Today’s guest post comes to us from Rachel Hoffman, creator of Unfuck Your Habitat and author of Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess.
So I live in communal housing (currently a house with 12 housemates–most have our own rooms, but we share kitchens, bathrooms, and common spaces) for a variety of social, political, and ecological reasons. The house I’m in now has been an occasionally-stressful but overall positive space where I’m glad to have spent the last couple years.
Unfortunately, one of the other houses affiliated with our organization has had a really awful couple months–messes from old tenants, a hospitalization after a sexual assault, mold and foundation problems in the basement, and most recently an acrimonious breakup. Long story short, we are hoping to trade some people out of the house and re-seed it with solid folks from the other houses to try and stabilize the situation (because if this house can’t make rent, it’s going to eat through organizational funds very, very quickly).
I am one of the people willing to switch houses. I’m a good candidate for a number of reasons–I’m emotionally stable, I’ve lived in the org for several years and know how to get things done, I’m familiar with the financial operations of the org, I’m already kinda the House Mom where I live now, etc. However, there’s definitely one issue that I foresee.
These repeated catastrophes have eroded any real practice of doing house chores and cooking (which are normally distributed across everyone more or less equally to be done weekly). That means that the place is consistently a big mess, which is adding to everyone’s stress. I know that one of the things we’re going to need to do is get that started again, and keep it going, but that definitely requires a stricter approach than I usually take. I’m generally a messy person (when I moved in to my current house, I was a proponent of a 24-hour rule for dishes in the sink, which is not at all doable with 13 people and in retrospect, kinda gross with 1) and have low standards for general neatness, so when people miss a cleaning chore I tend to not worry, because it doesn’t have that big an effect on me (and I appreciate that kind of understanding when I’m also overwhelmed and unable to do everything I’m supposed to). I also often don’t eat dinner at the house (personal control over food is a Thing for me) so I sometimes don’t even notice when others miss cooking shifts.
The plan is to bring several people in, and one requirement I’d have is that someone who is more serious about cleanliness and cooking also go, but I think it’s gonna be important that we all hold the line that cleaning and chores are important parts of what makes communal living possible. Can you give me some scripts for holding that line when people make excuses, especially when the excuses are reasonable individually but add up to a shitshow collectively? For example, lots of people deal with mental health stuff, myself included, but communal living means that everyone needs to contribute at least some–and that might mean you’re not on your A-game, but you gotta do at least a bare minimum. I could also use some suggestions for how to handle the totally-understandable-but-also-not-good excuse, “But XYZ didn’t do their cleaning chore!”, because I foresee that coming up.
Messy Pushover (she/they)