The age old question: how to get roommates to clean. It plagues the heart of many a college student, that’s for sure.
Living the roommate life is fantastic. Although I wouldn’t give up being married for the world, sometimes I miss living with the girls–they’re my best friends! And I know Connor misses living with the boys at times. Having roommates can be a great experience, but there is always at least one thing that drives you up the wall about the other person or people you live with.
Usually, it’s cleaning.
When you’re all sharing a kitchen and living area together things can get out of hand very quickly if even one person is messy. And when it’s messy, tensions run high. So it’s important to get this sorted out so that your roommate experience is a positive one! Plus, it’s just nice to have a clean house.
So I’ve put together a list of steps to take and principles to remember when it comes to getting your roommate to clean. I hope this helps you! Enjoy!
1. Lay down some ground rules from day one
This is vital. You can’t go into a roommate situation saying, “Yeah! Our house is going to be the FUN house! No rules!” and then three weeks later freak out at your roommates for leaving their dishes in the living room. When you’re going into a roommate situation be realistic about what you want for your shared space. Then, when you interview for potential roommates or have a chance to sit down with people you’ve decided to move in with, you can be clear about your expectations.
Saying what you want from the beginning is not rude. It’s not rude to say “I’m not comfortable with having a messy kitchen sink” if it’s a real issue for you. It’s actually ruder to not say anything and then cast dirty glances at your roommate from across the kitchen for the next two months.
One way to make sure that your house stays clean is to start off the school year with a chore chart. This is what the girls I lived with did, and this is what my husband and I do now. And you know what? I made you guys a cleaning chart printout to help you!
It’s separated into weekly and monthly chores. Then, you just write who does what for each week of the month. Then, you follow that the rest of the semester until you print a new one off. It’s pretty simple! And there are a few extra lines for you to customize it to your particular house/apartment/etc.
Getting started with a set list of what needs to get done and by whom is an excellent way to make your expectations about house cleanliness clear without singling anyone out. It’s an easy way to fix the problem before it becomes a problem and also allows you to keep each other accountable since you can say “Hey, _____, I see you’re supposed to take out the trash this week but the garbage man is coming in the morning and it’s still in the kitchen. Do you mind doing that?” It’s less awkward than having to have a conversation about how messy they are–instead you have concrete expectations that you can discuss because you all agreed to them earlier. Sometimes the answer to how to get roommates to clean is as easy as just asking them to do it.
2. Set a good example
Here’s the thing: you can’t get mad at someone for being messy if you yourself are extremely messy. If you’re leaving your breakfast dishes on the counter, you’ve got to be OK with them leaving their breakfast dishes on the counter. If you want to have a clean home, you’ve got to be showing your roommates you’re willing to put in the work. Otherwise it’s all talk and no real change.
Also, when you’re living with a roommate who is messy, if you’re modelling positive cleaning behaviours (can you tell I’m a psych student?) then they’ll be more likely to follow suit. Think about it–you feel a lot more guilty when you add dirty dishes to a clean kitchen than if you’re simply adding to the preexisting mess.
3. Don’t enable messy habits
If you are living with someone messy, try not to just deal with it yourself because you know that they won’t. To a certain extent, this is healthy. It’s not exactly going to help matters if you point out every time they leave a knife in the sink. But if they are making a huge mess of the house, you can’t allow them to continue to use you as a cleaning lady. I have one friend who would hide all of the clean dishes until his roommates did the mountain of dirty ones they had accumulated–I don’t recommend that. It didn’t really help much, but it was really entertaining to watch.
What I do recommend is perhaps having separate small appliances whenever possible. If they never clean your blender and are harming it by not using it properly, don’t let them use your blender. Keep it in your room if you have to, or have separate cupboards for yours and their things. Obviously this does not work for larger items like ovens or sinks, but for the smaller things it can be very helpful because it gives your roommate the opportunity to take responsibility for making the mess. If she wants a smoothie the next morning that doesn’t have mould growing in it, she’s got to wash her own blender.
4. Take necessary measures if it’s a real problem
If their mess is infringing upon your living space, it may be worth having a conversation with them about you moving out or putting in some boundaries. Many rental houses for students have two fridges, if that is the case for you maybe having them keep their food in one fridge and you use the other would be a beneficial arrangement if they are keeping the fridge filled with mouldy food. Maybe you need to
5. Remember to be flexible
When we get stressed about how to get roommates to clean it can be easy to think, “I’m right, they’re wrong, because I’m clean and they’re not.” But sometimes our version of cleanliness is a little more intense than it needs to be. Does it really matter if she sometimes forgets to wash her dishes from making a sandwich for lunch? It’s a knife and a plate. That’s all. Not everyone grows up in an organized, clean home, and moving out for the first time and living with other people can be quite an adjustment.
It’s important to be able to recognize when our issues with cleanliness are real concerns about the amount of bacteria and fungi that are growing in the house and when it’s merely a difference in preferences for cleanliness. In the second scenario, both members need to give a little–the messy one needs to clean more and the cleaner one needs to give a bit more. It’s OK to not have the crumbs swept up every night–it might not be what you like, but it is OK. Try to figure out what things are must-dos when it comes to cleanliness (e.g., having the toilet cleaned every week, cleaning the sink every week, and taking out the trash) and which things you’re OK to let slip.
When we are trying to figure out how to get roommates to clean it can be really hard to look from their perspective–if they’re just stressed about being an adult for the first time or not a naturally organized person it can be a bit stressful to try and organize cleaning a house. So be patient, be understanding, but be clear about what is necessary for your home to stay presentable and for you to be comfortable.
What are some of your best tips for roommates who won’t clean? Are you the messy or the clean roommate? Let me know in the comments below!
In case you missed it, here’s the free printout again!
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