Dear Lifehacker, I love my roommate, except for one thing that’s starting to drive me crazy: the messes he leaves everywhere and the hoards of stuff he’s collected to the point where I feel our house is only filled with clutter. And he doesn’t do anything to help tidy up. How can I make this work?Signed, Felix Unger
Photo by Diego Cervo (Shutterstock)
Sadly, your situation is pretty common, because in any relationship one person is going to be neater and more organised (in this case, you) than the other (your roommate). It’s frustrating for both people, especially for the neater one who tends to do the cleaning and may feel resentful or may resort to nagging, but also for the other person who just isn’t as naturally organised as you are (consider that in another relationship you might be the messier person — yes, hard to believe.)
Here are some tips you can use to improve your situation:
- Don’t nag: Nagging is counterproductive. It treats the other person with disrespect and, at the end of the day, it just makes you feel worse. When you catch yourself in the act of nagging, just stop — not worth it. In lieu of that, have conversations and establish ground rules about what needs to be done around the house (see below).
- Talk about what needs to be done: This may sound boring and uncomfortable, but it’s important to set up some ground rules so you both know who is responsible for what — and be specific. Saying “I want the house to be clean” will not get the house clean, but specific tasks like washing the dishes and vacuuming the stairs will. You can spice things up with Chore wars and even automate some chores if you need to. As long as you have a dialogue and aren’t doing everything yourself and then sitting on a pile of resentment or resorting to passive-aggressiveness, you should be in a better place than many neat/messy pairs of people.
- Remember that dirty and messy are different things: Be aware of your neat freak tendencies (if you have any) or, alternately, your packrat habits. When it comes to dirt, it should be obvious and both of you should agree when and how to handle that. In terms of messiness or what’s considered clutter, however, that may be more open to interpretation. Real Simple suggests discussing your comfort level with each other. Be open to compromise — when it comes to mess, but not dirt.
- Use a shared to-do list: Dividing up chores and making a plan of action with clear routines and time limits may make sense especially for roommates. Or simply asking sometimes “can you take out the garbage while I wash the dishes?” might help. You can even do chores together (a playlist timer might even make it fun).
- Focus on key rooms: Pick your battles. The shared, public rooms, like the kitchen, living room and bathrooms should have priority over the bedrooms when it comes to cleaning schedules. If your roommate’s got a sloppy desk but no one sees it, who cares? Let it go.
Consider also whether you just need more organising tools/storage space or a decluttering day (or week). Maybe a day of cleaning out your closets to get rid of clothes clutter will help, rebooting your kitchen to store things more efficiently, or digitising all your paper is the solution.
As with dealing with bad roommates, the bottom line is about respect. As frustrating as your packrat, slob of a housemate’s habits may be, don’t let these relatively minor household issues ruin your relationship. At the same time, don’t sweep your frustrations under the rug. (You see what I did there, right?)
If worse comes to worse, you can both invest in a housekeeping service.
P.S. If you’ve been in this situation before, as either the messy person or the neat one, what have you done to keep the peace?
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