Roommate Problems: How to Deal with Messy Roommates

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Roommate Problems: How to Deal with Messy Roommates

Bonface Landi · Sep 21, 2021
Angry girl confronts her messy roommate.

Living with a messy roommate can be quite frustrating. Let’s face it: no one likes dealing with consistently mildewed shower tiles, dirty clothes, overflowing kitchen sinks, and full garbage cans. This creates a horrifying living environment, especially if you fancy high standards of hygiene. And no matter how close the two of you are, there will eventually come a time where you have to address this uncomfortable issue, if only for your peace of mind.

If you’re wondering how to approach your messy roommate without escalating tensions, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s start with the basics:

Explain Your Distress

If your roommate is a family member or close friend, chances are you’ve already kept your frustrations to yourself for longer than you would have liked. While you might be thinking twice about confronting them, you need to know that you are doing the right thing. Starting the conversation with such a mentality will give you the confidence you need to comfortably explain your distress. Still, you need to exercise some caution when raising this issue for the first time, as it isn’t exactly easy to hear that someone you live with finds your habits off-putting (or worse, flat-out disgusting). For that reason, you need to be careful not to bring up the issue in an accusatory manner. The words you say at the beginning will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. Avoid saying things like “You live like a pig. You are so disorganized,” or “You need to clean up your act and start getting organized.”

Saying thing like this will only irritate your roommate and cause them to resent you. Worst of all, they might even get messier on purpose just to irritate you! Therefore, instead of attacking your roommate, focus on attacking the problem. In most cases, your roommate will have no idea that you even had a problem with their behavior. This is why you should find acceptable ways to address the real problem rather than blaming it on your roommate. The best way to approach it is by proposing a solution rather than merely mentioning the problem. For instance, if you don’t like your roommate leaving undone dishes in the sink, you might consider saying something like “I don’t like it when there are lots of dirty dishes in the sink. I prefer washing mine the same day I use them.”

After that, you can ask your roommate, “Do you think you can do that as well?” By phrasing it that way, you give your roommate a chance to see the problem from a non-confrontational point of view. If they agree to change their behavior, it will be a good first step. They can start washing their dishes and maintain good hygiene. Keep in mind that the manner you convey the message is very important, and usually determines how your roommate will respond more than anything else.

Get Serious About Cleanliness

In some cases, your roommate may verbally agree to change their behavior but fail to actually follow through. They might wash the dishes for a few days and then go back to their old habits. In these cases, you’ll have to resort to firmer, more serious solutions. Talking to them the first time might not have convinced them that you were serious about apartment cleanliness. In that case, prepare some reliable and doable ideas about fixing the problem. For instance, you could suggest creating a “chore chart” that indicates who will be responsible for garbage duty, taking care of dishes, and any other housekeeping chores on each week. For a more comfortable and fair solution, rotate tasks so that everyone has a turn doing all the chores. However, if your roommate can’t stand doing dishes but is okay with vacuuming, you could always just exchange tasks. It might seem unfair to you, but you’ll still be getting your roommate to help keep your home clean.

Concerning Your Roommate’s Room

Apart from completing house chores, you may or may not feel compelled to tell your roommate to keep their room tidy, too. Most people are only concerned with the cleanliness of communal spaces in their home, but there are people whose rooms are so messy that it physically bothers the other people they live with. In these cases, the best thing you can do is address the issue head on. For instance, you might be okay with them leaving a few books on the floor, but not so okay with giant piles of dirty laundry. Let your roommate know exactly how much clutter you can endure and be very clear about your boundaries. Doing so should prevent them from getting too messy and doing things that get on your nerves. Rather than dealing with hundreds of candy bar wrappers and constantly complaining about it, you can let your roommate know your stance on the subject once and for all. Even if you have to stock every room in your apartment with a trash can, do it. Just make sure your roommate chips in for the additional expense so that it isn’t only you spending money to help keep the apartment clean.

In Case of Extremes

Young man confronts his messy roommate after several attempts at getting him to change his behaviors.

There are some cases where your roommate might have extreme cleanliness problems. For instance, they might not shower, wash their clothes for weeks, and let mold grow in their room. In these instances, it will be very difficult to try and change their behavior. If you find yourself in such an unfortunate situation, your only option is to move out. Alternatively, you can try and convince them to move out instead. It’s never good to live in an apartment where you find yourself constantly irritated and having to complain. Have an open conversation about this with your roommate and share your honest thoughts.

If you don’t share rent and only host them at your apartment, asking them to leave might seem unfair. However, you don’t really have a lot of other options when dealing with people who don’t seem willing to help themselves. If, on the other hand, you do split the rent, it’s best to give your roommate some prior notice of your departure so they have enough time to find a replacement roommate. Still, make sure you give your roommate time to change before making such a big decision. Tell them you will leave at the end of the month if they don’t change, then follow through with your promise.

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. 

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