Here's How To Talk To Your Roommate About Cleaning Without Making An Even Bigger Mess
If you've ever lived with someone who, quite frankly, seems like the biggest slob in existence, then you know the struggle is real. OK, maybe that was a little harsh, but the reality with any living situation is that it's important to set boundaries between you and your roommate about how to keep your home nice and tidy. Talking to your roommate about cleaning can feel a bit awkward, but there is a way to get through this conversation without a bunch of drama, my friends. You just have to approach the (mildly messy) situation with care.
Now, one of your biggest worries going into this conversation might be that you're afraid of coming off too bossy. But, according to Texas-based counselor, Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, you don't need to feel so caught up in sounding controlling because, the truth is, "one of you needs to take the lead on this," she says.
"Your place isn’t going to clean itself!" Mcbain tells me in an interview with Elite Daily. "Sit down without distractions, and talk about how you want to handle the apartment cleaning."
Assuming you and your roommate have separate bedrooms, McBain suggests talking to them about keeping the common areas — the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, etc. — neat and clean, and easing up a bit on how they take care of their own personal space in their bedroom.
But the major key to harmonious living, according to clinical psychologist, Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., is to approach the cleaning talk with a collaborative attitude.
"Make it about both of you, not about them," Klapow, the host of The Web Radio Show, tells me in an interview with Elite Daily. "'Could you give me a hand cleaning up?' is a good [question to ask]. When people feel singled out (i.e. 'Could you keep this place clean?'), they are more likely to be defensive and not help."
It's all about making a joint effort, he explains, even if you feel you've done your fair share. The alternative is, you're stuck with a sink piled high with dishes and a stinky, week-old garbage bag. To avoid situations like this, Klapow recommends creating a no-nonsense cleaning schedule for you and your roommate(s) to follow.
"These schedules are great on two conditions: You mutually agree to them, you do your share, and you don’t cross over and do your roommate's responsibilities," he tells Elite Daily.
However, Klapow warns, there's one big thing to be wary of here: the more you “rescue” your roommate out of a scheduled cleaning responsibility, the more likely they are to consistently not do their fair share. Even if it means letting the trash overflow a bit, or having dishes pile up for a day or two, "stick to the schedule, and let them do their share," he says.
Of course, in the worst-case scenario, you might be cursed with a roommate who's just plain inconsiderate about how clean your living space is.
You can make all of the color-coded schedules you want, and offer gentle reminder after gentle reminder about tidying up — and yet, your roomie may never pick up the slack.
In this case, even though you might be banging your head against the wall in frustration, Klapow says you do still have some options for how to approach the subject with your roommate while keeping your cool. "First, appeal to their caring side," he advises. "See if they can be cleaner as a compassionate move, versus something they will do naturally."
Take my living situation during my junior year of college, for example. I lived with five girls, and we had a color-coded cleaning schedule tacked up on the wall. When it came to dish duty, though, the roomie responsible for that chore literally always left her dirty plates in the sink, caked with dried-up food. It was nasty AF, and I was noticeably salty about it whenever I talked to her.
But hey, maybe following a strict cleaning schedule just wasn't her thing. Maybe if I'd used Klapow's advice, and tapped into my roomie's caring side by asking her to do the dishes because it would make all of the girls in the house really happy, and would make the dynamics between us a lot stronger, she would've stayed on top of her mess. I guess I'll never really know if that would've made any difference, but it probably would have, at the very least, gotten my frustrations out into the open, and it likely would've led to better communication overall in our home, too.
Unfortunately, though, compassionate communication isn't always a one-way ticket to a squeaky-clean apartment.
According to Klapow, you might have to bargain with your roomie a bit to avoid having those week-old pasta noodles pile up in the sink.
"Show them the value proposition of being clean," he says. "What will you do for them if they can be neater for you?"
Honestly, that one speaks to me on a spiritual level. I feel like, if I'd done things a bit more strategically in college, I could have easily bargained with my messy roomie. Back then, I was super into baking, and I was always whipping up some decadent, chocolatey creation in the oven in our apartment. I'd bet if I'd offered my sloppy housemate a couple of sweet potato brownies or peanut butter cookies in exchange for her promising to consistently stay on top of her cleaning duties, we would've been smooth sailing.
Of course, there's always the possibility that all the delicious baked goods in the world won't do a damn thing, and your roomie still won't pick up the slack and do their fair share around the house. In this case, Klapow says you might have to learn to tolerate an environment that is less than what you would like. I know, that sounds like a total bummer, but sometimes, you have to pick and choose your battles and accept the fact that nobody's perfect — not even when tempted by homemade desserts.
If all else fails, Klapow says moving out shouldn't be something that's completely off the table. A messy living space can really bug some people, and if it's getting to a point where you literally can't even stand to be in your own home because of the mess, Klapow says you might want to look into a new living situation.
Say it with me: You are a strong, independent woman who deserves a clean home.