Sometimes a living situation turns into a real-life version of The Odd Couple. You’re neat Felix Unger and your messy roommate is an unrelenting, Oscar Madison-type slob. It was funny on television, but when you’re in the middle of a mess it might not seem so amusing.
Dealing with messy roommates isn’t easy. Here are some organizing tips to help you cope, communicate, and clean up.
Six Ways to Deal with a Messy Roommate
#1: Have realistic expectations
If you expect to be able to eat off the floors and your roommate is a slob, the likelihood of convincing them to adhere to your hospital-standard levels of cleanliness is slim. You’re both going to have to compromise to be able to live together.
Before you address the mess, make sure your priorities are in order. Pick your battles. We all have things that annoy us. Perhaps you’d prefer never to have a dirty dish in the sink, but it bothers you more when your roommate leaves dirty socks on the bathroom floor.
Also, make sure your criticism is constructive. Maybe organizing the living area differently could contribute to greater cleanliness. Be prepared with organizing tips and shortcuts that may help the situation. Keep in mind that there are other annoying roommate habits that can be much worse than messiness. Maybe you are lucky to have your messy roommate in other ways. This can help you keep things in perspective and give you some positive things to say.
#2: Don’t wait too long to address the issue
People sometimes make the mistake of letting a minor irritation fester until it turns into a major blowout. If your messy roommate’s habits annoy you, it’s best to talk about it as soon as possible.
Pick a time when you’re both relaxed. It’s not a good idea to bring up the issue when your roommate is on her way out the door or cramming for an exam.
#3: Keep it low key
Try to stay calm and keep your initial conversation easygoing and light. Instead of chastising your roommate for their messiness, try suggesting a cleaning schedule. Maybe you offer to switch off days doing dishes or take turns vacuuming.
If there is one habit that’s particularly upsetting to you, you can try to single it out. Say something like, “It really bothers me that…” and then lay out the issue. The key is to stay calm. Talk about the way the behavior makes you feel instead of making angry accusations. An angry person isn’t going to listen when you want to talk about their annoying roommate habits.
#4 Establish a Cleaning Schedule with Roommates
A cleaning schedule with roommates is an effective tool because it shifts the conversation away from personal criticism to effective change. This will help you make the case that your messy roommates aren’t doing their fair share or that their habits are causing a specific problem.
#5: Offer to trade chores
Wheeling and dealing with roommates sometimes helps diffuse the situation. If you had a cleaning schedule in place and your roommate is slacking, consider offering to split chores in a new way. For some people, sweeping the kitchen floor might be a tedious task while for others it’s no big deal. If your roommate hates doing dishes, but doesn’t mind vacuuming, offer to be the one to do the dishes.
It’s important not to make this offer unless you’re prepared to follow through. If you agree to be the one who takes out the trash, you don’t get to be angry when your roommate doesn’t do it. If you can follow through, this can be a good way to compromise and make sure that things get done.
#6: Confine your complaints to common areas
Even if your roommate’s messy room bothers you, you don’t really have a right to complain about it unless it’s so bad that the problem affects you too. In other words, if food kept in their room is attracting pests, you can complain. If they’re just messy, you don’t.
You do, however, have a right to address messiness in areas of the house that are yours, too. The kitchen, living room, and bathroom belong to both of you. You should do your best to work out an agreement that suits both of you.
When Should You Give Up on a Messy Roommate?
When you’ve tried everything, you may decide to just do all the cleaning. This is the last resort, but in the end, it may be the only solution. Some people care more about cleanliness than others. If you’re the kind of person who can’t cope with clutter, you might have to resign yourself to being the one who straightens out the living room.
It’s important to draw a distinction between clutter and a true hygiene problem. If your messy roommate is so filthy that it’s endangering your health or might cause your landlord to evict you, you’ll have to take aggressive action to address the issue.
However, if it’s just a matter of clutter or putting off chores, the chances are good that you can figure out a way to live together peacefully.