Keeping a Peaceful Home: Tips for Living with a Messy (or Clean!) Person

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When talking to friends about their relationships, one of the biggest areas of conflict that seem to keep coming up is household chores. Specifically, the problem of a ‘clean’ person living with a ‘messy’ person and the problem of who does what around the house. You probably already know by now if you are a messy person or a clean person. This is probably especially apparent if you are living with someone of the opposite type. If you've ever gotten into a big argument about cleaning (I'm raising my hand here too), here are some suggestions for alleviating some of that conflict.

Household chores are often a battleground for breeding miscommunication and resentment if problems are not addressed and if a plan or compromise can't be reached. In fact, according to a 2007 Pew Research Poll, sharing household chores was in the top three highest-ranking issues associated with a successful marriage—third only to faithfulness and good sex. But it's not just marriages - living a roommate that thinks about cleaning in a completely different way than you do can be a source of great stress!

Be Patient. Acknowledge that a person’s tendencies in this regard are a product of their upbringing, history and habit, and that it will take time to instill change for both sides. Also, understand that it is a matter of priority, NOT of character. A NYTimes article describes how everyone has a different dirt “threshold”;meaning that everyone has a different threshold of passing from tolerance into intolerance when an untidy room suddenly seems to be a dreadful mess. Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus says “calling someone sloppy or meticulous is too general and too simplistic” because all of us are sloppy in some way and neat in another. Consider that much of the problem may come from the fact that each person is prioritizing cleanliness and organization in a different way.

Have a conversation. Since the conflict comes from varying priorities, talking through these differences is key to getting on the same page. Talk with your partner or roommate and define what is dirty, messy and clean to each of you. In this conversation, it might be helpful to describe what your ideal home is like, in regards to cleanliness. Maybe explain the reasons why it is important for you to have a clean space, i.e. “It is important for me to have a clean kitchen because it motivates me to cook more.” Or “It is important for me that the bedroom is clutter-free because a clean environment helps me to relax,” In a marriage, it will also be helpful to acknowledge tendencies to nag or mock, i.e. nagging to get the other person to clean, or mocking the other person for caring about cleanliness. In a roommate situation, it will be helpful to establish open lines of communication about cleaning. Maybe establish a brief time to check-in once every other week or once a month to make sure you are on the same page.

Get practical. Make a list of chores that need to get done every day, things that need to get done each week and things that need to get done each month. Allocate responsibilities accordingly. An article in The Atlantic says, “conflict was more prevalent when couples had not worked out a clear division of labor in the home and had to renegotiate responsibilities from one day to the next.” Having a mutually shared and thorough understanding of all the responsibilities of a household and who is going to do them will prevent you from stepping on the other person’s toes or harboring resentment.

Compromise. An example of compromising here could be creating the distinction between common spaces and personal spaces. For example, if you designate the living and dining rooms as a common area, come to an agreement that these areas will be picked up after on a consistent basis. If you designate the bedroom as a personal space, be okay with it not being clutter-free one hundred percent of the time. Another type of compromise could be to consider a house-cleaning service to come over once a week or every other week to clean the house. This may be an option suited for you if you and your partner can afford it and have extremely busy lives to which cleaning has become the source of greatest stress and constant arguments.

Motivate. If you need some motivation, invite friends over and resolve to clean together. This is obviously not a solution for every time, but I have found that the times when my husband and I are both on the same page about cleaning is when we know that we are going to have guests come over. Another way to motivate and get on the same page is to plan for deep-cleanings. Schedule a few hours once a month where both of you agree to spend that time cleaning. This way, both of you are agreeing to make cleaning a priority during that time. This can also serve as a great re-set button for the next few weeks of trying to instill consistent and manageable cleaning habits.

(Image credits: Alexis Buryk)

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Main, Homekeeping, Cleaning, Mindful Living

Christine lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, daughter and Norwegian Elkhound. She is a purveyor of daily delights and champions the joy of doing more with less, the art of living beautifully, and sharing good stories.

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