#1201: “I need to set some boundaries for my housemates’ parents when they visit.”

Hi Captain!

Low stakes question here regarding the delicate situation of my housemates’ generally lovely parents. I live in a house with several people, including a couple with two kids who are also my landlords (the couple, not the kids). I’ve been here for five years and I love it! The situation is wonderful, the dynamic is relaxed and positive, and we’re all on the same page re: cleaning, respect, visitors, whatever. The couple (I’ll call them Fred and Joe) will sometimes invite Joe’s parents to stay and look after the kids while they go on vacation, a situation which we are all generally fine with.

However, I am becoming increasingly annoyed that Joe’s parents completely take over the house when they are here. For example:

1) Joe’s mother has a predilection for cleaning, rearranging and reorganizing the house. I’ll come home to find dishes reorganized, things put in different places, etc. I realize she is trying to be helpful, and I don’t mind (and am in fact grateful) for the fridge to be cleaned or the shelves dusted, but I find it annoying to open a closet and find things completely reordered. It’s my stuff too, not just Joe’s — though I have to say, even if it were just me, and MY mother came and reorganized things without asking, we would have words!

2) Things get loud, especially in the mornings. Loud talking, Facetiming, playing with the kids (it’s a big house and usually Fred and Joe move the kids away from the bedrooms in the mornings so others can sleep), etc. I work late and have a night-owl schedule. I have a white noise machine and ear plugs, but last night the noise in the morning was loud enough that I woke early anyway. I addressed this once and it briefly improved things, but time passes and maybe they forget…?

3) They don’t seem to realize that I am an actual member of the household and not a guest of their son. For example, I left a note out to inform everyone that my friend was coming to stay for a few days. They insisted that I call Fred and Joe to ask permission. I believe Joe’s father’s exact words were, “Please text Joe — it’s not my house, so I can’t say yes or no.” Captain, I’m a grown woman who pays rent, utilities, and groceries at a home I’ve lived in for years. I realize not everyone can be privy to a group dynamic of which they aren’t a member, but is it weird that I find it deeply insulting that they, who are themselves guests in the place where I live, are treating me like a child? Am I being oversensitive here?

I’d like to find a way to preemptively deal with these things, either internally for myself or externally with Fred, Joe, my other housemate, and Joe’s parents, without causing friction for anyone. Joe’s parents are actually really nice people, and I’d like to have a cordial relationship with them. I also don’t want to jeopardize the dynamic of the house. What do I do? Do I just put up with this because they are only here a few times a year (though it is usually for a week or more)? Do I say something? If so, to whom, and how? What do I do preemptively and/or in the moment? If they were my parents it would be one thing, but they aren’t. I realize this is low stakes, and maybe I should just deal and try not to be around much, but it feels shitty to be made to feel this way in my home, however well-meaning they are.

Thanks, Captain! Love your site and look forward to your take.

The dog treats are on the low shelf for a reason kthx

P.S. As of the time I’m writing this, Joe’s mother has moved the Tupperware to the place SHE wants it for the SECOND TIME THIS WEEK — after I moved it back to its home *again*. Please help.

Hello Low Shelf!

Thank you for your question, sometimes I could really use a low-stakes one, and who could remain unmoved by your plaintive cry that “the Tupperware got moved AGAIN?” Not me. Not me.

I think the main conversation you need to have is a Fred & Joe conversation. They are the ones who are best equipped to remind Joe’s parents of the house rules before the next visit, like, “We LOVE it when you come to stay, it is such a giant help! But quick reminder…”

  • …Housemates live here, they aren’t our guests (or minions/wards) and don’t need permission to invite people over.
  • …Please move the kids away from the bedrooms in the morning and keep it quiet in that end of the house when people are sleeping.
  • …We love it when you help out, it is such a giant favor! But please don’t rearrange the cupboards, it’s not just our stuff in there, it’s housemate stuff, too!

And I would definitely do this in context of the next visit, like, “Oh, since your parents are visiting again can you remind them of x, y, and z?” As you’ve noted, they don’t have a long memory for this stuff, you can assume that hints won’t work and that they will need reminding more than once. I understand wanting to address the problem when it’s fresh for you, so maybe go ahead and talk to Fred and Joe now, but make it clear that you don’t want them to talk to the parents now, you just want to make sure that the reminders exist before the next visit. My honest feeling is that bringing it up to the parents in the context of a past visit probably won’t get anything you want done but will stir up feelings about it. Results > feelings.

There is also probably some value in having a housemate discussion before the next visit about how to channel the cleaning and re-organizing impulses of Joe’s mom. I don’t think you’ll ever get them to stop, but it might be possible to redirect this energy.

I’m descended from lots of This Kind of Person. My maternal Grandma Louise used to babysit for her grandkids sometimes at her house and sometimes at theirs, where if left to her own devices she’d dive into her daughters’ ironing pile and when she finished that she’d iron anything else she could get her hands on, which is why my brothers and I had extremely sharp creases in our Toughskins jeans and cords all through elementary school. Well into her eighties Grandma would have to be physically restrained from cleaning the entire kitchen after holiday meals, even when the meal was not at her house. My Yia-Yia (Greek for Grandma, on my dad’s side) was the same, she’d also show up with a ton of food and go through the fridge, cluck about its inadequacies, and replace our inferior food with her superior food. What daughter-in-law would not enjoy a bunch of “helpful” reminders like that?

To this day my dad will open my drawers and test out cabinets to see if they close smoothly, comment on the organization of the silverware and utensils within, and wonder aloud why the bookcases are on this wall vs. that one. Have I asked him to knock it off? Yes. Have I asked my parents to stay in a hotel instead of with me? Also yes. I have done many things to try to stem this behavior, at this point the man is in his 70s, he is not going to change, and I don’t feel like fighting with him about it anymore, ergo, the last time he came to visit, we had a list of tasks all ready for him. We didn’t spring it on him the second he came in the door, like, “Be our guest! Be our guest! Put your handyman skills to the test,” we just made the list of things that needed installed or whatever, and whenever he started critiquing our domestic arrangements during the visit we asked his advice on something from the list knowing there was a strong chance that he’d want to do whatever it was himself because the thought of it being done Wrong was unbearable. The good news is that he is incredibly handy, so, “Hey Dad, what’s the best way to hang our drapes in our new place, also what kind of drill should we buy?” etc. are questions he can’t resist weighing in on (think of it as scattering seeds or grains of rice to distract a vampire in the legends that say they have to stop and count everything while you run away) and he can also be trusted to execute whatever it is pretty well. Also he loves Mr. Awkward (it’s mutual) so there was a lot of “Let me show you how to do this, son” vibe going on that was pretty damn adorable. He grumbled the whole time, like, how DARE we put him to work, but he enjoyed himself (and our drapes got hung RIGHT).

(Would he have done the same thing if we’d just asked him directly from the start in advance like adults? Yes, absolutely. Was it more fun this way? Also yes. ;-D Because being useful WHILE having an excuse to grumble is Peak My Dad and Tom-Sawyering the man who first read me Tom Sawyer is just funny.)

Both my family’s line and this behavior dies with me and my generation – I promise I won’t clean or rearrange anyone else’s stuff without being asked – but I recognize how ingrained these dynamics are so this where I’m coming from: Should our parents and grandparents be able to hear the words “Hey Ma, please don’t go re-arranging all the stuff in our cabinets when you visit, spending time with the grandkids is so helpful, honestly, put your feet up and relax the rest of the time!” and translate that as not rearranging all the stuff in the cabinets and closets when they visit? 100%.

Will Joe’s mom actually learn to respect this? Not in a million years.

Is it worth it to Joe & Fred to push this issue at the expense of free childcare when they want to go on vacation and time for their kids to bond with Grandma & Grandpa? Almost certainly not.

And if there is Primal Territorial Stuff going on between Joe and his parents? You do NOT want to be in the middle. Trust. If Joe needs to have a “Quit Rearranging My Stuff, Mom!” Fight, Where Scores are Settled and Things Are Said, that’s his prerogative, if you try to have that fight for him or push him into one, the odd one out will be you.

So: Joe should CHANNEL HIS MOM. Before she visits, he could make a list of things around the house that could use doing and hopefully generate a few tasks that could occupy her, make her feel useful, and not annoy the heck out of you. You and Joe could get a label maker and label all the shelves in the closet and cabinets with where you want stuff to go before she comes, so if she wants to muck about, there are guidelines. He also could buy a couple of photo albums, give her access to the Family Photo Storage hard drives or cloud folders, and see if she’d be interested in selecting and organizing that stuff for them. He could see if she’ll teach the kids to cook the classic family recipes. I don’t know, I’m just spitballing, Joe knows her best, he’d have the best idea of what appropriate Extreme Grandma Stuff his mom would like. She doesn’t have to do any of these things (seriously, put your feet up lady!), but if she starts getting antsy, at least there’s a list. To be clear, it’s not your job to figure all this out – “Joe, can you keep your mom from rearranging all the things this visit?” is pretty much where your responsibility ends, I offer “Maybe you can channel her into useful directions” as bonus content if Joe is receptive.

While I think your best plan is to talk Joe & Fred and let them handle it, it doesn’t mean tiptoeing around these people just because they are giving off Strong Parent Energy while they’re guests in your house. If the kids wake you up, you can herd them away from the door: “Oh hey, kids, remember how we don’t play in this end of the house in the morning? Thank you for letting me sleep!” Try addressing it to the kids vs. “correcting” the grandparents. If once doesn’t work, remind them. Pretty soon the kids will take care of it for you, they love enforcing rules on adults, like, “Shhhhh, grandma, we’re not supposed to.” 

When you have a friend coming and it’s suggested you ask permission, try “Oh, I already discussed it with Fred & Joe, just like they let me know you were coming, we always clear visitors with each other first. I’m just making sure you aren’t  surprised when my friend shows up in case his flight gets in early while I’m still at work.”

When you’re accessing something in the doubly-rearranged closet, you’re allowed to say, “Wow, thanks, you really did so much work here, but did you see where _______ went? Also, I’m going to go ahead and move some of the things back where it’s most useful to me to store them.” (Also: CONSIDER THE LABELMAKER. Nifty AND fun and a good joint adult-kid project that will help them learn to put stuff back where it goes).

It’s more a matter of tone than anything else. If you can keep things constructive and friendly, you can rest pretty assured that if you accidentally trip a passive-aggressive “Well, I was just trying to be HELPFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!” wire, you can reply with “Oh, I know, and I know that Joe & Fred are so grateful for everything you do! Just, I keep the dog treats down here for a reason, you had no way of knowing since you don’t live here” and know that you’re not the one making it weird when…

…if you stop and think about it…

…it’s actually incredibly weird to go to someone else’s house and rearrange all their stuff…

…and even weirder to be mad at them if they don’t love it when you do.

It’s not fair that you should have to makes so many accommodations about this or keep reminding someone about this, but “fair” and “what it is possible to get a nosy Grandma to do” or “fair” and “one of the aspects of this otherwise great living situation” can be very different things. I wish you luck and properly stored Tupperware and for everyone to keep their senses of humor.

194 thoughts on “#1201: “I need to set some boundaries for my housemates’ parents when they visit.”

  1. One thing that didn’t get addressed, LW: Landlords are not “housemates.” Landlords are not “housemates.” Landlords are not “housemates.”

    Say it with me: Landlords. Are not. “Housemates.”

    Your landlords are not your buddies. They are not people chipping in together with you for housing, who all have equal control (or lack thereof) over the space. They are people who are extracting rent from you in order to enrich themselves, and they have complete control over what happens to the space, aside from any rights your locality protects for tenants. The dynamic is not remotely the same, and you need to keep it in mind, no matter how chummy they are day to day.

    Just like bosses, landlords are not our friends, and when we forget that, it often comes back to bite us in the ass.

    [Moderator Here: Stop debating with this or explaining comment please. It’s been addressed down-thread]

    1. Eye, I am with you 100% on this except that, sometimes, Friends become Landlords. Often this happens because they get a new big place they can’t quite afford on their own and they invite friends to live with them there to help pay for it – which makes for a very different dynamic than Landlords Who Are Friendly.

      Now, I am on the record as believing nothing strains a friendship more than the creation of an uneven power dynamic between previously equal friends, and so letting your Friends become your Landlords is a Bad Idea. But it does happen.

      1. When friends become landlords… then they are landlords. They have all the legal rights of landlords. Unless they’re not charging you rent, they’re profiting off you. They are probably less likely to screw you over than other landlords… but they’re still landlords, and you still need to remember that. (How many people have had friendships go sour without having to worry about all the ways that a landlord can fuck you over on top of it?)

        1. Ooooookay, Moderator Hat On. Landlords/Housemates/Friends can be overlapping states, the Letter Writer as a tenant arguably has certain rights and standing, the Letter Writer says that the relationship with Fred & Joe is usually fair, friendly, and enjoyable, the understanding seems to be that the place functions as a shared home between all adult residents. I recommend all non-related adults sharing housing negotiate a written roommate agreement in addition to a lease that talks about stuff like “guests” and “where to store things” so that people’s housing security isn’t dependent on “never disagreeing with anyone.”

          So there is actually a point where the landlord vs. housemate thing relevantly comes into play:

          If Fred & Joe own the house and the LW is renting, and things somehow got really tense and weird with the visiting grandparents situation, the LW could find themselves being asked to leave down the road. There is actually a power differential here which makes it a “is it even worth bringing this up/how do I do it nicely in a way that doesn’t make waves” question. Which I think the Letter Writer is aware of, not to mention wanting to be considerate about not messing up her friends’ free childcare arrangements by making waves.

          Which means tread cautiously and in good faith. But it doesn’t mean “don’t ever speak up” or assume that longtime friends/housemates are purely financial, transactional agents, and there’s nothing in the letter to suggest that this is the most pressing concern.

          Eye, your views and caution to think about the power and financial relationships are noted, you can stop now. Everyone else, please stop responding to Eye. We’re not hijacking the whole thread with this back-and-forth.

    2. 1) This comment is couched in language I perceive as unhelpfully absolute and loaded.

      2) It’s also not very relevant to the question. Let’s trust the LW to know their own situation and household dynamics best.

    3. Any time I see the expression “bite you in the ass” I feel the same way: that’s insulting and you are playing dirty.

  2. I think you can say, in a pleasant, matter-of-fact tone, but quite directly: “This is my home. Please do not rearrange the items in our cabinets–Joe and Fred and I have placed them there for a specific reason, and we don’t want to spend time searching for them or moving them back. The Tupperware goes here–it’s our kitchen, and I’m sure you can adapt.”

    And “Oh, this is my home–I don’t need permission to have someone visit me.”

    And “This is my home, and my schedule means I need to sleep in the morning. Please take the kids to the other side of the house so it’s quiet here by the bedrooms.”

    You’re not complaining, you’re explaining. And you’re giving information.

    “This is my home.” Pleasant, but matter-of-fact.

    I find that I can get the tone right when I think of “channeling my inner daycare worker.”

    And yes, I vote for being honest w/ Joe & Fred. You guys all have a good vibe going on, so if you can use the tone you have here–“your parents are lovely people; I know you value their help, and they value the grandkid time; I don’t want to mess that up; but I’m frustrated with being treated as though somehow I’m invisible, and I’d appreciate it if you would stress to them that I LIVE here, this is my HOME, and they should treat me with the same respect they’d show you. Would you explain to them, especially the sleep thing? ”

    After all, your rent probably makes it possible for them to afford this home (or at the least to afford other things), so it’s not like you’re an interloper!

    I second the label maker!

    1. This is great, though I think there should be a conversation with the landlords first.
      These lines are great for reminders, -after- the boundary has been set. By Joe.

    2. For the permission thing, I think I would probably just blurt out in the moment (in a slightly baffled tone), “Permission? I wasn’t asking anyone’s permission, I just letting you guys know that my friend is coming.” Stuff like that makes me think that Joe’s parents don’t really understand the arrangement Joe and Fred have with their tenants.

      1. And just because Joe’s Dad says, “You need to text Joe,” doesn’t mean you have to.
        You can see, “I don’t need to text him–he knows how this works.”

        Or just say, “Hmm,” and walk away.

        1. Or just ‘Oh don’t worry, Joe and I already have an agreement. I just wanted to be sure you knew what was going on. Wouldn’t want you to be surprised by someone in the morning, haha.’

          Maybe you friend’s dad honestly thought your arrangement was that you ask permission and that you were asking him permission. In any case treating it as an honest misunderstanding by someone well-meaning is usually the most easy and non-confrontational response.

          1. “treating it as an honest misunderstanding by someone well-meaning is usually the most easy and non-confrontational response.”

            Yep, this is my go-to in potentially awkward situations. Assume positive intent and offer clarifying information in a matter-of-fact helpful tone.

          2. “In any case treating it as an honest misunderstanding by someone well-meaning is usually the most easy and non-confrontational response.”

            Another +1 to this. Especially since LW says they’re reasonable people in general.

          3. Treating something as an honest misunderstanding (in a low-key way, not a gravely serious way) works for soooo many situations, too. The only situations it doesn’t work with is when dealing with someone who is utterly irrational or illogical towards absolutely everything, though thankfully those people are rare. (Most people do operate on some form of logic, even if it isn’t immediately apparent what *kind* of logic, so it’s possible to eventually figure it out and adapt our responses- even if the logic may not make sense to us personally.)

            (…I hope that made sense.)

        2. I’ll also nth this point that assuming the best is an excellent de-escalation strategy in general (and good conversation akido in the worst cases where someone is intent on forcing conflict despite your kind offers of a face-saving de-escalation). It’s particularly relevant to point #3 – indeed, every lease I’ve signed has required permission for overnight guests (this was never ENFORCED – it’s there mostly to give landlords grounds for action if someone moves in without signing a lease, without the landlord needing to actually prove that anyone stayed more than one night without permission), so to me it would not be surprising in the least that Joe’s dad might assume I was asking permission. My script for responding in the moment was basically what TO_Ont wrote, so I’ll just second that.

      2. I think you’re probably right about the parents not understanding the arrangement. To be fair, I think my parents would struggle with it too–it’s been decades since they lived with anyone that wasn’t family, and they definitely never did so after hitting the marriage/home-buying/kids milestones. While they understand e.g. college roommates just fine, I think they’d majorly struggle to conceptualize someone in a family household who is neither family nor a guest. I wonder if Joe’s parents are hitting a similar cognitive dissonance, and trying to fit OP into the more familiar category of ‘guest’.

        That doesn’t excuse their behavior, of course. But it might give Joe and Fred an avenue to come in and be like “This is how OP fits in our household, we need you to respect that and work with it while you’re here, can you handle that or would it be better for the grandkids to come to your place instead?”

    3. “Oh, this is my home–I don’t need permission to have someone visit me.” is not actually a given. Unless the law where you live says that having overnight visitors is your unwaivable right as a tenant (unlikely), a landlord can stipulate that you can’t have people staying or that you need persmission first. In a situation like this (a couple with kids renting rooms of their house to two other people) it wouldn’t even be an unreasonable stipulation. I think the LW is overly annoyed about this particular comment and they should have just explained that having people stay is part of their agreement; though, I in the father’s place would have texted my kid and asked them beforehand.

      1. The Letter Writer, as a resident of the place, KNOWS exactly which arrangement she has with Fred & Joe (not needing permission), so is exactly the right amount of annoyed.

        1. Not necessarily. A better explanation is down thred a bit. When you view in this vein, it makes total sense. The father is avoiding getting involved but also worrying about the children in his care. I would hope if the dad was never made aware of what/who is allowed around his grandchildren, that he would ask or in the very least say what he said.

          Sometimes it can be hard to see things as a parent or as someone responsible for children when you are not someone in that situation – like it can be for anyone who has not experienced something.

          1. I would hope Grandfather would have asked who was allowed around the kids, or that his son would have told the grandparents that without needing to be asked, two or three years ago, the first time they were invited to stay and provide childcare while the kids’ parents are traveling. If the grandfather is worried that guests might be dangerous to the children, I wouldn’t expect that to be limited to overnight guests. (Whether he’s worried about someone harming the kids on purpose, or about someone leaving potentially dangerous chemicals in reach or household accidents, guests who leave before midnight aren’t automatically safe.)

            Knowing that the parents have housemates/tenants, “Who lives here, and what do I need to know about that?” should have been addressed long ago, along with things like the kids’ usual bedtimes, doctors’ names and phone numbers, and whether they’re signed up for swimming lessons. The one thing the grandparents know about LW is that Fred and Joe trust her enough to have invited her to live in their home, with their minor children, and have let her stay for five years. That’s more than enough time to get a feeling for what someone is like. Five years isn’t couch-surfing or a summer sublet; whether LW is staying because she thinks this is the perfect situation or because moving is scary, five years in one place is stability.

            I would suggest that LW ask Joe to talk to his father (or possibly both parents) before the next visit and remind him, both that LW and the other housemate(s) are responsible adults who live there, so they don’t need “permission” to have company etc., and that LW is a rent-paying housemate, and part of what she’s paying for is peace and quiet in the mornings so she can sleep. Here’s how we normally keep the kids quiet and out of everyone’s hair…

            Not as “hey, Joe, why didn’t you do this three years ago?” but as “apparently your parents have forgotten, and it made their last visit really stressful for me, so please make sure they understand this.”

        2. Yes, the LW knows. The father might not have been known that it was ok for the tenants to have people staying and was not unreasonable in wanting confirmation from his son, considering he was responsible for his underage grandchildren.

          When you are renting “It’s my house, I can do what I want” is simply not true; you can do what you want provided it’s allowed/not restricted by the terms of your lease. If someone who has a valid concern about whether your lease allows you to do X questions your right to do it, they aren’t doing so because they treat you like a guest; they are treating you like the tenant that you are.

          1. If someone who has a valid concern about whether your lease allows you to do X questions your right to do it, they aren’t doing so because they treat you like a guest; they are treating you like the tenant that you are.
            The LW is not the father’s tenant, and he’s a guest in her home. It’s not about “I can do whatever I want” – it’s about the father’s assumption of authority here, and not giving her the benefit of the doubt that she was acting properly. The default assumption should be that if she’s doing it, it’s allowed. If the father had any doubts, he could have called Fred and Joe and asked about it.
            I’m not saying he had any kind of malice aforethought here. Like other commenters, I’m sure from his perspective he was just covering his bases to make sure he wasn’t doing something that was going to make his son and son-in-law mad at him. But his actions still come across as paternalistic (no pun intended) – “of course when she says this, she’s asking me for my permission”.

          2. Guests aren’t there to provide childcare for hosts that are on vacation. The parents are doing a pretty big favour to their son and his spouse, not being treated to a visit. The dynamic is different and I don’t think it will go well for the LW if they adopt a “you are a guest in my home” attitude.

          3. It’s not a negative attitude, but it is a specific dynamic where the host is conferring an obligation and the guest receiving a favour. This is not the case here, and the parents may well feel that they are deputising for their kids/owners of the house. And, relaxed dynamic with the landlords notwithstanding, the couple may well agree that, when the parents are there to provide childcare, they are not guests, they are standing in their place as landlords. I agree with Vicki above that the situation should have been made explicit beforehand, but apparently it hasn’t, I am not even saying the LW should not push back on the annoying behaviours, just that she should be sensitive to all the factors going in.

          4. “Guests aren’t there to provide childcare for hosts that are on vacation. The parents are doing a pretty big favour to their son and his spouse, not being treated to a visit. The dynamic is different and I don’t think it will go well for the LW if they adopt a “you are a guest in my home” attitude.”

            All the LW seems to be asking is that the parents mind their own business and leave LW to mind hers; that doesn’t seem like a huge ask.

  3. Small detail: It is plausible that the ‘You have to check with Joe’ situation was meant not as ‘You ought to run your guest arrangements by Joe and get permission’ but as ‘I have no idea whether Joe expects permission in this situation or not and don’t want to put myself forward as speaking for him, so if this is a ‘permission’ situation then it needs to be redirected at Joe not me, peace out’. (I know this doesn’t solve the rest of it, but can see how that one could potentially be heard either way and maybe misinterpreted.)

    1. Good point.

      And then the response would be an explanation: “Oh, having a guest is something that Joe and Fred and I have already worked out. You don’t need to worry about giving permission.”

      (I like the Captain’s text because it reminds them that our LW was consulted and gave permission for THEM to stay.)
      Oh, I already discussed it with Fred & Joe, just like they let me know you were coming, we always clear visitors with each other first.

      And in fact, assuming that they’re just not aware, and you’re going to explain, is the perfect tone.

    2. Totally agree – I looked at it more like the parents didn’t want to run over THOSE boundaries. So I probably would have ignored it and been like “OK then – Millicent will be here on Wednesday.”

    3. Yes, it took me a moment to get there, but this is Dad not wanting to intrude on a legal/shared household relationship, where asking Joe himself might be perceived as some kind of “tattling.” Dad recognizes he is not a player in the future arranging other other guests and also not privy to the prevailing rules, and may have interpreted the LW’s note as seeking approval he can’t give rather than realizing it was meant to convey useful information.

        1. When it comes to the Awkward Army, no one outranks our Captain — he can be Lieutenant Awkward. 😉

    1. ^^^ “General Awkward”! My current favorite comment on the Interweebz. Cute!

      (If his name is Leigh, it is even cuter.)

  4. I have no filter when I’m super tired and super acute (yay chronic pain) and I remember one time when my mother was hospitalised and her brothe and sister-in-law and their grandkids were in the house to visit mum and doing… something… loud (I forget what maybe showering (bathroom is right beside my bed and the shower is loud as fuck or maybe a loud phone call or was it hoovering? Not important, sorry)), that woke me up I got out of my bed and walked into the landing and let out the banshee howl “I. WAS. A. SLEEP!” (crescendo on the sleep) and there was sudden and profound silence. Not sure how useful that would be to OP, especially with the whole not wanting to make waves, just I am the most doormat like person most of the time, and let anyone walk all over me for a quiet life. I normally don’t advocate making a SceneTM but when it comes to disrupted sleep I have no chill.

    Pretty much all the rest of it I could live and let live, but the noisy kids/housework outside my bedroom would be my last straw.

    1. I kind of want the Letter Writer to loudly say, “where the heck is the dog food? It was right here on the bottom shelf where it belongs! Who moved it?!”

      bcs wtf?

      1. Oh, man, I got in SO MUCH TROUBLE for a similar reaction. MIL visited during a time I was doing a low-carb diet, and I had a bag of walnuts out on the kitchen counter for snacking on. When they disappeared that was exactly the kind of reaction I had. (She had decided they belonged in the fridge because they “might go rancid” – yeah, like they weren’t going to be used up long before that could happen.)

        From the reaction I got from both her and my husband, you’d think I was trying to start World War III. Apparently she was deeply offended that I dared to complain about her taking it upon herself to decide where something belonged in MY house, and he was angry that I’d dared offend Mommie Dearest.

        Thankfully, she did eventually get it into her head that she shouldn’t do this. Especially after a couple of visits to HER house where I left the clean dishes on the counter with the comment that I’d never presume to decide where things belong in someone else’s house.

        Also, after she remarried one of her husband’s kids who lives not too far from us became The Favorite they always stay with, and that’s totally fine with me!

        1. My mother in law is this way. 20+ years in and she has not changed. Every time she visits, never for less than a week, things magically end up in random places and I have to hide my cast iron pans (because according to her, a soak and vigorous scrub is required to clean them). And even my just quietly putting things back where they belong is perceived as aggressive, because I don’t roll over and agree that her way is automatically the best way. She’s generally a nice person, but she requires a ton of attention and she’s like a small child in that she seems to think that we all cease to exist when we aren’t specifically interacting with her and it’s exhausting to deal with.

          1. You may benefit from not having her visit your home anymore. Since she’s your in-law, the spouse gets to have that conversation, but “Hey, how about we all meet up at a third destination instead of visiting” is easily spun as a positive while also keeping her halpfulness out of your hair.

          2. I wish I could make that happen. Her visits are much less frequent these days than they used to be–we’re down to once or twice a year instead of 4-5 or more times a year.
            I am currently a horrible person because I don’t want her to come stay a week at my house while husband is out of town for work. Granted, my son is graduating from high school during that time, and she is welcome to come to the graduation, spend the night, and leave the next day (which is what MY mother who lives 400 miles away is doing, while MIL is currently residing with sister in law a two hour drive away), but mother in law is being salty because I don’t want to spend a week with her IN MY HOUSE without husband here to act as a buffer and entertain her.
            Husband did have that conversation with her and it apparently did not go well. But frankly, I don’t care . We’ll have him a graduation party that he doesn’t want next month just for her benefit and she’ll come spend her week here then. When husband is back from his business trip.

          3. I hear you. I get along reasonably well with my in-laws after some years getting used to each other, but having them stay with just me without my husband there definitely would not fly unless there was a mitigating circumstance (like a graduation, in which case, one night is fine, just like you’re doing!)

    2. **I normally don’t advocate making a SceneTM but when it comes to disrupted sleep I have no chill.**

      I feel this deeply. As far as scenes, occasionally I’ll yell at my boyfriend’s brother, but then his family is very screamy and exhausting and in that case, it’s like – hey, the scene was already made and you’re annoying me, soooo…… If someone is just off the charts rude then they get back what they give and I don’t really care about tempering my mood and expectations and crafting exactly the perfect response (i.e., how I am when navigating friction with the majority of the population).

  5. It sounds to me like these parents aren’t really used to the idea of live-in tenants and are very far removed from their own days of having housemates (if they ever did). They might understand intellectually that you all live there all the time, but since Joe and Fred are the landlords, they probably believe deep down that’s the home of Joe, Fred and their kids only, while the rest of you are just passing through.

    Additionally, it’s often hard for outsiders to a shared living situation to know what is and is not communal and a lot of people err on the side of assuming that everything in a communal area is fair game, leading to problems when someone’s special mug or bowl or whatever gets used. And if they’re already coming in with a mentality of “this is the home of our son and his family”, they’re probably extra-oblivious to the idea that some of the stuff in communal areas belongs to the tenants and it isn’t their right to mess with it—not that it’s really their right to mess with Joe and Fred’s stuff, either, but that’s less taboo than messing with the belongings of an unrelated adult.

    I agree with the Captain that this is something that you need to deal with via Joe. If it’s at all possible, I would try to schedule a vacation of my own that covers the time when Joe and Fred will be away. If the LW and the other housemates are in the habit of fixing Fred’s mother’s rearrangements of their things, then Fred and Joe might not be aware of the extent of the problem, and it might be useful for them to come home to a rearranged house to see for themselves what Joe’s parents do in their absence.

    1. They also live as sole occupants of their own home, and they’re probably just in the habit of acting as though they’re the only people in the house. Because they are.

      And it can be hard to turn that off.

      1. For sure. I’d wager that the noise issue has never crossed their minds, except for the one time the LW pointed it out (and it sounds like it was forgotten soon after). I think if Joe does talk to his parents, a useful reframing would be to remind them that they’re guests (albeit ones in the strange position of having absent hosts), in contrast to the LW and the other tenants, who are residents. Right now, it sounds like the parents have that backwards.

        1. And Joe might also remind his parents that he NEEDS these people as his tenants, because they make his life affordable. And that as the person receiving the money, he has an OBLIGATION to make their lives pleasant.

          He’s not doing them a favor–this is a business arrangement, and he needs to deliver VALUE for the cash he receives in return.

          That’s something that a lot of people forget in a landlord or roommate situation. But it’s true.

          1. Yup, this. It never fails to put my nose out of joint how the broad cultural narrative is that the customer is always right, but tenants are scum. (Could this possibly have anything to do with historical power dynamics surrounding the ownership of real estate vs. the social position of people who actually make stuff? Nah, couldn’t be…)

          2. I’m going to assume that CA forestalling the likely (maybe actual but she scrapped most of the replies) thread of righteous socialist ranting above means I/we shouldn’t pile on here, either. So I’ll just leave it at *solidarity* on that front.

            ToitsNYC makes a good point about the reciprocal obligations of landlords, and it just occurred to me that Joe and Fred may well have a LEGAL obligation to enforce effective boundaries with the parents. They’re NOT really guests (Joe isn’t gisting them, Joe isn’t even there), they’re effectively (unpaid) employees/agents of the landlord, providing nanny services for them while they’re gone, and landlords have a legal responsibility to make sure their agents follow the same standards the landlords must follow. If needed, there may well be legal grounds that obligate Fred and Joe to enforce the necessary boundaries, per general tenancy law or even the particular lease.

          3. My point isn’t socialist in the least. It’s flat-out capitalism.

            It’s as much capitalism as getting your car fixed, or hiring a musician.

          4. there may well be legal grounds that obligate Fred and Joe to enforce the necessary boundaries, per general tenancy law or even the particular lease.
            Not to mention just general common sense!

            It can be hard to find tenants or roommates who are good to have around, are reliable, etc. (I have friend who rented a house from someone who’d inherited it from her mother. At first their rent was market rate, but as the market rose, their landlord refused to raise the rent to match. Why? Because my friends paid their rent on time, fixed things in the house on their own initiative, kept the grounds in good shape, and just generally protected her investment. When they asked permission to install a newer bathroom, even though the one they had was perfectly serviceable, she told them she’d pay for all the materials and they should pick something they liked; she could have said no.

            With roommates, it’s even MORE important to find someone compatible, because you live in the same house together. If I had a roommate who was pleasant to be around, you can be darn sure I’d never want them to become dissatisfied unnecessarily!

    2. Agreed. I think that the parents think if OP as a guest and not do much as a resident.

    3. Yeah, people outside of the Obscenely Expensive Metropolitan Area where I live don’t really understand why I, an adult homeowner, still need two roommates to swing my mortgage – and that that’s not at all unusual in this area.

      Heck, my next door neighbor is in his 60s and still has roommates. Because it’s just that grotesquely expensive here and salaries are in no way keeping up with the runaway housing costs.

  6. Oh, a practical note about them forgetting to move the noise away from the bedrooms. Is it possible to put a pink or red lightbulb in that hallway light and leave it on? Maybe the color of the light would make them realize that this is a sleeping area.

    Even if only for their visit.

  7. Wonderful advice. Super-tactical suggestion. Kitchen tape. It comes in all kinds of cool colors and widths and it comes off most things pretty easily and any residue cleans off easily. A few small spools of kitchen tape and some fine-point Sharpies and you have nifty labels without the bulk and expense of a label-maker.


  8. And as a VERY laid back slob, I want to know where these people are in my life!

    As long as it’s labeled, I generally find just about anyone’s organization superior to my own. And to clean stuff! Swoon! My house cleaner moves stuff frequently and I just adjust or move it back if it really bothers me.

    My mother is a master gardener and so she will come through and do gardening stuff. And she is obsessed with my dryer vent hose. But so far, she hasn’t been biddable when it comes to stuff I actually want done. I am going to try those scripts to see what might work on her. She does walk the dog so he goes absolutely apepoop when she shows up but then it takes a week or so to undo her training.

  9. “…if you stop and think about it……it’s actually incredibly weird to go to someone else’s house and rearrange all their stuff……and even weirder to be mad at them if they don’t love it when you do.”

    Can I get a What The Actual Fuck? Anyone who would do that wouldn’t understand a boundary unless it were barbed and electrified.

    Nothing to add to the Captain’s excellent advice, but my gravest sympathies for people who have to deal with this crap.

    1. Flashbacks….horrible horrible flashbacks. A coworker with a really long commute house sat for me while I was out of town. I thought it would be a win/win…she’d get a 7 min commute instead of her usual 1.5 hrs each way, my house would be occupied. She rearranged EVERYTHING. She changed the height of the shelves in the fridge (I have 2…she wasn’t doing it for space). She took everything out of my pantry and put it back in different spots…including putting the most commonly used items on shelves I can barely reach with a stepstool. She moved the pet gate so the elderly cat could no longer access his litterbox (which resulted in many accidents & vet bills from him trying to hold it too long trying to find another litterbox). And on. And on. It was such a nightmare of boundary crossing it was just insane…to top it off she told me she cleaned for me like it was a GOOD thing. ARGH!!!!!!!

      I have no idea what planet this is considered acceptable behavior on, but apparently a lot of people are from it!

      All my sympathy OP!

      1. UGH….that’s awful! I had a somewhat similar situation when a co-worker filled in for me when I was off for several weeks on medical leave. EVERYTHING, including files on my computer desktop were rearranged. Took me days to find everything and put it back in my preferred locations. Never did find my good stapler….

        1. While that sounds annoying.
          Several weeks sounds decently long term, it makes sense that they might start moving in.

          1. This reply is to Novel Cardboard-deVice.

            The computer was someone filling in for a coworker for several weeks. It is not unreasonable for such a person to arrange the desktop to make it possible for them to do the work efficiently.

            I would totally agree with you if it had been a computer in the person’s home. Longish-term coworker filling in is different, I think. (Still important not to lose items, but some allowance can be made for “I have to do my daily work in this space for several weeks, so I need it set up so I can do so.”)

          2. The second account thing does sound like a good idea but is not something you can expect someone to just think of.

          3. Given a random person you can not reasonably expect them to think of your solution because while its possible it could ocure to them, it could easily not ocure to them so its possible for it to ocure to the sub but you can not expect it.
            My best guess the sub needed the work space and computer to be organized a certain way for the same reason Sabina needed the work space and computer a certain way. I’m also guessing that the workspace and computer belonged to the company which let them both use them both and organize it how they saw fit because they needed to be able to do that to do their job. I’m also guessing that the problem didn’t ocure to either of them until suddenly Sabina couldn’t find anything.

          4. I share computers with my coworkers all the time, and so far in the last three years I have never once needed to change around things on other people’s desktops. I have my own folder on the server and I have my own physical folder for paper I need, and that’s it? If I can’t find something I’m looking for, there’s a search function in every program.

          5. Backing Novel Cardboard-deVice, it’s someone’s JOB to set up a second user account – whoever is in charge of setting up the first user account (even without a dedicated IT staff or person that a smaller business might lack, somebody physically installed the computer and set up its software – the business has someone available to set up a user account by virtue of the fact that it’s already happened at least once). Even in the cases where the equipment and software/files are 100% the employer’s, it’s a bad idea to have people share accounts from a privacy and security (and liability) perspective FOR THE BUSINESS. One wants everyone to have zir own credentials that are shared with nobody in case, say, an irate employee decides to sabatoge the business and delete all the files – no question about who it was if one is following proper IT security practices, and the potential damage is mitigated (the two major ones about which I’ve seen far too many people be far too lax are NEVER share account credentials and only give people access to things they actually need, and since only your IT person/staff should have access to backups, proper procedure means it’s almost impossible for someone to permanently delete something).

            So, not only do I think that rearranging someone else’s computer files, icons, etc. is weirdly invasive, I think it’s inappropriate that doing so was ever even a possibility.

          6. I had numerous occassions to occupy other’s compute space at an old job. I always always always made a directory in, like, the Documents directory, and did all of my stuff out of there. I’d never in a million years mess with their stuff.

      2. I once had a babysitter who was sitting for the very first time re-arrange everything in the diaper bag. The diaper bag was constructed in such a way that it even had little tags with pictures of intended items over the zippered sections, i.e. the long, insulated pocket had a tiny tag with a picture of a bottle, the small pouch at the top had a tiny pacifier graphic, etc. She completely emptied it and put everything in different places. She was here for two hour. I was like, “Damn, that’s bold. And she’s never hired again.”

      3. Yikes, that’s awful! Living spaces are so personal. What’s normal for one person is living in utter chaotic filth for another. It’s always good to communicate clearly, but sometimes it’s like, “Did you…really need to be told that, though..?” Very personal issues = things that it doesn’t even occur to you need to be communicated, is I guess my point.

        We have three cats and three litter boxes. Twice our cat sitter has put the litter box toppers on so that the hole is facing the wall rather than outward. The hole that…the cats would use to enter the litter box and use it. They do have several litter box options to choose from and she’s otherwise reliable and good with the cats, I assumed it was just a brain fart. But yeah, your comment reminded me that maybe I should mention it next time.

          1. I know, right? Since it’s the only thing she did that bugged us and it wasn’t a pattern of behavior, I was willing to write it off as just being distracted and not that she didn’t understand how litter boxes work. But still…..

          2. I did that once. Cat pushed the litter box away from the wall so the hole was accessible and then pooped on the bathroom floor. Lesson learned!

        1. OMG, I hired the little girl next door to feed my cats while we were gone. Needless to say she came over with her mother. They SHUT THE DOOR to the room with the cat boxes. My son found it closed once and reopened it. The next time they came over they shut it again. The cats, of course, had nowhere to pee, and so they chose the dining room, pretty much ruining the carpeting for the entire house even though we soaked the area with gallons of anti cat urine stuff.

          To this day I can’t get my head around it. Husband didn’t want anything said about it, so I didn’t, but I wanted to stand on the front porch and scream “you wrecked my house.”

    2. My experience has been that the people who do this see a reasonable amount of ‘messy and disorganized’ – the kind that comes with being busy-but-normal parents of young kids – and read it as ‘clearly, there is no system at all!’

      My god, Lucretia, the Kraft Dinner was next to the sugar, and the potatoes had eyes! It was chaos! I had to do SOMETHING!

      There’s some extra baggage to that when it’s a parent doing it, because… man, when you’re a kid, it IS your parents’ job to teach you how to organize and adult, and some parents have a really hard time exiting Teacher Mode.

      Yes, Mom, I know that I should throw out those potatoes, I didn’t do it yet because I was busy with the eight million other things on my list, not because I don’t know that gross potatoes go in the trash.

      1. I comment down below, this is my dad right now at my brother’s house. Dad never had to care for the house until after he was retired. So he had time to futz about and put everything where it “belonged”. So brother’s house drives him crazy. And he tries to fix it.

    3. I admit that in my dysfunctional days, I used to do this to people. I was also the person who would wander around cleaning the bathroom and such. I did not get invited back very often. And yes, boundaries and I were not friends.

      These days I don’t even rearrange my fiance’s desk without permission. Even if it looks like a filing cabinet barfed all over it (which it kind of does at the moment).

      1. I once stayed in someone’s house for several weeks and felt they were doing me a huge favour in letting me stay. On one occasion during that time, I thoroughly cleaned their kitchen. I felt it was a contribution. I didn’t rearrange anything, and the kitchen was extremely dirty. My friends didn’t seem irritated that I cleaned it. It was a long time ago, and I don’t remember any reaction at all; it’s possible they weren’t bothered either way. Having learned about boundaries later in life (they were lacking in my family of origin), I realize I could have asked first, though.

        1. Nah, I think that strictly cleaning, without reorganization, is OK, especially when you are there for more than a day or two.

          Especially because if you are there for several weeks, you DO need to clean simply from your own presence. So catching the baseboards while you’re at it is totally fine.

          I think where it could become rude is if you announce that you have cleaned it in a manner that implies you did them a favor (which them implies that you think it was filthy).

        2. I’d say there’s a difference between cleaning up actual dirt and “tidying up” (aka “moving stuff from one place to another”). No one’s going to be upset that you scrubbed the bathtub or dusted the baseboards because while someone might not care if they’re grimy, they probably don’t actively want the dirt there. Whereas people often want their actual stuff left where it is because, even if it’s messy, that’s where they remember leaving it and know where to find it again later.

        3. I did the “kitchen clean-up” for adult friends hosting my teen-aged self. (Call this several decades ago.) I viewed my activity mostly as “payment” for being allowed a safe place to stay in a large metropolitan area.

          They were appalled – not at the boundary crossing, but at what they suspected I had found while doing the cleaning: they had been going through “a rough patch” and several of the dinner dishes prior to my arrival had been allowed to sit, during summer temperatures.

          So, they were mostly appalled that they had somehow “made” me do their dirty work for them. I mentioned that I was not bothered at all, because, well, mold in my family household was not an unknown phenomenon. (General sympathetic nodding from both folks in the couple. I think they had been feeling pretty singularly deviant in that, beforehand, and were relieved to hear they weren’t.)

          Also in the follow-up chat, we talked about how much easier one found it to clean up for others rather than for one’s own self – one of my contributions to which was, “Yeah, somehow it’s easier when it’s not my mom bugging me about cleaning.” General laughter at that one.

          It was a bit of a rough ride, but – words, eh?

    4. My mother was one of those people who wouldn’t understand a boundary EVEN IF it were barbed and electrified. When I was a newly divorced mom, she moved across the country to be available to help out with my daughter. (Evil Starter Husband had basically noped out completely, left me with half of a bunch of debt he’d run up, and was constantly late with the child support, which was only 2/3 the amount the court had originally recommended – so I was broke, really needed the help, and couldn’t afford to pay for it.) Which was great, except her idea of helping was more like taking over. She had a key to my house that was intended for emergencies and for bringing my daughter home after school / before I got home from work. She used that damn key whenever the hell she felt like it, over my continual protests.

      But the worst was the time she came over while I was working and cleaned my house. I wouldn’t have minded stuff like dusting or vacuuming, but she took it upon herself to rearrange the kitchen and other areas. There were lots of things I NEVER SAW AGAIN until we moved a few years later.

      I was absolutely livid and felt majorly violated. And she was completely unable to grasp why I wasn’t delirious with gratitude that she’d done this. (Oh yeah, and this was also the woman who gave me a scale and a vacuum cleaner for my birthday and Christmas one year.)

      1. I know those feelings of violation, too. And the bizarre thing, at least with my mom, is that she doesn’t want anyone messing with her stuff, not even to help her while she is present. Totally incapable of putting herself in others’ place, even whe she feels the same way. It doesn’t register.

        1. Mine was like that, too! I remember once offhandedly mentioning to her that maybe we should get an extension phone. (This was when I was a teenager still living in her house, and we had the old black dial phone on the kitchen wall.) She got absolutely irate and yelled “This is MY house!” like I had a hell of a nerve making such a suggestion. Same woman who thought nothing of rearranging stuff in my house without asking when I was an adult.

      2. Every time my mother came over to visit, she would move the bathmat. She has a particular place in her own bathroom where the bathmat goes (by the sink), and the place where mine goes is different (by the tub). So literally every time she went to pee in my apartment, she would move the bathmat, no matter how many times I moved it back to where I (the person who lived there) wanted it.

        Such a tiny thing, but I could never wrap my head around how casually condescending it was. She couldn’t even accept the possibility that other people might reasonably disagree with her on something like that, obviously things were just in error and she had to correct them.

        1. I was caretaking my grandmother’s house for my mom after Grandmother died. Mom had a key. She was offended that I ask that she call before just barging in. She refused to even ring the doorbell before barging in. My favorite was when she’d barge in at like 9 AM on a Saturday morning, SCREAMING my name and demanding prompt attendance and attention.

          She also gave a lot of my stuff away to charity WITHOUT ASKING FIRST so she could get a tax deduction OFF MY PERFECTLY USEFUL, EXPENSIVE-TO-REPLACE, AND WANTED belongings.

          This has been an issue since my childhood. Her ways are right. Everyone else’s ways are wrong. She is Hurt and Offended when told this isn’t the case.

          Currently I am dealing with a mystery in my apartment, which she does NOT have a key to, but which she visited on Mother’s Day. I have specific “homes” for items that other people commonly lose, because if I did not have “homes” for them, I’d also be a person who loses eyeglasses, keys, purses, phones, meds, umbrellas. If you move my items out of their “homes,” you are being a huge jerkhead.

          I am not always perfect about taking my prescription meds when I’m feeling OK, as they make me a little muscle-twitchy at night and light-headed and slightly nauseated during the day (so no absolute perfect time to take them). I have depression, and if I take my meds at least twice a week, I’m not going to have a depressive episode due to crappy brain chemicals, but, of course, best practice is taking them daily. I also take two, and one is sort of a “booster” med for times when external stressors and negative life events ramps up my propensity toward catastrophizing and having a depressive episode.

          One of my prescriptions has gone missing. It is not in its home with the other Rx meds. Fortunately, it is the “booster,” and not vital re: keeping my brain chemicals behaving. There is no way she could have done it, as I took my meds after she was long gone, but my brain still thinks she definitely did it.

          I am sure I will find that, contrary to decades of habit, it was me who moved the meds, but due to having my stuff moved / taken / given away to charity / thrown out “for my own good” / other intrusions, my jerkbrain is yelling about how someone STOLE MY PRESCRIPTION. It’s not even a “fun” medication that someone could take recreationally, or a valuable medication that could be resold. But it’s not in it’s home, I didn’t move it, so decades of expectations-lowering training I have gotten from a boundary-stomping mother (and a light-fingered little brother) have me expecting shenanigans.

          How do you reprogram your brain not to expect violations when none are possible?

          My brain just goes right to “someone stomped my boundaries again” because that has traditionally been exactly what happened. I don’t like this broken record, but no amount of logic makes it stop. It’s not even trying to place blame, it’s seeking an answer to a current mystery, but the old answer isn’t applicable.

          I wonder if people who casually move other folks’ stuff around even know how badly it messes with the rest of us. A lot of my mental energy is going toward generating something like a never ending cartoon line of “????????????” in my head and feeling that SOMETHING IS WRONG anxiety, the very situation that having “homes” for my stuff is supposed to prevent!

          I can’t wait to find out where my meds are hiding. If I ever do. Maybe I have gremlins.

    5. Arrghh, I feel like decades of Surprise Home Makeover shows have only exacerbated this. The people whose house was remodeled, or organized, or whatnot, are always delighted and always act like it’s so much better even when it’s obviously not. In terms of messed up expectations, these shows are the Toxic RomComs of house-guesting. I do feel like it’s safe, though, as a guest who wants to contribute, to observe what the residents do for housekeeping, and then take that over (see them load the dishwasher, then you do it the next night). I guess some people feel like they have to do sneak-attack housework as their contribution because of that whole culture of “can I help you with the dishes?” “oh no, please, just relax,” “oh come on I insist!” “oh but you’re a GuEsT in MaH hOmE!” and then after you leave you find out through back-channels that they were stewing because you didn’t contribute enough.

      1. Haha. I remember one show, a neighbour swapping one, I don’t remember the name of it, where the joke always was that they would very often HATE it. Usually they would try to be polite but it would be so obvious that the redecorators had done exactly what they knew the homeowners hated most. And they would be standing tensely or holding back tears while the host pretended not to notice and gushed. I’m pretty sure some of it was planned on purpose for drama.

        1. It’s a weirdly specific thing to remember, but I recall one episode of Trading Spaces where one couple had a specific piece of furniture that they were very attached to and said the only thing they insisted on was that nothing be done to it. The designer, of course, immediately decided that the item needed to be painted; the guest couple had to repeat, about five or six times, that the couple who owned it would Not Be Happy and that if it didn’t match the designer’s concept, that was just too flippin’ bad. A fight ensued but the designer finally backed down.

      2. Man the I’m going to get mad when you respect my stated bonderies and didn’t insist the fifth time you wanted to do something for me culture sounds awful.

      3. Note on dishwashers: there are ways to load them that prevent effective cleaning of everything in the dishwasher. There are also dishes that can be damaged by dishwashers and require hand-cleaning. There are people who use their own dishwashers all the time who are unaware of this – they have no damagable items, tbey don’t mind a thin film of grime or occasional caked-on gunk on their “clean” dishes, etc. So, while that’s a nice gesture, and one may be able to pull it off without issue more often than not, I’d still recommend that anyone who wants to be helpful JUST ASK before doing so (“I’ll do the dishes after dinner tonight; are there any special.considerations for loading the dishwasher?”

        I’ve even had situations where I wound up routinely having to re-wash hand-washed dishes that were insufficiently clean, which was actually more work than washing them.initially would have been; one particular person had a tendency to wash all the dishes with soapy water in one stage, then rinse them all in a second stage, but would frequently get distracted before/during stage 2, leaving a sink full of dishes to have soap-and-food-scrap-water dry onto them, which needs to be scrubbed off and not simply rinsed, so I’d wind up with dishes that were DIRTIER and more difficult to clean than before they were washed.

        The moral of the story is that different people have different preferences for even simple/basic tasks, which means asking is going to be a better general strategy than assuming.

        1. It might be a better idea to ask if you can help with dishes instead of offering to take care of them at least at first. Just so you don’t end up using the a scraper on the wrong type of dish, or submerging something which you shouldn’t, or over cleaning a dish that needs caked on oil to function properly or whatever, And if its more work to explain than to just do they can put you in a position they feel you will be an asset.

  10. I admire your restraint with the Tupperware. I would be close to Full Hulk if someone moved my beloved containers!
    There has been a discussion higher up about landlords vs friends but I just wanted to highlight the flip side of that. Regardless of how you, Fred and Joe have set up your living arrangements, you are entitled to basic things like sleep and having your property left alone. Joe’s parents may mean well but they should be respectful of the routine and system that you all have set up. It doesn’t sound like this system has ever been pointed out to them so hopefully a gentle conversation of “this is how we do things” with Joe and his parents should do the trick.
    I’d also pick your battles about what to raise in advance vs at the time. Stuff that happens daily (e.g. rearranging everything, waking you up) are conversations that Joe should have before they arrive. The friend thing sounds like it happens less often so you can probably just say something at the time, Captain has a great script.

    1. I, too, admire your restraint with the Tupperware. My husband keeps trying to relocate my Tupperware and it makes me crazy. And I live with him. I can’t imagine if someone who didn’t live with me tried to rearrange my kitchen. Grrrrr!

  11. Specifically re: rearranging things. Do you always put things back where they were shortly after it happens? If so, perhaps Joe isn’t fully aware of this, or the extent (i.e. it’s not just a few misplaced items), or that it’s happening in shared parts of the house. I understand the urge to get things back where they belong, but if you can maybe hold off until Joe is back, it could provide some context if you decide to bring up the issues now. And even ask Joe to help you put things back where they go.

    1. Yes, Joe’s mom just moved the Tupperware for the second time, after LW put it back.
      I’d just skip the courtesy warning of guest coming over next time, since the parents heard it as a request, not as information.

  12. Specifically re: housework – Maybe it would be useful for the LW to mention a few common things J&F’s parents might be kept busy with. I know that when I’m alone, there’s a million things I’d love to get finished but never get around to – but the minute my folks are around, they all pop out of my head in a haze of OH MY GOD STOP TOUCHING MY STUFF MOM.

    So from a nice, comfy distance… How would you keep a well-meaning older person busy? And what distinguishes ‘nice thing for a Parent Fairy to do’ vs ‘invasive and weird’?

    For me… man, I hate having my parents CLEAN things for me. Mom always judges my housekeeping, and even if I need the help, the minute she starts scrubbing… oof. Bad feels. And I’m possessive of my paperwork; that all gets organized exactly how I like it.

    I would love to have a Parent Fairy do my yardwork, clean out the shed, deal with that pile of ripped-clothes-that-just-need-one-seam-fixed, fix the venting on the dryer, or take the kids to the library.

    1. It used to drive me crazy when my husband’s parents visited us and the first thing they asked me every morning was what I was planning on cooking for supper – like, I’m barely awake for coffee, please don’t mention supper just yet!
      By about the third visit, I finally realized, they weren’t really expecting me to come up with an answer. Rather, they just wanted something to talk about during the day when I was at work. So I obliged — I would say “well, I’m not really sure, We could maybe have chicken, or maybe spaghetti? Do you have any ideas?” and sure enough, they would then have a great time all day planning our supper, shopping for it, doing the cooking, etc. It made them happy — and me, too, because then my husband and I didn’t have to cook!

      1. Yay for a happy ending! It can be hard sometimes to understand what or why someone is really asking, so I’m glad you figured it out and got a good resolution for everyone.

      2. I want to applaud your ability to see beyond the irritation to figure out what the TRUE message or situation is.

        I’ve had to do that w/ my MIL often. Once, before the wedding, when I was bragging how little I’d had to spend on the silk for my wedding dress, she gingerly offered to buy my wedding dress for me. I was on the verge of being pissed off when I realized, she’s not a toxic person, so why did she say this? I probed and found out she took my triumph at frugality as an indicator that I was cheating myself out of a wonderful dress, and she wanted me to be happy.

        So I explained that I saw this savings as part of the success, that it was MORE meaningful to me.

        We have very different approaches, she and I. She was always trying to take my kids off my hands for the weekend, and I was always thinking “Give me my kids back!” Turns out, she had the stereotype in her head that moms of young kids need a break, but MY reality was that I worked all week and treasured my time w/ them on the weekend.

        Which all points out another tactic–for OP to say, “Can I ask why you moved the Tupperware?” And then say, “Well, I see that, but we have it here for X reason, and it’s a problem for me to have to search for it when I’m making lunch or putting supper away. I need for you to leave it in the spot Joe and Fred and OtherHousemate and I have worked out. Especially since OhterHousemate and I are NOT on vacation, and are using the kitchen every day.”

        1. Ninja-level solution: put a subset of tupperware where in-laws want it to live. Then they can access it more conveniently to them, and not be messing with LW’s stash.

  13. I’m not sure that this is a low stakes question. The way I read it, 3 weeks out of the year or longer, new housemates are imposed on you who don’t follow house rules as to being considerate about noise, who rearrange your personal things without your permission, and who seem a bit judgy about your guests. I’m certainly not suggesting anyone turn this into a big argument it doesn’t need to be, but by apologizing from the get-go and calling it low-stakes, I don’t think you’re giving yourself to be peeved about something that’s very justifiably something you’re allowed to be peeved about. Do start by bringing it up with Joe, but if that doesn’t work, then I see no reason why you have to back down about something that’s vital to your living space.

    If one reminder to keep the noise down in the morning doesn’t do it, you are allowed to escalate it into a more forceful reminder. It doesn’t really work to help you sleep in the morning if you have to wake up again and again to remind again and again. You are allowed to get angry and to take it up with Mama and Papa Joe that what they’re doing is NOT O.K. Same for rearranging your things. The first time can be gentle. The 2nd time can be “NO! These things belong here!” And insisting you call Joe for “permission” to have an overnight guest? I’m appalled. So Papa Joe gently insists you make the phone call, and you just as gently insist that you’re not calling and he can if he wants but that’s not something you’re going to do.

  14. Re: ” think of it as scattering seeds or grains of rice to distract a vampire in the legends that say they have to stop and count everything while you run away ” and “Tom-Sawyering the man who first read me Tom Sawyer is just funny”
    I love these turns of phrase so much. I often have to throw an issue out in front of my dad to distract him. The easiest one is, “You know, Dad, the other day I was trying to remember all of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands, but I couldn’t remember a few, do you know…?” and that’ll keep him busy for a good 20 minutes. Next thing you know, instead of criticizing me, he’s criticizing Eddie Fisher.

    1. Lol – for me, I just mention creationists and we’re off to the races. Dad’s a retired biology professor who debates creationists on-line. He loves telling me the latest crazy thing they’ve said. Or I ask how the latest home improvement project is going.

      For real conversations, we talk about how education is changing as his grandson goes through the public education system. Fortunately, we agree that Common Core is neutral (it’s just a list of topics to cover) and New Math (which has been around since the 80s at least) is actually pretty cool (my kid did *algebra* in *FIRST GRADE* it was amazing yay understanding principals instead of just memorizing but hey, kid also needs some memorization practice, for speed).

      The weirdest thing is that when we disagree, he ends up saying I’m right about a third of the time; I say he’s right about a third, and we agree to disagree on the remaining third. Talking things over like a pair of competent adults or something.

      1. LOL! @manifenestration My mother is easily distracted too. I usually ask about some obscure family member / scandal and “Didn’t we have a picture of her/him/that?” and she’s off to find it. Her house is a chaotic mess, but she sort of knows where things are so the distraction is short lived, but sufficient because she never remembers the original conversation.

        @jules the 3rd : Yeah..the “New Math” thing gets a lot of my friends really upset. I understand that it’s frustrating when your kid comes to you for help with homework and then when you offer it they tell you that you’re doing it wrong. But, yeah, my kids are so good at math. My son calls it his favorite subject. My daughter can do percents in her head without the years of retail experience I needed to get it done. It’s the same math…just with a different approach.

        1. Re: new math
          The funny thing is that when I see videos explaining it, I’m like, “Oh, that’s how I figured out it worked, on my own, when I was mentally noodling with it all.”

    2. Wait, Eddie Fisher was married to Elizabeth Taylor too?? Reminds me of some regional fandoms I’ve encountered. </derail>

  15. I have seen a similar dynamic that didn’t involve a landlord, it was the parent of a former equal roommate. My adult son shared a 2 bed, 2 bath apartment with a friend. Both names were on the lease as far as I know, but my son wrote the check to the management company and the friend paid him half. (Many rental offices will only accept one check.) After many many months of nonpayment of rent (and some “gentle” encouragement from me), my son asked the roommate to leave and he (roommate) moved back in with his mother. A few months later, my son had a birthday party at his place. I attended, along with my other adult children, a few of my son’s friends, former roommate and his mother! She fluttered around the place acting like the hostess, including “hostessing” me! This was my son’s party, not mine, and it never occurred to me to play hostess. It may have just been a personality difference. She was more assertive, and I’m introverted and quiet. Or some kind of weird parental territorial thing. I got irritated, because I tend to be very territorial – inside I wanted to shout “this is MY son’s home, not yours!” Which I didn’t say because I am an adult, and it didn’t seem to bother my son, and it was his place.

    Just throwing this in here because sometimes parents act like their adult child’s home is theirs regardless of who the landlord is or even if there is a landlord. I’ve heard some horror stories about in-laws with a similar dynamic (redecorating the home while the couple are on vacation for instance). Now that I think about it, one of my grandmothers was like this in the early years of my parents’ marriage and it was the source of much conflict. This grandmother sometimes did not treat my other parent as if they really lived in our home, which both my parents owned. Not trying to derail, just wondering if it could be a parent/adult child thing. Maybe Joe and Fred aren’t thrilled with the rearranging of stuff either.

    1. I lived in a shared 3BR some years back with a revolving series of roommates that ultimately settled on two dudes (for a while at least) and when the recently moved in from his parents’ house dude had his parents up to visit, his mother walked in, took a look around, and said–not to me, but sort of near me–“Don’t you have a girl living here? Why doesn’t she keep this place cleaner?” I was standing in my bedroom door, and I made eye contact and then slammed my door and didn’t come out for the rest of the time they were there.

      For the record, I was in my 30s and the place wasn’t filthy or even cluttered, just dusty, as though three people who only used the public areas to cook and occasionally entertain and spent the rest of the time in their rooms lived there.

      1. Oh my. Your reaction was perfect; I really can’t imagine what else you could have done that didn’t involve inflicting bodily harm.

        1. “Because she’s an independent, agentic adult sharing a dwelling with two other independent, agentic adults, not a helpmeet for your son. Now get the hell out of my dusty house, you sexist troll.”

    2. My mom did this, acting as hostess at my parties. It felt like criticism (why aren’t you being a good host like this?) and it changed the dynamic of the party (I’d rather have everyone just get their own drinks after the first one and mingle a bit. She wanted to serve everyone their drink so everyone kept seated), even though it was probably just inteded as helpful. I solved this by separating my birthday party-for-friends and my birthday party-for-parents(-in-law) again. My mom would love to meet my friends at my birthday party, but I want to be hostess at my own party. Every year she is a little sad about this, but I am happy with the solution.

      1. I’ve declined invitations to a certain friend’s house where he lives with his super hostess mother. Like coming around our game table with individual plates of chips/carrots and glasses of water for everyone, without playing with us or even having a conversation with us. I felt super uncomfortable at the dynamic because (probably similar to your guests) I didn’t feel like I could refuse and/or grab the quantity of food I actually wanted.

        1. ooh, I’m going to have to be careful. My 21yo kid had a bunch of friends hanging out last night when i got home, and I offered them popcorn repeatedly. (Mostly as a joke, though I did sincerely mean it underneath the “I’m overly enthusiastic about making you popcorn!!!”–it’s a thing, I’ve sometimes made them popcorn, and once when one of the guys was playing online w/ my son years ago, I made popcorn for my kid and then said into the microphone to him, “We have popcorn and you don’t!”)

          They -acted- like they thought it was funny.

          But I need to be sure I don’t make it awkward. I’ll have to completely ignore them next time.

          1. Yeah, I’d say at 21 your son should make popcorn and offer it to his guests himself. At the very most you could remind him away from his friends “if your friends want popcorn, there’s some in the cupboard.”

            My husband was used to his mom doing that so much for him that he completely forgot snacks when he hosted his first game night at our house. Friends started to get hungry and (not having anything to nibble on) asked about dinner plans. He realized I wasn’t going to carry his events like his mother did and he promptly ordered a few pizzas. I love him for learning the lesson after one try since he has never failed at game night snack/meal acquisition since.

      2. My husband and I had a couple of Halloween parties, and at the second one his mom was visiting. She played hostess the whole time, which irritated the hell out of me. I didn’t think her being there was even appropriate! For that reason, but more because of the amount of work that went into party prepping, I called a halt to those parties.

      3. My sister does the super hostess thing. Drives me crazy. I’ve also stopped inviting her to my parties and just hosting her one on one. It makes my life easier though I know it bums her out. She’s weird when she does the super hostessing thing – it’s almost like she’s trying to prove to my guests that we’re close (we’re not) because she knows where stuff is in my home. She also tries to parent my kids when I’m standing right there – always when there’s an audience. She’s weird.

        1. Do we share a sister? That super hostess thing is soooo weird. It’s like they have a Twilight Zone “How To Be A Hostess” guidebook in their head Mine once reset the music to “appropriate party music” which she decided was smooth jazz, because it was very in at the time.
          We were headbangers.

          1. My sympathies. I think some people have a Perfect Way Things Should Be In A Functional Middle-Class Household blueprint in their mind that is largely pieced together from old TV references, and that script Must Not Ever Be Deviated From regardless of the personal preferences and personalities of the people involved. Something about “This is An Occasion” just sets them off and they can only function in “Way It Should Be” mode where everyone else attended school at Saved By The Bell High and lived in a Full House or Growing Pains episode at home, and something is seriously wrong with us since we didn’t, so we just have to be as superficial as possible and pretend as best we can to make up for it. They have a predetermined setting and script for every occasion too. And the #1 rule is that you can never, EVER just relax and be yourself. Playing your part is all that matters. They have this need to confirm that We Are A Normal Family and expend a lot of energy trying to show others (but mostly just confirm to themselves) how super wholesome we all are. It’s bizarre

            My mom is like this, especially about Christmas. Everything must be TV perfect, even if it’s just us there. She’s going to cook turkey even though we all prefer ham because that’s what you do – the rules in her head said so. We cannot eat until the scheduled time, even if everything and everyone’s ready. We must use the Good China and silverware. The whole meal is scripted so that she can play the role of Perfect Hostess (to the family that knows she is not like this any other day of the year). It’s so weird. We can never just have a relaxing day sitting around in our pajamas and grazing while the kids play with their new toys.

            It’s even worse if there’s an audience, though. The intensity of the pretend-wholesome gets kicked up to 11 as surely as if the set director had just announced, “Action!” And she will go into complete meltdown if you try to divert her from her Wholesome Mom/ Perfect Hostess act by changing any detail whatsoever. Because this is the way things are Supposed To Be. I have no idea who wrote the Supposed To Be Handbook. Unfortunately it seems that there are several copies. I’d like to burn mom’s but apparently it’s carved into stone.

      4. The super host of my acquaintance would run around the place of business where people were taking sewing lessons and working intently on their (own personal) (very expensive) sewing machines with their (own personal) (very expensive) dresses and quilts on the store’s tables and with flimsy plastic cups of soda so that people with their hands full and eyes focused could have the spillable drinks on the vibrating tables. This was presented as something nice. It took me with a shaky voice between clenched teeth and without looking up to say “please don’t come near my machine with that” before she got the idea to wait until I’d stopped for a second before trying to be nice again. The idea of having a room for food and drink away from the work area must have seemed mean to her. (There was such a room, but hey, why not mix things up and spill things on the machinery.)

        One thing I notice with all these stories. (Not just the super host thing but all the ones about getting in someone else’s home and rearranging.) If you have the classic situation where a man is super controlling, it’s relatively easier to call out the guy, but if a little old lady, or even a middle aged lady, does something equally controlling, it’s much harder to see it for what it is. Sweet little ladies are just being helpful (or so we tell ourselves because we can’t quite reconcile how outraged we feel while having our personal space and personal decisions infringed on.) My message is that it’s okay to feel outraged and to deal with the offenders appropriately.

        1. EXACTLY. With my own mother having been the most controlling person I’ve ever met, I don’t find it at all unusual or hard to spot when the perpetrator isn’t a man.

        2. It’s one of the pernicious effects of “nice” (as distinct from kind) – you’re not supposed to criticize “nice,” even when it’s harmful, and people will more often double down in the face of objections because objecting to “nice” is of course absurd on its face! (It’s not really.) Women generally being socialized in our culture to be nicer than men (though not necessarily kinder) means more women who behave badly will get some cover from “nice.”

          My worst case (not gendered as far as I can tell) is still the large population of people who sginificantly imperil my physical safety at traffic intersections by trying to be nice and yield right-of-way when they’re not supposed to do so. It’s worse for me on a bike, both in terms of frequency and danger, but it’s ALWAYS dangerous to deviate from normative traffic conventions, which maximize safety on average not by mandating what’s necessarily safest in any particular situation but by mandating what’s safest on average and, most importantly, making behavior PREDICTABLE. Ongoing PSA from a year-round transit cyclist: don’t be nice to bikers by trying to yield to us when you’re not legally supposed to do so, be kind to us by following normal traffic laws so that your behavior is predictable and thus safer. Exception for very young children on bikes who cannot have been reasonably expected to learn traffic laws yet – always be ready for them to swerve without warning, fail to stop, not signal, etc. and grant them additional deference accordingly.

  16. LW– I am in complete and total awe of your self-control. If someone moved my tupperware for a second time I would go ballistic. I cannot even. (And I am usually conflict avoiding, but when someone messes with my kitchen system I explode.)

    No advice, but SO MUCH SYMPATHY.

    1. In my experience most people feel very strongly about the kitchen organising. It’s always funny when I have guests and they are so sure my cutlery is in a certain drawer and then they open it and are super surprised that the drawer has no cutlery! The fact that you can put cutlery in any drawer does not occur to people.

      1. I have placed my silverware in the wrong place. Even to ME it’s the wrong place. It should be next to the sink.

        BUT. Instead, I moved it to the end of the kitchen, in the solo drawer on the far side of the oven. Which is perfect for it. Because you don’t block anything in the kitchen to grab it, and you usually need silverware when you’re leaving the kitchen.

      2. I read something a few years ago about how we basically “inherit” our kitchen organization from our parents, so it’s easy for family members to find things in each other’s kitchens because the people in the family operate with a similar idea of what is “correct” in the kitchen. So then when we go somewhere and find things in the “wrong” drawer it kind of…mentally short circuits us for a minute. I’m sure that’s what’s going on with Joe’s mom (“Oh, gosh, this doesn’t go here! How confusing! Let me just put it where it belongs,” because she’s part of Joe’s family and assumes their way is “right” without realizing that a group of competent adults has made decisions that reflect all of their ideas of “right” and have found a system that works for them.)

  17. Is there any chance that Joe’s parents helped pay for the house? If so then that might explain their feelings of entitlement to ruling over those who live in it. It’s not a justification for their behavior by any stretch but it might be a useful explanation or a complication to look out for.

  18. I think you need to have a conversation with Fred and Joe about this, if you haven’t already. They should know that 1. this behavior is happening, and 2. it’s frustrating for you as a co-resident. It sounds like this arrangement used to be fine by you (maybe the grandparents were better behaved at first?), so you should notify them that it’s changed; otherwise they don’t know that action is needed! And there are actions they can take. They can remind grandma and grandpa of quiet hours, tell them explicitly that you’re a resident and , and ask that they not rearrange stuff in the kitchen and other common spaces. They should take these kinds of steps to minimize this behavior as much as possible. After all, the grandparents–the real guests in this arrangement, even if they’re working guests–are their guests and therefore their responsibility.

    But I also think that CA is right, and Fred and Joe probably will not be able to stop this behavior completely. So you probably also should look for ways to address it directly when it comes up. For example, for grandpa’s “Please text Joe — it’s not my house, so I can’t say yes or no” nonsense…responding with something like “Oh, I think there’s been a misunderstanding! I’m not asking permission; this is my home, after all. I’m just giving you a heads up that there will be people around” might work well. And for the not-so-mysterious traveling tupperware…maybe your shelves need some labels? preferably very sticky ones that are difficult to remove? Or, for a more direct approach, I think it’s ok to say something like “Hey, I appreciate the thought, but please leave things in their current homes in the kitchen! Between me, Joe, and Fred, we have a lot of stuff to keep track of, and the way it’s organized right now is what works best for our household.” You say the grandparents are nice people; genuinely nice people generally want to know when their efforts are going awry so they can course correct.

    The landlord/tenant power dynamic is something to keep in mind if this starts causing problems in your relationship with Joe and Fred; at some point, you might decide that it’s worth backing off and dealing if that’s what it takes to keep things positive the other 49 or 50 weeks of the year. But it sounds like you do have solid relationships established right now, and it sounds like they generally think your needs and living style are reasonable. Asking for them to make sure their guests are aware of and respectful towards your membership in this household is fundamentally pretty reasonable, and I doubt it’ll cause problems unless things really escalate in an unexpected way.

  19. Maybe you (meaning you and your housemates) could stick some sings in the drawers and shelfs. Nice ones, like printed out out ones, not handwritten post-its. You could frame it like: the kids help with chores and this way they’ll now exactly where the things belong. I imagine it would be harder for her to move things around when they are visible assigned to specific places.

    With my kids it helped really to have them helping with the cleaning up. So maybe it’s not in vain and only to set boundaries for the mother but generally helping (depending an the age of the kids)?

    1. This is a GREAT idea! I also liked CA’s advice of getting the kids involved in knowing the rules so they can school their grandparents. Kids DO love telling grown-ups what to do and the adults always think it’s so charming coming from a kid’s mouth. My mom still doesn’t make coffee in my house because the kids told her “that’s daddy’s coffee machine. Nobody can touch it but him” when they were 3 and 4 (the age where we kept having to remind them not to press buttons on appliances just because they could.)

  20. I know it’s often impossible to push back on someone from an older generation imposing their help, but it makes me twitch when it’s through a landlord situation. It’s more difficult to judge because if you’re sharing a house with people, you need to agree a lot of things about how you interact that aren’t part of a landlord/tenant relationship. But the assumptions here are clearly both some “we know better because we’re older” and also some “we know better because we own the house and you’re just a guest”, which is not surprising, but not ideal either.

    Imagine if you rented a house, and the contract said, “the landlord’s parents can look through your private things at any time” and “the landlord’s parents can choose when you get up, when you sleep, and when you have guests” and “you will maintain a housework system identical to that which the landlord’s parents would use if they had infinite time, or else”. I know it may be impossible to fix, but that’s why it bothers me, that’s the situation here, even if the intrusions are more well-meaning and annoying than horrible, it ends up with a situation that prioritises their assumptions over your right to have a home, because they own it and you don’t 😦

    1. But it’s not a case of “they own it and you don’t”. It’s “their adult child and their partner own it”.

    2. At one time when I was house hunting, I looked at a place which amounted to a bedroom in a family home. The landlord seemed to be having a lot of trouble finding tenants and at one point offered to lower the rent by fifty bucks if I would take it; he seemed baffled when I said no, I would be moving into a house with roommates instead, even though it was more expensive. It was very hard to explain that for Reasons, I didn’t want to live in a place where there was any possibility that I would be expected to obey rules I had no say in setting. The tenant/landlord relationship is fraught enough without bringing in what drawer the cheese grater goes in.

      1. It takes a LOT of work to make the roommate/tenant/landlord mashup work – I’ve been doing it for 3 years and there are definitely things I let slide because it’s my roommate’s house and I get enough out of this arrangement that it’s not worth it to me to rock the boat. There are also things she lets slide for similar reasons. If it weren’t *her*, I never would have done this and I absolutely won’t do it again.

        1. I’ve categorically refused to rent places where the landlord has the upper/lower flat and isn’t even in the same dwelling because of these concerns. In my experience, the set of people with whom one can live comfortably is much, mich smaller than, say, the set of people with whom one can be even good friends. I’ve seen rental postings where the landlord presumed to want to control tenant behavior occurring ELSEWHERE in addition to on the property (and not even illegal behavior, things like perfectly legal drinking alcohol or having consensual sex). Clear, enforcible (from.t he tenant’s side especially) boundaries are always a good idea, but especially when there is a serious power disparity between people sharing a dwelling.

  21. I am good at assembling IKEA furniture, and so is my dad, so that would be an activity to save for him that he would consider fun. However, I realize that it’s also an amusing way to weaponize the “I *must* be doing *something*!” urges of someone who is not good at assembling IKEA furniture but needs to have a task, if that kind of thing is anyone’s jam….

  22. I would just be really direct with his parents.
    — On the guest issue: “Oh! I wasn’t asking permission. This is my home and I’m a member of the household/ pay rent. I was just letting you know so you’re not surprised when Friend shows up. Thanks!” ::walk away::
    — Waking you up: “can you be a bit quieter in the mornings? I work a night shift and so have different hours than most people. Fred handles it by playing with the kids in [Separate part of the house] until [time]. Thanks! I appreciate it.
    — moving stuff: “Hey! I found the Tupperware in the wrong spot again. Can you not rearrange the kitchen? Thank you!”
    — “Hey! I saw my dog treats were moved. Would you mind leaving my stuff as is? I appreciate it— I love scavenger hunts, but I prefer to sign up for them in advance ha-ha.”
    — “Have you seen my pasta pot? It’s not under the cabinet where it usually is. Oh, you moved it? Well, could you please leave my stuff as is? I have things where I like them. Is there anything else you moved?”

    Honestly, you might be out of luck because it’s really hard to get parents to listen to anything for some reason. It’s like they just barrel over requests and do whatever they want to do, it’s insane. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked BOTH my MIL and my mom to not use wipes on pee diapers, at the advice of the pediatrician to help with diaper rash, and they always say sure… and then I watch them change a diaper with wipes. It’s like WHY??? But, I wish you tons of luck!

  23. One tactic I have used is a whiteboard or chalkboard where my daily routine is posted. I find it can be a useful back up tool in reminding people around me how the natural rhythm of the day runs.

    You could mark down the ‘quiet hours of the morning that I need sleep kids need to be elsewhere’ stuff’ and use it to give the grandparents a heads up that a guest is over on Wednesday night. It can be useful when things come up during the day (a voicemail message for your housemates) or to write lists (hey, maybe that list of jobs that the grandparents could do?) You can draw silly doodles on it (kids and houseguests like to leave us doodles on our whiteboard in our hall.) I add little requests to mine – can you get milk next time you go into town – and use magnets to pin random mail and receipts to for when Mr Golden wants to sort them.

    If the grandparents are fussing because they don’t know what Fred and Joes rules are/ how the house routines work, then having a board might be a solution that doesn’t end up in them bothering LW by having lots of small negotiations. Even better if Fred and Joe write up the routine ahead of the visit and make it clear that LWs plans are already okayed with Fred and Joe.

  24. For the asking permission/informing issue, I suggest you imagine it as a simple confusion and answer calmly: “Oh, I wasn’t asking permission, I just wanted to inform you.”
    Most reasonable people will accept that. If they don’t, you can explain more in detail: “I always prefer roommates to give me an heads up when they are inviting people over, so I wanted to return the courtesy. I don’t expect any answer or specific reaction from you, it’s
    for your information.” Or just change the subject. You are informing them as a courtesy, if they don’t appreciate it you can just drop it.

    When it comes to the things moving around, most people will not understand the subtle re-organizing as clear communication. It would probably be more efficient if your roommates went over which things belong to whom and other rules, but if you have time and feel generous, you could go over it with them yourself. “I just want to show you the kitchen. Other people’s kitchens are so confusing, aren’t they? Here is my food, here you can put your food, here are the scissors, here are the cutlery. You can borrow any kitchen equipment as long as you clean it afterwards and put it back where you took it. See you later!”

    Sure, you don’t have a duty to play hostess but a little helpfulness can go a long way to smooth things over. However, if you feel resentful just reading my suggestions, feel free to leave all host duties to your roommates.

  25. I wanted to throw my “Channel the Parent Energy” hat into the ring. My mom, whom I love dearly, is definitely a Project Do-er. It can drive me nuts if it isn’t channeled correctly, because she wants and needs to Do Things, and she gets so itchy when she can’t. Doing Things is also one of the ways she shows she loves and cares: she is trying to smooth out some rough edges and make my life a little nicer, so I bear that in mind (I know that this won’t be true for all parents!). As the Captain and others have said, having a list of projects that she *can* do is a great way to deal with this.
    One thing that is important with these is it has to be things that I can let go of. For instance, when I moved into my current apartment she helped. I gave her the kitchen to unpack, and decided I didn’t care where anything went except I wanted the silverware in one particular place. Came home from running errands and BOOM, kitchen was unpacked, boxes were broken down, counters were cleaned… you get the idea.
    My general script is, “No, Mom, Project X is something I want to do myself because it involves a particular kind of organization, but I could really use help with Projects A, B, & C! Here are some general guidelines, no need to check in with questions, I trust your judgement.” Mom gets something to do, I get things done with minimal work on my part, and there’s minimal friction over all of it. YMMV, but after several years of this approach my mom will now ask often permission to do things around my apartment, knowing that while she might not be able to do one thing, she can do another.

    1. THIS. My mother is definitely a do-er and about six years ago I discovered how to use this power for good. She’s helped me through several moves since then and sweet caroline it is so incredible to come home from work to find X room packed/unpacked/cleaned/etc. My most recent move was from an apartment into my first home and she cleaned approximately 10,000 miles of baseboards and broke down just as many boxes. It was magic!

  26. It just occurred to me that “Enlist the kids” could pair REALLY nicely with the label maker.
    If the kids are in the right age range, putting stuff back where the label is may as well be a game. One that they can teach Grandma and Grandpa.

  27. On the “did you get permission to have a friend over” line of talking, I might laugh gently and say very light-heartedly “You know my mom can’t help but “Mom” me even though I’m a grown up. I guess old habits die hard….” A lighthearted way of pointing out that she’s momming you even though she is not your parent and you are neiher a guest nor a child.

    And I second the idea of having a “list” ready to go. When my MIL comes over, I just happen to have had no time to fold about 5 baskets of clean laundry (except, oddly, for my own lingerie). Crazy coincidens – my MIL loves folding clothes. When I’m cooking I just happen to need help washing and cutting the vegetables & bread (which I care nothing about) while allowing me to be in control of the main dish (which I definately want a certain way). She’s artsy so I always happen to have some new craft supplies “that the kids want ot check out” to keep her occupied with them. It totally reduces the amount of annoying intrusions and opinion-giving.

    1. About cooking, hahaha! My mom and I do cook together and enjoy it, but for a higher-stakes dinner party (read: an Occasion) she gets into Champion Planning-Worrier mode and will try to micromanage what I’m doing. Like, “how long will it take to brown the meat? Do you need to start heating the pan?”
      I have finally discovered that the best way to channel this is to specifically task her: “Oh, have you finished chopping the mushrooms? Great, can you please clean the cutting board and that counter and get out the butter?” Then she will leave me alone to mix spices for the meat and start heating the oil in the pan in my own time. It doesn’t matter what the tasks are, it’s almost like she loses focus on her work automatically thinks I’ve lost focus on mine, so I just have to issue her another task for the Planning Mind to focus on.

  28. The rearranging is not necessarily that intentional or thought through in my experience. Some (although I grant not necessarily all) of it can come from using stuff, and then not remembering where to put it back to.

    My husband is visually impaired, and consequently it’s very important that everything stays in the same spot or he can’t find anything. This is why my parents are never allowed to put the crockery away if they come to visit. Mum, it’s very kind and helpful of you to do the washing-up and I’m grateful, but please just leave the stuff on the counter for me to deal with. They’re trying to be helpful, putting it in places it looks like it ought to go / might go, but they have no way of knowing where it *actually* goes. So they put it elsewhere, and then the Other Half gets upset.

    This is why labels would help.

    My mother also likes to be “helpful”. Weirdly, when my grandmother used to turn up at our house, and do All The Cleaning, it used to annoy her (my mother) immensely. Now she’s started to do the same to me. She doesn’t do the same to my brother apparently, which as far as I can tell is less sexism than the fact that I had just had an operation the first time she did All The Cleaning at my house and supposedly needed to be protected from microbes and exertion. I pay a cleaner. My cleaning is done. (To be clear, in most ways my Mum is a very nice lady and we get on very well.) The easiest way to keep the peace is by giving her specific tasks to do and making her feel like she’s doing me a big favour.

    1. No visual impairment to complicate things, but in my childhood household, grandparents were never allowed to put things away.

      In fact, before a visit, my mom corralled us all and said, “When it’s cleaning-up-from-dinner time, you must leap into action to prevent Grandma from putting things away, or we’ll never find them. She’ll want to help, and it may seem that it’s rude to ask her to wash dishes, and that putting things away is a less rude chore, but at least if she washes the dishes, we’ll be able to find them. And you can hang out with her and rinse them, so it’ll be a shared chore. But never let her know–we don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

      We already split the clean-up chores (clearing the table, washing, and putting away).

      I remember feeling a little thrilled at being part of the conspiracy.

    2. My mum and I mostly get on very well, but my family and I live in a very small space and it’s already difficult to have guests staying without their Trying to Be Helpful. What’s worked for me is to gently point out when she’s doing the things that used to annoy her when my grandmother did them! Like, “Mommy, you know how Bubbie used to come visit and criticize how you did the laundry …?” “Oh. OH. Haha, I’m sorry.”

      It unfortunately doesn’t work in the sense of enabling her to generalize, so it’s a conversation we’ve had to have a number of times, but *in general* she does stop doing the thing that’s the problem in the moment, so I choose to think of it as a win XD

  29. Sitting here saying my thanks for my hippie in-laws who only took a couple reminders that my wife and I are adults living in a house that is not theirs. Their re-direction has largely been gifts as they often think our stuff is not grown up enough. So we’re like, well, we decided to go to grad school back to back and have very little fancy towel money, but if you want to give us towels I won’t say no. I do wonder if part of the issue is the “grown up enough” feeling. Maybe it is easier for the parents to feel like their kids are renting rooms rather than sharing a house because it feels more in line with the parents’ values around what grown up looks like. Not that this necessarily changes what the letter writer is saying, but sometimes thinking of why someone is doing this thing that bothers me helps? Even if I don’t agree with the logic.

  30. As for the mornings, I think you need to let them know *every* time they wake you up. Otherwise, they probably think they’re being quite enough. I highly recommend stumbling out of bed, appearing disheveled in the hallway and saying, “I really need you to be quite in the mornings” in an increasingly miserable/grumpy/angry tone of voice. I’d be going for a sort of “don’t wake the hibernating bear” vibe.

    1. I think they need to be told, in explicit terms, that LW works a night shift and they need to STFU.
      If they think LW is a guest and perceive the whole thing like a college rent-share, they might also be thinking “lazy young person OUGHT to be getting up early anyway” and deliberately choose to ignore the sound problem. Or at least have that idea floating around subconsciously.

      Laying it out clearly that this is not a request but a need, from a person whose home this is, is likely necessary.

      But Joe should lay it out first so LW can get hopefully some goddamn sleep.

      1. OMG, yes, those people who think being an early riser is morally superior and being a late riser is a sign of some moral decrepitude! You know, we’re both awake for roughly the same number of hours. And getting the same amount of stuff done (paying bills, going to work, taking care of the kids, feeding the cats). Grrr, a HUGE pet peeve of mine!

        I think you hit this on the nose – the parents thing OP “should” be up by now.

        1. I really, really want these people to spend a while living in a world where Every Single Human rises at 7am and works a ‘proper’ 9-5 shift. Enjoy knowing that there would never be emergency services personnel awake to help you at night! Enjoy finding that every business and service is closed at the exact time you get off work! Enjoy even worse rush-hour traffic than you already experience!

          Night-shift solidarity hugs if wanted to both you and the LW.

        2. Oh, my best friend goes to a gym and the owner ran some kind of “challenge” that involved a 5am workout. She said something and he basically implied that anybody who couldn’t do it or found it hard was lazy. She *laid into* him and basically said, “Look, not everybody’s schedule is the same. You’re asking me to massively disrupt my sleep schedule in the same way that I would be if I ran this and said we’ll have a class at 1am. I’d do great, you’d be exhausted and barely perform to your normal standard. It’s not laziness, it’s just different.”

          She said every since then he actually really likes her AND has been more thoughtful in how he designs class schedules for things like that.

        3. A massive pet peeve of mine as well. I am a night owl. I always have been. I probably always will be.

          It lucked out a few years ago when I reminded my lark family members (who have either successfully programmed themselves to rise with the sun or just naturally enjoy doing so) that I am a night owl.

          “You always have been, ever since you were an infant,” says Mom.

          “Then you’ve had decades now to wrap your mind around this fact, to stop implying that I am lazy or morally inferior because of my biorhythms, and to stop trying to make me into something I am not and have never been! You need to finally LEARN THIS LESSON and leave me alone about it,” I said.

          A RARE VICTORY.

        4. I get so frustrated with that: the gleeful assumption that night owls are fundamentally lazy, that they are less efficient (if you do your study at 8 am that *might* have something to do with the results), and now there are all sorts of studies saying that night owls have higher levels of stress, stress-related diseases, depression, anxiety (gee, I wonder why?)–so everyone should just become morning people! It’s safer, healthier, and morally upright! Just change your most fundamental biorhythms, if you do it incrementally it’ll be easy!

          I’m a night owl with lark parents and a lark husband, btw.

          1. CaitlinMac: Yow. You have my empathy and a fist bump of solidarity, if you want one.

      2. Oh, there definitely needs to be a conversion up front, but I also think they need feedback every single time this happens in order to train them out of it: immediate, negative consequences every single time until it becomes a habit.

        I would also focus on this because it’s going to be easier to deal with other annoyances if you’re getting enough sleep.

      3. After the second wake-up, I’d be sorely tempted to STRONGLY ENCOURAGE (read: DEMAND) them to go OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE during the mornings. As said above: no chill around being woken up.

  31. My dad recently moved in with my brother and has started “cleaning out” the garage and actually throwing away things he thinks are junk. We are going to have to lock things up. Dad just does not see what’s wrong with that.

  32. My mom is Joe’s mom. Possibly worse? I have tried having a list of things to redirect her energies toward several times in the past, but it has rarely worked. She gets her own ideas about how to be “helpful” and stubbornly sticks with them. For some reason that continues to elude me, she refuses to listen and take seriously what family members tell her they want and don’t want. With everything! From how things are organized to how much food you want on your plate. Unfortunately, boundaries for me mean that I can never have her in my house when I am not there. Also, that I serve myself when eating at her house, lest I shriek “NO!” when she approaches my plate with a full serving spoon, saying, “I know you’ll want more.” (Seriously. I did shriek once.) I think she’s better with her friends? Maybe.

    LW, Joe is definitely the one who has to address her reorganization of the shelves, Tupperware, etc. The label maker is an excellent idea, but it has to be backed up by words from Joe to his mother that things are put that way because Joe (and Fred) want them that way. Note that Fred is in parenthesis and I did not mention housemates at all. My observations of sons and mothers is that what the son wants, the mother is most likely to accede to. Appeals to the needs and wants of others – even significant others – tend to be ignored. But you have a better idea of Joe & his parents, and Joe himself knows them best, so y’all’s mileage may vary.

    Point is, Joe is the one who has to go to bat for everyone, most of all for his own right to have his house the way he wants (which can be a very difficult fight by itself). If he doesn’t want to… well, you’ll have to decide if this bit of bad is outweighed by the overall good. Trying to fight it yourself is a losing battle, because although it is your home, there is no doubt that Joe’s parents clearly see it as “not your house” and do not regard you as having the same rights as homeowners Joe & Fred (whatever rights they have, in relation to parents who know what is best for their children! 🙄), regardless of agreements you have made with each other.

    I don’t know where this lack of respect for the spaces of adult offspring originates, why it persists, and why it is highly resistant to reasonable requests to change behavior. Would a team of anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists do a study, please?

    1. My theory is that this happens when the parents a) refuse to see their adult offspring as actual adults; or b) they do see them as adults, but adults who are permanently subordinate to them; or c) the really enmeshed ones see their adult offspring as extensions of themselves. In any of these cases, it would never occur to them to consult anyone but themselves.

      1. This. And some people never seem to quite master the kindergarten idea that other people are actually PEOPLE, even without those people being offspring.

      2. I think your theories are right on point. I want to add that I have increasingly come to believe that the great challenge of parenting is learning to let go. As a parent, you spend years taking care of a baby and then toddler who really does need you teach them everything and protect them from everything and solve problems for them. Hopefully, as they age, you back off how much help and problem solving you do for them, but figuring out how much and when is a struggle (plus every kid is different) and I think some parents just never quite get the hang of it.

        Additionally, as your kids age, their problems get more complicated and you slowly lose control over both the child and your ability to help them. That’s as it should be! But I think a lot of parents who come into their adult children’s houses and try to “fix” things are responding to the fact that they can’t really control their child’s success/failure anymore and they can’t fix whatever they think is wrong with their child’s life so they are looking for something they can control, like how the kitchen is organized. In other words, I think all the “halping” is a proxy for their anxiety about their children’s lives. (I am a parent of young children and also have a background in anthropology, although I really think this is more a psychology problem than an anthropology problem.)

      3. My mother has outright told me that she doesn’t see me (34) as an adult because I’m not married and don’t live on my own. (She’s pentecostal)

        But honestly, even if I was, she still wouldn’t.

        We went on a week-long trip to New York last year, and it was excruciating. If I spoke up when another adult was present, I got verbally smacked down. Constant nitpicking on everything from how I dressed to how I walked to how I spoke (too loud. All the time. Even at normal volume on a train platform). I asked if she did that with her friends (one of her friends is my age. But also from her church and married with kids and a really nice house). She said she didn’t need to but that if she did, then she would.

        There’s no winning.

        and I just agreed to go to Disney with her this January…
        (I am hoping that since this is one thing where she knows I have expertise, and she’s more likely to tap out than I am that it won’t be as bad. I’m also thinking of getting her a giftcard to the spa at GF to give her Somewhere Else To Be for a few hours so I can maybe get my Drink On at Epcot)

    2. Shriek on.

      I have decided that people who repeatedly don’t listen when I tell them something have given me the okay to yell at them. If they won’t hear me when I talk, they can hear me when I raise my voice. Fortunately, it is a *very* rare occasion but if you don’t listen the first two times I tell you how to act around my dog, you will damn well hear me the third time.
      I don’t care if it’s because they finally hear me or they think I’m a crazy bitch, as long as they stop what they’re doing.

    3. I hear you. I too want an anthropologist to explain! My parents were not the least bit interested in overstepping these types of bounds. You could call them hands-off to the point of negligence and be close to right. My perspective on this syndrome instead comes from friendships with men and women of my age who become control freaks, meddlers—they-who-must-fix-what-other-people-are-doing—as we age. And my experience thus far is that it is worse if you have two people, a long-time couple, who have somehow decided to confer with one another and to always agree on what other people should do. It is a compulsion with some—a way to pay attention to anything but their own problems, I’m guessing. They do not need to be the parents or grandparents of the people they want to control. They could be friends, or even barely acquaintances who have simply come to the conclusion that the world is too messy/random to be borne, and you, and your ways, are the problem they “know” how to fix. And those are now the terms of the friendship, if you had one with them—they are going to do things for you, which you should graciously accept as “help” as you also accept their superior way of doing things, and their control. I have had formerly reasonable and fun friends come to my house and undo my gardening, despite my explaining the milky substance on the cracks between the rocks in the shade garden that they questioned as they walked around assessing my work, as, “oh yes, that’s a kind of moss spore that you get in a carton, mix with water, spread between the cracks where the weeds want to grow, and you get moss,” scraped all of it off when I wasn’t looking, because “We still thought it was weird.” I could go on and on about people my age who had been so easy to be around when we were in our forties who started in their mid to late fifties to just compulsively complain, criticize, and try to control their friends. And often this has been a couple who I could tell had been bolstering each other and working out all the ways they knew they were right in private, well before I had any idea they were even thinking about “fixing” my husband and me. It’s as if they made a sport of assessing what other people should do, made a hobby of it. Oh goody, let’s go see so and so and “fix” their shit.

      1. I’m really glad my friends (fifties/sixties) don’t do this.

        I can’t help wondering what would happen if you did something similar right back to them… they probably wouldn’t get the message, but they so deserve it.

        1. These particular folks have lost family and friends over the controlling behavior. The woman, who had been a dear friend for many years, was always controlling of people in her family—and she was “on the outs” with her daughter and with at least one sibling at all times. It wasn’t until she got older that she tried to shift that same level of control over to her friends—and that her husband became a part of the problem. It’s like he’d given up helping her see reason and joined in. Not long before our last visit, she told me about how her ex-husband’s wife of some 25 years had come to a party for her daughter—who was now speaking to her again—and how this wife-of-her-ex had held her purse on her lap, which my friend thought so annoying that she snatched the purse from her and put it up in the closest. So I did have warning that she was going over the top, and I didn’t heed it. I thought she would go back to who she’d been when we were younger if I was just good enough to her. And I also smugly believed, “she will never do that to me.”

      2. “We still thought it was weird.”
        Whoa. Those would be very much ex friends.

        (Story of unhelpful gardening help, albeit of completely boneheaded rather than condescending variety: After a co-worker of mine mentioned to one of her friends that she was going to re-do her yard and needed new topsoil, he saw a pile of “free dirt” along a road and got a truck and dumped it in her front yard. She has the patience of a saint and explained to him the difference between topsoil and “free dirt” and made him pay to remove it all and treat the contamination.)

      3. Uggh. I feel like I’ve had controlling, boundary trampling friends like that my entire life, and that’s largely why I’m kind of a hermit now. Like the friend in high school who “helpfully” goes through my purse to “clean it, it’s such a mess.” Over the years and with lots of therapy, I can spot people like that fairly quick, and I do have sane and respectful friends, but I don’t see them a whole lot due to geographic distance.

        My in-laws will also do the intrusive “things are just done this way” thing when they visit. The FIL will clean dishes incorrectly to where I have to re-do them (I’m like, “You know, just leaving them in the sink for me to get to is a totally acceptable option!”). They’ll bring a box of mashed potato mix when it’s like, “Yeah, I’m making potatoes from scratch, thanks for asking…” It’s like they assume I don’t know what I’m doing when they’ve had many well prepared meals at our place.

        1. I’ve had lots of counseling, but never directly worked on friendships. I finally recognized I was making friends with women who are difficult because they reminded me of my mother—hard to please, I was the only one who understood them, their best listener, and the only one who would put up with their unreasonable behavior. That kind of “friendship” felt inevitable to me until I turned 50. At which point I kept a couple of old friendships I’d made like those, but made no new ones. It took more years for me to let go of negative friendships I’d already made. Did these people get worse in their behavior or did I just outgrow my feeling of owing them something, or was it a combination of things—I don’t really know. I have friendships now that are positive, but not as close as these old friendships were. I know that means something, just don’t know what. In the meantime, it’s better not to be close to anyone who is consistently inconsiderate of me. My husband and family—kids, grandkids, brother, nieces, nephews and their kids are good to me, and I am close to them. I just thought I would have closer female friendships at this age than I do.

      4. I’ve seen my mom & her siblings do this to each other, but that is some serious boundary-crossing with friends. I hope I never meet these people.

    4. It’s the unfortunate consequence of empathy – attempting to mirror others’ mental processes leads us (generally) to assume that others’ mental processes mirror our own. Our impulses toward tribal cohesion amd cultural normativity exacerbate this tendency. This is why we see so many advice column questions from people expecting mind reading or who others are expecting to read their minds, and why people in general think they’re much better at intuiting what others want, are thinking, etc. than they actually are. Thinking that others can read one’s own mind is mostly a case of the Spotlight Effect and/or Transparency Effect, and thinking one can read others’ monds is due to things like normativity bias, psychological projection, and more generally the fact that one’s perspective is necessarily a function of one’s own experiences, which are not universally shared, while the differences and similarities in others’ experiences are unknown (and in the case of deeply internalized cultural norms, sometimes so pervasive that they’re invisible and thus unknown unknowns).

  33. Are Fred and Joe ever in the house while Joe’s parents are there, where they can see the reorganizing and the noise and the parenting? Or do the folks arrive and F&J vacate almost immediately? So Joe may not even know his folks are trampling all these boundaries.

  34. Yo Jennifer, I love the low stakes questions. I was dying at “put your handyman skills to the test” and the low stakes questions so often help prevent high stakes questions!!

  35. The label maker idea is GENIUS. So is Tom Sawyering (lol) the invaders. The OP can easily think of some big distracting task that will itch the Joe seniors’ fingers. I’d buy a bunch of herbs and fruiting plants, compost and pots and see what happens. But I doubt that anyone hellbent on organisation can refute the decree of special labels. OP you should definitely include your name on any spots for your things; and perhaps direct them to a particular colour label for ‘kid stuff’ and ‘guest supplies’.

  36. I recommend picking your battles and invoking the names of Fred and Joe. For example, I am extremely skeptical that you will get her to stop rearranging. I can ignore most things and put it all back after my (mostly awesome) mother leaves. But there are certain items that drive me nuts, in your case, the dog food. Put those select items back without commenting. If she moves it again, say “I appreciate your helpfulness but Frank and Joe like my tupperware/dog food/etc here because of XYZ. You can take it up with them if you like.”

    Don’t try to assert your rights to have friends over. As per CA advice, ‘Frank and Joe are okay with it. I was just giving you the heads up. You are welcome to check with them if you are concerned”.

    You do not want to be trying to justify, argue or make this about your rights. That will lead to Hurt feelings and annoy F&J, even though you are in the right. Simply let them know that F&J like it that way and then put it on the parents to check with F&J if they are worried. Let them be the annoying ones.

    IMO, the sleep issue is the battle you really need Joe to fight. This is the one you want to cause waves over and have Joe stress to his parents that you work night shift and need to keep it quiet in the mornings. If you approach Joe with one, very reasonable request, you are more likely to get it actioned than presenting the full list as to how his parents are annoying.

    Good luck.

  37. Thank you so much for answering this letter! I am currently dealing with a house maintenance issue that’s complicated by the fact that my roommate and their parent own our house together. It’s been driving me crazy that they can’t just stand up to their parent about fixing something we very much need fixed! It’s a different situation than this letter, but the advice here was very useful (and timely). Especially this bit:

    “And if there is Primal Territorial Stuff going on between Joe and his parents? You do NOT want to be in the middle. Trust. If Joe needs to have a “Quit Rearranging My Stuff, Mom!” Fight, Where Scores are Settled and Things Are Said, that’s his prerogative, if you try to have that fight for him or push him into one, the odd one out will be you.”

    Oof that articulated what’s been going on really well. Thank you again!

    1. Cap hit the nail on the head again. I wonder if perhaps Joe’s dad thinks that he’s “holding down the fort” since Joe’s not home and therefore trying to assume Joe’s role? In which case the conversation about what we are all doing here would be helpful.

  38. I was caretaking my grandmother’s house for my mom after Grandmother died. Mom had a key. She was offended that I ask that she call before just barging in. She refused to even ring the doorbell before barging in. My favorite was when she’d barge in at like 9 AM on a Saturday morning, SCREAMING my name and demanding prompt attendance and attention.

    She also gave a lot of my stuff away to charity WITHOUT ASKING FIRST so she could get a tax deduction OFF MY PERFECTLY USEFUL, EXPENSIVE-TO-REPLACE, AND WANTED belongings.

    This has been an issue since my childhood. Her ways are right. Everyone else’s ways are wrong. She is Hurt and Offended when told this isn’t the case.

    Currently I am dealing with a mystery in my apartment, which she does NOT have a key to, but which she visited on Mother’s Day. I have specific “homes” for items that other people commonly lose, because if I did not have “homes” for them, I’d also be a person who loses eyeglasses, keys, purses, phones, meds, umbrellas. If you move my items out of their “homes,” you are being a huge jerkhead.

    I am not always perfect about taking my prescription meds when I’m feeling OK, as they make me a little muscle-twitchy at night and light-headed and slightly nauseated during the day (so no absolute perfect time to take them). I have depression, and if I take my meds at least twice a week, I’m not going to have a depressive episode due to crappy brain chemicals, but, of course, best practice is taking them daily. I also take two, and one is sort of a “booster” med for times when external stressors and negative life events ramps up my propensity toward catastrophizing and having a depressive episode.

    One of my prescriptions has gone missing. It is not in its home with the other Rx meds. Fortunately, it is the “booster,” and not vital re: keeping my brain chemicals behaving. There is no way she could have done it, as I took my meds after she was long gone, but my brain still thinks she definitely did it.

    I am sure I will find that, contrary to decades of habit, it was me who moved the meds, but due to having my stuff moved / taken / given away to charity / thrown out “for my own good” / other intrusions, my jerkbrain is yelling about how someone STOLE MY PRESCRIPTION. It’s not even a “fun” medication that someone could take recreationally, or a valuable medication that could be resold. But it’s not in its home, I didn’t move it, so decades of expectations-lowering training I have gotten from a boundary-stomping mother (and a light-fingered little brother) have me expecting shenanigans.

    How do you reprogram your brain not to expect violations when none are possible?

    My brain just goes right to “someone stomped my boundaries again” because that has traditionally been exactly what happened. I don’t like this broken record, but no amount of logic makes it stop. It’s not even trying to place blame, it’s seeking an answer to a current mystery, but the old answer isn’t applicable.

    I wonder if people who casually move other folks’ stuff around even know how badly it messes with the rest of us. A lot of my mental energy is going toward generating something like a never ending cartoon line of “????????????” in my head and feeling that SOMETHING IS WRONG anxiety, the very situation that having “homes” for my stuff is supposed to prevent!

    I can’t wait to find out where my meds are hiding. If I ever do. Maybe I have gremlins.

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