Four Steps To Sanity When Living With Someone Who Is Messy

June 14, 2011 | By | Comments (2)

Living with someone else — roommate, spouse, child, partner — can be difficult, especially when that person doesn’t have the same expectations of orderliness as you do. If you’re in a position where you are constantly upset with your housemates for being messy, consider taking these steps to reduce your frustrations:

  1. Schedule a time to have a conversation about your home. It is best if this conversation occurs in a public location, since people are less likely to cause a scene in a nice restaurant or favorite coffee house. Put it on the calendar, don’t spring the meeting on anyone, and make sure everyone makes it to the meeting.
  2. Have a clear vision of your ideal home and how you will achieve and maintain that vision. Often times, people say, “I want the house to be less cluttered.” This is fine, but it’s vague and doesn’t explain how an uncluttered home will happen and how it will function. Know how you will clear the clutter (two hour uncluttering sessions on Saturdays in July) and how you will maintain it (a weekly chore chart). If you can’t see where you’re headed, no one else in your family will.
  3. Remember that dirty and messy are not the same thing. Dirty is when there is rotting food on the floor, stove, or countertops, bug infestations, overflowing kitty litter boxes, and moldy carpets. A dirty home is not safe for its inhabitants and these conditions should not be tolerated. However, “messy” is a subjective concept and only refers to objects being out of place. Not everyone in your home may have the same standards for messiness, and coming to an agreement on this definition is important for your happiness. During your conversation, everyone should identify what is okay and what isn’t (dirty is never okay, messy is up for debate). You are not the only person in your house, and you may have to compromise on a few things, just as your housemate(s) may have to. For example, in our house it’s fine if we make a huge mess while working on a project. Whenever we stop working on a project, either for a few hours or when the project is done, all materials have to be put away and the work area has to be cleaned. I don’t love that things can look like a disaster area during the work, but I’m okay with it as long as the mess goes away immediately after the work period is complete.
  4. Stop nagging. You are not the orderliness police, and once the system is agreed upon by all housemates, people need to self-regulate. If someone isn’t following the agreed upon standards, it’s time to have another conversation to find out why. The standards may have been unrealistic for time available to dedicate to housework or the person may not fully understand what their responsibilities are. A follow-up conversation that respects the other person is needed, not a constant stream of nagging. Nagging is disrespectful, even with children.