Q: So, I’m moving in with my significant other in about six months. I haven’t had a roommate since college (a couple decades ago) and this is a very new type of experiment for us both. We are lucky to have almost identical levels of slobbiness, but I’m wondering if there is a FAQ on how-to-unfuck-your-new-roommate-situation somewhere. I expect we will hash out how we divide chores and such, but…
This week’s Ask UfYH. Good for people who live with other people!
Give this person a firm date to get their shit out of your space. Make it soon. If he doesn’t do it by then, box it up and get it the hell out of your room. (I won’t advocate any particular course of action as to what to do with it, but just make it gone.)
Then go to town on the room, clean up, TAKE BREAKS, and reclaim the space. But your first step needs to be getting his shit out of there.
#1 rule of living with other people: use your words. Sit down with your roommates. Try to avoid a note; no matter what your intentions are, it’ll always come across as passive-aggressive. Talk about the dish situation. Come up with ideas as a group. Try to reach some consensus.
As time goes on, ask for help. Use your words. Aside from padlocking everything, it’s the only tactic that both A) has a chance of working, and B) recognizes that everyone in the household is an adult with a life and the ability to communicate with one another.
Well, I think someone would do this for any number of reasons. She may have grown up in a house where she was never taught how to maintain a clean living environment. She may be depressed or have another health issue. She might be preoccupied with other things and not realize she has all the dishes. It could be any number of things.
With roommates (as with spouses, children, significant others, and anyone else you share your living space with), my #1 rule is: USE YOUR WORDS. Ask for help. Ask her to bring the dishes into the kitchen so the dishwasher can get run. If it’s a serious issue, sit down and have an honest conversation. Try to keep the judgment out of it. Ask if she needs help getting her room clean, or some tips on how to keep it that way. Tell her about 20/10s, and have her do a few with you.
Above all else, avoid being passive-aggressive. This accomplishes nothing, except further annoying you, and possibly setting off a spite reaction in which she does less than she’s doing now. Have a conversation. Hell, show her this site. But don’t let it stew any longer. Just talk to her.
I apologize in advance for this being super long. [This was going to be a post that’s why it looks like it does]
I just can’t keep this shit up right now. I just can’t. I want to clean so bad. I want everything to smell nice and be pretty, but I can’t! At this moment I live with my mom, sister, and niece until I save enough to buy my own place. I work at night and I barely wake up in the morning.
I can clean and scrub and unfuck the shit out of my place. Only to come home to a massive pile up. I set goals. Yesterday I cleaned my kitchen before work. I mean sparkling goodness. I wake up to see spills, food out, cabinets left open, dishes piled to the fucking ceiling. I JUST cleaned up the day before… WHAT THE FUCK!?!
I have tasks set for the dining room, laundry, and living room. ALL COMMON AREAS. But I don’t want to clean it if its just going to get messed up in a couple of hours.
I talked to my sister, who does not work or go to school, about cleaning up while no one is home or picking up after herself and her baby. “I’m watching my baby. I can’t leave her or she’ll cry. She always has to be near me or she’ll cry. She takes up so much of my time.” Every time I see my sister with her kid she is not even paying her attention. On her phone talking or texting or emailing or on the computer on Facebook. Not next to the baby and she is not crying.
I talk to my mom about cleaning up after herself. It’s always, “Oh I’m sorry. I’ll do it.” or “Oh I’m just about to do the dishes.” That doesn’t get done. I can understand my mom works 12 hour days (she’s a nurse), but if you decide to make yourself some damn tea and eggs before bed… CLEAN UP THE SPILLS AND THE POT YOU USED! At least put the damn pot in the sink man!
I tried to do those one to two minute conversations and in the end I’m the only one cleaning. They know I have depression (but I’ve been getting better). THEY KNOW HOW ANAL I AM. But they just don’t fucking care. I can’t even have my own room clean because I come home at 2am and I see hair all in my bathroom sink and floor (not mine), baby clothes, my bed is unmade, there baby items in my bed, things are misplaced, my hair items are thrown everywhere, my clothes are all gone.
I can’t even have my own personal space. I got up to clean just now. I started the laundry, sprayed down the kitchen counter while waiting for the water to load, came back to start putting clothes in and I just fucking cracked.
I mean I went full on sobbing tears. I’m still crying. I’m just so fucking upset. I can’t take it. I feel like a failure because I can’t maintain my apartment and its not even my fault. Then I feel like I’m making excuses. I don’t know what the fuck to do. I just want to be removed from all this shit.
Any advice from you or any of your followers?
(Copy/pasted because fanmail is impossible to answer easily.)
First, declare your room off-limits. Close the door. Get a lock if you have to. You should have one spot that’s your refuge in all this.
Second, give this a quick read: "How do I keep the place clean when no one will help me?"
Third, when you see your sister not busy, and there’s a mess she helped create that needs dealing with, ask her. Say, “Can you please come wash these dishes from your lunch? I’ll keep an eye on the baby while you do.”
Finally, accept that in a situation in which you live with other people, you lose a fair amount of control. Keep on top of what you have control over, and try to let go a little about the things you don’t.
I often say you can’t change someone else’s behavior, but boyfriend needs to unfuck his attitude. It’s one thing for him to not be actively cleaning, it’s another for him to impede you from having a livable home. Get a few laundry baskets and designate them for his stuff. Tell him that. As you clean, his stuff goes in the baskets and then gets left alone. If he doesn’t like it, he can clean up his own clothes.
You have the right to live in a clean and comfortable environment.
Keep what is yours and what can reasonably be considered common areas clean, and make peace with the fact that you share space with a hoarder. You can certainly try to have constructive conversations about the mess, but ultimately, it’s not your stuff, and hoarders can’t and shouldn’t be pushed into action, and getting rid of stuff without their consent and buy-in is about the worst thing you can do in a hoarding situation.
You do deserve to live in a clean and comfortable environment, though, so perhaps a conversation about what is considered “shared space” is in order, so you have clear parameters about what you can and can’t touch. And I don’t know your situation, but it may be time to start looking into a new living situation.
Oof, this is tough. I’m sure you know, because you live it, that you just can’t go through and clean out a hoarder’s house. But you live there, too, so there’s a really precarious balance between what is her space filled with her stuff, and what space you need in order to live your life. As it stands right now, you don’t have the space in order to live your life.
Can you talk to your mother about this at all? Maybe see if she’d be open to a discussion of relocating the birds to another room (which would have to be somewhat unfucked)? Or if she can relinquish control of another room so that you have room for what you need? Because, in all honesty, not allowing you to have the space for a bed or desk or clothes is grossly unfair to you. And you may need to point that out in a way that doesn’t provoke defensiveness, and you need to make sure that conversation contains a solution that isn’t going to make her instinctively recoil from any hope of a fair answer.
This is tough, but you need to talk to your mother. You need to have a frank conversation and tell her you need more livable room, and you need to provide a few alternative solutions and have her work with you on picking one.
Good luck, and please keep me posted.
wapaskarna asked you:
what do you do if you like to keep places looking organised and clean but the person you live with has bad habits (emptying bags on tables and leaving things, getting irritated when you suggest cleaning) ? It seems for every time I clean I come back and its worse.horrorcraft asked you:
Finally unfucked the kitchen surfaces and that disgusting drawer in the fridge! But my housemates seem to be incapable of wiping up after themselves no matter how many times I try and mention it tactfully, any tips for dealing with that?
OK, combining these two asks because this comes up a lot. Here’s a fact of life that applies not only to UfYH, but to everything else as well:
You cannot change anyone’s behavior but your own.
The end. Full stop. Is this infuriating? Absulutely. Exasperating? Sure thing. But this is a little like trying to make someone else diet: you can’t make their personal decisions for them. The best you can do is sit down and have a frank talk. “I’m going to be trying to keep the place a little cleaner. It would be great if you want to pitch in. Is it OK if I put your stuff in [this out of the way place] as I go?” This way, you’ve:
In extreme cases, I’m not above putting their dirty dishes in a bucket in their room, but as far as clutter and nonsense, designate a box or basket, and do your thing. Do not get passive-aggressive. That has never changed anyone’s behavior for the better. Just do what you’re going to do, and with any luck, shame will get their ass in gear.
CURSE YOU, FLATMATE!
This is really difficult. Because, as we know, we can’t change anyone’s behavior but our own. Which REALLY REALLY sucks when someone else’s behavior is burying you in filth. If you’ve had the chat a million times, I don’t know how else you can get through to your flatmate.
To be honest, this is probably the point where I’d draw a chalk line down the middle of the apartment, but that only works in sitcoms and cartoons. I still think honesty is best, “I worked really hard to clean this place up before I left, and I got back and it was worse than before. I understand if you’re not into helping me clean, but can you please at least try not to make things worse?” And then put all the dirty dishes on her (his?) bed.
noromance asked you:
I’m terrified of unfucking my room! I’m a burlesque dancer and have tons of sewing material, costumes and props everywhere. Half of my room is unreachable, and the last time I tried to unfuck the place it took me two days and I only got the half of the room I use done. I can’t afford to buy any storage boxes that look cute, and my costumes live in a suitcase, in total disorder. As I have almost 20 acts put together, there is a shitton of stuff in it. And no space for rehearsal. HELP?!!!
To make matters worse, my housemate is a huge slob, and constantly complains the house is gross but does nothing about it. I’m always spending $ on things to help organize, but she chooses to ignore them. Her grossness makes me unmotivated to unfuck the common areas. Aside from moving out (I’m barely done moving in - I spent august just sanding and varnishing my bedroom floors and september unboxing), do you have any advice?
OK, we have a few issues here. First is the housemate. One of the UfYH Fundamentals is that you can only change your own behavior. So if your housemate is compaining, you can say, I’m doing [x, y, and z] to make the house less gross, and it would probably make more of a difference if we were both doing it. And then just go do your do and let her do hers. I will say, if you do get motivated to do the common areas, I’m OK with moving her mess to one area, out of your way, after you’ve let her know you’ll be cleaning that area/room. It’s not passive-aggressive because you’ve at this point had several conversations laying the groundwork. Try to let go of the resentment that she’s not helping. This is about making things better for you.
Second, your stuff. You have the “more stuff than storage” issue, and it sounds like you can’t have less stuff or more storage. Maybe you need to look into different storage? Do you have vertical closet space you can utilize with one of those fabric hanging things with shelves? (I love those because they’re cheap and you can still use them like shelves, only behind a closed door.) Or how about underbed storage? Rubbermaid-type stuff is on sale everywhere right now because of New Year’s resolutiony stuff, so that might free up some room for you?
Well, you get what I’ve said before: that you can’t change anyone’s behavior except your own. Beyond that, there’s only so much you can do. Roommates kind of suck. I wish I had better advice to give, but just keep doing your do and, with any luck, they’ll get on board eventually.
ON FIRE? Not cool at all. Was it from spilled food and stuff? Yikes.
So my deal with roommates is this: a 30-second conversation beats months of passive-aggression every time. Tell them you’re trying to keep on top of the mess, and you’d appreciate any help in not making it worse. And creating flammable situations is definitely making it worse.
My script for roommate situations: “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m trying to keep ahead if the mess around here. Any help you can give me in not making it worse would be awesome. I don’t want to mess with your stuff, so would it be OK if I put it in one specific place if I come across anything while I’m cleaning?” This way, you’re: 1) letting them know what you’re doing; 2) asking them not to undo it; 3) explaining that you don’t expect them to help; and 4) asking permission to move their stuff if it’s in your way.
I’ve touched on this a bit before, but there are two parts to this:
1. You cannot change anyone’s habits but your own, so don’t waste energy getting angry at people who aren’t going along with the same program you are.
2. I wish Old Me (that is, current me) could have told Young Me that 75% of all of my roommate problems could have been solved in one minute conversations. Instead of passive-aggressively chucking shit into the trash or slamming dishes around (totally my MO), talk to your housemates. “Hey, you may have noticed I’m trying to keep the place a little cleaner. Any help you can give me in trying to make sure it doesn’t get worse again would be awesome. Would it be OK if, when I’m cleaning, I set your stuff aside for you to handle whenever?” You’re not asking for their help cleaning, you’re just telling them what you’re doing, asking if it’s OK to touch their stuff, and setting the foundation for enlisting help in not fucking it up again.