Whether you are living with your partner, a sibling, or a platonic roommate, you likely clicked on this article because you’ve found yourself cohabitating with a less-than-organized person.
Maybe they’re not the best at washing dishes. Maybe they hoard paperwork or have trouble remembering to take the trash out. Whatever the specifics are, you probably find their habits stressful. You want to know how to address the issue before it damages your relationship with them.
Lucky for you, I have lots of advice to impart from my experiences (and those of close friends, psychologists, and relationship experts).
Here are some helpful tips for managing the mutual responsibilities of home maintenance and for defusing feelings of hostility and resentment towards your household partner.
1. Consider their perspective and extend compassion.
People who have a hard time staying organized often have reasons for it besides pure laziness. Factors like financial insecurity and poor health can hinder someone’s motivation to care for their living space. Mental disorders like ADHD and OCD can have crippling effects on one’s ability to perform household tasks.
The unfortunate truth is that chronically disorganized people tend to suffer from their own messiness more than anyone else. So while it may be annoying to you, try to remember that they are likely equally, if not more so, annoyed by their own habits.
2. Verbalize your expectations, and then allow them to do the same.
Our relationships thrive on our ability to clearly communicate our expectations. What do you expect your roommate to do around the house? Who should be responsible for which tasks and when should they be done? Decide what you feel is fair, and then propose it to your roommate.
Once you’ve expressed your opinion (respectfully), give your living partner a chance to respond and assert their own expectations— this should be a mutual conversation, not a lecture. And if you feel that the other person is not taking the discussion seriously, verbalize how important this is to you and how necessary it is for your living situation to work.
3. Make a game plan.
Once you’ve both expressed your thoughts on housework, create a game plan for sharing the work. Consider assigning each other “roles”, like Person A is the dishwasher while Person B is the laundry-folder. While not necessary, roles can be very helpful to ensure neither of you feels overburdened or confused about what to do around the house. Your division of labor doesn’t necessarily have to be split 50-50, either— factor in how much time each of you spends at home, how often certain objects are used, and what your work schedules look like.
This is where you need to exercise your ability to compromise. If they hate vacuuming and you hate scrubbing the tub, propose that you take care of the floors and they take care of the bathroom. The key word is negotiation — find a middle ground you are both satisfied with.
4. Leave them be.
You need to exercise trust in your living partner’s ability to keep to their word and follow the plan. That means no excessive reminders, passive-aggressive comments, or flat-out doing their chores yourself. The whole point of making a “game plan” is to make sure no one feels like the burden of responsibility is entirely on them. So take care of what you’ve agreed to handle and give them the space they need to hold up their end of the bargain.
Side note: what they do with their stuff in their private spaces is not your responsibility. That means their unmade bed, unfolded laundry, or scattered paperwork are not yours to “fix”, unless that’s something you’ve both agreed is okay. Just focus on keeping up with your designated areas.
5. Speak up for yourself.
If your living partner continuously fails to do what they said they’d do around the house, it is entirely fair and reasonable to talk to them about it. Express how the situation makes you feel in a kind but direct manner, and remind them that you do your fair share of housework. If you both feel that your current strategy isn’t working, look it over and try a new approach.
Do not use this as an opportunity to be petty — that never helps solve the problem. If you’re frustrated, take a breath before you initiate the conversation. Make an honest effort to understand why they haven’t held up their end, then adapt.
6. Offer to help.
This doesn’t necessarily mean doing their tasks for them, though that can be a nice gesture from time to time. “Help” can look like asking if they want you to dry the dishes while they wash them, or seeing if they need you to complete your chores by a certain time that week.
A helpful trick to consider is adapting your living environment to be more compatible with their way of doing things. (For example, I know some roommates have trash cans in every room of the house so trash isn’t left around. Think of similar ideas that could help prevent the problem.)
Try your best to be sensitive about whether or not your living partner likes for you to intervene— some people really hate receiving unprompted help, and others can find reminders to be demeaning, distrustful, and infantilizing. Ask them if they want you to be involved, and then respect their response.
7. Don’t take it personally.
This can be really hard, especially if you’re like me and you value keeping your home clean and organized at all times. It’s easy to take someone’s messiness as a personal jab, but 9 times out of 10, that’s simply not the case. In all likelihood, they were probably a messy person before they even met you. And if they truly care about you, they will work with you to avoid developing feelings of resentment or hostility.
Living together is, even on a basic level, an inherent partnership. And the key to any successful partnership is honest, consistent communication. The next time you feel burdened by the messy or disorganized habits of your living partner initiate a conversation. More often than not, the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it feels when you bottle it up.
Express concerns, release forgiveness and exercise trust.