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What is it about roommates who stack their crusty plates in the sink and have serious aversions to taking out the trash? Most of us (aside from the very messiest) have probably lived with someone a little more slovenly than we are, and cleanliness can lead to some serious tension between roomies.
Read on as our two experts share their secrets to tidy cohabitation.
1. Be clear on expectations
Before you even sign a lease with a roommate, talk through things like trash removal, dust bunnies and policies on shoes (on or off?) in the apartment—and consider putting these agreements down on paper. “If both people are clear on what they’re supposed to be doing you have something to go back to,” says Lynn Saladino, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “If you wait until it gets to be a problem you’re trying to figure out when to bring it up, even if you’re trying not to be confrontational, and an argument or hard feelings will inevitably crop up.”
2. Never clam up
The single most effective way to sort this out is to talk to your roommate early on, says Matt Hutchinson, founder of roommate matching site SpareRoom. “Don’t wait until you’re so mad you fly off the handle and definitely don’t resort to passive-aggressive Post-It notes on the fridge,” he says. Once you’ve expressed how much it irritates you that he or she refuses to wash the dishes, give it time. “Give your roommate a chance to make some changes,” he says. “Your roommate might not even know how much it bothers you.”
3. All hail the chore wheel
To ensure a fair split of duties, consider setting up a chore wheel, where one person cleans the toilet one week and the other dusts and vacuums, before you switch jobs. If all else fails, you can always pick a time to get the big stuff done together. “If you get the beer and pizza ordered and timed to when you’re done, it can be a great way of dealing with those annoying tasks,” Hutchinson says.
4. Monetize it
If you’ve tried to split chores and it just isn’t working, consider this: Money talks. “The cleaner roommate can take on more responsibility for taking care of the apartment while the other pays extra rent,” suggests Saladino. “The messier roommate might even appreciate the fact that they don’t have to worry about it.”
5. Set up regular check-ins
Even a once-a-month housekeeping chat will go a long way to making everyone feel their voices are being heard. “A lot of times if you can keep a dialogue going you can address things before you can’t communicate at all,” Saladino says.
6. Hire a helping hand
If you’re living with a person who knows he or she is messy, it’s easier to manage. “You could say 'Hey, let’s chip in and get a cleaning person,’” Saladino says. “You might be surprised to hear ‘Yes, I stink at cleaning up.' Once they admit the issue you can both go about it from a much more clear-cut path and get the help you need.” And, in New York, there's no shortage of house cleaning services that'll do the dirty work for you.
7. Remember—this is a short-term problem
If after trying all of the above you still feel like you just can’t live with this person, try and keep your cool. “Remember that the commitment is short-term,” Saladino says. “If you put a time frame around it, the whole thing becomes a little less ominous. And, even if you have to pay for a cleaning person, remember this time living with this person is limited.”
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