Moldy dishes, dirty clothes, spoiled milk, mildewed shower tiles, bags of garbage (or, worse, garbage scattered all over the apartment), overflowing litter boxes, and a toothpaste-laden sink—living with a messy roommate can be a unique form of odorous, cluttered hell. Regardless of how you found your roommate—through the world wide web or through a friendship of ten years—you’ll probably need to address the issue of apartment cleanliness at some point in your rooming relationships. This article contains tips for dealing with a messy roommate in a constructive way. You might not be able to persuade a persistently untidy individual to help keep your apartment absolutely pristine, but you should be able to make your situation much more tolerable.
Get it out of the way
The most important aspect of confronting a cleanliness issue is timing. Try to voice your concerns about apartment-dominating mounds of clothes or stacks of dishes early on in your tenancy with a roommate. You might let a few misplaced articles or unwashed dishes go at first, but as soon as it becomes obvious that your roommate is a habitual mess-maker, you need to address the issue immediately. If you let it go for too long, your roommate’s messy habits will only become even more ingrained, the mold levels in your apartment will rise, and you’re liable to hurt yourself tripping over your roommate’s stuff when coming home late one night. Likewise, timing is important when you actually choose to address the issue. Make sure to do it at a time when you and your roommate will be able to talk for a good ten or fifteen minutes if necessary, in order to lay out some ground rules regarding keeping it clean.
Break the news gently
It’s tough to tell people you think their habits are disgusting. That’s why you shouldn’t tell your roommate you think his or her habits are disgusting. Be careful not to bring up the issue in an accusatory manner, by saying something like “I can’t believe you’re so messy. That’s gross,” or “Can you stop leaving your stupid crap all over the place?” You will only cause your roommate to resent you and perhaps become even messier (which you surely didn’t think possible!). Focus on attacking the problem, not your roommate. It’s very likely that your roomie has no idea that his or her habits are potentially disturbing to you. So, rather than blaming the mess on your roommate, concentrate on finding ways to address the specific problems that bother you. Proposing a solution rather than merely pointing out the problem is likely to get you better results. Clarifying that “It annoys me when there are lots of dirty dishes on the counter. I try to do my dishes the same day I use them,” and asking your roomie, “Do you think you can do the same?” gives your roommate a built-in way to address the issue. If your roommate agrees to shape up, consider this a good first step. Maybe the dishes will actually get done. Sometimes notification that someone else is aware of and bothered by the mess is all that’s necessary to motivate a person to clean up, and there’s still potential for your roomie to be an agreeable Oscar to your Felix.
Get down and dirty about getting clean
However, it’s very possible that a simple verbal promise from your roommate won’t produce particularly sparkling results in the cleanliness department. An extra dish or two may be washed, or one pile of junk might disappear from the living room, but if your roommate is seriously messy, you’ll need to look for some more serious solutions. If an initial suggestion doesn’t motivate your roomie to change his or her ways, you’ll need to have a more involved discussion. Come prepared with some ideas about fixing the situation. Perhaps you can create a “chore chart” and have certain individuals responsible for taking care of dishes, garbage duty, and other housekeeping matters each week. You could rotate tasks or each choose one for yourself—if your roomie can’t stand doing dishes but doesn’t mind vacuuming and taking out the garbage, maybe that’s a good tradeoff for you.
Make sure your roommate knows that, beyond completing regular cleaning chores, he or she is also responsible for keeping excessive amounts of personal belongings out of communal spaces. Compromise and allow the roommate’s individual bedroom to get as filthy as possible (short of actual, stench-producing filth), but stick to your guns and work to fight clutter in communal areas. A book here or a sweater there shouldn’t bother you too much, but giant piles of laundry, textbooks, or CD cases are likely unacceptable. However, it’s your responsibility to tell your roommate how much clutter you’re prepared to endure. Being clear about your boundaries will prevent you from exploding when your roomie finally tosses his or her five hundredth candy bar wrapper on the floor. Rather than running around your apartment desperately screaming “No more Butterfinger carpet, for the love of god!” and pulling out your hair when this happens, you can prevent that final wrapper, or maybe even those final hundred wrappers, from ever touching the ground. If it takes stocking every room in your apartment with trash cans (or maybe just trash bags, to save some money), do it—but make sure the messy individual chips in so you don’t resent him or her for making a mess and costing you money to help clean it up.
If your roomie has serious cleanliness problems—doesn’t shower, lets mold grow in his or her room, and hasn’t washed an article of clothing in months—you probably won’t be able to change his or her ways enough to make living together tolerable. If you find yourself in such a sticky (literally—from the maple syrup your roomie spilled on the TV remote) situation, your best options may be to move out or convince your roommate to leave. If you complain constantly about the mess, your roomie isn’t likely to want to stick around long anyway, so becoming Mr. Clean and nagging your roommate about clutter, dust, and straight up dirt might not be a bad approach—though it could always backfire and motivate your roommate to go on an apartment-trashing rampage. You could try convincing your landlord that your roommate is violating the terms of the lease by excessively dirtying the apartment, but a campaign to get your roomie evicted is more likely to produce hard feelings and even bigger messes than it is to get the grime out of your living space. Bringing up the problem and having a frank discussion about it is always the best first step. If doing so produces no results, you might resort to the aforementioned drastic measures.
Vengeance can be yours, but it ain’t clean
The clean roommate is often tempted to make a mess to show the dirty roommate how awful it is to live in a slovenly space. However, by adding to the Armageddon-like atrocities in your home, you will most likely just condone or even encourage your roomie’s filthy habits. Placing a carefully collected pile of condom wrappers (eww), partially filled Chinese food takeout boxes, and half-eaten fruit in front of your roommate’s door might seem to you (the clean one) like a clear indictment of the grossness of your roommate’s habits. Unfortunately, your roommate will probably take this as license to leave his or her own nastiness outside your door, or perhaps worse, accuse you of being the messy one. Adding to the filth is unlikely to make anyone happy. Rather than contribute, clean up, and ask your roommate to follow suit. If you have to make the initial effort to stock the apartment with cleaning supplies, it might be worth it just to get through the grime and be able to see that your countertops are actually just plain white, not speckled with brown and green like your roommate thought.
The best way to deal with a messy roommate is not to have one at all. If you’re considering living with a friend, contemplate the way your friend maintains his or her current living space. If there’s clutter you can’t cope with, it’s probably safe to assume that your shared apartment would be just as filled with empty Coke cans, mismatched socks, and last year’s magazines. You might think your friend would understand your need for a neat apartment, but choosing to room with an individual whose living space preferences differ greatly from your own is just asking for trouble.
To sum up, the best way to deal with a messy roommate is to avoid getting one in the first place. If you do end up with a soap-phobic packrat, discuss clutter and cleaning rules without making personal attacks. If all else fails, do what you can to keep communal areas clean, nag your roommate to help out to the best of his or her ability, and breathe a sigh of relief when your lease is up. </p