What To Do When You Live With A Slob

Don't get me started on roommates who subscribe to traditional gender roles in regards to housework, and therefore feel that the mess isn't their problem to deal with.

When two (or more) people are cohabitating, whether romantically, platonically, bound by blood, or forced together because rent is really expensive, they will invariably fight about two things: money and housework.

In any living situation that involves roommates, spouses, or significant others, there is always going to be one person who cares more about the housework than the other(s), and that person is almost always angry about it.

This uneven investment can come about for a number of reasons, and most of them boil down to differing expectations and standards about housekeeping. One person might be naturally neater. One might have grown up in a household where they were never taught how to clean. One might subscribe to traditional gender roles in regards to housework, and therefore feel that the mess isn't their problem to deal with.

(Don't get me started on that one.)

One might look at a room and think it looks perfectly neat and clean, while the person who they live with looks at the same room and is appalled by how messy it is.

So how can people under the same roof get through the routines of keeping a home without it all ending in bloodshed (which, incidentally, is a pain in the ass to clean up)?

Well, here's what people usually do:

  • Leave nasty notes.
  • Slam things around while sighing loudly.
  • Mutter comments under their breath while cleaning up.
  • Unceremoniously dump a bunch of someone's stuff in an obvious and inconvenient place.
  • Just stop cleaning up entirely as a form of protest.

You want to know how many of those methods work? None. Not one.

Passive-aggressive bs doesn't work. Human beings are selfish, defensive, spiteful creatures, and when faced with passive-aggressive behavior, our instinct is almost always to rebel, not comply.

So passive-aggressive behavior doesn't work, yet we keep doing it.

Why is that?

Because we attribute to malice what can be explained by indifference.

Sure, there are some people who aren't holding up their end of the housework out of some kind of anger, retribution, or sabotage, but the vast majority of people aren't doing their share because they either don't know what's expected of them, or they don't care what happens when they don't do it.

Here's the thing: You can't make someone care about a clean house. What you can, ideally, make them care about is how not helping around the house is affecting the person they live with.

With the division of housekeeping tasks, as with almost everything in life, the best and easiest solution is to talk about it.

Ideally, the best time to have this conversation is before you start living together, but it's totally possible to have it even if you've been cohabitating for a while already. Set aside a time for the conversation, and lay out your side calmly and without condescension or blame.

If you live with your spouse or significant other, you'll want to explain how the unequal division of labor affects you. If your relationship is a healthy one, they'll understand that, although cleaning isn't important to them, it is to you, and you need their help.

If you live with a roommate, they likely don't give an eff about your feelings, so you want to appeal to the fact that you each pay rent and that a more equal division of tasks will make for an overall better living situation.

In this conversation, get specific. List out the specific tasks that need to be done and how often you need to do them. Figure out who really hates doing what, and who doesn't mind certain things.

Like, I would rather clean a hundred toilets than bring the trash and recycling out to the curb.

With any luck, you can divide things up in a way so that each of you can avoid your hated chores, or at least share them equally.

Write all of this information down.

Wait a minute.

This sounds like a chore chart.

Gold star to you. It is a chore chart.

When expectations are clearly spelled out, it makes it easier on both sides. You don't necessarily have to laminate the thing and put it on the fridge (although if it helps, go for it!), but you at least will have it handy as a reminder of what everyone agreed to.

Things will inevitably go off the rails at some point.

Person A, who is responsible for cleaning the bathroom twice a month, will, at some point, not have picked up a sponge for two months. Dishes will pile up. Socks will somehow end up under the coffee table.

The key to dealing with this is to have a system in place to handle these inevitabilities, and the time to come up with that system is before things start falling apart. Make it part of your chore-dividing conversation.

Whatever bargain you come up with, it'll have been mutually agreed upon, and if Person A agrees that Person B can put all their stuff in a box after [x] number of days, Person B has clear guidelines as to what to do when they start getting frustrated, and Person A doesn't feel blindsided or picked on. If things aren't going smoothly and in accordance with your agreement, have another conversation.

Face-to-face. With words, not Post-its.

What if you're the messy one? Why should you have to vacuum if you don't care what the house looks like? Why does it matter?

It matters because you are an adult sharing space with another adult and it's part of being a grown-up.

Would most of us choose to go to work every day if given a choice? Absolutely not, but it's part of the social contract we all enter into once we reach an age when other people are no longer paying for our stuff. No one's asking you to suddenly love washing dishes, but you do need to accept that it's a necessary, if unpleasant, reality.

If the person you lived with was blaring polka music at 2 a.m. every day while you were trying to sleep, you wouldn't think twice about asking them to turn it down, because you pay half the bills and who can live with accordions at maximum volume?

Your mess is that polka music to a tidy roommate.

You don't have to stop listening to it completely, but you do need to keep it at a level that's fair to everyone.

So remember:

  • Use your words.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior never works.
  • Make expectations clear on both sides and have a plan for when expectations aren't met.
  • Accept that cleaning sucks and you're probably never going to enjoy doing it, but it still needs to get done.