of us, screaming at him because half our bedroom was piles of his clothing and it was swallowing my possessions, doing it all myself and then resenting the crap out of him.
Things that sort of help: not assuming he understands what “clean” means or why it matters to me; realizing that if he didn’t SEE me clean he won’t notice something has Been Cleaned and therefore he thought I was the lazy one for a while (LOL TO THAT); giving him tasks that are naturally cued (e.g. cleaning the litter box after the cat uses it; emptying the trash when it’s full), emphasizing that the less clutter we have the better our cleaning service can do at accessing what they need.
As a person raised in a hoarding* household with no childhood chores (besides “clear a path to your door” as a nightly ritual to reduce the potential for being trapped during a fire), it was very difficult to learn how to be clean once i moved out as an adult. Even when living on my own, the clutter/dirt situation would get out of control and I’d have no idea how to tackle it. I would call my mom crying and overwhelmed, and her advice wasn’t always helpful (though she taught me that i could do the dishes in the bathtub if there were too many dirty dishes to fit in the sink) and usually was along the lines of “well get really amped up and clean everything at once.” (growing up, we wouldn’t vaccuum for YEARS and then once we had an EPIC CLEANING WEEKEND and tore up and THREW OUT all the carpet in the house because it was nasty. but EPIC CLEANING happened once every few years, and was usually emotionally overwhelming and featured lots of panic feelings and manic behavior). Dealing with depression and anxiety and ADHD as a young person meant that this all-or-nothing, wait until you’re super manic tactic wasn’t the best. Every few months I *could* get really manic and clean everything at once, but if i stopped (to eat, to pee, to answer the phone) then I stopped altogether and had to keep living in my cluttered mess, which made me MORE anxious, which made me LESS able to “get amped up to clean it all”…. and the cycle continued.
It took the helpful advice and intervention of friends to teach me that:
1) you do not have to clean everything at once, just do one thing.
2) the good feeling that comes from living in an uncluttered habitat outweighs whatever “sentiment” may be attached to keeping weird crap
3) if you “think it might come in handy later” but that “later” is more than 6 months away, you do not need to keep it. In fact, it might “come in handy” right now for someone less fortunate, so just donate that shit.
Seriously, that first rule has changed my life. There was a piece of paper on the floor of my bathroom for 3 or 4 months when my depression was at its worst, and it bothered me so much to see that trash there, but i had felt that if i were to pick that up and toss it, i’d ALSO have to clean the entire bathroom, down to scrubbing the baseboards, and I knew I didn’t have the energy to do that. So the first thing my friend had me try when exploring Rule 1 was to just pick up that piece of paper and throw it out AND THEN NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE TO THE BATHROOM. and… it turned out that was possible! and it felt okay! and after my anxiety settled down, i realized, i could go back and do ONE MORE SMALL THING in the bathroom. Eventually, I was able to do repeated rounds of “just this one thing” without needing as much “get my heart rate back down to normal” in between.
I now live alone in a house that friends remark is very tidy. and it is! but not all of it all the time. But each day I’m able to do just one thing. maybe i won’t clean off my desk today, but i’ll vaccuum. maybe tomorrow i’ll do the laundry, but not worry about taking out the recycling. maybe i’ll not put the laundry away for 18 hours, but in that intervening time i can take out the trash and the recycling. learning to be okay with just doing SOME and not holding myself to the “all or nothing” paradigm i was raised in took lots of work, but it’s amazing, and actually results in a much cleaner house. Now i live in a house that’s at least 85% clean 100% of the time, instead of a house that’s 100% clean only 5% of the time. magic.
(*hoarding but animal-free and we had a rule about no food in the bedrooms and no food trash anywhere but the kitchen trash, and that was really a great foundation to have, and i still follow that rule, and tbh i think it should be universal.)
Learning your #3 rule changed my life: I am a “second generation Depression survivor”. My father’s family was wiped out by the Depression (lost everything including their home) so he saved ANYTHING that *might* be useful *someday* *somehow.*
I realized I had a problem when I found myself hesitating to get rid of empty TP rolls because they “could be used to store extension cords.” Empty TP rolls, the ultimate always-recurring resource, were something to save.
Even now I have a hard time throwing out a bread bag reused to clean the cat box if the bag isn’t full because in my brain, I’m wasting half the bag.
I basically use CBT to get myself to throw things away, and am hyper about recycling. I recycle the paper labels off the dog food cans.
This rings very true to me (my parents are not exactly hoarders, but they’re also not exactly NOT hoarders, and they accumulate so. much. stuff. that they don’t need).
The nice thing about it is that once there’s a baseline level of organization, it’s much easier to maintain, because you don’t have to clean ALL THE THINGS every time you go to tidy up. I spend a lot less time cleaning than my mom does, and my house is generally a lot cleaner.
I was the messy roommate back in university. I was clinically depressed and the child of a pack rat mother. My roommates at the time set up a regular bathroom cleaning schedule, with detailed requirements as to what was to be cleaned in which ways. My favourite roommate would often knock on my door and say, hey chasm, I’m cleaning x room tonight, do you have time to help out? And then we would have a cleaning party and do some bonding. She basically rolled fun social time into chore time, and let me stealth learn a lot of cleaning techniques I hadn’t picked up at home. It made me think of cleaning as a social activity, instead of as Yet Another Barrier Between Me and Happiness. I owe her a lot.
I’m not sure how helpful this is to the Letter Writer, because in retrospect my roommate did an awful lot of emotional labour in teaching me how to live in a clean environment. I offer it though because it may be helpful to those who are more willing and able to engage with their messy cohabitants.
I did this with a roommate of mine (she was not as bad as LW’s roommate at all, but she lived with a mother who was a control-freak and never let her do ANY chores, so she just…had no idea how to make the dishes clean or the couches not covered in cat hair), and it worked out great.
Successful agreement user here, and I have some useful insight as to *why* it works.
My brother and I bought a house together – at the time he was homeless and living illegally in the office of his industrial complex workshop with no kitchen or bathroom and only shared access to a toilet block, and I lived in another country and wanted to spend more time visiting family but was getting a bit too old for sleeping on slowly a deflating air mattress on the living room floor of whatever family member offered to put me up, so it was a huge win for both of us. I put in most of the initial capital, he put in most of the emotional labour, from finding the house in the first place, to organising ongoing maintenance etc, and I had a large room which was permanently mine and filled with my stuff (spare bedding, clothes, toiletries etc) so I could just drop in any time and be good to go – the sort of thing people with a family home often take for granted. Admittedly we did have a really good relationship to start with and we both had good housekeeping skills, however we were fully aware of how easily this sort of thing can all turn to shit, so we negotiated and drew up a very detailed 10 page agreement about how it would all work (essentially he was gradually buying a bigger and bigger share of the house from me), and what we would do in various circumstances including if he ended up with a partner who wanted to move in. This really did get put to the test – the house was damaged twice in the NZ earthquakes and my brother did an awesome job of sorting out repairs and hard-nosed negotiating with the insurance companies over several years to get the best possible deal before I ultimately decided to pull out of the arrangement and he bought out the rest of my share.
Underpinning all of it was the foundation that we would put our relationship first, and that if at any stage the arrangement was threatening that, either of us could unilaterally decide to cut our losses, and either sell up and split the proceeds according to a formula spelled out in the written agreement, or have the other person buy us out, with no recriminations.
I think one of the things that makes an agreement so worthwhile is not just having the conditions in writing to refer back to, but having actually thought about everything and discussed and negotiated BEFOREHAND ie it’s not just the end result that matters but the process of coming up with the agreement in the first place.
If only I’d had the wisdom to do this in my marriage, instead of assuming that we were sort of on the same page and would deal with things as they came up, which failed miserably (I’m the ex of Bread in the Freezer Guy, whose nutjob-ness didn’t become apparent until AFTER we’d had a child together and bought a house).
BREAD GUY, oh my god. I’ve seen that story pop up in a few other threads, holy hell. I’m so glad that you are out of that and can just…have bread the way you want to have bread.
As far as roommate agreements go. My friend and I had a 1month trial period after which we sat down and talked about what we were comfortable doing. The basic groundwork was that the house was mopped/dusted/vacuumed once a month along with the yard work. we had an understanding(discussed beforehand)that outside of the big clean up we were to pick up after ourselves and empty bins whenever full to be taken out etc . Anyway after trial and error we realised that my roommate had different standards of cleanliness than I did. She liked thing a certain way so as a tradeoff I did all the yard work. We coordinated when things needed to be done whilst maintaining the set standards of cleanliness we agreed upon. We split the workload evenly like this;
Jobs for everyone; daily, weeklY
Once a month;
Jobs for wolf.
Jobs for roommate.
We then outlined common courtesy s
Friends, shower time, wash own dishes, don’t slam cupboards no food in rooms a,b or c. All was written agreed to, printed and stuck on the fridge for all to see. As was the calender.
LW It’s not unreasonable to ask someone to clean up after themselves if something isn’t understood by someone write it out as plainly as possible (all bins must be emptied every thursday night for trash day on Friday). She is your friend and I am assuming an adult. If certain things are too much is there something else she can do to make up for it.
of course this is only viable if she is willing to compromise. I hope this helps at least a little. If anything it’s hard to ignore a piece of paper on the fridge
LW, I am concerned that your roomate is not on the lease. All this advice is and good, but if you have someone living there that has no legal obligations, then I think you will find you have a bigger issues that is not being addressed.
You need your friend to be on the lease or to have her reel in her cleaniness problem (making sure mess doesn’t attract mold, pests, and other nasties). If she can’t do that, you need to cover herself and kick her out. If she continues being this messy, the only person that will suffer will be you. I have seen far, FAR too many ettiquette hell stories of non-leased roommates running the place to the ground at the expense of the OP’s.
I’ve been the messy roommate, but it only got worse or better with depression, and I don’t think LW can fix that.
I was living with 3 roommates and had to be the bad guy once. We called a meeting, and I made an agenda and everything. J was being a mess, and C has his girlfriend over every night. I fixed the girlfriend problem by setting a weekly rent rate similar to what she would be paying if she actually moved in, and any week that she was over more than 4 nights, she had to pay rent. It helped that we all paid C, so we would just give him less money on rent day based on how many full weeks she had stayed. J got a little better at cleaning, too, but the lease didn’t have that much time left.
Yeah, this is a thirty day notice-to-get-out-situation. I don’t know if the LW owns the house but if not they could all theoretically be evicted for this. If the roommate is subletting, they should give her 30 days notice and then be done with her. Consider if this is a friend you need in your life.
I think LW commented that she owns the house and the friend is staying without lease.
This is not necessarily aimed at the LW or even anyone in the letter but people who identify with the roommate. (Warning – long?)
Things that help me get signficantly less messy:
Seriously, there’s a certain amount of house maintenance that needs to be done that you can’t fight against no matter how hard you clean. Things like the furnace/ducts not being cleaned for 6 years, or the floor in the bathroom rotting because the toilet leaked, or windows being rotten because they were 40 years old. Our housing was managed by someone who wanted to retire several years before she did and treated the maintenance budget like it was coming out of her own grocery money. When she retired, and the new person took over, they were SHOCKED by how badly maintained the house was.
Here’s more examples – the house would get humid, because we showered and stuff, and it would build up in the roof because there was basically no ventilation at all, freeze, and then melt and that would cause drips the walls. We were blamed for these.
We were told to clean the rotting window better and to use Vim on it. No amount of Vim is going to fix wood rot.
You had to time when you did dishes – if you did them too late, the person who showered at night would have a freezing cold shower. The person who showered at night did not appreciate that. Who would? If you did them at certain times of the day (10am, 3pm, a few others) the water would just not be hot. It’d be kinda warmish, but not hot. And it would be really gross to wash dishes in. The hot water would also run out in a VERY short amount of time and you’d be washing dishes in kind of half warmish water rapidly getting colder and colder as you went on.
…yeah I could rant a while about that.
Moving led to things like:
– Getting rid of stuff and sometimes replacing it with better stuff.
We got rid of so much furniture and things that we didn’t use. Side note: I do not suggest “hide it in the basement instead of putting it in the trash” as a way of dealing with things. For the record, this was not my doing, but I had to un-do it anyways.
In some cases, like the terrible shoe rack, it was a good idea but the execution was terrible. I bought a better shoe rack that fit the space and was usable, and boom, that space is a lot tidier. (The hanging shoeracks are also really good for gloves and scarves and things.) I also swear by the towel rack I bought off ebay – cost me like 10 dollars, hangs off the bathroom door, awesome.
I also threw out a ton of silverware that I hated. My rule of thumb is, if I hate washing it, it’s probably a good idea to get rid of it. There’s also just less room for stuff in this place. I have no room for things I don’t use. I barely have room for things I DO use lol, so. It’s gotta go if it doesn’t get used often.
– Scarves/bandanas on things.
I have a white bookcase with my DVDs on it. It collects dust like nobody’s business. I bought a $1 scarf off a website I love, and put it on there. When it gets dusty, I wash it. Helps if I have several to rotate so I don’t have to wait to put the clean one back on after I’ve washed it. Washing things is way easier for me than dusting. (I’m really allergic to dust.)
– (Another moving one) not having to haul my laundry 6 blocks in -40* weather.
That one’s self-explanatory. Our washer/dryer is in the hallway versus the laundrymat. (Also, laundry’s expensive if you have to pay 6 dollars per load.) For me, also, probably partly because it’s a small apartment and I can see the machines, I don’t ever leave laundry in them. I have an HE washer and I’m not gonna let it get smelly, lol, and when the dryer is done, the laundry comes out. That’s just not a thing for me, leaving clothes in them.
Clothes in the laundry basket however… well. Folding/hanging clothes is the bane of my existence.
– Having somewhere to actually put things.
Yeah this is one that was hard fought. People do tend to come with things unless they’re all minimalist, but I think even minimalists tend to have socks and such. If all you have to put your socks and underwear in is a basket, things are going to look untidy no matter what you do. There’s like – there’s just not much you can do about that. People who yell at you over this but don’t actually help you find solutions for this like, say, buying a dresser, are Not Helpful and are also kinda Being A Jerk.
(Ask me about my hatred of “you can’t have stuff on the floor” attitudes. EVERYTHING IS ON THE FLOOR UNLESS I HANG IT FROM THE CEILING. You can’t complain about things being on the floor, and then complain when I put them in a box or a basket, and not help come up with a solution! That’s just being a jerk! I still have to have socks and underwear.)
Other things that help:
– Buying a better vacuum. Canister vacuums suck.
– Music. (Cleaning in silence just makes me annoyed and frustrated.)
– Sometimes cleaning during a commercial is great for me, or things like “I’ll pick up one thing every time I get up.”
– I bought a hair trap for the shower. It’s 4 dollars from our grocery store and stops the hair from going down the drain. No hair down the drain means no one has to clean hair OUT of the drain.
– Mr. Clean eraser sponges. Those things are awesome. Generic ones work perfectly well.
– Those swiffer dusters that don’t stir the dust up as much. Makes it quicker to just run a duster over something without making me get sick. Generic is fine again.
– Keeping some plastic cultery in the house. Makes life easier sometimes. Also easier on your face after wisdom teeth removal.
– Accepting that there are certain things that I just think are ridiculous or don’t work for my life. Making my bed is one of them. I get no pleasure out of it and find really no reason to do it. I also will probably never wash dishes every day because there are two of us and washing three forks, two plates and one cup every day would make me rip my hair out 😛 I have workarounds for that, but yeah. That’s just not happening. (Also sometimes the person I live with wakes up at 4:30. If I consistently did dishes after dinner, she might actually kill me in my sleep.)
I do the bandana bookshelf thing too! It’s great.
I don’t know how well this will translate to this situation, but when I was in college, we had a rotating weekly chore list for the suite-style living space we had (we each had individual bedrooms, but shared a living room and bathrooms). We put this in place mostly because we had a roommate who wouldn’t clean up after herself. We came up with a list of things we wanted to be done each week, like trash, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, etc. Everyone had one thing to do each week, and every chore got done each week. We also had to have someone else living there (it didn’t matter who) check off that we had done the thing, so you couldn’t just claim to do the thing and not actually do it. It held everyone accountable and it worked well, but there were no couples, and it was a larger group of people, so it may not work well in your current living situation. Still, making some kind of checklist of daily or weekly chores, and rotating through them might be good, so each of you has set chores, but you don’t always have to be the one scrubbing the toilet.
I would like to point out that, while LW has the legal right to kick people out of their place if they’re not on the lease, at a time in the global economy when most countries have some kind of housing crisis going on I think this is needlessly cruel and ethics should dictate that having a hard conversation should be preferable to possibly making someone homeless.
Ok, so, say they have the difficult conversation and the roommate is still not cleaning and they still have bugs?
Your assumption is that the roommate could not get another living situation if this one ended and “global housing crisis” means “living with bugs!”
I think the pat aphorism that applies here is “don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.” Only here it would be “don’t live in filth and bugs to keep someone else warm.”
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