Today’s guest post comes to us from Rachel Hoffman, creator of Unfuck Your Habitat and author of Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess.
So I live in communal housing (currently a house with 12 housemates–most have our own rooms, but we share kitchens, bathrooms, and common spaces) for a variety of social, political, and ecological reasons. The house I’m in now has been an occasionally-stressful but overall positive space where I’m glad to have spent the last couple years.
Unfortunately, one of the other houses affiliated with our organization has had a really awful couple months–messes from old tenants, a hospitalization after a sexual assault, mold and foundation problems in the basement, and most recently an acrimonious breakup. Long story short, we are hoping to trade some people out of the house and re-seed it with solid folks from the other houses to try and stabilize the situation (because if this house can’t make rent, it’s going to eat through organizational funds very, very quickly).
I am one of the people willing to switch houses. I’m a good candidate for a number of reasons–I’m emotionally stable, I’ve lived in the org for several years and know how to get things done, I’m familiar with the financial operations of the org, I’m already kinda the House Mom where I live now, etc. However, there’s definitely one issue that I foresee.
These repeated catastrophes have eroded any real practice of doing house chores and cooking (which are normally distributed across everyone more or less equally to be done weekly). That means that the place is consistently a big mess, which is adding to everyone’s stress. I know that one of the things we’re going to need to do is get that started again, and keep it going, but that definitely requires a stricter approach than I usually take. I’m generally a messy person (when I moved in to my current house, I was a proponent of a 24-hour rule for dishes in the sink, which is not at all doable with 13 people and in retrospect, kinda gross with 1) and have low standards for general neatness, so when people miss a cleaning chore I tend to not worry, because it doesn’t have that big an effect on me (and I appreciate that kind of understanding when I’m also overwhelmed and unable to do everything I’m supposed to). I also often don’t eat dinner at the house (personal control over food is a Thing for me) so I sometimes don’t even notice when others miss cooking shifts.
The plan is to bring several people in, and one requirement I’d have is that someone who is more serious about cleanliness and cooking also go, but I think it’s gonna be important that we all hold the line that cleaning and chores are important parts of what makes communal living possible. Can you give me some scripts for holding that line when people make excuses, especially when the excuses are reasonable individually but add up to a shitshow collectively? For example, lots of people deal with mental health stuff, myself included, but communal living means that everyone needs to contribute at least some–and that might mean you’re not on your A-game, but you gotta do at least a bare minimum. I could also use some suggestions for how to handle the totally-understandable-but-also-not-good excuse, “But XYZ didn’t do their cleaning chore!”, because I foresee that coming up.
Messy Pushover (she/they)
Believe it or not, the fact that you consider yourself a messy pushover is actually going to work in your favor here! Throughout the history of cohabiting, massive conflicts have arisen between “clean” people and “messy” people, and many, if not most, of those conflicts come out of the fact that clean people just do not understand messy people. They don’t understand why we don’t just know what needs to be cleaned and when, and they definitely don’t understand why we don’t just do it when it needs to be done, like it’s some kind of easy reflex. So, in this case, it’s sort of better to be a messy pushover than a clean hardass.
So going into this as a messy person is going to help you so much when it comes to creating a solid plan to keep the house on track. It means you’ll have a better understanding about what people will and won’t be capable of or willing to do. It means you can anticipate some of the roadblocks that are going to come up. And, most importantly, it means that you won’t be coming into the situation as some kind of cleaning authoritarian who is holding everyone else hostage to your unreasonable standards. (We’ve all lived with that person at some point, right?) So first things first, cut yourself a little slack about not being the tidiest person around.
Once it’s been decided who’s going to be living in the house, your first order of business should be a house-wide meeting about how to keep the house clean and running functionally. This isn’t going to be the most fun thing in the world, so make it low-key, have some snacks, that sort of thing. Your goal should be to have the following by the end of this meeting: a clear and specific chore system and a tangible way to track it (a chore chart, OK? I’m talking about a chore chart. Let’s just name the bad thing and move on!); an agreed-upon plan for keeping people accountable; and a structure for what to do when things inevitably go off the rails a bit.
It’s important to keep this meeting productive and positive. So often, when it comes to dealing with cleaning in a shared living situation, negative emotions rule us. Resentment, frustration, anger, and passive-aggression are all far more likely to rear their heads than positivity, understanding, and a genuine desire to come to a good resolution. The more negativity that surrounds this conversation, the more difficult it’ll be.
When constructing the chore chart, you and your housemates will need to consider a lot of factors. What tasks need to be done? How often do they need to be done? On average, how long does each one take? How does everyone feel about doing each task? (For example, do you have someone who absolutely hates vacuuming, but has no problem doing dishes?) What do people’s schedules look like? Keeping all of these things in mind, you can put together a cleaning schedule that’s equitable not just in terms of the number of chores, but also the total time and emotional investment from each housemate.
Perhaps the most important part of this meeting is going to be getting everyone to decide how to handle things when someone isn’t keeping up their end of the deal. A good way to start is to ask people what they anticipate being roadblocks for them. For example, you may have housemates with mental health issues, like you do. So saying something like, “Some of us have depression or anxiety or ADHD, so how can we make sure those of us who do are still contributing during rough times?” Or if someone has an erratic work schedule, they may not always be able to do a time-sensitive task, like taking the barrels out for trash day. And knowing what everyone’s challenges are can help you figure out what to do when things don’t go as planned.
What’s critical is getting everyone’s feedback as to what they think is fair if someone needs to be reminded to do what they agreed to. Rather than relying on passive-aggressive behavior like leaving notes or piling someone’s dirty dishes on their bed (yes, I know it’s satisfying, but I don’t think it has ever once resulted in someone changing their behavior for the better), work together to come up with a way to keep all housemates on track. If you all agree that, “If someone has to do your dishes because you didn’t, you have to take their chores for that week” seems like a fair solution, everyone is held to the same standard, and it’s nothing personal if it has to be enforced. Or even, “Any housemate has the right to remind another about what they agreed to do around the house.” Acknowledge that things will go off the rails from time to time, and treat it as an inevitability due to human nature, and not an attack on the civility of the house.
As far as, “XYZ didn’t do their chore,” your best response is going to be, “And we’ll handle it with XYZ in the way we all agreed on, but that doesn’t exempt the rest of us from doing what we said we were going to.” And then make sure you actually follow up with XYZ. Don’t think of it as having to be a hardass, but instead, being a facilitator for helping people contribute to a functioning living environment.
255 thoughts on “Guest Post! #1160: “Being a hardass about cleaning in communal housing when you’re a messy pushover””
Wow! I am so impressed that you are doing this! Communal living. I’m trying to raise two teenagers with a husband who is messy. I’m trying to teach them the idea of interdependence–that we’re not just responsible for doing our own laundry, but we’re responsible for doing it in a timely manner so that the next person can use the washer when they need to. Most Americans are brought up emphasizing independence–“do your own wash, clean up after yourself,” which is a good first step but not, imo, enough for social/community life. So, if you choose to be the person who unstacks the dishwasher, you can’t do it “on your own time.” Other people are waiting to use those dishes–and need to put the dirty ones back in. So the stacker and unstacker have to work together. I lived in Japan briefly oh-so-many years ago, and that’s the way some teachers trained their students. Say, on a field trip. In the U.S., each kid is responsible for their own money, lunch, etc. There, these teachers had one kid hold the money, one the lunches, etc., and they were all responsible to each other. Really hard for an American! At the time I thought it was pretty awful, but now I’m a mom living in a selfish country trying to teach my kids the importance of community. For a long time I was having each kid do everyone’s laundry. My son knows how to wash bras now. If you’re getting food, ask if someone else wants some, too! That’s traditional European training. My husband is very American, though. It would never even occur to him to ask if he could help someone else or do someone else’s laundry. He’s too old to re-train, too. Anyway, I’d love an update to hear how this all turns out! 🙂 🙂 I think its so, so important to teach these skills!
“Other people are waiting to use those dishes–and need to put the dirty ones back in. So the stacker and unstacker have to work together.”
I want to pull something out here.
It can often be that people feel the reason they’re doing chores / cleaning is because of some Universal Rule. Some Outside Entity has determined that stuff should happen. Or, there’s one House Mom or Picky Person who is applying pressure.
Try to really get the framework be, “We all do these things in order to make things nice for the other people we live with.”
We get our own clothes out of the washer, because someone else may need it after us, and we have good will for them.
We rinse out our toothpaste blob from the sink because someone else that we like might come in later, and this way it will be pleasant for them.
Really pull that out as the major motivator: We are all taking care of one another here.
Yes, I love this. I had a roommate who rejected cleanliness because he thought the expectation to clean up after oneself was something older people invented to make other people’s lives less fun, or something along those lines. He was a good guy otherwise, I just don’t think it ever occurred to him that cleaning up after himself was an act of consideration, rather than “following the rules.”
That reminds me of Broken Glass Guy! Yeesh.
I love that framing! I’ll see if it helps with my appallingly messy husband.
Exactly how I’ve framed it with my kids: that we are taking care of one another and that all of this is to make our home healthy, pleasant for all of us, and a good place to do the things we want to do. (And for kids, that they are learning valuable adult skills.) The kids are teens now and competent, proactive workers and team members.
When one kid was young and thought he needed to clean up only after himself and do only work that he cared about getting done, I pointed out that we could make everything very fair and individual if he liked, but that would mean he’d need to cook his own meals, shop for them, pay for his portion, grow a garden on his own, contribute to the electric bill, [plus many, many things that he could nowise do] and I think that impressed upon him the teamwork nature of family life and the fact that other people were working hard on his behalf. He grew into a generous helper.
this is super helpful framing for me! im struggling at my job right now bc standards arent. eing applied fairly and im mad at myself for having that instinct to just do my own individual work then and stop caring about everything else. since im not in a position to change the situation, i should try to focus on keeping the teamwork atmosphere going as a positive thing to do for myself, even when others drop the ball and its not being addressed.
I like this a lot… I’m going to try to adopt this mindset for myself. I’m the messy one in my relationship, and although I’ve gotten *better* about things like dishes and clutter, I know I’m still not where my husband would prefer. He sometimes gets stressed about there being a general distribution of mess/clutter all around the house, whereas my tolerance is more room-by-room. If I start thinking about tidying as a way to make him happy it might go better for me.
This also works if you live alone if you think of it as self care. Future me deserves to brush her teeth over a clean sink and have clean dishes to use when she is hungry.
That’s how I’ve been trying to frame it for myself. When I really just want to go to bed, and not do the dishes in the sink, I make myself think about Future Me getting up in the morning and how this task being done or not done will impact ‘them’. And when I get up in the morning and the dishes are done, I mentally thank Past Me for doing a nice thing.
“Future Me!” I often remind myself of “Future Toots” as well.
You know, that made me realize this is why I’m a poor housekeeper: having lived alone my entire adult life, it doesn’t affect anyone else. I can get clean underwear from the dryer rather than putting it back in my drawer right away – no one else is affected, and it doesn’t make a difference to me.
(The “future me” approach doesn’t work for me, because I’m all too aware that I’m the one doing the work, and it’s the same amount of work regardless.)
but then, if it doesn’t make a difference to you, does it make a difference at all?
Why is it automatically a bad thing, to store your clean clothes in the dryer? That seems kind of efficient to me (depending how far away the dryer is).
I’m American and I grew up like this and think it’s normal, I don’t think the selfishness you’re describing is normal American behavior, it’s just selfish.
Agreed! I grew up in a super messy house because my dad was a hoarder, but we definitely had a strong communal mindset towards the work that was done in the house. Making food or tea? Offer to make some for others. Going to the store? Ask if anyone needs anything. Etc. This has also been the case in most of my roommate-situations even though none of us had any family ties or prior relationship.
re Sarah Longstaff. I absolutely loved your comment! We are social primates. We have always lived in social groups. Helping each other, as well as helping the larger social group, is part of our social primate DNA. This whole “bootstraps” mentality … that I must only depend upon my own efforts to succeed, and that others should do likewise (which, I would argue, Capitalism promotes) … ignores this very essence of who we are as beings who have always thrived in social groups. The only aspect of “helping one another” that so many Conservatives seem to like is … inherited wealth. In all other areas, they like the “you are on your own” mentality. That is NOT how primates function. That’s NOT how (historically) humans have functioned. Whether in families, or in other larger tribes and clans, humans operate best in social groups. The only issue I had with your comment was your willingness to give hubby a “free pass.” Nobody is “too old to re-train.” Middle-aged men, also, can do dishes and laundry (even bras!). It’s really, really GOOD to be king. King doesn’t want to do dishes and laundry! That doesn’t mean he can’t learn. We’re all in this together. Giving your hubby that “free pass” will NOT go unnoticed by the kiddies. One of the best examples you can give your kids to demonstrate that we are all “helping the group” … is to get hubby off his ass to FREAKING HELP THE GROUP. I really did enjoy your comment. I loved the sentence “So the stacker and unstacker have to work together.” (I may actually get that printed on a t-shirt. There’s something so “zen” about it.) Thank you.
I lived in a 23-person housing co-op of gross college students for 3 years and the easiest answer is FINES. Don’t do your chore? Pay a fine on top of your rent. Pay it again every day/week/month that you don’t do it. If another house member does your job for you, the fine goes to them as fee for service. There were usually a couple of people in the house who were happy to pick up the extra chores for the $$. Unless your excuse (hospitalization, whatever) was so good that the house voted to waive your fines, it DID NOT MATTER why you didn’t do it. If you didn’t pay your fines you would get evicted, same as if you didn’t pay your rent.
A warning to check with your local Residential Tenancy Board before doing this. Eviction for non-payment of fines might be 100% legal where gracelessglobetrotting lives but it would be highly, *highly* illegal where I live, and would likely result in the co-op incurring stiff fines and possibly even losing its legal status as a co-op.
Tenancy laws vary widely from country to country and even city to city. Know your local laws and
…and ask if you don’t know.
Wow, that’s a really good idea.
If possible, get both a carrot and a stick: gamify the chores. Fines when you miss, points when you hit, extra points when you excel. The payoff doesn’t even have to be that elaborate — maybe the highest points for the month gets the best parking space, second place gets to shower first in the morning, and third place gets a cookie.
Be careful with this one, too; this wouldn’t work for me in the first place and has the potential to be hugely triggering depending on implementation in the second.
Seconded. Making chores a competition would be a dealbreaker for me and I’d have to move out. That’s way way to much stress and performance anciety to introduce into something that should be a normal habit sort of thing. Hard pass on that.
This happened to my brother-in-law’s flatshare in uni.
Everything became a competition. It started with competitive cleaning (people would set their alarms and get up at 3am to be ‘first’) and ended when he felt compelled to miss a full day of lectures to nurse his New York cheesecake baking in a water bath just so he could ‘win’ the Great British Bake Off they were emulating at the time.
They recognised they had a problem, everyone switched flats and got their degrees and remain friends, but none of them will ever live together again.
I think Habitica has something set up for communal chores?
I lived in a 25-person communal house in college, and we used an incentive system in addition to a fine system. Anyone who volunteered for “hashing” (what we called kitchen duty around dinner, which included fixing plates for people who had marked they would be absent, setting out the food/plates/silverware prior to dinner, and cleaning up after dinner–washing dishes, wiping down counters & equipment, and sweeping/mopping the floor) got $35 off their rent. We ended up with about 5-6 of us who were HAPPY to do this work for $100-200 off our rent each month. Note, this was also over a decade ago so $35 was a reasonable amount to pay for this work where I lived at the time, I’d say now that number would need to be higher. We all also had weekly chores that were not voluntary, and if you shirked those you would be fined.
I don’t know if an incentive system is financially viable for the OP’s co-op, but the reframing of using positive incentives rather than negative ones can sometimes make a vast difference in outcome.
I lived in this sort of situation for 3 years as well- and YES! to fines. We had a set number of chore-hours a week, and one person whose job it was to make the chore chart, enforce chores, and generally follow up. People were free to switch amongst themselves if they wanted. We also had a system where, if you missed an hour/ chore, you would be assigned 2 hours as make-up work, usually some sort of home repair/ snow shoveling/ irregular chore that still needs doing. If you hadn’t made it up at the month, then you got fined. Fines went into a separate budget for ‘fun things’- technology, kitchen gadgets, etc. The only rule was it was supposed to be for the long-term good of the house, not a party.
I would say that fines are… probably not great, depending on the mental health situations of everyone involved, especially if they have not previously been enacted. There’s nothing like ‘oh shit if I don’t do this thing which I’ve been putting off so now it’s gotten even bigger and worse than I will get fined which I can’t afford or I’ll be kicked out which I can’t afford or or or…’ to really send someone into an executive dysfunction panic spiral 😛
It’s sort of a framing thing, as has been talked about by others here – household chores aren’t things that you do because some Authority demands it, and missing chores isn’t something that deserves to be punished because you have to make it up in some moralistic way – at the end of the day, the house has to be clean, and everyone has to be more or less healthy/happy to live there. If someone is consistently missing their chores, the household should get together and try and figure out what chores that person can do, since obviously they can’t do whatever they’re currently assigned. If someone else is doing a larger number of chores to keep the household running, then they should receive recognition for it in a way that makes them feel happy and appropriately appreciated – which might mean money, or something else, up to the household in question.
Given the situation (bad mental health situation all around, general lack of chores) it might also be good to standardize the ‘here’s what I do if I can’t do my chores’ circumstance, and try to take some of the shame out of that whole situation. Maybe some sort of ‘virtual chore currency’ where everyone starts off with 20 in the bank and can throw out a chore and say ‘I can’t take out the garbage tonight, can someone do this for 5 ChoreBux? Nobody? 15 CB?’. You can introduce ChoreBux economy controls as necessary (10 chorebux for movie night pick, everyone gets 20 chorebux at the start of the month, etc)
People tend to respond better to rewards than punishments, honestly. Consider:
Everyone pays $X for rent, has mandatory chores, and gets fined $Y if they don’t comply (according to someone else’s standard, usually, which can be super-stressful)
Everyone pays $(X+Y) for rent, then chores are available on a first-volunteer-gets-it basis and the chores pay about $Y on average. If you like cooking you get to focus on “yay, I made $Y this week” instead of “I hate how they always pressure me to do the chores I don’t like and punish me if I don’t do them when and how I’m told.”
This is totally making the programmer side of me want to sit down and design an app where housemates can “bid” on certain chores, and the amount those chores pay depends on both how long they’ve not been done and relative importance, as determined by who’s willing to sign up at what price point 😛
What would happen if someone got assigned a chore they didn’t know how to do? Home repair is not someone everyone learns growing up. Doing home repairs incorrectly can also be a very expensive disaster that can render the home unlivable.
The danger with fines is that it could set up a two-tier system – people who have better-paying jobs get to not do chores, and people with less money have to do more chores. Looks like a slippery slope to me.
Potential forfeiting of communal TV rights, or something else that is a shared/scheduled thing that everyone gets to use, could work. My old house had a regular cinema trip and the house had to be nice and in order, with everyone pulling their weight for us all to go. Nopbody wanted to be the ass who hadn’t hoovered so nobody went to the cinema, and the timing was super flexible so nobody had good reason not to get their stuff done.There were only four and we were best friends so it was a specific dynamic, but non-monetary penalties and incentives can certainly work.
Well, I think one alternative is if and when that dynamic develops name is and make it an official topic of discussion. Don’t let it be a de facto thing, where it just happens, if that becomes a trend call it out and say “this is what’s happening, how do we feel about this?” some people may decide that the money coming in from the fines is adding some “nice to haves” to the house, nicer communal furnishings, paid for a french press coffee maker for the kitchen, let them set up an emergency fund so if something goes wrong they don’t have to pass the hat around before they call the plumber, etc. and so they’re okay with that dynamic. Or if the money isn’t used communally but people are given rent discounts or hard cash, maybe they really value that. Other people might feel that it’s against the spirit of communal living to let someone replace sweat with cash, and the extra effort isn’t worth it for what they’re getting out of it and they want them to contribute not just pay their way.
Those aren’t right or wrong answers, but it’s a conversation that has to be had and a negotiation to be made conciously not a dynamic to allow to become a pattern without discussion or consent from the household.
The other alternative is people that don’t carry their weight are told to start to contribute or face eviction, how realistic this threat is depends on how easy it would be to find replacements and the potential economic impact as well as how hard your state makes it to evict someone, but I’m of the mind that if you’re not going to act neighborly, you shouldn’t get to be a neighbor.
or people will less money choose to do chores.
The important part is whether the chore-doers think the fee is worth it. If the chore-doers are happy with extra cash and the chore-not-doers are happy with fewer chores, I don’t see a problem.
it’s a problem because people have this bizarre idea that domestic work is somehow not work and getting icky money on your precious household is weird bad and dirty.
the real solution to this problem is to stop dicking around with fines or knocking a little money off rent and just pay someone to do the work (completely free rent counts as pay). in private households this might be impossible. in large communal households it is COMPLETELY possible. but in my depressingly extensive experience people would rather allow their communal property to literally rot, and to waste endless time in meetings fretting, than just PAY SOMEONE.
Anecdata: when I had a roommate move in, then promptly lose her job, she offered to do more around the house, which I would not hear of, considering it a “slippery slope,” and thinking it might cut into her job search time. The practical effect of this was: she fell into depression, and cleaned the kitchen twice (that’s it. The sum total of her cleaning contribution) while we were living together, and freaked out at me for walking in on her doing so. She got very angry and resentful of me, which caused her to do some pretty appalling passive-aggressive things, such as turning the television volume up to the max WHENEVER I was trying to sleep (when I finally snapped, I had not slept for more than 60 hours), and having loud phone conversations about what an awful parent I was and how horrible my child was when I was in the room. (She was recovering from a miscarriage, as if losing her job were’t enough, and I think she was sad that I got to be a parent and she didn’t. I can understand it, but I can’t have the person who said that shit about my kid in my life any more.)
Someone is going to say that she was awful, but it was I who was the initiatrice of toxicity, taking away the thing my roommate needed in order to feel valuable “for her own good.” Spoiler: intent is not magic. I lost a friend I valued because I was a patronizing bitch who didn’t listen. Don’t be me: LISTEN to what your roommates say about what they need.
I agree that listening is good, but I don’t think the problem in this story was you & your decisions about household chores. This person was spiraling and taking it out on you. I think she would have done it with or without your agreement re: chores.
I.. honestly hadn’t considered that thought. Wow. Thanks? Maybe? This is big for me to process.
When I read your comment, I thought exactly what the Captain said: this person was always going to be depressed and toxic. It’s magical thinking to see it as somehow your fault. There’s a big, big difference between a cause and a trigger, and in this case the trigger was most likely the stress of moving to a new place and losing her job.
Yeah, I… really urge you to take a second look at calling yourself a sexist put-down because your friend chose to deal with her spiral by abusing you for your efforts to be kind. Yes, she was awful. No, you didn’t initiate toxicity, because your friend was an adult who could have Used Her Words and said “I appreciate you trying to be nice to me but I NEED to be able to do things like clean the kitchen undisturbed.” That she chose to attack you, deprive you of sleep (W.T.F. That is actual TORTURE) and insult you and your child is 100% on her – not you.
If a friend came to you and said that her husband was behaving this way, would you tell her, well, clearly you’re a patronizing bitch who doesn’t listen and you made him sad? Or would you recognize that he was using her as an emotional punching bag?
I get what you are trying to say, and yeah in general it’s reasonable to take someone up on an offer to try to do more of one thing if they can’t contribute to another thing; but going to echo what others said one questionable move doesn’t mean you’re responsible for all subsequent REALLY HORRIBLE, ACTIVELY MEAN behavior of someone else. And if we could spy into parallel universes where that one decision was different, I’d be really surprised if your roomie somehow had everything together just because you said it’d be ok if they did some more chores.
Maybe if there’s a max number of chores (or time value or something) that can be bought out? That way nobody can completely opt out of chores no matter how much cash they have.
This. It can’t become a pattern that some people routinely pay to avoid chores. I do chores, anyway, because I like to not live in a dump, but there should be a limit to how many times somebody can skip/pay the fine before their tenancy is on the line.
For the record: I would have to be in *dire straits* before I ever considered communal living, for exactly the reasons being explored here.
Truth talk: If I never had to lift a finger around the house ever again, I would happily pay so much extra. I hate hate HATE cleaning full-stop and if someone was willing to take that on for me for pay? Win-win.
The two-tiered system you are concerned about requires buy-in from both sides – which makes it less of a slippery slope. After all, if no one wants to do extra chores for cash, the requirement for chores remains with the assigned people.
It’s also not a given that people who have better income will want to pay to lessen their chore burden or vice versa. I lived in a kind-of communal house in college. I made pretty good money as a cashier at a grocery store compared to my housemates who worked at minimum wage on-campus jobs. I also find cleaning bathrooms relaxing. I ended up picking up ~$10.00 a week to clean two of the bathrooms in the house instead of two other housemates on a rotating schedule.
My concern with LW’s situation re fines and/or essentially paying some residents to do chores is that it might not fit the ethos of the house. LW says part of the their reason for choosing to live this way is political – if they and other residents feel equal work contributions from all are important to them, then being able to buy your way out of chores is not going to fit.
If my kids don’t do their chores we dock their computer time 😈 few things motivate people like being cut off from the internet.
That’s what i wondered. I’ve never lived in this type of larger communal housing, but i’ve heard stories and I always wonder, is there a contract? Something one must sign in order to be accepted and must follow in order to remain? Because expecting folks to behave well just because they ought to, or doing a bunch of emotional labor around trying to ‘frame’ the proper series of words and syllables to motivate them, as if folks aren’t aware that they’re supposed to clean after themselves? I do like the positive vibe aspect of the framing, don’t get me wrong, words matter. But when they become exhausting emotional labor necessary to get the other person to do the bare minimum, those words run the risk of becoming enabling. Didn’t wash your dishes? Well Suzie was pretty snarky to me and after those bad vibes she threw my way i thought… eff it. I would hate to think anyone felt they had to say ‘wash your dishes’ and then spend actual time thinking up sentences to say it perfectly so that i’d do it, when really, wash your dishes should suffice. And while i’m Pretty undisciplined while living alone, and my kitchen is not company-friendly right now, i have not and would never leave those types of messes when living with others. There’s discipline and there’s entitlement.
117-person co-op resident. Seconding this fine thing. It’s in our contract that if you don’t do the chores (“labor”) you’re getting fined, and if it continues to be a problem you are evicted. Do we enforce this well? Not really. Is it a very VERY good incentive? You bet your ass.
student co-ops are a completely different ball of wax. they’re inherently temporary. long term communal living for established adults can’t really run the same way.
One thing I’ve always wondered about communal living situations: has anyone ever had *good* long-term experiences? Most of the experiences with communal living I’ve heard about were of the “never again” variety. It sounds impossibly hard to prevent the same issues (housework seems to top the list along with abuse, breakups, and cliques) from coming up again and again. Part of the reason seems to be that people drawn to communal living don’t tend to love the idea of strict rules and consequences and tend to assume that people will act in good faith, which makes it challenging to enforce boundaries on acceptable behavior and easier to abuse the system. I’m part of a bunch of left-wing online groups and occasionally come across invitations to apply for communal living spaces, and it’s usually easy to look through the rulebook and say, “This is exactly where it’s going to break down.” I know there must be awesome communities with happy participants out there—what are their secrets?
I’ve had a great communal living experience. The key was a written roommate contract that spelled things down to the “which shelf in the fridge is yours” and “how long can overnight guests stay and what kind of notice do you give the other roommates” level and a hired cleaning person who came every three weeks to clean the common spaces (paid a fair wage with the cost factored into the monthly bills from the start).
We all did our own dishes (in the contract: no dishes in sink overnight), took out trash (in contract: take a load of garbage down when you leave the apt.), and picked up after ourselves pretty well (in the contract: Unless it lives on a shelf in a specific place like books or DVDs, keep your personal stuff like shoes or jackets or mail out of common areas) and there was something magical about “Oh, cleaning person comes tomorrow, let’s all make sure our stuff is out of the common spaces before he gets here” – Even though we were capable of cleaning everything ourselves, the ritual & outside motivation was a lifesaver, and stuff could never get too dirty. I haven’t always been in a position to do that and realize not everyone is, but if you are, IT IS MAGIC.
The cleaning person coming is literal magic. My budget has gotten a lot tighter since I had a kid, and I protect that cleaner money at all costs, even if it means going down in frequency from time to time.
It’s not just the cleaning (though that is magic), it’s putting the cleaning on the calendar and having an outside source of accountability.
Even a Roomba (or analogue) can help, not just with vacuuming or sweeping but with reminding people to clear the floor of objects once per day, plus the inertia of pickup time… as a messy person (who doesn’t do roommates because of Bad experiences), I have felt like I don’t deserve a floor that’s debris-free, but that cheery little chirp it makes when it’s activated makes me want to help out my cat-confusing buddy…
I am the paid cleaning person for several people, and I am definitely magic ^_^ I know the people I clean for really appreciate leaving for work and then coming home to a clean house, because they’ve told me so. I like having regular gigs because it is so much easier to do maintenance cleaning than to go in and clean a place that no one has touched in months.
slob here – my newly hired cleaning lady charged 3x the biweekly rate for an initial cleaning because she had to decrud all the places us slobs never get around to cleaning. I didn’t mind paying it because my house was actually clean. And then she was able to maintain it much more easily.
I’m another communal living alum who’s in “never again” territory, and I’d say the markers for success would probably be rock-solid boundaries, a clear management structure, and, um, not being trapped in communal living because there’s no other affordable housing. (Our city has legacy co-ops operated as affordable housing, and that tends to trap people in them long after they are done with the social experiment – most of the people who’ve moved out have actually moved out of the city. It’s not any of the bigger cities you’re thinking of, too, so there’s not much of a selection of other co-ops to move into if one doesn’t suit).
The most successful rental-style (as opposed to condo-style) sharehouse I know of in my town is actually operated more on a boarding house model: there’s a house manager who’s paid out of a rent surcharge whose job is to enforce chores, contract repairs, and replace core supplies like toilet paper. The property also isn’t communally owned. It’s basically a luxury roommate situation, therefore, and not that affordable – you don’t earn equity and you pay for convenience.
I have to say that my experience was sort of like entering into 5% of a marriage with 20 people based on one meeting. Managing shared space, finances, decision-making, and long-term planning with other people is DIFFICULT. Also, because we had no clear structure and a lot of turnover, it was really easy to get up in each others’ grills non-stop. From the outside the degree of enmeshment seemed ridiculous: I’m talking full restorative justice mediation meetings 6 months after someone moved out over dented recycling bin level drama. Let them go! Just charge them money! Augh who cares! But from the inside that level of simmering drama did seem reasonable.
I would also say that the LW is probably part of a successful experience because it sounds like there’s a whole bunch of organizational capacity. Being part of a 20-person experiment with no organizational capacity is probably very different from being part of what sounds like a large co-op network (… is it rude of me to guess Bay Area rats)
As a bay area rat, I dearly wish we had this kind of organizational capacity and I _really_ want to know more about LW’s setup.
Yup, my communal living experience was overall positive (though I am in no hurry to ever do it again, I like to be alone) and the reason was we had a clear house management structure with people who had the power to enforce the rules, up to and including eviction. No one was evicted during my time there, but there were a few that happened the year before I moved in, and by all accounts part of the reason the house was livable by the time I moved in was because the problem tenants had been booted.
I happily lived with two friends (one close and one distant, who became close) for a couple of years, and when I moved out I kept holding the contract for another two years without worry.
I’ve realised later that we were different. We lived as a family. We had a rotating schedule for who made dinner, did the washes and was free for the evening. We went food shopping together. We had laundry time together (That one was an absolute necessity in our housing! There where too few slots for laundry, so we had to do the laundry together or not doing the laundry at all.). We had a cleaning day every week for the communal spaces.
The thing is – we (1 and 2) emulated the only way of living we knew, our parents. They did the household stuff together, so that’s what we did too. And when number 3 moved in it was a set deal for her. We had to teach her to cook though, so one of us helped with choosing a recipe, talk it through before the cooking, and then just being in the flat while number 3 did the cooking. No written contract, but working together as a family.
Okay, so my experience is likely to be less repeatable for others, but here goes. I was living in a smaller community – 4 on the weekdays, up to 8 on the weekends, but in a small place. Part of this was that I was working as a missionary in a country where the norm was crowded family groups living in a small space together and a tipping point of nationals were in the apartment (it always worked better with more nationals than more Americans because culture). Part of it was that we were a religious organization; I’ve heard that communal living attempts on average work better if it’s a religious organization (doesn’t matter which religion if I’m remembering correctly) than not bcs people will tend to follow rules better if it’s because a deity said so than just bcs of human rules. So we had that.
We had nothing like a contract (so NOT that culture-appropriate!), but the unspoken rules were that all of us had responsibilities and privileges but only those of us who lived there full-time had decision-making power (other than small things like what we would have for dinner). And the two core housemates for most of my time there were myself and one other woman that I clicked well with. It made everything work better that we got along well, although we saw almost nothing in the same way! It also helped that I was an American and she was a national so we had someone from both cultures as a bridge. (In fact our bosses started sending new Americans to live in our apt for at least a few months when they moved to Country bcs they realized that the people who had stayed at our place had a much higher rate of cultural sensitivity and language learning than those that stayed anywhere else. A fact of which we were proud).
Yes! I lived in a communal setting for about 6 years. Each their own room, shared kitchen / living and outdoor patio. I did like that I had a bathroom to myself most of the time, but sharing one with 2 others was no big problem.
Since bathrooms weren’t shared among the whole group, and we also didn’t have hallways, there weren’t that many chores and we mainly divided them up each day:
– groceries and cooking
– cleaning dishes (this was pre dishwasher)
– drying dishes and putting them away
– cleaning the table, stove and counter top, putting away the trash and cleaning the floor
(That sounds like a lot, but in reality it didn’t take too much time.)
We also had a system where you could choose your chore, and got benefits (if there were enough people, the person who would prepare next day’s meal wouldn’t have to do any of the chores. Doing the dishes would get you an out more often than cleaning up – it was fairly balanced in that it motivated people to take up certain chores because of the benefits, and others preferred to do certain tasks and more often.)
Things that helped: communication, staying in touch, meeting each other for relaxation. Then it usually worked out quite well. If people started being away much it was so much harder to get a low key ‘hey, don’t forget to put away your breakfast dishes.’ Chores also are much more fun when doing them while chatting away.
Every so often we did sit around together to talk about expectations and rules. (I think the interesting thing is that we didn’t really notice because sometimes it took part when interviewing with new candidates. That worked as a good enforcer without us realizing.)
The housing organisation kept some tabs on us, and if things really went off the rails they could intervene but on the actual chores that wasn’t needed. We have gone to them for help in two cases. But having the awareness of some external accountability and support have helped.
Sure. And our magic was alternating kitchen cleaning days – and if you didn’t do your day, the next day was yours too, with an extra day’s worth of dirty dishes. Nagging was allowed at the point you needed something of which there was no longer a clean one.
It’s never perfect, but if you can keep the irritation of too messy a house OR too much cleaning and nagging clearly less than the benefit of rent saved and company enjoyed, you’re OK.
there are actually very, very few successful longterm communal living situations, at least ones that have any kind of public profile. here is a list
I guess it depends what you’re really asking about; in many ways dorms, assisted living and nursing homes are “communal” in that there are a lot of common areas. My friends and I took over a floor of a college dorm tower (if you could line up 8 people you could put in a request) and it was great. Reflecting here, why was it great? We each were responsible for our own rooms, someone else would clean the common room/bathroom, and there was no kitchen (food was generally from the cafeteria) so there was really not much in the way of common chores XD We did of course have to keep the common area relatively picked up from our stuff but that’s not that difficult. One of the recurring themes i’m seeing as problems with living with multiple people is the feeling like one is doing more than their “fair share”, the fact that other people’s maintenance labor is a bit invisible, and it’s a lot harder to change roommates if they’re not doing what they are supposed to do than to just hire someone else to come in and do a job. I think?
I’ll be honest: I eagerly read the reply because seeking new inspiration to address the chore duties / excuses of TEENAGERS. The kids have valid challenges and issues, as do we all, but the most common responses I get are “Yes, I will” followed later by “I forgot.” I tremble for their future housemates….
Seriously though, no matter who your target audience is, I agree wholeheartedly that getting the gang together on a regular basis to set expectations, keeping it positive, and following through equitably is going to get you more than half the way.
It might help to look around for advice on living in various specific demographic situations. 13 adults living together by choice may not be super common, but a dozen people in a student dorm might be close enough to yield some useful ideas.
Or if some of the people are not adults, then it might be worth looking at advice on chores for kids/teens, and how to handle chore management when you are not the parent without overburdening whoever is their parent with double chores.
Woops, nesting fail – this was supposed to be a fresh comment not a reply to Ann.
In that particular situation, you might want to try asking that the chores are done right then when you ask or that they set a timer for some reasonable amount of time to reach a natural stopping place with whatever they’re in the middle of doing (chatting, reading, playing a video game, doing homework, whatever – have them set the timer there in front of you so the excuse doesn’t become, “I forgot to set the timer,” and you can buy dedicated timers for cheap if they don’t have phones they can use); they have to stop and do the chore when the timer goes off if they fail to stop at the natural pause point before it does. This is logistical work that you have to do, but it sounds like you’re already basically doing it.
That’s the only thing that I found to work for myself – I’m most motivated to do something right when I notice it needs to be done, and I’m not good at using lists or charts to remind me to do tasks, so I’ll spend ten minutes clearing out cobwebs when I notice some, wash my dishes immediately after using them, spend ten minutes sweeping the uncarpeted floors when I notice something crunch under my foot, fold and put my clothes away right when I take them out of the dryer, etc. If the issue really is forgetfulness or distraction and not intentional avoidance, setting a specific time (with an alarm!) might help, and “right now” is often as good a time as any.
As a Mom, you have much more authority and control over the occupants’ movements. With my 3 teenagers, the most important thing was 1) routine and 2) deadlines. We do XYZ every day/week in this house and absolutely nothing happens past the deadline (sports, dates, friends coming over, Tv, games, etc.) unless/until chores are done.
Our chores focused on common living areas. So, from Friday afternoon when everyone gets home from school, you had until 3pm Saturday to get your household chores done, at whatever pace you wanted. But after 3pm Saturday, all other activity is put on hold and somebody is going to stand over you and supervise/scrutinize until you get it done (and nobody wants that, because Mom has an eagle-eye for detail and WILL make you work harder). We had a rotating chart where one kid swept/mopped the hard floors, one kid vacuumed the carpets/rugs and dusted shelves, and the third cleaned the bathroom every week. Each chore took about 20-30 minutes, so this was very manageable. You could swap any portion or all of your tasks with anyone else who was willing to bargain, but this is acknowledged as a favor and not an obligation. Same thing with dishes every night – one washed, one rinsed, one dried and put up; if you washed today, you will rinse tomorrow, and dry/put up the night after that. This takes no more than 15 minutes tops. You have exactly one hour after everyone finishes eating to get this done. By the time they were 12, they took care of their own laundry. I let them work out their own schedule between them of who uses the machines and when, because having clean socks and underwear was pretty important to all three, and they knew that “I forgot” just meant that you wore dirty clothes (same as it is when you’re an adult). But a schedule could have been easily worked out if this ever became an on-going issue. Their bedrooms were their own business, so that they retained some control over their spaces.
It really doesn’t matter how you allocate the tasks, as long as the routine is established so that “We do XYZ at Time on Day” is as non-negotiable (or flexible) as “We go to school every day at the same time,” (exceptions for holidays and illnesses). XYZ needs to happen at a very regular interval such as daily or weekly, broken down into manageable time-frames, with a set marker (like dinner, or the end of the school week) to remind them, with follow-through if the deadline isn’t met. If you leave it open-ended and no consequence ever arrives, it will never be done voluntarily no matter how much Mom complains, unless it is independently important to them. And the best way to make it independently important to them is to integrate it into their lives through routine until that level of cleanliness becomes normalized and internalized. All three of my boys have come back to thank me for making them do chores (yes, really!), because it made their lives so much easier and more organized when they moved out on their own. Now, they will get up and clean all on their own, because the mess has become a consequence within itself.
Seconds on the routine and clear structure for teenagers. The point is to contribute and to know how to do stuff, not be randomly required to do major task A when genuinely in the middle of something else. Your arrangement sounds very much like mine was when I was a teenager with two siblings: washing and clearing up every evening straight after the evening meal (we too rotated the different elements). Three big communal area jobs to be done at the weekend, which didn’t rotate but could be chosen. Get on with your job sooner? You get to pick it. Washing machine managed by my mother for efficiency, but clothes have to be in the basket and everyone is expected to take clothes out of the machine and hang them to dry, and to iron, and to do things like put the bin out when you noticed it was full (a job that obviously everyone still tried to avoid). It’s not voluntary, but it isn’t harsh, just the way that the household is organised and you were expected to cooperate in.
In my house at the moment, the bin gets put out because it’s easier to put it out as we leave the house than to clean up whatever the dog fishes through the bin to get while we’re out 😛
I can see that would definitely have been an incentive!
I’m taking notes, that sounds like a really good system, and I think it could be partially adapted to teach my high-school students better work habits *ponders*
I believe you that your boys thanked you for this. My parents both worked long hours and made good money, so we had a 2x-a-month cleaner my whole life (and when I was very young, we had a nanny who practically raised us and also did all the cooking and cleaning). I was never really made to do more than clean my room and occasionally dust or wash windows, usually as a punishment. I didn’t even have to do my own laundry because my mom liked splitting her stuff into so many separate loads that she always needed help “filling out a load.” As a result, I have terrible habits around cleaning and chores, and have worked pretty hard to get to a reasonable base state where things aren’t always a disaster zone. (Living with roommates in college helped a lot!! As does having a husband with a higher standard of cleanliness than I do.)
We don’t have a kid yet but this is one of the things I ponder sometimes – how to get future kids into good habits for day to day stuff, chores included, when I myself don’t have those habits. (Not to mention, how to get myself to be better about cleaning on a regular basis before we have the added mess of a small child!)
My mother’s ‘method’ can best be described as: intermittent bursts of manic scouring because she’s mad about something completely unrelated and needs to work off the energy. It’s… not one I’d recommend. If it’s any encouragement to you, though, it was so much easier for me to figure out a routine for my kids and train them right the first time, than it was to de-program and re-train myself. In teaching them, I taught me.
One of the things I integrated into our routine when the kids were still very small – that I think helped a lot – was a ‘clean sweep’ after bath time. So, we take an evening bath and get out jammies on, and then when the kids are all wound up from that, we drag any toys, games, etc. that had been brought into the living room that day, and tote it all back to their room/toybox, or if that was done, de-clutter the floor in their room. Then (so they have something to look forward to and incentive not to meander) we’d watch a movie or read a book for a calm down period once everything is nice and clean, to let them wind down for bed.
It seems pointless, because really, they’re jut going to drag it all back out tomorrow! But littler kids are eager to please and they like to help, so the idea was to condition them during that willing stage to make a run through the house and pick up, at least once a day. Little kids have short memories, so things like “once a week” won’t mean much to them. And “put it back up when you’re finished playing with it” was useless, because they’re never finished playing with it! But “every night after my bath” is an easy cue they can remember. And as they got older, I really appreciated the “all of your stuff goes to your room before bed” habit they had developed, just so they weren’t leaving extra clutter all over the place, because it builds up quick! Even now, when they are home, I’ll see them wander through the house before bed to tidy up a bit. I think it gives their brain a feeling of closure to the day.
But most of all, I think it’s just really important for kids to get a feel for the time and effort it takes to do these tasks, eventually including the mental labor of remembering to do them. Household maintenance is just one of those things you have to do to appreciate exactly how much is involved. Without a basis for comparison, we’re all prone to make bad estimations. So if it looks easy, and/or it’s invisible to them, then they assume that’s exactly the way it is. They have to be taught better by actually doing. And it pays off very quickly to involve your kids. Let them help until you’re satisfied that they can do it independently well, and then you get to hand those tasks over, and promote yourself from laborer to management.
As both a messy teenager and a mess of a teenager (undiagnosed ADD/spectrum-variety issues: my parents were forever undone because they’d ask me to “clean up and help out” so I’d organize the receipts and then bake cookies and then be very upset when they were angry because I’d chosen the wrong tasks) – setting clear expectations, keeping it positive, and following through equitably was exactly what I needed as a teen, so it sounds like well done you.
Have you considered escalating to work days/work times if they can’t manage their time themselves? That’s a bit of a natural consequence – if they can’t decide when to do it, then you might need to help them schedule a time. (We’ve certainly done that in communal living too, and my housemates and I have done cleaning parties). Also, you’re not a bad parent and they’re not doomed to vex their future housemates if even the best standard of parenting doesn’t produce perfect cooperation – experimenting with noncooperation is such a core teenage function, anyway. I’d also throw in, though, that if your “setting expectations” looks like “I expect you to chip in and help keep the place clean”, you might need to drill down to “I expect you to put the dishes in the dishwasher and wipe the counter down”.
Oh man, this! We kept things in fairly “good” shape when I was a teenager, so when I was told to “clean” or “help out,” I often went for things that seemed the least clean – so I did a lot of organizing and things like cleaning grout or the baseboards! Aaaaand then promptly got yelled at for not cleaning things at all. It didn’t help that (in my dysfunctional/abusive family), that my younger brother learned there was no consequence to him for not doing chores, so he just… wouldn’t, and I bounced between trying to get everything done and just doing my half and… still getting yelled at. I think probably the best approach is to ask what they have done. And possibly to have a reference for what it means to do each chore – some kids might find it micromanaging, but I think by making a binder or something that isn’t a checklist, you can make it clear that it’s a reference, not a nitpick.
I think the other big thing, working from my memories and also a year of living with my (much grown up!) brother as an adult, is to realize that a) “I forgot” generally does mean they forgot, not that they’re trying to worm out of chores, so it may be helpful to sit down and help them come up with a good system for reminders, not just implementing them, and b) sometimes it takes people feeling ownership of a space to be motivated to take care of it, so I wouldn’t despair for all of their future housemates (maybe just the first set!). What I mean by that is that when you aren’t solely responsible for something, it doesn’t click immediately as to why those tasks are done (e.g. realizing that, oh! It’s a lot easier to clean up with/is a lot more pleasant to use clean towels! That’s why they go in the laundry every given rotation of days!).
I was always really messy as a teen, but once I moved out and had any semblance of my own space, I started doing those tasks because they made my life nicer and no one was yelling at me if I cleaned the shower every three weeks instead of every week. Some tasks got dropped because I didn’t find they added to my life, some increased in frequency, and sometimes I just had to figure out how to do them in a way that worked for me (also UFYH was SO HELPFUL when I was first figuring this out – the insight about making your bed because it reduces the brain-anxiety around a messy, cluttered space (or life) rather than because there was something “morally better” or even “more hygenic” about doing so was so amazing for me).
Don’t know if this will be helpful to you, but I hope so! (Sorry for using your comment as a springboard, purps, but apparently I had some feelings and thoughts about this!) Speaking of, y’know, baking cookies and organizing receipts are both really nice things to do for people – maybe there’s space for a “do something you think would be nice or helpful for your housemates” on a teenager’s chore rota in some form? Let them have some initiative, positive reinforcement about why we do household tasks, and figure out what they like to do around the house.)
Oh I’m just happy to know that other people hyperfocus on grout! My wife calls my cleaning style “crime scene cleanup” – if there are crumbs in the silverware drawer I still have a very high risk of getting stuck there fishing them all out instead of putting the dishes in the dishwasher. As with most perfectionists this means my house is dirtier, not cleaner – it’s hard to start when you can get derailed into q-tipping the corners of the cupboard doors and never do the dishes anyway.
So I’m coming from a very specific place when I also say that even if there’s suspicion of sandbagging, it’s probably good to reward kids and teens especially for sort of doing the thing even if they do it shittily and then incrementally raise the standards. Like clicker-training a pet – rewarding for even approaching the task. (I know that sounds demeaning but that’s what I have to do with myself some days!)
Right? It’s so tempting to Fix It From the Bottom Up that you are oblivious to the actual, noticeable thing.
Oh, absolutely! Same here. Sometimes you just have be like “Good job, self! Now future you won’t have quite as much crap to scrub off!” and let that be A Win. Like, sure, you may not have decreased the dirty, but you have staved off an increase in the dirty. I figure when the likelihood is that 0-5% is going to get done, and 10-15% gets done, that’s not worth getting upset with someone about.
(I actually have dear friends who were clicker training their dog, and honestly, celebrating his tiny wins wholeheartedly was a lot nicer/more fun than going “well, that’s the LEAST we should expect,” and made me realize that I shouldn’t treat myself so meanly, either. So I think it’s an apt analogy!)
Yeah, “Yes, I will/I forgot” thing will carry over into adulthood if they don’t get it down now, and it WILL alienate roommates/romantic partners. I have been in relationships (note the past tense!) with guys like that, and it didn’t work in any of those cases because I’m not their mom, and even if I had been, it’s STILL their job to clean up after themselves. Finding a positive approach is the only way I found to make it work; a reward-based system rather than punishment is more likely to get the results you want. For example, I saw a picture on the Internet of a chart some mom had made with chores that needed to be done with a dollar amount next to it that went to the kid who completed the chore. I don’t think that would work well with communal housing, but it could certainly motivate teenagers.
IIRC, when I was a teen the rule was that each chore got done according to a schedule, and if a parent had to remind me, I had to do it right then, regardless of what I was doing. If I wanted to do the chore when *I* wanted to do it, then it had to be done before the end of the scheduled time. If I failed, I had to do it when *they* wanted me to. It was a pretty good incentive.
My family was also against paying allowance for chores – “you don’t do chores for money, you do them because you live here” was the motto. My allowance was to help me learn to manage money.
I just want to say that I REALLY like the ideas Ealasaid and Maddie mentioned – chore to be done within x time frame (followed by less flexibility/freedom if deadline is not met). I was another teenager who had a lot of guilt about “not helping out enough” but I didn’t really know what to do or how. That said, I still resented the hell out of “OK, the living room is a mess! Everyone is cleaning RIGHT NOW!” when I was in the middle of my homework. I was also the sort of teen who genuinely would forget if asked to do something “sometime”, leading to unpleasant-for-everyone nagging and guilt spirals. This idea seems like a really good balance between respecting teenagers enough to let them decide how to organize their time and providing enough structure to avoid the inevitable “I forgot.”
“My family was also against paying allowance for chores – “you don’t do chores for money, you do them because you live here” was the motto. My allowance was to help me learn to manage money.”
This is how we operate in our house. My kids know that if they wanted to earn money there’s always a task outside of the regular chore chart that they can do: organizing the hall closet, helping set up/break down holiday stuff, etc. Another thing I’ve done is refuse to do my tasks until theirs is done. Recently I had asked my 13 year old to fill and empty the dishwasher before I got home from work. She didn’t. I walked in the house and she immediately started in with “what’s for dinner?” I refused to cook until she’d done the dishwasher. She was PISSED because she now had to wait until the dishwasher had been run and emptied before I would start cooking. And she spent a good 20 minutes bitching about it before she even got the thing loaded. Dinner was later but my point was made.
I really like this. Great way to explicitly demonstrate the social contract in action.
Another undiagnosed ADHD adult here who had this problem as a teenager – it’s worth sitting down and asking ‘what is the ultimate goal’. First, with yourself – and get really, reallllly specific: “The ultimate goal is that there is never any dish more than 12 hours dirty on our kitchen counter and that I never have to clean the dinner dishes” and then interrogate that goal for a bit – is 12 hours actually right? or would you be okay with 24 hours? Or is it actually that you always need to have at least some clean dishes to eat/cook with? And is it just that you don’t have to do dinner dishes? What about the pans and baking dishes and such?
Once you have a *really* good idea of what work you expect from the kids (and what work you are doing!) then you should sit down and have basically the same conversation with them – obviously from a point of authority, but it should go something like ‘Here is what I expect you to do because it’s important that we all take care of each other, that’s part of living together’. And then really listen to their feedback on what you’re asking. And then ask them to come up with really solid, really specific plans for when and how they’re going to get the work done, and ask *them* what sort of consequences there should be for not following their own plans. And if(/when) they do mess it up, enact those consequences, but also ask them what went wrong with their plan, and how they can change their plan/what sort of help they need to get that main goal fulfilled.
For me, I started doing the dishes in the early, early morning – everyone else hated that chore so by doing it I didn’t have to do any other chores that I don’t like, and I was up that early anyway to shower before everyone else, and I could listen to my music and zone out – it was a specific chore/time that worked for me. But anytime my mom asked me to do something during the day I would honestly intend to do it, and then totally space because I had no spoons left after school, and 9/10 was hyperfocused on the book I was reading/game I was playing/homework I was doing/whatever
As an adult, I do this with myself for all sorts of things – ask what is *actually* the goal, then ask what I need to accomplish that goal – so instead of beating myself up over not folding my laundry, I buy things that don’t wrinkle and live out of a hamper haha.
I’m a messy teen turned messy adult currently working on it. The thing that finally made it all click for me, and the system I continue to use, is basically stickers and a planner. It sounds like something for small children. I just make a list of all the things my chores/tasks and I get a sticker once I do each one. I have since upgraded to a chore chart on the fridge, but it is the same idea (although with magnets instead of stickers). Each day I have my normal chores (kitty liter, dishes, garbage, etc) and when they are done I move the magnet from “not done” to “done”.
The reason it works (and might for your kids too) is that it helps seeing what specifically needs to be done in writing. Knowing “I have to do these chores” mentally is one thing, but it can also be overwhelming. Thinking about all the things I need to do seems like there are hundreds. But written down it is just about ten things. That is totally something to manage. In addition, no “I forgot” excuses because it is right in front of you in writing. The other thing is that once a chore is accomplished I never actually feel better. I’m a messy person, so I don’t get that sense of pride or relief after the dishes are done. I feel exactly like I did before they were done, only now my shirt is wet. But when I get to slap that sticker in the journal or move that magnet…well that is when I feel pride.
Also, be specific with these things. Clean the kitchen might be perfectly reasonable a request but as a teen (and honestly as an adult) it is also one that seems impossible to know where to start and what it includes. Instead break it into the specific parts. Wash dishes. Put them away. Clean the sink. Put away anything on the counters. Wipe down counters. And write it down so that each part can be checked off when completed making it clear that this isn’t an impossible task, and that you just need to do each manageable part.
I love the fine idea. There are times when I would gladly pay someone to do my chores and times when I would gladly do someone elses for pay. I also suggest, unless the co-op is already going to do it, that everyone going into the house contribute a set amount to have a cleaning service come in and clean the house to start with. It is easier to keep a house clean than it is to get it clean and you would start with a clean slate (and house). I also suggest at the meeting that there be a discussion of “how clean is clean?” When I got married I had to accept that my husband was messy and I, having grown up in an almost abusively clean home, became very stressed when things were a mess. I end up doing more of the cleaning because things that bother me don’t bother him. I found that it took a lot less effort to pick up a towel dropped on the bathroom floor than it did to try and get him to hang it up. However, towels get washed once a week and if I just washed them and yours now has kittly litter on it because you dropped it on the floor oh well.
I’ve seen this work very well in a large communal home. It wasn’t even called a fine: it was just your required cleaning contribution, spelled out in the housing agreement, which you were welcome to pay with cash or labor.
The price was based on what a professional housekeeper would cost. Usually there were plenty of people willing to take on extra cleaning shifts in exchange for cash, but occasionally there were not, and in that case the money was in fact used to hire a housekeeper.
It was amazingly effective. The house stayed clean, and the fact that you were allowed to just pay cash any time you didn’t want to clean made it relaxing for everyone.
I first heard about this system from the person whose job it was to collect the money, and I asked if people tended to get upset when they had to pay up. The answer was no: people were generally relieved to pay! Usually they’d been planning to clean but got overwhelmed with other stuff, and they felt guilty and were expecting to get yelled at. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that no one was mad, no apologies were necessary, and there was no need to schedule make-up work or anything. Just pay the fee and you’re done!
I like the post about, “If you don’t do your X, the fee is $Y, going to the person who covered”.
Now that’s been said, you might want to specifically look for folks who either prefer to clean rather than cook, or would be willing to financially pitch in for a Mini Maid type service in the public areas.
Also: some of the maid services will do a TEACHING service on how to mow through a cleanup efficiently. This includes how to pack a cleaning kit/tote, what cleaning tools are most efficient for which task – it is shocking how fast/effective those folks can be.
I like the teaching idea! The Clean Team has a system that’s very fast. And I think they do instructional sessions too. if they are where you are
Also it’s been proven by science that we forget approximately a third of the dishes we used, so if everyone does their (perceived) share and a half, cleanliness will be restored. Just being aware of that will help.
Hearty second, although I didn’t know it had been proven. If you have a link and feel like sharing, that would be great!
Also, if the house is a bit of a disaster at the moment, it might be worth it to get all to pitch in for one big deep-clean from a professional service. It’s always easier to keep something clean than to feel you’re fighting uphill against a huge mess!
I think that since some people are willing to move in order to get the place sorted, the organisation needs to chip in: hard reset, start with a good level of cleanliness.
A reset is a very good point. I know that once my husband and I (both messy people) did a big deep clean, it’s been easier to motivate ourselves to clean regularly. It was particularly helpful to discover that the tub’s discoloration is mostly removable, and not a hopeless case that came with the apartment as we had thought.
Very much agreed — my motivation for *keeping* a clean space clean is much higher than tackling a big decluttering project or dealing with a pre-existing mess, ESPECIALLY one made by other people!
I wonder if one of your options would be to have each person pitch in say $10/month so that you could hire out a deep cleaning of the common areas once a month. That way with inevitable slippage, there’s a safety net for keeping the place from getting seriously bad. The only thing harder than getting people to stay tidy on the regular is getting those same people to do a deep cleaning. Definitely research your cleaning options. This amount I suggested would be enough in my area, but your mileage may vary.
Yes yes yessss. Sometimes, the cheapest way to pay for something is with money (a quote I read here), and I’m actually in the midst of a household purge/deep-clean, with the services of a friend as my Organizing Angel.
I live in a 2-4 person household (my daughter and I are fulltime residents, we usually have 2 housemates, and she and I are both disabled by a severe chronic condition), and we’ve been stuck in a horrible cycle of not having an able-bodied person in the house > struggling to keep up with daily chores > not being able to tackle big projects > can’t show the house to new potential housemates until it’s sparkly clean and show-ready > losing out on money from house-sharing because we can’t get the place ready to show on our own.
Really relieved to be breaking the cycle and FINALLY making progress — we just had to find the right person to help, because maid services generally just clean surfaces, they don’t dive into the Disorganized Storage Area and help you find places to put things/purge unneeded stuff.
Honestly, for me, if you’re going to go through the hassle of doing fines and stuff… why not just put that money towards a maid service.
If the fines are nominal, they probably don’t add up to enough to pay a cleaning person a decent wage.
Yeah, but you can get a one-off from a service (they are not all terrible) once every couple of months. Or hire someone who does it on the side and see what they want to charge. I have a close friend who LOVES cleaning, and would happily do it for free but her friends feel guilty – so she’ll charge $40 to clean the house and they both get to be happy. It’s worth looking into, at least.
Maybe, but I would rather pay for it as maintenance like you pay for lawn care or whatever than be “punished” for being particularly depressed/in pain/tired that day.
Also there are going to be TWELVE people in the house. 10 dollars a month times 12 will add up PRETTY FAST.
Just wanted to say that as someone living in a house with 6 other people, this reply was super helpful and timely- thank you! We actually have managed to work out an okay chore system where we switch chores monthly rather than weekly, which helps me not put off my chore because I know that I’m still gonna be on the hook for it next week. Our main issue has been trying to figure out a shared budget. There’s been so much moralizing/ nickle and diming each other lately and it gets really tiring. Good luck, LW- I hope the switch goes well!
Yeah, I think I would actually prefer not to switch chores even monthly – I like getting into a routine with my chores and not having to think “what am I doing again?” plus the more you do something, the better you get at it. But I’ve usually been in situations where my preferred chores – cleaning bathrooms and dusting – were usually the least favorite of everyone else, so no one was dying to switch with me. Curious about what others think!
I wanted to say this part!
I would rather be “in-charge-of-taking-the garbage-to-the-curb lady ” rather than the “Oh, this week is garbage for me” lady. Because the in-charge person can plan everything around it (even specifically asking someone to sub for me if I’m away), but the intermitted person will flat-out forget.
The challenge is to end up with a division that feels fair–if you don’t make much of a mess in the bathroom, then it may feel unfair to have to clean up everyone’s mess. But if you don’t mind it, and you make some OTHER mess elsewhere, then it might feel perfectly fair.
In case you, specifically, still/ever have to deal with fair division of dissimilar labor, TootsNYC, I thought I’d mention that I commented in the main thread with a link to a website that implements an algorithmic approach to resolve division of bills, rent, chores, etc. so that it’s subjectively fair to all participants.
I agree with this, for three reasons:
1) If Adam, Betty, Candice, and Dave all switch off taking out the garbage, then without a constantly-updating means of alert (like a whiteboard saying “Adam – garbage – November”), it can be very easy to forget to do chores or blame someone else (“I thought it was Dave’s month to take out the trash!”). Updating that whiteboard or what have you is itself its own kind of work and can fall by the wayside quickly: having it be the same person every time cuts out that extra step.
2) Relatedly, it’s easier to identify the slack in the system if everyone has their own job. If you notice that the trashcan is full, and you know that Adam is the designated Garbage Disposer, then you know who didn’t do his chores this month.
3) I also like chores that people tend to dislike (I like sterilizing things, so wiping down countertops and scrubbing toilets are more my thing than washing dishes or picking up the floor). I know there are people who LOVE doing dishes and picking up the floor. In my mind, it’s easier for me to do the same chores I love than to go back and forth between “chores I love” and “chores I hate” every period.
@oceansloth, My roommate and I hit a nasty stretch that culminated in a HUGE fight, and nickle-and-diming was part of that. We agreed on a two-part strategy.
First, we decided that all items under a certain price that felt right for us ($10) that we bought for the house or shared for each other were only on the person who bought them. Do we need sponges? Pick up sponges for the house on your next trip to the store. Same for TP, paper towels, dish soap, etc. Similarly, if she’s going out for, say, a coffee and offers to pick one up for me, that’s on her. Did I decide to splurge on a fancy treat I wants to share? That’s on me. We also set up a system where we can say, “Hey, I got the last round of TP and dish soap, do you mind picking up paper towels on your way home?”
Your mileage may vary, of course. It works for us because we have the flexibility in our budgets to do this, and because it was more important to us to preserve our friendship and roommateship than to worry over who picked up the last round of paper towels (it had gotten to the point where it was causing enormous friction). We are pretty good about going back-and-forth on small household items, and any larger purchases necessary for the house are negotiated and/or consent is obtained beforehand.
Second (and this was important), we wiped the debts slate clean and started our new system from ground zero. Receipts had long-since been lost, stress was high, and trying to go through each and every purchase would have been difficult and terrible. The emotional cost would have been just too high for each of us. As it is said (by the Captain and others), “Sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money.”
Good luck to the LW and everyone else out there! These are really hard conversations!!
This relies on having more bureaucracy, but… We set it up so that there was a communal budget set at the beginning of each semester (college students), with each person putting a certain amount in the pot each month, paying it along with rent. Then we used the house debit card for house goods, communal food, etc. If someone wanted out (say because they never ate any of the communal food), we had a meeting to let them off the hook. Any left-over money at the end of the year was divvied up among the people living there. You do need to trust the person handling the money…
The way it worked for me was a visible tracking system of household bills that were truly household – rent/water/electricity/internet, and a bank account that had limited access. Everyone had to have a portion of their pay auto-deposited into the account (an equal share of the bill for each bill), and bills were paid automatically out of it; the bank statement was stuck on the fridge monthly. It worked for us because we were able to implicitly trust the mates who had access to the account; they were dedicated long-term tenants, so they were invested in making it work. Transparency was key.
Those of us who used bathroom A covered essentials for bathroom A, and didn’t worry about whether or not Bathroom B had what they needed. Everyone kind of bought kitchen essentials like soap as needed. We added in an additional “kitchen basics fee” after a while, because some people are more free and easy about trash can liners than others, lol.
Everything was documented, written down, and agreed to in writing. It wasn’t perfect, and there were certainly some dust-ups over “I always buy the dishsoap!”, but overall it worked.
(Oceansloth, this is in reply to your comment but since I don’t know what exactly your budget issues are, it’s not advice for you, per se, just a relevant thing I love to evangelize about, for anyone it could be helpful for.)
Another system that I like a lot for other people looking for a better way to share costs than “please Venmo me $2” is the ongoing spreadsheet of house accounts. It’s been used in two four-person households I’ve been in. It’s basically a spreadsheet with everyone’s names on it that just lists what they paid for house stuff that month. Everything from utilities to toilet paper goes on it, and if you share groceries they can go on it too (either itemized or not, depending). Then at the end of the month it’s someone’s job (usually the person who paid utilities and is invested in getting their money back) to ask the spreadsheet who owes what so it comes out even. This is set up as an Excel formula, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. It’s easier than any other system I’ve used.
One house used a version that was able to divvy up purchases between just two or three housemates rather than the whole house, and it still just got settled as part of the monthly account. That was awesome.
I really recommend the spreadsheet! It took away so many tiny fraught “so are you going to pay me back” moments, plus helping erase “I always buy the ___” resentments.
If the issue isn’t the accounting but larger budget issues like what to buy, for example “are we all willing to pay more for unbleached toilet paper,” I do think this system can help a LITTLE bit, although not much. We did it as whoever does the buying chooses what they want to buy, and we ended up at roughly 30-70 brown and white toilet paper, which worked great for us. But I think it’s ripe for passive aggressive toilet paper stockpiling. So ymmv.
There’s also a great app called Splitwise that does this work!
+1 for Splitwise, it’s also FANTASTIC for traveling with a group to split costs for taxis/Ubers/Lyfts, hotel/AirBNB, food, drinks, tickets, etc.
In my house – I’m both legal landlord and also de facto house mom – everyone’s rent includes a certain dollar amount that adds up to my monthly budget for groceries and household goods (TP, laundry soap etc). I buy the groceries and goods and cook family style, and that way I don’t have to worry about anyone else going off budget or forgetting the TP or making a mess of my kitchen. (And the cleaning lady is a lifesaver too.)
Would it be possible to have a certain number of like…passes? Like, we all understand life gets in the way and mental health issues are A Thing, so what about having 6 annual free passes (or whatever number works) where the person basically acknowledges that they know they’re responsible but Just Can’t Right Now.
And as a messy person living with a deeply clean person, thank you for acknowledging that there is a real difference in how we see living spaces – both LW and Rachel. I actively prefer a little clutter and my roommate (who owns our house) cannot understand for the life of her why I don’t just see that things need to get cleaned/put away/whatever and how I don’t see “doing dishes” and “putting dishes away” as naturally part of the same chore. It’s exhausting to try to figure out and remember everything and I would be so much happier in that respect if I could honestly talk to her about struggling with things and try to find workarounds that keep us both happy. Keeping the conversation positive and acknowledging that you can struggle with this, too, will probably make you a much easier person for people to come to when they’re struggling, LW.
Thank you. I know it can feel like we are being messy to spite our born-organized peers, but we appreciate their reminders, even though we abhor the need for them and (in my case) CONSTANTLY research ways to keep ourselves policed.
It didn’t even click for me until I visited a friend whose house is just comfortably untidy (not gross, just…sometimes the place for the mail to live is on the coffee table and that’s okay) and I was SOOOOO much more relaxed! I didn’t feel like I had to constantly be on guard and it was so freeing. I love my roommate and I have no plans to move out unless I leave our city, but it was a total lightbulb moment for me to realize I actually find a little mess comforting in the exact same way my roommate finds a perfectly mopped and Lysol-ed house comforting.
Yeah, I don’t know why I see a perfectly spotless and straightened-with-a-protractor room and cringe because someone must be ABSOLUTELY ICY-HOT FURIOUS (I suspect FOO issues), but it’s definitely a thing.
True story: my boss had a talk with me about having work docs more organized so if I was gone someone else could jump in and actually find stuff. I did so, but felt uncomfortable at my desk. I finally took some pens and post-it notes and scattered them around on the desk so her need for docs to be findable AND my need for a bit of mess were both met.
Same! I get nervy when I’m in an incredibly tidy, clutter-free home full of empty surfaces. I don’t know if it’s because I’m anxious about marring the perfection in some way, or it is an extension of my fear of wide, open expanses of space (sorry, Kansas, your topography is my nightmare). My default setting is always going to be a little cluttered because ithat’s what feels cozy to me.
That’s what the fines are for. Because in a communal living situation, if you Just Can’t do agreed-on chores, then somebody else Just Has To Do Them For You. And that becomes a problem when there is no downside for “passing” on chores – particularly since there is no way to tell whether somebody is using a pass due to a bout of depression vs. “meh, you do it”.
Yes, but I also think there is room for a more compassionate way of handling than just punative fines. Like, fines in combination with understanding that there are times we genuinely can’t do something. All compassion and all fines probably aren’t the best choices (all compassion and people can feel taken advantage of, all fines and you risk reinforcing inequality in the house) but a limited number of passes with possibly some rules around it (if your job is cleaning the kitchen and you host a huge dinner party, your hangover does not excuse you from cleaning it the next day – but if your job is cleaning the kitchen and it’s messy and you can barely stand up for health issues that day and the party wasn’t your idea, c’est la vie).
Regardless, it will all take communication from the housemates and the LW being willing to hold the line once it’s decided on.
Fines aren’t punitive; they’re compassionate, because they recognize that hour work has value and the time of the people picking up tasks for others has value. That is labor and time that has been systematically undervalued and demeaned.
Hi LW. I have pretty severe depression with so little energy at the moment that it is almost painful just to stand and even just hold myself upright so I thought my point of view might help a bit. Sometimes, having to do some cleaning might be the absolute hardest thing in the world to do, and it may feel like I am going to die, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean they don’t have to contribute. If they don’t wanna, they can go home and live with mummy. Furthermore I have finally gotten myself into the habit of doing the washing up every day or 2 so it doesn’t just sit there for 3 weeks piling up and becoming a complete nightmare. So if your mentally ill people have very little energy and motivation to do chores, then they should be doing a little a lot if you know what I mean. And achieving things is so good for their state of mind anyway. And as someone who is quite messy and cluttered, I think it’s fair enough to chuck people’s stuff in their own room for them to deal with when they can.
I feel that this is a rather insensitive comment.
“Just because something is hard doesn’t mean they don’t have to contribute. If they don’t wanna, they can go home and live with mummy.”
Anyone reading here I would expect to know that for a great many people, that would be a dangerous option.
Also, as a clean (ish) person who has in the past had messy roommates, three things:
1. Modelling good habits helps. If you’re doing the things in full view of someone who is choosing not to do the things, it becomes harder for them to sit and not do the things. I did a lot of my cleaning at peak common area times (mostly by accident) and I noticed that often if I was doing some tidying, other people would join in. Also small things like never leave a room empty handed, take your dishes and put them IN the dishwasher/washing area vs in the general vicinity. Humans are social. We pick up on other peoples’ habits. We mimic each other. Anyway enough about that –
2. If there is a quick, 10 minutes or less, task that you need help with, ask for help. A lot of not being a super clean person stems from not necessarily knowing what cleans what, how to do xyz, or even how to efficiently do xyz (I get why a former housemate of mine didn’t do many dishes – her method was incredibly tedious and took hours) etc. By doing some of these things WITH someone, you build their confidence to do it without you.
3. For people with different schedules, it can be hard to create a seamless chart. For awhile, we all committed to just making a checklist (daily, weekly, monthly tasks) and putting it in a common area and each spending 20-30 min per day on the list. Check it off, initial it, boom. If you had initials by 2-3 things a day, you were doing your part. Helps with equity too because not every chore needs to be done every day and so the people who volunteer for the more frequent tasks can start to get annoyed, etc. Also helps with habit forming, building shared responsibility, and the dreaded “that’s not my job!”
I cannot emphasize #1 enough (caveat: if you’re living with people who don’t shame spiral about these things). I don’t necessarily remember to empty the dishwasher…well, ever. But if my roommate unloads it while I’m watching TV or something, hearing her put away a plate or glass is enough to make me jump up and help. I might not remember that it needs to be done on my own, but I’m happy to jump in and help.
It might not work well if people are prone to spiraling, and it doesn’t work well if it’s done pointedly, but if it’s a straightforward “This needs to be done so I might as well do it now” kind of thing, it’s really a pretty efficient way of getting people to jump in and help.
It’s worth mentioning that in some cultures (looking at you, Deep South), it is considered rude to clean in front of others. This is bullshit when you live with those “others.”
I also had a live-in boyfriend for whom cleaning when he was in the house triggered his — I dunno, visual misophonia? — so be aware that this is a possibility. (Although for XBF, it may have been Bitch Eating Crackers Syndrome. Sigh.)
The term, following the pattern of using Greek roots, would be “misoptia” (hatred of vision), though it doesn’t appear to be a proposed/identified phenomenon, since I get zero search results.
Misoptia: you read it here first, folks!
Nice! Although, since he hated to see repetitive movement, it could also be misokinesia?
Have run out of nesting; this is in reply to Awe Ritual: What were you supposed to do, sit absolutely still, frozen like a statue, whenever he was on premises?
Khlovia, I was allowed to read, or play video games with the sound off, preferably quietly, preferably in the other room. It was a toxic relationship for both of us.
I know it’s a derail, but I am so grateful to people like Captain Awkward and her commenters for dismantling the cultural expectation of “preserve the relationship at all costs.” We were both miserable. I am so glad to be free. He is so much happier with a woman who is capable of standing up to the unusual demands of his psyche.
#2 is so essential! Teachable moments aside (and they’re important), I feel much less resentful about putting away the dishes if I know I can get a quick positive response by just asking. And yes, it might mean that the same person always asking, but if that person always gets help, then the work is still shared. In my house, one person puttering about on a task usually inspires the other to join in, because “start task, ask for help” is so ingrained. Hopefully in an intentionally communal situation, people will already be relatively self-aware and willing to help.
How does it take hours to do (household, non-commercial amounts of) dishes? Curious minds want to know.
Personally it takes me about 45 minutes to do the dishes after making dinner. And I live alone. It’s mostly that I have dyspraxia and also grew up with a dishwasher which meant that I have very little experience hand washing dishes, and also have a difficult time getting my hands to do what I want them to do. I’m not sure why it takes me so long but when people have watched me washing up they literally ask me why I’m going so slowly. When I feel I’m going as fast as I can while being sure not to drop stuff. I don’t know that my technique is different than most, it just is that while most people can get a good wash and scrub in a minute it takes me two or three to do the same thing. I have similar problems with lots of cleaning. My Mom can wipe down a counter in one stroke when it would take me two or three.
Roommate might have had an element of this or some other motion coordination disorder. If I had to do dishes for an entire household it would probably be in the hours range.
She would turn on the water, get it up to temp, thoroughly rinse, put soap on individual dish, wash, rinse, thoroughly dry, put away, and then – and only then – start on the next dish, even if it was just a fork. She had no concept of “it takes longer to switch tasks than to do all the rinsing, all the washing, all the drying in bulk.” I don’t think she did many dishes growing up, so she just sort of adopted this crazy inefficient method which of course she hated and took forever so she rarely did them.
Once we did dishes together, she could see that there was a quicker way! And while still not really in the habit, she sure did do them more often.
A potential caveat to #1 is that I would actually get really annoyed if someone _only_ cleaned when they were ‘helping’ me. Lol I can unload the dishes just fine on my own, what I really wanted was to not have to do them in the first place.
So, YMMV 🙂
Another thing I think might be important, since you’re essentially creating a new system for chores and you have a lot of new people coming in, is to establish at this meeting when you will revisit how the chore system is working. Like maybe every month at your house meeting, you have a five minute check in and reassign chores, or adapt things. Realistically, you’re not going to get the system and balance right the first time, so making sure you have a way to reassess things on a regular basis before someone just completely loses their shit because DEAN JUST NEVER CLEANS THE BATHTUB SUFFICIENTLY or because your schedule didn’t actually include vacuuming frequently enough, etc, seems important.
It should be a given that you will need to revisit regularly.
Both to fix your mistakes, and to negotiate any changes that come because people’s circumstances change, or they’re just sick of their chore, or the circumstances in the house change.
Or someone’s not doing their chore well enough, frequently enough, and this is where you can address it.
Re: Taking personal preferences into account, yes, but I’d advise to be careful that not all women are stuck with cleaning, say, the toilet because the men “don’t like it”. I’ve had a bunch of experiences like that and I had to explain to guys (never to women^^) that nobody really *loves* cleaning, other people just like the results of cleaning more than not cleaning so these guys needed to get over it and start sleaning the toilet already.
Also, when living with other people, I always tried to have a “my share plus X” approach: with one other person I’d aim for, say, 55 % of the housework, taking into account that one always sees what oneself does and what other people don’t do, so if one aims for a bit more one does probably just a fair share, plus if everyone does it it keeps people happy and generous instead of thinking “Y does a tiny bit less than I do!!!” Maybe it’s possible to make an arrangement like that with everyone in the house that everyone will do, say, their share plus a tiny X, X also proactively helping anyone who didn’t make it this week. That’s a version of solidarity, too, and living together won’t work without solidarity.
My experience of humaning is that if you think you are doing 50% of the housework, you’re probably doing about 25-35%. Aiming to do a little extra all the time is good, especially if you know that you’re a bit of a slacker in housework.
In my household, I took to calling this the 10% rule. I’d do what needed to be done, plus 10% more. I figured eventually all those 10%s would add up to 100%. And, once I mentioned that I needed to do the extra 10%, everyone else started picking up an extra 10% too. It really helped!
I think this is a very good rule.
Just here to heap tons of love on Rachel and UFYH. I just finished the book (checked it out from my library on Kindle, it’s a SUPER fast read with easy-to-remember takeaways) and purchased the app, which is $1 on the iTunes store and has a timer and daily/weekly/monthly checklists I’ve found really useful. My husband is a messy person, and pooh-poohed reading the book, but just me mentioning my takeaways like “don’t put it down, put it away” have resulted in him being more tidy. Rachel’s advice here is of course great, and I wonder if some of the more specific UFYH strategies might be worth LW exploring before their house meeting about the chore plan.
The app is FUCKING BRILLIANT.
Hands down the best $0.99 I’ve spent, to date.
Just got it based on the post & these recs – definitely agree!
other tactics for people who are sort of new to chores:
Link them to existing things. (i.e., put away the dishes from the dishwasher when the morning coffee is brewing; wash the stovetop when you are washing the evening’s dishes)
My daughter lived in a 6-person house, and they made communal meals; each person had ALL the duties for a specific night. So if they made an elaborate dinner, they were the ones washing all the elaborate cooking tools and serving dishes. That might be a better way to divide things up–to make people own something from beginning to end.
Have a joint deadline.
I also once kept myself motivated by saying, “I cannot go to bed until the dining room table is cleared off.” I would get back OUT of bed in my jammies and clear it. So having some sort of rule / deadline might make people more likely to get things done.
Consider setting a joint “we all clean our things together!” time on the schedule.
Maybe Saturday morning, 9pm (so, sleeping a little late, but the stores and activities haven’t started yet), is when everybody dusts, vacuums, mops, bathroom swabs. And you can draw motivation from that group activity.
As someone with ADHD, linking the kitchen chores to something else I’m doing in the kitchen is an amazing thing to get the things done. So while the kettle is boiling for my next cup of tea-substitute, I will put all the dishes in the dishwasher, or if that’s already been done today, wipe the benches or cupboards or clean the stovetop or the dog’s eating space. Not only do I remember that there’s a cup of tea-substitute happening (so I get the drink and then I drink the drink!) but the chores get done in little bits throughout the day rather than trying to do them in one big lump of don’twanna 😛
Linking chore time to other existing activities works really well for me, though I only recently figured that out. I hate waiting around with nothing to do–all I can do is focus on how much I wish I were using the time to get something done, anything. Most evenings, when I’m making dinner for myself, there is usually some kind of passive downtime where I’m waiting for something–water to boil, oven to preheat, something to finish cooking on the stove. I now make any passive waiting time into quick cleaning time. I’ll unload or reload the dishwasher, hand-wash whatever dishes are sitting out, wipe down the counters or table, put away whatever miscellaneous stuff is sitting out, that sort of thing. The key for me is that I only use this time for small, quick tasks, not big things like re-organizing my cabinets or scrubbing out the fridge. The chores are bite-sized and manageable, and because I know I’m only going to spend a finite amount of time on them, it doesn’t aggravate that part of my brain that freaks out about committing too much of my time. All this, plus it helps me avoid the tedium of standing around waiting for the pasta to finish cooking!
Freyakitten, I hadn’t thought about having a reward at the end of the chores, but that is totally what I’m doing, too. For me, it’s that when I’m done, I get to sit down with a leisurely meal.
I have ended up staying on the computer all night quite a few times because I forced myself to not go to bed before doing the dishes! I was literally too tired to unglue butt from seat and walk to the kitchen and do the dishes.
Yup. Executive function (“will-power”) tends to “sundown”. The tireder/sleepier you are, the less likely you are to follow your own orders. This applies to doing the dishes, to finishing the homework, and to not eating the rest of the cupcakes. It’s all about the blood-sugar.
Go to bed. When you get up to pee at 3:00 AM, then you do the dishes.
Thank you for your wise advice.
I wonder if a penalty jar would be helpful, where if you miss X or someone does it for you, you pay a “fine”–this wouldn’t work if people are just not able to have spare cash, but even a quarter or a dollar per time would add up and when you get to a certain amount it could go towards either hiring a cleaner for a Thorough Deep Clean, or just having a meal. I read a tip in the Dear Prudence this week about getting people to help with post-holiday cleanup by having everybody kick in $5 and whoever takes on the dishes etc, gets the cash, and now I kind of wish I knew enough people to shake down over housecleaning (kidding)
I wanted to put this out there.
Sometimes people think that cleanliness is just fussiness and has no practical purpose. BUT>>>>>
When you keep the shower clean regularly, you don’t get soap scum, and then you don’t get mold. Mold damages things.
When you vacuum the carpet, you remove the grit that will cut through the fibers of the rug every time you step.
When you sweep the tile or hardwood floor, you remove the grit that will damage the finish.
When you wash down the kitchen counters, you eliminate places germs could grow.
Cleaning is about preserving the physical place that you are (your current situation can be proof of this).
It’s also about health.
And then it’s about time. Washing off the roasting pan (or the counter) very soon after you’re done using it means that it’s much faster to clean; letting it sit and harden means that you have to spend much MORE time later.
Folding towels so they fit in the closet neatly means that the next person can pull out the top one without knocking all the rest of them on the floor.
Pull out these practical things as well
(I think of an incident in an Elizabeth Peters novel, where Amelia Peabody hires some donkeys in Egypt, and the first thing she does is make someone wash them, because they’re smelly, and replace the grubby, stinky blankets on their backs. At first it seems like a fussy “Victorian lady” kind of thing, and then she says, “Now they won’t get sores from the dirt in their coats and in the blankets being ground into their skin as we ride them, and they won’t get an infection in those sores and become unusable because they can’t be ridden, or even because they’re dead.”)
I haven’t seen anything similar to this in the comments yet, so I thought I’d share from my own early adulthood, when both myself (she/her) and my younger brother were new adults but still living at home with our dad and recent stepmom. Two relevant aspects come to mind:
A. the expectations from the parents on chores were raised, but it started from a perspective that “these have always been the expectations” which created discord because that level of expectations had never been communicated before under the previous administration. It helped, a little, for the persons enforcing change to acknowledge that there actually was a change in communicated standards, if not in ideal ones. So maybe if members of the struggling house push back on the increased enforcement, it may help to be clear that it’s still a valid change whether or not it was enforced before.
B. due to family dynamics, I was the favored one and my brother was not; we were both pursuing education outside the home that took up our time, but my responsibilities in the home were much lighter even though his course load was easily twice as strenuous. When I would help him out, I would get reprimanded for enabling his ‘laziness’. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t taking on more than a reasonable amount of his chores, so I came up with an idea.
1. Write down all chores in a month, and how often they happen (dishes daily, vacuuming weekly, etc).
2. Using one or more card decks, write the chores on the cards. For daily dishes, the cards would say dishes 1, dishes 2, all the way to dishes 31. Weekly, might say vacuum 1, vacuum 2 through week 4. Some chores would be ‘worth’ more than one card.
3. Make a deck for the upcoming calendar month by making sure the daily and weekly cards match how many days are in the month, then shuffle and deal out.
4. Trade and negotiate until both people are satisfied with their hand for the month.
5. Do those chores on time to spite the parents, so they can’t complain stuff isn’t getting done.
Once we started this method, it worked so well we kept doing it until I moved out. It worked because we had a way to keep track and make sure we both felt it was fair, and we had more control of our schedules. If I had late class on Mondays, for example, I really didn’t want to do dishes those days, so I was motivated to trade those out. If I preferred vacuuming over cleaning bathrooms, I could ask to trade those too. It meant we could pick out our schedule for the month, to a point, finding what was most convenient for both of us every month. And anything I was stuck with, was because I didn’t have anything better to bring to the negotiation, so it was my own choice/fault, not something pushed on me by someone else. If you had any cards worth more than one card (washing and vacuuming all the cars for example) then you gave the other person that many one-point cards before the trading even started, so it didn’t get skewed too much. There were usually trends that developed, since we both had chores we liked or disliked, but starting from the same number of cards meant that we were as close to negotiating as equals as possible.
Oh a third thing:
C. It may be helpful to have training sessions where you explicitly demonstrate exactly how much cleaning/work you expect to see from a given chore. Showing everyone in person that dusting properly includes wiping the baseboards (for example) can both teach improved technique, and remove plausible deniability as an excuse (“I didn’t know that was part of the chore”). Demonstrating that washing the dishes includes cleaning the actual sink afterwards will prevent people from being able to skip that part and claim ignorance.
Taking pictures of “clean” and having them for reference helps.
I think it’s also really worth talking about what “clean” means to everyone, and what is negotiable and what isn’t. Something I think has come up on here before is how things like cleanliness and hygiene are very culture- and/or family-specific, and until you live with someone who didn’t grow up with you, it’s really easy to assume that everyone does things like you do (or your parents did, etc.). Some examples: does housemate A think wiping down a wooden cutting board with a sponge is the normal way to clean it but housemate B thinks this is disgusting? Does housemate C think the compost bin should be emptied outside every day or it gets smelly and attracts bugs, while housemate D shrugs and thinks fruit flies are just part of life in the summer?
I’m also wondering if the “what is negotiable” question might apply to chores in general. Is there a “lite” version of the chore that absolutely MUST be done, but more detail is negotiable? (I’ve found this very helpful while learning to live with a serious illness – having a “version A” and “version B” approach to housekeeping, as a kind of “in an ideal world, these are the chores that would get done, but on bad days/weeks this is the minimum to keep my living space un-gross”). Something like cleaning room x means floor must be mopped/swept and garbage emptied, but if someone’s struggling to cope, dusting and tidying/organizing can sometimes wait a week? Or ideally “fridge duty” means wiping down the shelves and organizing, but at the very least make sure anything moldy gets removed? (This obviously relies on everyone making a good-faith effort, not just defaulting to version B when it’s convenient).
EWWWWW at the thought of an indoor compost bin with bugs in it! Some things just belong outside – or with a tight lid on them. I tend to be messy -but I draw the line at vermin inside. I don’t want to catch a disease.
Thinking about how to divide chores when people have different thing they like and hate and chores require different amounts of time and energy reminded me of a New York Times article I read years ago on an algorithmic approach to splitting rent and assigning rooms in a flat with rooms of different configurations that may appeal differently to different people for different reasons that leaves everyone feeling that the outcome is fair.
And I found it: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/science/to-divide-the-rent-start-with-a-triangle.html
Even more usefully, the website they reference has a dedicated feature for splitting tasks, not just bills; I recommend giving it a look if you find yourself in the position of needing to divide chores among a group of people – http://www.spliddit.org/apps/tasks
(I posted something similar yesterday but it appears to have been eaten? Apologies if this ends up a double-post!)
DEFINITELY want to second the idea that establishing what “clean” means to everyone and negotiating a middle-ground everyone can live with saves a lot of unpleasantness down the road! I know it’s come up on this site before that things like hygiene and cleaning are very culture- and individual family-specific, but it’s really easy to assume “How I (or my parents) have always done it” = “How everyone does it” and it’s often not until we live with other people as adults that we realize that our ideas aren’t necessarily universal. (I think a lot of this is that most of us are taught as kids “This is how you mop a floor” as sort of an objective fact, the same way most parents say “this is how you tie your shoes” rather than “Well, this is how I tie my shoes but you may find that some families use more of an overhand technique.” :-D)
So really worth having the discussion! What does cleaning the kitchen look like? Does housemate A think wiping down a wooden cutting board with a sponge is how you clean it and housemate B thinks this is disgusting? Does housemate C think the compost bin must be emptied outdoors every day or it’s gross and smelly and attract bugs while housemate D shrugs and thinks fruit flies are just part of life in the summer?
I also wonder if it’s possible to have two versions of chores – kind of a “standard” and a “lite” version that can be reverted to if people are really struggling. This is something I’ve found incredibly useful in my own life while learning to cope with a debilitating illness – kind of “ideally, cleaning this room means this, but on bad days/weeks this is the bare minimum I need to do to keep my space livable and un-gross.” Could it work to have a system where “cleaning room x includes dusting and organizing/tidying, but if someone is genuinely unable to keep up with that, the floor at least needs to be swept/vacuumed/mopped and the garbage needs to be taken out” or “Ideally, ‘fridge duty’ means wipe down the shelves and organize, but at the very least make sure anything rotting or moldy gets removed”? (Of course, this really depends on everyone making a good-faith effort and not just defaulting to the easier version because it’s convenient)
One thing I think is essential is to have an agreement on what “clean” is for each given chore. “Do the dishes” may mean just that, or “do the dishes/wipe down the sink and counters/Swiffer the floor.” Cleaning the bathroom- does that mean wiping the baseboards and picture frames must happen each time? Does it mean “spray some cleaner in the toilet, wipe off the sink and clean the mirror?” Checklists and photos are your friends, and save you from ambiguity arguments (“I didn’t know I was supposed to run the garbage disposal after I did the dishes” or “I have to move the sofa to vacuum there? Nobody told me!”) or “It is clean!” arguments.
My partner and I have had just this discussion about what ‘clean’ means when it comes to the toilet. I never lift the seat because I sit to pee, so my default was to ignore that surface. That bothered my partner, who stands to pee and does lift the seat, so gets to see that surface. Because it bothered them, we talked about it, I decided that this was a tiny extra effort which nets me a lot of relationship capital, and now I clean the toilet to a standard that they are happy with and I have a happy partner
Your partner can’t clean the toilet?
Does it matter? Whether everyone takes turns cleaning the toilet or it’s one specific person’s chore, it’s still fair to have an agreement about issues like “how clean counts as ‘clean'” or “how often does it get cleaned” that meets the peeing-without-being-grossed-out standards of everyone in the house.
I’d say it matters if the same person is always doing the chore while having to meet someone else’s higher standards.
Enh this is, to me, an almost unique exception to “if it bothers you more, you do it to your higher standard”, because what’s on the bottom of the seat is usually bodily effluvia. I think where effluvia is equally produced it should be equally cleaned up if possible. One partner’s needs involve putting their hand on the bottom of the toilet seat, possibly in contact with extremely organic grime that they did not produce themselves.
This makes me realise how relative the idea of “messy” and “clean” are, eg: LW considers themselves a “messy” person, but also feels that 1 person’s dishes left for 24 hours is a bit gross. I don’t necessarily consider myself “messy”, but living alone I do frequently leave dishes for a couple of days or more… XD Maybe I am more messy than I thought!
I took that to mean that she hadn’t really thought through the difference between one person’s dishes in the sink for a day, and a sink constantly full of ten people’s dishes on rotating 24-hour cycles.
Lol I live with someone who works nights. If I started doing dishes after I eat while they were asleep in the next room, they would actually murder me. Also which dinner am I supposed to do the dishes after, their’s or mine, which are often nearly 12 hours apart?
Some things are very much not universal.
(But I think it’s more the so many people thing in this situation. Tho, with 13 people, maybe chip in 20 bucks each and buy a portable dishwasher. Might save a lot of arguments.)
I absolutely thought of myself as a “messy” person, and my latest housemate was adamant when moving in that she was “clean”.
And yet, I always seem to be the one who’s putting the dishwasher on, and unloading the dishwasher, and emptying the bin and taking out the recycling. And she….puts her dirty dishes in the dishwasher, or washes them herself if the dishwasher is full/hasn’t been emptied yet, and it’s starting to feel like “clean” from her perspective means dealing with her own personal footprint in the communal areas, but never doing any of the actual ‘communal’ tasks.
Also she leaves her damp laundry mouldering in the machine for anything between several hours and several days, which is not ideal given that I…also…want to do laundry…sometimes (and we’re not in the house at the same time all that often for a quick ‘can you empty that now please?’)
So now I’m reevaluating my definitions of ‘messy’ and ‘clean’ a bit because it’s clearly possible to be ‘selectively clean’.
(laundry left in a machine can be removed by the person who wants it next; if necessary, discuss it first, but even if that hasn’t happened, it can be removed)
Oh, absolutely, and I fully intend to utilise that option any time I’m in a situation where I /need/ to do the laundry on that particular day (or even just WANT to). I’m a hoarder of clothes so right now I never run out of things to wear, and have the luxury of just being able to shrug and decide that if she doesn’t care about her laundry being all damp and stinky then that’s her call. The day I want a specific item of clothing clean by a specific time it will be a different story.
Even if you have other clothes to wear that day, wouldn’t her leaving washing in there so long grow mould in the machine and then make *your* clothes smell when you use it later?
Take out her laundry and leave it in a bag by her bedroom door for her to deal with. If she has a fit, that’s on her for not getting her clothes out in a timely manner.
Also, I’m saying that because you don’t want the washer itself getting gross and stinky from her clothes hanging out in there too long.
I lived in a co-ed fraternity for 3 years of college that had some issues with chores, so, here’s my two cents:
Things That Didn’t Work:
– we had one person in charge of reminders but no one wanted to be reminded. One housemate hated being reminded to the point that she moved out. I don’t know if there was more to that particular situation but we really had no way to course correct until it blew up. I don’t have a good solution to this but someone above mentioned checking in on the process during regular house meetings – at least try to notice if there’s a problem and try to solve it
– some housemates had good intentions but were ignorant about effective methods. When I moved in, it turned out that no one currently living at the house knew you had to change the bag in the vacuum. They had been running a vacuum with a full bag over the dusty carpets for YEARS. LITERALLY YEARS. We solved that one by buying a bagless vacuum, but as you revamp the household take a minute to check in with the members and see if maybe there’s institutional knowledge that’s lost.
Things That Did Work
– check lists per task!!
– assigning two people to work together to finish the least popular chores (like bathroom cleaning). Better accountability. Easier to motivate yourself because if you didn’t, it wouldn’t just be vaguely dirtier, your buddy would have twice as much work.
– task swap marketplace. We had a points system so if you couldn’t find a 1-to-1 trade you someone could bank points by doing extra work.
What we do in my shared house that’s made a HUGE difference in helping us keep the place clean is:
1. Make a star chart with Stuff We All Agree Is Communally Necessary To Get Done
2. Buy a buncha cheap stars
3. When you clean a thing you thought needed cleaning, put a star on the chart
4. The thing that matters in saying “have I done enough chores” isn’t the chart, it’s the paper with as-yet-unused stars on
If you’ve got basic good faith and the ability to agree on what should be shared housework, this is a neat way of letting people do whatever chores suit them in a flexible way, while keeping a tally that lets you go “hey, $housemate has been doing more than her fair share of the housework lately, I should put a bit of effort in”.
I can’t remember where we got this idea from, but works way better for our various chaotic schedules than having a rota. If I get stressed about the house being messy, I do a buncha chores and collect many stars, and then I can leave taking the bins out or emptying the dishwasher or whatever to someone else for a bit.
A friend did something like this. She and her husband have very different schedules and there’s a toddler. Plus, like any two people, they had differing tolerances for various messes. As a result, he thought that he was doing most of the cleaning because he only noticed W and X, whereas she thought she was doing most of the cleaning because she noticed Y and Z. When they started tracking what got clean and by who, the data both honored each person’s efforts and pointed out disparities.
I feel like it could be appropriate for LW, when told “xyz didn’t do their chore,” could respond with, “alright, go talk to XYZ about that. You still gotta do yours tho.” Like, I know LW is sort of taking on some semblance of leadership, but other people can theoretically talk to XYZ themselves about unfinished chores rather than making LW do it.
A system for handling chores dependent on each other, like X needs to be done before Y, should probably be thought out in advance regardless.
When I lived in a 30 person coop in college, we had a signup sheet for chores, which operated on a two-week cycle. Each chore had a set of points assigned to it, which were based on a combination of time and unpleasantness. For example, cooking dinner and cleaning a bathroom were about the same amount of points, even though cooking took twice as long or more, because most people preferred cooking over toilet-cleaning. One person’s job was to assign points to each chore, and adjust as needed; if no one wanted to sign up to clean the bathrooms, then bathroom-points increased. Each person had to complete a certain amount of points each two-week cycle. We just hung up the sheet at about the same time every other Wednesday, but you could have a more formal system of deciding who claims which chores first it it became an issue. It allowed people to fit chores to their preferences on multiple levels: what kind of work they wanted to do, but also when they wanted to do it. It also allowed for a way of “fining” people that wasn’t tied to real-world income – crucial, since we were college students, most of us had minimal disposable income. Most chores had a deadline attached, and if you didn’t do it (or make a good faith effort at doing it), someone else could do it and you’d have to make up those points plus a small penalty.
For a system like this, it was key that someone was in charge of managing it, and they got points for the work of management. It also helped a lot to have regular meetings to talk stuff over, and to have someone who was good at managing those meetings. In this situation, it might be best to have an experienced organization member who does NOT live in this house run meetings for a while.
it was key that someone was in charge of managing it, and they got points for the work of management.
Keeping track is an actual job in most businesses, but not the home, where it is Mom’s job and therefore not real work.
Welcome to middle management: all the work, none of the benefits.
This isn’t exactly the same sort of answer as others are giving, but: make sure that every item that lives in a communal space has a specific home, and LABEL LABEL LABEL that home and the item itself if appropriate!
There have been a lot of comments on how to adjust/adapt for housemates with mental disabilities; what about for housemates with physical disabilities who are unable to do a number of chores? Imagine a smaller living situation, say 2-4 people, so it can’t be spread out among a crowd. How do you make it fair for everyone while honoring the fact that some things just can’t be done by the one housemate?
I would say the best thing would be to find other tasks that are equal in “value,” as it were, and find an equitable distribution. Like, maybe that person is responsible for arranging the weekly grocery delivery. Or they manage any shared finances for the household (being responsible for sending the rent check, collecting and paying for utilities, etc.). But I would definitely have that housemate tell the rest of the household what their limitations are, rather than making any assumptions.
Yes, all of this.
Often what complicates this situation even more is undiagnosed disabilities. And where people don’t earn much due to disability, but haven’t been able to get social security, so can’t pay for others to clean.
The conversation could cover which tasks different people can do even on a bad day, and which tasks people are unlikely to be able to manage even on a good day. That might be more useful than only discussing preferences, and could lead to individual contracts/commitments. Some people might end up with lighter duties done more frequently.
Aa a spoonie myself, I also try to maximise my non-physical contributions to a household. It might be tea and sympathy, it might be surprise treats. If there’s a space for being extra nice to people, I try to fill it in lieu of some of the physical effort I can’t make.
There’s also a lot of room in the running of a household for someone with disabilities to contribute mental labour. The task of managing what has to be done, keeping track of the to-do list, and paying attention to when longer term things need doing is quite a lot of work. These kinds of tasks can have particular value if doing them means a housemate who finds them particularly troubling (due to anxiety or executive functioning issues) doesn’t have to do them.
For instance: I do all the grocery shopping in my household, but if someone else were to take on the task of keeping track of what ingredients we have, planning what we’re going to cook and eat for the week, and then just send me out to get the supplies with a list? It would make that task substantially easier and less stressful, even though the amount of physical labour and time involved in the chore of grocery shopping hasn’t really changed.
This. I would gladly do someone’s dishes and laundry in exchange for their making appointments for me. It’s hard for me to call and set appointments, whether it be doctor, dentist, car maintenance, etc. I’m glad to go to the dentist, but picking up that damn phone stresses me out.
If you’ve got a physical disability, you can take over a lot of the mental parts of running a household – grocery lists, tracking cleaning supplies, bill paying, dealing with the landlord, meal planning, shopping for good deals, ect… That way, you hand people a list once a week that says “buy X amount of whatever” and then once a month they all pay you one amount and you take care of making sure the electric/water/rent gets paid. That lessens the amount of effort they have to put into maintaining a household. Project management is a valuable skill and properly done, it can make things a lot easier for everybody.
The only thing that works, in my experience, is somehow establishing an anti-ableism culture in a home, in which everyone embraces the idea that fair =/= equal. So, just as it’s fair (in most people’s view, at any rate) that the more wealth you have, the higher tax rate you pay, and people who are under a certain level income don’t pay certain taxes, it is also fair to divide chores by ability rather than by an equal number per person.
With greater power comes greater responsibility. Those with greater power in terms of physical endurance, strength, emotional resilience, or mental aptitude for concentration or problem-solving have a greater responsibility to take care of their shared home using those skills. Just as wealth is not a sign that someone is a better person morally, disability or illness is not an indication of immorality or unethical choices. Sometimes anti-ableism means embracing the idea that not everyone’s homes will be equally clean and this doesn’t speak poorly on anyone. The home of a lower-middle-class person may not be as “nice” as a wealthy person’s home, and the home of a disabled person may just never be as clean as a home full of able-bodied people. Anti-ableism means realizing that that’s okay! We don’t have to clear an arbitrary bar set by an able-bodied society.
In a small family where half the members are disabled or ill, you might need outside help. Needing to ask friends or relatives outside the home to help clean once or twice a week isn’t anything shameful; often it is a way to let them show that they care about you, which they want to do anyway! Likewise, while paying a professional cleaning service may be out-of-reach for many disabled people– who, nevertheless, still don’t qualify for a home aid through Medicaid or similar– there’s nothing wrong with hiring a local teenager once or twice a week to help tidy up.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure I know how to cultivate this mindset if a group doesn’t already have it. Maybe a little educational conversation about undoing ableist structures and assumptions before dividing up the chores? If everyone is already fairly open-minded but just ignorant about disability-specific issues, that might work.
Another thing is, as a house leader, a person can cultivate a conversation so it is non-judgemental and open to working with a disabled or chronically ill member’s suggested solutions. That is, the house leader can do and say things to show they are trustworthy, and can be trusted to believe people when they say they struggle or have certain pain or limitations, rather than doubting them or dismissing or mocking them. “I believe you” is a powerful phrase, and it can be an absolute relief to hear out loud.
By showing that they are trustworthy in this way, it’s more likely that people will be honest, when asked, about their specific limits and accommodations that have worked in the past. Likewise, everyone can be encouraged to offer ways they can “take one for the team” in a spirit of collaboration if they have a strength or skill that others don’t. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but solutions that are reality-based and truly take into account everyone’s limitations are the only ones that work.
Sorry if this sounds harsh, but maybe those people just aren’t cut out for this kind of communal living. If they can pick up the slack in another area, great, but if someone’s like “yeah, I can’t help keep the house clean or help pay for someone else to do it,” then that’s probably not a good candidate for a roommate.
It sounds kind of predjudiced, to be honest. Like, if by “those people” you mean low income disabled people? While I don’t have any data on hand, I believe that most disabled people do live with others. I do. I have previously lived alone, and that worked until it didn’t.
Saying all people who can neither do chores nor contribute to a maid service aren’t “cut out for” communal living paints a diverse group of people in varied kinds of homes with a really broad brush. And it flies in the face of the reality that many disabled people do successfully live with roommates.
Nobody’s saying you personally have to share a home with a low income disabled person. But please try to have an intersectional viewpoint here: if you replaced “low income disabled person” with another marginalized group member (like “gay person”), how do you think you would perceive your comment?
There’s nothing about being gay that makes a personal unable to contribute to the basic requirements of a household (rent, utilities, cleaning, etc.) so that’s a pretty silly comparison.
You’re trying to use “why” a person can’t contribute to a household to gloss over the basic problem of not contributing to the household. Now, if you can help in some other way that makes up for it, great. If you get someone who’s ok with covering your rent or cleaning up after you, great. But the fact is that most people aren’t going to want to move in with someone that can’t pull their fair share, so instead of demanding that someone else set themselves on fire to keep you warm, look into other options for getting your needs met.
It isn’t a silly analogy. It’s an effective analogy because many people who are supportive of LGBT equality and social justice issues have a blind spot when it comes to social justice for people with disabilities. But, in truth, all marginalized people should work together to thrive in a society where we are oppressed. The specifics will be different for LGBT people and disabled people, just as they are different for women or people of color. That doesn’t change the fact that it is helpful for everyone if we all strive to take actions against discrimination and prejudice across the board, even if it is the kind that doesn’t affect us personally.
You also skewed what I and Jackalope said. There’s a difference between not being able to contribute to a maid service, financially, and not being able to contribute to rent. It is not feasible for a low-income person, regardless of other abilities, to consistently cover someone else’s rent, and most roommate situations involve everyone being somewhat low income. But it DOES make sense that a person could be a valued member of a household without having the extra income to contribute to maid service.
I’m a bit disturbed that you compare a household where able-bodied members do more chores than disabled members to a situation where someone “sets themselves on fire to keep the disabled person warm.” It is not a life-ruining sacrifice to live with disabled people and make it work. The fact that that’s your frame of mind suggests that you hold more prejudice against disabled people — or at least disabled people who cannot do as many / any physical chores– than you want to believe.
I hope you take some time after this conversation to really listen to the disabled people in this thread and think about beliefs you hold from mainstream society about disabled people– especially about our households and family and living situations. The picture in your mind is a stereotype, one that does not fully empathize with disabled people as whole people. There isn’t anything wrong with picking up a prejudice, as long as you are willing to unlearn it and do better in the future.
Um. Speaking as a low-income disabled person with anxiety and depression — I *have* to live with others, much as I’d prefer being alone. I can’t do cleaning chores, and I don’t have the mental energy to manage things (bonus: executive dysfunction leading to shame spiral, and yes I’m working on both but it’s a slow process with lots of backsliding). So I definitely don’t pull my fair share, because I literally can’t.
What do you expect someone like me to do? I have to live *somewhere*, don’t I?
Dude, who hurt you. If you are in this living situation, get out of it. But seriously, this is like going on the internet to declare the entirety of some group “undateable” because you personally don’t want to date them. Just don’t live with disabled people – apparently any disabled people, since you’re content to gloss “physical disabilities” as “can’t do anything”. My guess is that you’re angry about an IRL situation that you should not be in – and it sounds like you aren’t related to the person you’re mad at, so yeah, leave. Consent is in fact required to be part of someone’s support network.
Um, yeah it sounds not just harsh but concerningly ableist? There are a LOT of ways someone can be a valuable housemate even if, for example, they can’t do dishes because they can’t stand for that long, or they use a wheelchair and the kitchen sink is too high to reach, etc.
Just from my own experience, I fell seriously ill while at university and definitely wasn’t able to keep up with my share of the chores for more than a year. My flatmates were lovely and understanding and picked up the slack. Looking back, though, I was the one everyone would go to for the “tea and sympathy” type things. I kept track of rent and utilities and made sure everything was paid on time. I pestered the landlord when our washing machine broke and looked up tenant rights and made sure we were reimbursed for the money we were spending on laundry when the landlord took forever to address our problem. I proofread my housemates’ papers. I was the one to initiate “so, what’s the plan for Flatmate’s birthday?” and making concrete plans beyond “oh yeah, we should totally do something…” (None of these were things I was consciously doing to “make up” for being ill, btw – my point is there are a lot of ways a person can be a valuable member of a communal living situation even though they can’t do cleaning chores or afford to pay to have them done).
To be honest, I find it pretty offensive to suggest that I was “not cut out” for communal living or “not a good candidate for a roommate,” because I happened to have an illness that limited my ability to do housework. I’d also really suggest thinking about the implications of that attitude – does that mean people with disabilities (many of whom have lower incomes due to working reduced hours or being unable to work) are on their own and don’t deserve access to the lower rent that comes with shared housing? Is that really a statement we’re comfortable with?
Someone to be point person for talking to the landlord/utilities people/repair people is SO VALUABLE. It may not come up as regularly as other chores, but god it’s a pain when it does, and the number of hours you can sink into one such interaction probably equals the amount others spend on chores in the same month.
YES! For a variety of reasons, I am the designated “Deal with problems” person in my household and I know being able to take care of things like that made it easier to handle when I got laid off because I was still contributing to the household. That stuff is WORK and I know if I ever live with somebody who can take care of it for me that it’ll be incredible to come home to somebody who says, “By the way, I got that toilet fixed/our bill updated/the developer to come over and the solution is x and will happen on y date.”
Yeah I am dismayed with Thread OP partially because in the various rounds of communal living I’ve tried, we’ve never fallen down on “is anyone here able to reach a high shelf” or “can people scrub floors vigorously”. We’ve run into a LOT of “no one here has the life skills to assess our repair budget, call plumbers, get estimates, and set a time to get that drain fixed”. TBH my last communal living experiment was stressful because healthy excited people would regularly haul off and do physical things to the living space (STOP TRYING TO FIX APPLIANCES YOURSELF) without having a lot of common sense.
I also have poor mental health (bad anxiety) and when I wasn’t treating it that was SUBSTANTIALLY more of an impediment to the community than, for instance, a senior citizen with extremely bad joints who couldn’t hammer or saw but who could endure endless meetings and make sense of our bylaws. We could have replaced me with any one of a hundred tall nervous people with good joints. We could not have replaced her.
Of course someone who needs direct physical support for activities of daily living deserves to be able to access paid help (and we should keep working on that as a society), and people should be able to consent to their living situations and their levels of entanglements with roommates. There’s no need to broadcast to the heavens that ALL members of some group of people are unsuitable for ALL living situations within a certain category, because that’s not accurate – so it does come off as a blanket prejudice.
” does that mean people with disabilities (many of whom have lower incomes due to working reduced hours or being unable to work) are on their own and don’t deserve access to the lower rent that comes with shared housing?”
Well, that’s a rather nonsensical question. “Deserve?” Deserve from whom? Jesus? The communal housing fairy? And “lower rent?” Lower than what? $5,000? $5?
Re-working your question into something that can actually be answered, we have two questions:
1.) should disabled people be cared for by society to the point of giving them reasonable access to decent housing and home care?
2.) is a good way of accomplishing that dumping a disabled person on a few strangers and being like “so this person lives with you now and you need to wash all her dishes?”
The answer to #1 is yes, but #2 is no. We should have robust social care nets that ensure people are helped and looked after: housing vouchers and other financial assistance, disability payments, social care workers, etc. But roommates, AKA 2 or 3 other random people who are themselves probably over-worked and under-funded, are probably not the best people to be expected to provide the extra care that a disabled person needs, at little to no compensation. Now, if you find a work-around or an exception to that, congrats! But as a general rule, that’s not a very good solution to the problem at hand.
Well, I think assigning value to human beings based on what they can physically contribute to a situation is incredibly troubling. People have disabilities. Disabled people exist. And there are many, many ways to develop a household management system that allows everyone to meaningfully contribute, but I think if you’re someone who looks at having a disabled housemate as someone being “dumped” on you, perhaps yours would not be a household where any of those ways would be acceptable to you.
Most of modern life is set up in an incredibly ableist way. Disability advocates fight hard every minute to make it less so. A big part of what I do is helping people to find ways to work with various kinds of disabilities, illnesses, and chronic conditions to keep their households running smoothly. Assuming that someone cannot or will not contribute to a household simply because they can’t do certain chores is a product of ableism. And any household that values chores as the only tangible contribution to running successfully is bound to run into serious problems. A successfully run household involves labor far beyond the physical.
OK, I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you simply hadn’t thought through the implications of what you were suggesting, but this and your reply below are ableist and gross.
You really seriously think it’s OK to describe “there are some chores a potential housemate is less able to help with, but of course they will do their fair share of contributing to the overall smooth running of the household” as “dumping a disabled person on a few strangers”? Really?
“We should have robust social care nets that ensure people are helped and looked after.” Yes, we should. But we don’t, and even if we did, putting everyone with disabilities in a special “not suitable for ‘normal’ roommates” housing system is NOT the solution. I seriously can’t believe I have to point out how gross that is.
Please actually think about whether you’re comfortable determining a human being’s worth (yes, even “just” as a roommate) based on whether they can do household chores exactly like you. In the meantime, you’re right that you should pass on a potential roommate who has a disability. They deserve better.
Literally no one is suggesting assigning random abled people a disabled roommate against their will and expecting those abled people to perform unpaid caretaking duties. The discussion at hand is a communal living situation as part of an organization with multiple houses. Presumably, the people who are part of this communal living situation have an understanding of what that means, have agreed to the expectations, and have been vetted or approved in some way by the organizers. Considering that shared cooking is a part of the living situation, it sounds to me like the intent is to create a household structure that functions much more like a family or a friend group than a group of strangers who split rent and mostly ignore each other. The OP might be able to provide more clarity, but this sounds like an attempt to build a community that cares for each other, rather than just a way to deal with high costs of living.
If your requirements for a roommate are that they must always contribute their exact “fair share” to the physical chores, you’re allowed to set those boundaries for yourself. As long as you’re okay with being kicked out by your roommates if you become temporarily or permanently disabled and can’t hold up your end of the deal.
Well that’s ableist tbh. And not really what the person was asking.
Also if you’re disabled and barely making ends meet as a roommate, how are you supposed to afford to live on your own????
So your solution to how to help low-income disabled people is just “find them a roommate to do things for them with no pay?” That’s not a practical solution. Not every living situation is set up to best suit every kind of person – that’s not ableist, that’s just common sense. A communal living situation based on everyone sharing chores and rent is probably not the best fit for someone who cannot contribute their share of chores and rent. The solution is to have better assisted living facilities for people, not to expect random roommates to shoulder it.
Considering that disability is a spectrum, and that anyone can become disabled at any time, a better approach would be to have all parties to the potential living arrangement know who they’re living with and what that entails – people who are opposed to living with a disabled person, such as yourself, can live elsewhere, and people who are not opposed can live in those situations. That’s probably more realistic then hoping for assisted living facilities to magically manifest out of thin air.
wtf? The question at hand is “how can I manage this situation” not “how should we told this systemic cultural problem.”
I don’t know where you got “expect random roommates to shoulder it” but it was probably dark and moist because no one except you has suggested anything “random”.
Yes, we do need more and better resources, but you are this close to sounding like you think disabled people should all be housed in assisted living facilities where they won’t bother the abled. Perhaps said assisted living facilities can be surrounded by tall hedges so we don’t have to even see them, hmmm?
Obviously you’re not willing to live with someone whose condition limits their ability to do physical chores, but there are a lot of things that need to be done in a household that don’t require physical ability.
Buddy, read the room. And the comments, because wow are you making some nasty things up right now that no one is saying.
Yes, this is a good point. I wasn’t asking about whether I should have disabled roommates or not, I was asking about ways to divide up household labor so that it’s not all falling on the shoulders of one or two people. I want to be reasonable and kind to housemates but also don’t want to wear myself out and be utterly bitter at not having shared the load.
This is a very reasonable question and I hope you’re getting some useful suggestions. It’s hard to come up with good generalizations here because disabilities are so different. Some general suggestions: “can’t do it without an increase in pain/other symptoms” means “can’t do it”, but “takes longer to get it done” might mean “can do it”; the right adaptive equipment (or pacing strategy) can make a huge difference sometimes; think about emotional/mental labor type chores as well as physical ones; maybe look for something like parity of enjoyable free time rather than parity of time spent doing chores. (And, if someone keeping you company makes a chore fly by faster, consider that a contribution too, even if they’re not doing the chore itself.) Keep in mind people often underestimate how much others contribute or just don’t notice certain things — it can help to talk about this openly. (I meant, you might be underestimating how much your housemates do, but the reverse hold too.) Also, I hope you’re in a situation where you can trust whoever you’re living with to WANT to be helpful and make a fair contribution; I think if you can safely make that assumption you’ve got a good foundation for figuring out a reasonable solution.
(Ran out of nesting, this is a response to jellyfishcreation)
I am, actually. It’s a super new situation (started this week) and I’m getting a lot of good ideas for how to have a conversation about this and maybe figure out something that will work for everyone. I’d much rather discuss it now before it’s an emotional issue.
(This is a reply to Jellyfishcreationstory but I’m out of nesting): I don’t live communally, but I do have a “spoonie” friend whose occasional job it is to keep me company (and keep my kitties entertained) while I go on a cleaning binge. I enjoy her company, and get *so much more done* with her there. She’ll help out by holding trash bags or folding laundry, but her main contribution is to keep me company and *on task.*
“Accountability buddy” is a great way for someone with few spoons to contribute.
It does sound harsh. I am currently struggling with this on a very personal level. I have lived in a communal system that I very much enjoyed, and I would love to find a new place within a communal setting. But apart from how there are very, very few of those places, they are mostly started on the assumption of extra involvement. I don’t know if I can meet the assumptions. Being stuck with a bad health I’ve got the message so much ingrained that I’m worthless and I shouldn’t expect anyone to do anything for me, that I now can’t really assess what’s reasonable.
If I look back on how I lived in the place where I lived back then, I think I can participate. Add in a bit of communication and willingness to accomodate (and perhaps sometimes some outside assistance) and I think I can manage.
Looking sideways and seeing how vicious speech is, how assistance is denied because they expect housemates to pick up the slack, and also how most communal projects want to go beyond the basics of living and expect their habitants to participate in that, I feel very much excluded, reduced to a burden and someone who can’t participate.
There are some systemic issues (that you don’t get assistance if there’s people around who can do it for free is a very nasty policy), but there’s also so much eagerness in saying ‘oh well, you just aren’t cut out for […]’ that I really feel unwelcome.
I hope that you can find a situation that suits you. And it’s up to your potential new housemates to decide whether they want to share with you; don’t pre-reject them. I certainly would prefer to share my living space with a friendly, fun person who is upfront about what they can and cannot do and who does their best to make our home a pleasant environment than with a person who does the minimum necessary, grudgingly, but who can never be relied on to volunteer *anything*.
I really hope you find something good! I used to live in an organized community that included disabled people & didn’t have weird expectations around “equal” shares of work but simply you’d be put in the chore rota for jobs you could do and not the ones you couldn’t. There’s a guy with muscular dystrophy still living there, they just celebrated a milestone birthday for him & I can’t quite remember but either 60 or 65? I’ve been told he’s lived way longer than medical people normally expect for his conditions b/c of the care he’s gotten in community. My husband-to-be was his caregiver back when we first met. I feel like part of this was b/c it was an older community, they’d learned to deal with life’s crap–I’m not sure what communal projects you’ve seen but when you talk about them wanting everyone to participate in some big thing beyond the basics of living, what I see in my mind is definitely the 1- or 2-year old communities of young people wanting to save the world which I’ve also seen, and which don’t always last very long.
Anyway, this community I used to be in is religious so I won’t recommend it to you specifically (besides the long odds that it’s near you!) unless you come back & tell me you’re also religious or something… but I hope something (enough) like it may show up for you.
I feel like if you need to preface a comment with “Sorry if this sounds harsh,” that’s a sign you should probably rephrase it to be less harsh.
Like, it is absolutely true that *specific* people’s *specific* disabilities can make them a bad fit for *specific* roommate situations. Whether that’s because they can’t do the specific chores required, or their disability intersects badly with the disabilities of someone already living in the house, or whatever.
But you seem to be basically saying, “Well, most people just don’t want to live with disabled roommates, but that’s totally not ableist.” Which is not okay.
The basic requirements of a household are actually pretty negotiable based on what all the people living there agree to, and one of the things that agreement should take into account is the schedules, commitments, and physical abilities of everybody involved.
Also a really good point! Differences in physical abilities can be negotiated around in exactly the same kind of matter-of-fact way as “housemate A has a car, so they’re in charge of grocery runs” or “housemate B gets up really early for work, so let’s have someone else in charge of unloading the dishwasher because the noise wakes up the later sleepers.”
Hi, Traffic_Spiral, You left out “for me” or “with me” in all or most of your comments in this thread. “That’s probably not a good candidate for a roommate…for me.” “Maybe those people just aren’t cut out for this kind of communal living…with me.” There are lots of reasons that people might not be compatible as roommates together, but the phrase “those people” and attempt to generalize is kind of a giveaway that we’re on shaky, disturbing ground!
Other posters and Rachel have robustly addressed your comments. I’d like you to take a break and come back some other thread, some other day please, since your responses seem to be an exercise in doubling down. Thank you.
Dude, almost everyone can contribute something of value to a household. Whether it’s dishes, making appointments, handling finances, etc, etc. The “fairest” situation to me is the one where everyone is putting forth the same amount of good faith effort. So if it takes me 5 points worth of effort to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, but Susan needs 5 points worth of effort just to mop a floor, we did the same amount of effort. I’m cool with that.
I do agree that there is a conversation about what needs to be done when somebody in a co-living situation is *unable* to contribute (in ANY way) for a significant length of time. I know some people who have been struggling with mental health whose goal is “take a shower today”, and that remains their goal for MONTHS. Similarly flare-ups of chronic illnesses, or worsening disabilities can leave people unable to contribute in any real way, for lengthy periods. Carer fatigue is real, and while friends can carry someone for a period of time, they may find themselves running low on ability to handle the situation. What then?
If that’s likely to be a problem for your group (and ANYONE can become disabled, but if you already have folks who struggle with physical and mental health, then this should definitely be on your radar), you should discuss that NOW. Perhaps your co-op has enough people in it so that one person can be carried indefinitely, but what about two people? Or three?
I don’t have good or easy answers, unfortunately, but I think you should be considering this kind of thing BEFORE it happens.
A good solution might be to create a “social security” for your household, if financially feasible. Everyone kicks in a little extra (the exact structure of this could vary depending on what works best), and there could be an “emergency” pot of money which you could use to cover someone’s rent or bills if they can’t swing it, or to pay for someone to pick up a struggling housemate’s chores. That could work quite nicely, if everyone is on board.
We established a rent support fund after one co-op in our network was always short on rent and we didn’t know why (it was a time of extremely low organizational capacity). It turned out that the person responsible for collecting the rent knew that the person who was short was caring for a relative in hospice and was determined not to bother them. Establishing a fund encouraged people to make that kind of thing known, earlier, so that something could be done besides keeping a money secret.
I think it helps to back up and think about what “fair” means to you. Is it based on hours spent on chores, or effort exerted, or something else? Does it mean the same to the other 1-3 people in the living situation? What are everyone’s end goals? Some of that might depend on how emotionally close this household is. Family and close friends are more likely to value taking care of each other as a good thing in and of itself, while less close roommates might want a more strictly equal distribution of labor. (That doesn’t mean it’s not workable, but there might be more explicit “I’ll take over dishes in exchange for you keeping track of the grocery list” negotiation.)
Also, what’s necessary to the functioning of the household? Do you have shared definitions of what “clean” means, and how flexible are they? Like, for example, if it turns out that between everybody’s time and energy and limitations, the carpet’s going to get vacuumed every other week instead of every week, is that a deal-breaker because someone has allergies?
I think you start with a list of things that need to be done, and have everybody list the things they *cannot* do (or can only do on good days), the things they *don’t want to* do, and the things they’d be happy to do. And from there, you figure out who does what. There’s no specific right answer, because it’s a matter of everyone feeling like they’re being treated fairly, and that’s really subjective.
I’m sliding in late to this conversation, but I’m watching it with interest because I’ve been the person who burned out from taking on too much of a chore load in the past AND I’m currently dealing with an injured leg that’s affecting my ability to get my chores done.
I think a lot of people are struggling to come up with a one-size-fits-all rule because there are so many variables here: how much the disabled person is capable of doing, your pre-established relationship with them, how much extra cash residents have to throw at outsourcing the work, how easy it is for both sides to leave if the situation becomes unliveable, etc. My mom with ALS gets a different level of effort from me than the college buddy who decided his depression meant he could guilt me into being his free maid and throw fits when I asked him not to leave dangerous stuff out around my pets.
In my experience, it makes everything a lot smoother when 1) Everyone’s honest about the limits of what they can do, 2) Everyone’s proactive about coming up with solutions for the stuff that still has to get done past those limits, and 3) Everyone’s graceful about accepting those solutions even if they don’t match whatever theoretical best-case scenario they’re imagining. Like, right now, my best-case scenario is that my leg magically heals tomorrow and I can do all my chores with no problems, but my actual realistic solution is spending some money on a cleaning service and a repair service to fix the stuff I could theoretically deal with on my own if I were healthy.
This is in the context of a romantic relationship, but https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4CSnf8SVj8 Jessica Kellgren-Fozard just posted about this between disabled and able-bodied romantic partners
One thing that was mentioned that I really want to underscore, from my experience: when someone says they struggle with chores (either timeliness or volume) due to a disability or a physical or mental illness, BELIEVE THEM. So often I’ve seen / been in housing situations that collapsed because people paid lip service to understanding that roommates differ in ability and that’s nobody’s fault, but ultimately had frankly ableist expectations. Or, their actions, if not their words, suggested that the ill or disabled person should just “get over it,” or was somehow exaggerating the extent of their pain or limitation.
Ableism is very prevalent, and it is easy to internalize. The housing situations I’ve known to work were led by people who understood that fair doesn’t necessarily mean equal. Just as most leftists accept that with the power of wealth ought to come the responsibility to contribute more financially to society via taxes, a person with more “spoons” (physical endurance, emotional resilience, mental energy) needs to contribute more to household maintenance.
So, in a workable co-op situation, or even a roommate / large family situation, fair might mean a chore chart where an able-bodied, mentally well person has six chores a week, and a mentally ill or disabled person only has one. Hopefully, once this is explained, it might “click” pretty easily, especially in a group that is already left-leaning and has an intersectional approach to social justice. If everyone is up front about their needs, and there is a spirit of collaboration, it can work out.
But, it won’t work if people feel pressured to downplay their needs or exaggerate their abilities in order to “fit in,” then fail to meet an able-bodied standard and feel shamed. There must be a spirit of trust. If someone says, “this is what I can and cannot do,” the courage to admit limitations should be respected, not belittled. Coming to a workable solution requires honesty and an accurate picture from the get go.
I think that this can certainly be one way of doing things, but as a mentally ill communal living alum: I think that people certainly need to enter into this level of mutual obligation and interrelationship consensually, not because it’s “the right thing to do” for a stranger but because they want to take on living together, in a group, with specific people and want to make the balance of work and ability work with those specific people.
I also would not personally be excited – again, as a mentally ill communal living alum – to be assigned 4 chores where someone else was assigned 6. I’d much rather shuffle tasks until everyone has a deck of chores that they could do and feel good about. I’d also personally much rather the group figure out how to pay for someone to come in and do tasks so that the “abled” people (no one’s really abled forever and in all situations) got a break on the same rotation.
(Source: we have briefly had people living in my big communal living situation who were specialized in a trade and were genuinely more capable than others to, for instance, fix sinks. We rapidly burned those people out and they left. It would have been wiser to value their well-being as people and their contributions as community members and just pay for a plumber, as opposed to assuming that because they were capable and others weren’t it was nbd for them to just do it constantly.)
Good point! The “different number of chores” thing is but one of many possible solutions. In my current situation, we do actually all have the same number of chores, but, as you said, it is divided up by what is more feasible versus less feasible given our strengths and weaknesses.
So, a person who has executive function issues has the same number of chores in a week, but none need to be done daily, giving them more flexibility spoon-wise (so, maybe on Wednesday they have no work or school obligations, so they can do all five of their chores on Wednesday, whereas on days when they have work or school, that has to be their spoon-priority). Whereas almost all of my tasks are short daily tasks (collect the garbage and bring it outside, do the dishes, etc) which take fifteen minutes or less– not long enough to be physically tiring, even with my limited endurance.
Or, figuring out a cleaning service option can be the way to go. The open-mindedness is the key, to me, not the particulars of any one solution.
And, your second point about consent, I also definitely agree. It’s important not to pressure people to do work they don’t want to even if they have a strength in that area.
To me, it is akin to, for example, I have a disproportionate number of friends who are recovered addicts to uppers or opiates. All of them smoke cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes is a key part of staying recovered for them, and while it’s not great for their health, smoking doesn’t wreck your life the way an amphetamine or heroin addiction does. For them, being able to smoke in their home when they need to is probably life-saving.
As someone with a respiratory disability, though, I cannot live with a person who smokes. I can’t consent to that kind of living situation, even though I absolutely respect that, in their case, smoking is actually good for their overall health (including mental health). So, our unique biological needs conflict too much for us to be roommates.
So, not being able to consent to a specific living situation– whether it’s because you think you’ll get burned out from doing a specific task, or because the house has too many stairs, or you’re incompatible with ideas about noise levels and so on–is not ableist, and I definitely want to be clear that anyone can be an pro-disability activist or ally and still not be a good fit for every living situation.
I like the sound of that method for figuring out who can handle what! This is just my perspective, not a critique of your idea in its context, but my major hurdle in community living was how spectacularly boundary-free it could get (SO QUICKLY). So my ideal way of handling chores would not require people to disclose versus getting a lot of chores – just because my list of medical diagnoses might be longer than someone else’s (I go to the doctor a lot) and I’m comfortable telling everyone my diagnoses (none of them are stigmatized) doesn’t actually mean that they automatically can do whatever the thing is that I can’t do. I think “I’m not really good at this task, can someone trade?” or “I hate this more than other tasks and will trade it for up to 3 other things, seriously” allows everyone to keep their privacy. (And I have to admit I’m imagining some sort of Spoons Tribunal where we weigh hypermobility against agoraphobia and assign numerical rankings… I’m sure that’s not what you mean but that’s what I imagine.)
Those who need to smoke for their mental health should either live alone or go outside to smoke. I have no respiratory disability. I also got bronchitis 9 times from my dad’s heavy smoking. I only got bronchitis once after moving out from his house.
Even for the healthy, secondhand smoke exposure is unacceptable.
I feel you. It’s definitely tough when you’re a kid. Conversations around bodily autonomy and kids are really challenging, because I know a lot of people who want to promote consent culture from childhood (for example, telling kids they can say no to hugs). While I support this in theory, in practice parents have default control over much of what goes in a kid’s body– what food they eat, what air they breathe, what medical treatments or meds they take (or don’t take), the temperature in their home, etc. That, in most cases, has a bigger effect on our health than the hugs. I’m sorry you had to deal with illness when it wasn’t necessary. While my parents didnt smoke, I also struggled with my pain being exacerbated because my parents took bad advice regarding my treatment and I underwent some unnecessary proceedures I was considered too young to have a say in. That’ really awful, both your bronchitis from your dad’s smoking and my own prolonged illness; I wish parents would take seriously the huge degree of power they have over their kids and make wiser choices.
I try not to judge parents too much, since it’s impossible to make all the right decisions. But I also think it’s okay to be angry or grieve what we lost because they made the wrong ones.
Thank you! I thought I was going to get piled on by other commenters for being selfish because I didn’t prioritize the needs of the mentally ill, even if it results in a minor physical inconvenience for a healthy person. Another option for smokers, of course, is to live with other smokers.
Don’t worry, Igmerriman! I am perfectly healthy now!
Also, I’m sorry you had to deal with unnecessary pain due to unneeded treatments.
A friend of mine loves communal living but the thing that saves the day in her situation is that their communal areas (kitchen, bathrooms, sitting room, halls and stairs) are cleaned by an actual cleaner who comes in once a week and is paid from the housrmates’ rent contributions. Nobody is individually responsible for any cleaning chores apart from the mess they make by themselves. They also have to clear up anything of theirs left out of their room ahead of the cleaner’s visit otherwise she will leave everything in a pile on the dining room table. It is very much a “our having a cleaner is a privilege, her time and effort is to be respected” thing.
Everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes and keeping their own living/sleeping spaces tidy and doing their own laundry, but having a cleaner come in to take care of the rest really helps. Most of the housemates work full time or attend college full time. One is home a lot through ill health but her disability is mostly invisible, so having a cleaner prevents any assumptions that “Pippi can clean up everywhere because she’s home all day anyway.”
My friends who shared a 12 bedroom house at uni instigated a policy for getting up on time where if they were more than say 10 minutes later from their commitment (they set their getting up times at the start of each week) more than say twice in a week, they had to do a forfeit specifically chosen to be horrible for them (caffeine fiend had to give up tea and coffee for a week, computer geek had to give up internet cables for a week, guy who hated spicy food had to eat a chilli at every meal etc.) Worked pretty well – no one broke their commitment more than once! You could adapt something like this, it’s nice because you can adapt it to your circumstances that week, but that might be quite hard to manage for chores that need to get done no matter what.
Apologies if someone has already said it but list everything for chores.
My house situation turned into a nightmare of no one else doing their turn (honestly not the thing that bothered me most), but I was eternally grateful for the clear instructions for how to clean.
I’m bad a cleaning (live alone now with a cleaner) and having a list with each task that needed doing for a particular chore was so helpful.
Example- Clean Kitchen : hoover/sweep floor, wash floor, wash countertops and cabinates, clean hob (substeps) and clean sink.
Clear expectations are so helpful when your brain doesn’t work. Seconding Captains responses about trying to troubleshoot in advance too!!
Hi Messy Pushover!
As a fellow messy person who also lives in communal housing, I have some recommendations you may take or leave as they seem useful!
There are 7 of us in my house. We have a weekly meeting on Sunday evening (it is a big commitment, but if there are five Sundays, we take the last one off). Each week’s meeting has a theme, paying bills, talking about our feelings, cleaning out the fridge, etc. Two people volunteer to cook a meal for everyone (we have a lot of different allergies ans intolerances, but we have some go-tos that involve some self-assembly that are great), and we sit down to eat together first. Then we have our meeting, following an agenda loosely.
Part of this agenda is “Chores!” We each have a kitchen night, on which we are responsible for keeping things moving towards clean. Often for us this means wiping down the counters, finishing the loading of the dishwasher and then running it. We also have two housemates who are neat freaks about the kitchen, so their dedicated chore (house expectation is that you spend about an hour to and hour and a half weekly on your chore) is the kitchen. Every once in a while during the chore section of the meeting, these two will say “Hey, I don’t know what it is but the counters have seemed extra crumbfull lately, please help!” as a reminder to us all to keep up with our dish nights and help out extra. We have folks whose dedicated chore is vacuuming, trash and recycling, dusting, bathroom cleaning, and pick up (we have a jokingly named shelf of shame where the pick up person puts items that have been left in the way). At house meetings, the chore time is a self-report – often someone will say “oh crap! I didn’t do my chore this week, hmm I have some time tomorrow!” No one needs to police anyone’s chore doing, and it is great. It’s okay to say “hey, i’ve been having a rough time mental health wise and haven’t had the energy to do my chore, would anyone be willing to tag team it with me tomorrow?” also a space to say “hey, turns out i hate vacuuming a lot, I’d like to try another chore, would anyone switch with me?”
Weekly may be too big a commitment for 12 or so, but I firmly believe that regular meetings keep things harmonious because when there is a house-wide issue, we don’t have to strategize about when and how to bring it up! And I really think that, for a house that is already having a lot of issues, regular friendly meetings could reset the culture, get buy-in, and help people feel like a mutually supportive community.
We also recently started revisiting our communal policies, starting with conflict resolution in meetings – there are some issues that people have strong feelings about which we’ve been bandaiding for a time, but we need to tackle. We’ve made a toolkit for working through conflict that I’d be happy to share with anyone who wants it!
I also forgot to mention, we have a “no dishes in the sink, ever” rule, so that even if you’re not willing to do the couple dishes at the sinkside T that moment, you can still wash your own dish in the sink. Expectation is always that you rinse your dish before placing it at the side.
Planet Money, of all things, had a segment that was relevant to this. (It’s the last segment in the show on “Office Laws.”) What they did was get a huge, gaudy trophy. When the kitchen was clean, the trophy was brought out and displayed. When the kitchen got dirty, the trophy went away. This wasn’t explained, but the staff figured it out, and it helped a lot.
That reminded me that positive reinforcement is often stronger than negative. Try to build some into the system. For example, for every chore unit that is done without reminders and up to standards, get a lottery ticket. The prize can be anything: a movie pass, coffee card, bye week for next week’s chores, best parking spot for a week, sign on your door that says “Household Hero!.” Also, don’t overlook the power of a sincere compliment, with timely delivery. “Housemate, I noticed this morning when I took a shower that the upstairs bathroom was spotless. Thanks so much for that!” Enlist everyone to notice the good things, and name them. If you can build a culture where you sincerely compliment each other and express appreciation for the work you are all doing, it will be extremely powerful.
It sounds like that house has had a really tough time in the last few months. You sound like a good person for being willing to move in& try to help sort things out.
The thing I noticed in your letter was the mention of “foundation problems” and mold. I’m imagining that “foundation problems” is probably a code for leaks of some kind. It’s hard to imagine that occupant behaviour caused those foundation problems (though easy to imagine occupant behaviour that could lead to mould). However it is also very easy to imagine leaks /foundation issues that lead to mold/musty smells that no amount of cleaning will fix that leads to occupants being lazier about cleaning & over all occupant frustration levels rising enormously (possibly to the level of being contributory to some of the awful personal outcomes mentioned).
So my suggestion is to maybe check / ask the organisation to check the physical structure of the house – and ensure those problems been properly dealt to. Is it necessary to install better drains/ extraction systems/new gutters/….?
It’s an expensive solution (& resetting cleaning expectations are probably necessary as well), but it might be a necessary one for the accommodation to be worthwhile to live in. I can remember some student accommodation where the rental agents solution to mushrooms growing every week in the bathroom was “clean more regularly” (hint – a better solution was “fix the roof”).
Hey this sounds a lot like a co-op. Do you happen to live in a co-op? International Cooperative Council sound familiar? Yes?
Anyway, even if you don’t, some of the co-op life solutions might help.
Suggestion #1: write down explicitly and post prominently a list of every single chore that needs to get done. Count. Divide by number of people living in the house. Tell everyone they are responsible for X number of things getting done. Alternately, calculate approximately how long each task should take and tell everyone they are responsible for X hours/minutes of chore time. With a smaller house, you can get away with this kind of self-directed labor system.
Suggestion #2: sign in sheets are great. Put one in every room where stuff needs to get done. When someone does a chore they can sign their name and note what they did, and that way you can check over time if people are pulling their weight. I assume you have regular house meetings? If people aren’t pulling their weight, house meetings are a great place to tackle that and see if this person needs more support, more structure, or more finding another place to live. Sign-in sheets will also work for the situation where you assign specific tasks to specific people.
Suggestion #3: money helps. My co-op has a labor system where 1 hour is understood to be worth $10, and so if I am out of town or have unexpected meeting or cannot get out of bed today, I can offer $10 and someone else will do my hour of cooking or cleaning. It is such a blessing. People are super willing to help out when it pays. Consider a version of this pay-your-way-out emergency system to get people to pitch in to cover each other.
I probably have more thoughts but that’s all that’s coming to mind. I served on the board of directors for one of the two major co-op orgs in Austin and have a pretty intimate understanding of how co-ops fundamentally work, and if that’s your living situation I might be able to be of more help. Apologies if I’m off base though! Hopefully these suggestions are useful whether or not that’s the case.
I lived in communal housing for over a year, my husband for most of his life. They function solely on chore boards and “team cleans”. Once a month, the team you’re assigned, does a deep clean of a pre-determined space. The kitchen (chores are up for grabs, someone mops, some move tables and chairs around and back, some clean the kitchen, etc) so it’s all done. One person checks everyone’s work and then releases them. Names are up for everyone to see, teams are clear and obvious, there’s no doubt who has to do what and when something isn’t done, everyone knows who to ask about it. It’s the *only way* that situation can work. Everyone has a job they do a few times a week, as well. Office work, financial work, yard work, etc.
Communal housing depends on the understanding and acceptance that everyone is both responsible for their own spaces while also being responsible for each other’s spaces. It’s sharing everything from resources to responsibilities, anything less and it all falls apart.
One of my friend told me of a method of splitting chores for couples from a book by Guy Hendricks. It might work for larger groups as well.
1) Make a detailed list of all chores at least one person thinks needs doing. Be specific, not just clean the kitchen. You don’t filler the tasks at this stage, more like brainstorming.
2) Each person picks the tasks that they :
a) like to do
b) don’t mind doing
c) don’t like how other people do the task. I.e. if the dishwasher has to be loaded your way, it’s your task
3) Look at the tasks that are left, there are several ways to deal with them
a) can some of them be eliminated?
b) can you pay someone to do ?
c) can you work out a time that everyone can collectively work on the tasks no one wants
Rather than a list of chores that need to be done, when you do a chore, write it down and sign your name next to it. Maybe try that for a month and then you have actual evidence of what gets done/doesn’t get done/what needs to be done more often. If you realise that it’s been two weeks and you’re name is not on the list, that will probably encourage you to do notice things that need to be done.
I also think that language about ‘respecting each other’ is a really bad motivator for issues like this because most people who are messy don’t consciously think “I have so little respect for these chumps I live with hahaha I won’t wash my dishes hahaha”. They think “I will definitely sort that once I’ve done this- oh a new episode of the Good Place!” or “I am so tired just this once I will do it in the morning”. So it’s annoying to hear that you should respect others and clean up as you weren’t disrespecting anyone, you’re just forgetful/ill/lazy/tired etc etc. A better phrasing is stuff like, “let’s keep this place a nice place to hang out” or “let’s not get rats” or “let’s make things easier for ourselves when we get back from work”.
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