How to get my girlfriend to help out with her share of the house cleaning?
October 11, 2010 4:49 PM   Subscribe

How to get my girlfriend to help out with her share of the house cleaning?

It's gradually dawned on me that a clean, neat living space is vital to my happiness. I don't think most people would consider me a neat freak. My idea of "clean" is that the bathroom and kitchen get scrubbed once in a while, dishes don't pile up, floors get swept and carpets vacuumed, and horizontal surfaces stay free of clutter unless it's stuff that's actively being used.

The problem is that my girlfriend, with whom I've been living for three years, does not share these views. She'll sometimes do the dishes, but never undertakes any other kind of cleaning unless I really badger her about it (which is a Pyrrhic victory for me since we both end up angry).

I want her to change. I want her to be somebody who actively helps me keep the house presentable, to the point that I wouldn't be embarrassed to have company over at any random moment. Clutter is a big part of the problem: She has the habit of just leaving things on the table, or the couch, or the coffee table, or the floor. Clothes, shoes, unopened mail, half-finished projects, empty food containers on the kitchen counter, stacks of empty boxes filled with packing material left over from online shopping escapades. If I want to sit down at the table to eat breakfast, I have to first clear out a swath of space. About once a month, I snap and throw all of this junk into boxes, which are then deposited in her bedroom. This makes her angry because now she can't find anything, which in turn makes me (already in a bad mood) really angry because once again I've cleaned up all this junk and now I'm getting flak about it. And, of course, I've inevitably recycled some important scrap of paper that was being stored on the floor, so I get in trouble for that as well.

So, MetaFilter, help me brainwash my girlfriend. How can I get her to change her behavior? How can I get her to appreciate living in a clean place, and to do her part of the housework? Did you or someone you know go from being a slob to being neat, and how did it happen? I'm kind of desperate here... it's a stupid reason to end a relationship that's really good in a lot of other ways, but she's talking about marriage more and more and the thought of this situation continuing indefinitely fills me with despair. (and, since somebody will ask: I'm 30, she's 25). We're both grad students, so a housekeeper is probably too expensive.

I've tried, with little success:

* Pathetic entreaties: "Please, please, please, help me with this...". Result: Says she will, in good faith, but doesn't follow through.

* Increased storage space (shelves, etc) where clutter accumulates. Result: New storage quickly overwhelmed.

* Making her "own" the responsibility by engaging her in a dialog about how we should keep the house clean, and trying to reach a mutual understanding of each others' expectations. Result: Total failure. (see how boring that sentence was?)

* Containment: "These two rooms are yours. Keep them as messy as you want. But the common areas of the house stay clean, okay?" Result: No change, because the clutter inevitably builds up in the areas we spend time in, which are the common areas.

* Sucking it up and doing all the cleaning myself. Result: Palpable resentment on my part. Not sustainable.

* Watching "Hoarders" together. I don't think she made the connection about why we were watching Hoarders. And to be fair, she's nowhere near as bad as any of the people on that show.

I have not tried "the ultimatum" (AKA the nuclear option), and I'm not going to.

(There are some related questions but their circumstances differ)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
One partial solution is to split the cost of a housekeeper. I'd also suggest a chore chart.

I'd also focus on specific things rather than the general all-around mess that you describe here. Is your biggest issue clutter or mopping the floors?

But otherwise, this one of those things that you both need to compromise on. You need to lighten up and she needs to step it up.
posted by k8t at 4:54 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cleaning lady?

You can't change her. You have different views about how your living space should be, people have different tolerance levels for mess, as long as your house isn't an unsanitary fire hazard (and it sure doesn't sound like it is), then you need to find a compromise, not assume that your way is "right". This can be a dealbreaker or you can find a compromise that works, but you can't "brainwash" your girlfriend.
posted by biscotti at 4:56 PM on October 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

I want her to change.

Good luck.

Watching "Hoarders" together. I don't think she made the connection about why we were watching Hoarders. And to be fair, she's nowhere near as bad as any of the people on that show.

This is not communication, this is passive aggressive bullshit that will not get you your way.

You need to sit down and express your frustration with HER. You need to define your boundaries with HER and state clearly what you can and can't handle, come up with a compromise (i.e. she hates cleaning the bathroom but you don't mind, but she will clean the rugs, or whatever) that doesn't piss you both off, or else you need to determine if this relationship is going to work for you based on your boundaries and what you can both tolerate.

If you can't figure out how to have this sort of a conversation with her and the relationships means enough to both of you, then get thee to couples counseling.

But let go of the idea of changing her, and start working on finding a way for you to communicate with each other in a healthy way so that you can develop an understanding of both of your needs and how to meet them. This is the only way.
posted by dubitable at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2010 [15 favorites]

About once a month, I snap and throw all of this junk into boxes, which are then deposited in her bedroom.

This is a tactic parents use on kids. It's not something adults in adult relationships do.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:57 PM on October 11, 2010 [31 favorites]

There are certain things in every partnership (romantic or otherwise) that some parties will care about a lot, and some not at all. The trick is to make it clear to one another that something is or is not a deal breaker.

Here's the thing: when partnerships are good, you find yourself wanting to be better for the other person. No, I don't love doing that. No, I really don't care to watch/listen/experience that. At all. But I will at least make an effort. Do you feel like your girlfriend understands how her level of cleanliness plays to you? If not, that's on you. If she does and won't (or can't) do anything about it, that's on her. She won't change and has no desire to meet you half way - someone else will.

Ultimately, it's up to both of you individually to perceive whether or not you're being reasonable in your expectations, and if she's being reasonable in her effort to meet them. Sometimes one or both of you isn't being reasonable. Sometimes you both are and there's just no way to find a middle ground.

Best of luck.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 5:03 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You sound like you have a really low opinion of your girlfriend's ability to act like an adult; the lack of respect oozing from this question puts a very bad taste in my mouth. I'm going to try my best to avoid tinging my response with this impression, however, and just preface it with the request that you talk to your girlfriend directly about this, according her the level of respect indicative of someone you would like to spend the rest of your life with.

I'm a bit of a slob, but I'm improving with age and the level of comfort I have in my own living space. Does your girlfriend really feel like your place is her home? Or does she have her things, her space, her areas, and you have yours, and the shared areas are a sort of no-man's-land of questionable responsibility? To get her to start seeing the clutter in the first place, she needs to see that the spaces where she makes the clutter are hers to take care of.

This was a real shift, for me, in perspective, that made me realize just how much stuff I was leaving everywhere. Once I started to take ownership of my living room, I rearranged the furniture in a way that made sense to me, I figured out my own organizational scheme, and now it's much easier to keep clean. Even though almost all of the stuff in the living room isn't technically owned by me, I put it there how I like it (with the agreement of my roomie, mister moneybags) and now its cleanliness is something I can take pride in. My touches are there in the decor and the way the space is used and as such I feel more more compelled to pick up after myself, and other people.

The best way to get someone you live with to clean up is to clean with them. I see that you've tried begging, talking reasonably, scaring her with Hoarders tactics, dividing up her stuff and being passive-aggressive, but have you ever taken up a sponge, started to do the dishes, and then shouted over to her "Hey, honey? While I'm washing this pot could you please grab the rest of the dishes around the house and bring them here?" And then, when she arrives with an armfull of things, ask her nicely "Great, thanks! Can you take out the trash please?" And so-on. Make it an activity you do together. It's weird, even as an inveterate slob, to stand there staring while someone else is cleaning. Break it down into surmountable steps, ask nicely each time, and set a good example yourself.

Eventually, you should be able to make it something that you do together. Put on some fun music and take a few moments in between jobs to have a kiss or joke. You can help her clean up messes in her space, fold her laundry or whatever, and then it won't be out of place for you to ask her to help you in your spaces.

That's what's worked for me.
posted by Mizu at 5:09 PM on October 11, 2010 [27 favorites]

About once a month, I snap and throw all of this junk into boxes, which are then deposited in her bedroom.

This is a tactic parents use on kids. It's not something adults in adult relationships do.

While I agree with that statement in general, in this case I think it's a valid consequence of her actions. She can't keep her stuff off surfaces, there's been massive communication to date about keeping stuff of surfaces please please please, therefore said surfaces get cleared on a regular basis and the stuff put somewhere where she HAS to deal with it.
And I say this as a slob who is a LOT like her.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:10 PM on October 11, 2010 [13 favorites]

As a general rule, you can't make anyone else change. But there is this.

I'm not super-tidy. Mr. ambrosia is super-tidy. I understand that clutter stresses him out, and out of consideration for him I try to contain my clutter to my desk. My clutter never pinged on my radar, and it's hard to get someone to notice something that they don't notice.

It's really hard for a clutterbug to become a neat freak. But it shouldn't be that hard for a clutterbug to contain their mess to a defined space, and help maintain some agreed-upon common areas.

What if you suggest that the two of you, together, spend 10 minutes a day, every day, tidying up before you go to bed? That should be adequate to keep the common areas relatively clutter-free, and she still has her space to do her thing outside of the common areas.
posted by ambrosia at 5:11 PM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

You're not going to like have no control over her tolerance for and obliviousness to disorder. You should also understand that these things are *completely uncoupled* to her love and respect for you. She wants to support your well-being and can ignore the visual clutter at the same time, with no conflict between those things.

I knew a 22-year-old like this. Tools in the trunk, horseshoes flying out from beneath the seats, dirty socks on the floor of his room...flash forward more than 20 years and his truck is still a mess and his socks *never* make it into the hamper. Reader, I married him anyway.

Yes, I do all the cleaning and it makes me annoyed. But he has taken on a chore I hate (cooking), and often makes time for me to CLEAN ALL THE THINGS. I may not get help, but at least I get understanding. I love him. And at least I know where he is, even if I have to follow a trail of dropped zip ties, empty boxes and abandoned tools.

You can't afford a cleaning lady, but you can't afford the anger, either. Can your girlfriend take on one of your non-cleaning chores? Is she willing to trade with another student, her research time for a few hours of cleaning? Can you keep the public spaces clean, and let the private spaces go? Can you agree to find some workable solution until the time when you *can* afford to hire help? Would you be willing to hire a maid service twice a year (like for spring and fall cleaning)?

If you love her *and you are the one with a greater sensitivity to visual clutter and everyday cleanliness,* then it's going to be on you to hammer out a solution. Sorry. It's not necessarily fair, but this is often how it goes.

Good luck to you both. Grad school is a tough time; I hope you'll find an answer that works for the two of you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2010 [10 favorites]

Give up and find some other household chore that she is willing/interested in doing. You do not both have to contribute to the cleaning, just like you both don't have to cook meals or pay bills or make decorating decisions or fix appliances together.

What does she actually want to contribute to around the house? What is she good at that you can take off your plate? If she doesn't want to contribute to anything, that's another issue altogether-- hopefully she wants to contribute something to the household aside from sex and companionship, and clearly cleaning is not it.
posted by joan_holloway at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Housekeeper. The wife and I are going on 8 yrs. of never arguing about cleaning the house. It is worth every penny I've spent.
posted by Buckshot at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Based on your description, I would consider you a neat freak. I believe that things should be kept where they're used so that I can find them again the next time I need to use them and that clutter is pleasant and homey. I believe that dishes will get washed when I need to wash them and that since I don't wear shoes in the house, cleaning the floors more than once a month is overkill. That's just how I live, and it works great for me.

It is not the case that your way is right and her way is wrong. You're both just fine, and you have your own outlooks on housekeeping. The problem is that your need for wide open spaces and clean dishes is getting in the way of her need to be able to find things where she left them and enjoy her home without worrying about whether it's neat enough. So you have to resolve that.

The solution is not that she has to change and you get to stay the same and get your way. The solution is for the two of you to sit down and talk about this. If you can't talk productively about it, get a counselor involved. Frankly, if you're the one who needs things cleaned more often, the burden will (and should) fall on you to clean them more often. You need to do that in a way that doesn't drive her crazy. And she needs to find ways to accomplish her goals without making you crazy. But it's a joint effort, and passive-aggressive "dialogue" and blame are not going to fix the problem.
posted by decathecting at 5:15 PM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

this could have been written by my father about my mother many times during their 20+ year marriage. the problem morphed and spilled into other things, but the main issue was always this. my dad's need for order and my mom's clutter/her inability to meet him halfway. he was unreasonable to a degree and she was unwilling to budge. they just both grew more bitter and resentful and brought some kids into the world. when he'd yell about the house, she'd cower, and when he left, she'd yell at the kids.

finally, at long last, they divorced. both remarried, him to a neat freak and her to a fellow clutterer. they are just has happy as could possibly be.

personally, if the attitude are so divergent and neither can or will budge, i feel it's like sexual compatibility. there are all sorts of ways to work around it, but you might be better off finding a more compatible partner. this isn't a call to DTMFA or anything, but to examine just how important this is to you - if this never, ever, ever changes - are you ok in the relationship?
posted by nadawi at 5:17 PM on October 11, 2010 [11 favorites]

I do like the housekeeper suggestion. Mr. F despises doing laundry and I work nights, so we finally just shelled out for fluff-n-fold on the theory that it freed up weekends to hang out together. Instant new shiny thing to coo over, less stress.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:23 PM on October 11, 2010

it's true, YOU can't change her. but you can help her want to change. One of the things that made me want to be neater was realizing that it's embarrassing to have people see the pigsty that my living room can become when i slack off. The solution is that I try and have people over as much as possible, so i can keep the house looking presentable.

I confess used to be just like your girlfriend. some of what my problem stemmed from was that not everything had it's own space. I bought myself a $20 shoe-organizer with 15 cubbyholes in it, painted it to match the decor, drilled holes in the back (for feeding chargers/cables through) and turned it into a place-for-everything. Each cubby has a label: keys, sunglasses, wallet, iPod, cellphone, gum/mints, outgoing mail, pens & paper... basically everything that dumped from my pockets & purse went into the cubbies. If i did this when i came in, it was all there when i was going to leave. (disclaimer: i occasionally relapse)

Suddenly, i could find my shit when i put shit away! that was the trigger to help me see how nice life could be when things get put away, and how when it's neatly organized, my place looks nice.

Horizontal spaces are BAD for me. One trick was to put decorative marbles and/or stones on ledges and shelves, so you can't just set something down. Surprisingly, that helped a lot! Another thing that I use is a molded plastic serving tray, like a chip & dip but with about 5 compartments. I keep one on my nightstand for the get-into-bed ritual (earrings, bracelets, chapstick, hair accessories, eyedrops, etc) because i *know* that i "dump" stuff... but now, instead of it being in a big pile, it's pre-divided into little piles, and i can deal with those much more easily.

It's not fair of her to complain when you scoop up her stuff and stash it for her. It's not like you're throwing it out. it's removing the problem so that she can deal with it when it's convenient for her. Present it to her that way. It's a strategy I've used on myself, too. If I decide that I NEED A CLEAN DESK, i'll swipe everything off into a box, and systematically spend 30 minutes a couple times a day to purge it. It eventually gets done.

If she's hanging on to stuff that's really just garbage, the fact that it's a lesser degree of hoarding doesn't make it better. Those piles of junk didn't arise overnight.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 5:23 PM on October 11, 2010 [12 favorites]

My husband and I have compromised. I need a reasonably clean house, he likes to make stacks. The bookshelves can be full, his desk can be as messy as he can stand it - but we have a cleaning person come in once a month, and we have to pick up in a reasonable fashion for that to happen. It motivates us. I am naturally a messy person who feels like a BAD messy person when my house gets out of control. He doesn't feel badly about it, but hates that it causes me distress.


I don't know from what you've said above whether you've framed it like that or not, but perhaps try saying the truth: that when your shared space is messy, it's very stressful for you and makes you unhappy. It would really mean a lot to you if she would help you keep the house clean.

She doesn't need to want to be a clean person. She needs to want to help you keep the house reasonably clean because she wants to help you be happy and she wants to contribute to your life together in a positive way. She doesn't need to change into a person who wants a clean house; she needs to channel her love and caring behavior for you into this area of your shared life for your mental well-being.

That said, it's a contract and it's something that isn't just fixed - I still get super pissed when the kitchen is filthy, probably unreasonably so, and he still stacks things. It's a constant state of compromise.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:32 PM on October 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

As to approach, Ambrosia's link has it nailed. Positive reinforcement of good stuff, and ignoring bad stuff, is going to get you lasting results, without confrontation.

Also, nthing the suggestion of a housecleaner. It is miraculous how effective it is to have someone else do the cleaning up.
posted by bearwife at 5:36 PM on October 11, 2010

Who is paying the rent for the appartment or whos house is it. maybe she feels like its not her place she does not have to do anything?
posted by majortom1981 at 5:40 PM on October 11, 2010

Wow, your entire post read like you are trying to train a dog to quit a bad behavior. Just get a housecleaner already; they're not that expensive.
posted by halogen at 5:43 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I used to be a pretty horrifically messy person, I'm now much better (though by no means a neat freak). For years I tried to strong-arm myself into practicing a lot of the little behaviors that prevent chaos - always do your dishes as soon as you're done eating, never throw clothes on the bedroom floor, put your books back on the shelf, sort your mail once you get it, etc etc etc. I flat-out failed at all of those.

What works for me is this: every other day I load up my ipod with a mix of the catchiest, most upbeat songs from my childhood and sing wildly and off-key while I straighten up my room, do all of the dishes, do the laundry. The practical effect is that some days my place is messier than others, but it never gets so bad I would be ashamed to have someone over.

I don't know if this would work for your girlfriend, but it works for me. Trying to become a neater person didn't work -- because I'm not a neat person, I'm a messy slob, full stop. But cleaning on a regular basis, in big bursts, isn't changing who I am -- it's taking up a sometimes unpleasant activity like running or cooking dinner and doing it through sheer force of will (and with the help of Mariah Carey and Third Eye Blind).

Is there something that your girlfriend would like you to do, that you find tiresome? Maybe you could take that up, in exchange for her helping you out with a couple of cleaning binges each week. Reward yourself liberally afterwards.
posted by shaun uh at 5:47 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you actually, actually tried to get her to clean together with you? Or are you merely issuing orders and tapping your foot waiting for her to carry them out?

When I was younger, my parents designated Saturday morning as cleaning time. Meaning that my parents (and later when us kids were in grade school and able to handle chores) cleaned the house, top to bottom, together, in a divide-and-conquer style. This was the one day of the week when toilets were scrubbed, rugs were vacuumed, tables and shelves were dusted, etc. OK, in fairness, they did try and keep it neat during the week as well (taking turns doing the dinner dishes for example), and not allowing clutter to build up by sheer determination. The reward was that, by early Saturday afternoon, the house was glittering and it was sooooo nice to lounge around for the rest of the weekend in it, instead of our own filth.

I suggest you establish a similar tradition with your girlfriend. Set aside a defined period of time to do the "big" cleaning which you both do TOGETHER, instead of you doing "your" half and guilting her when she doesn't do "her" half. Then during the week help each other pick up after yourselves.
posted by contessa at 5:52 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Several people have mentioned that your gf just has a different sense of when things are getting too bad, and that you can't really do much about it. It's true -- that's not an aspect that you can hope to change. However, that doesn't mean that you should just assume that you'll have to do all the cleaning forevermore. My husband is fairly clean, but definitely doesn't get fed up with mess as soon as I do; what has worked (at least somewhat) for us, is to make things routine, based on time vs. when stuff "feels" dirty. The house gets swept every other week, the catbox fully cleaned out on a certain day, the sheets changed on a certain day, etc. It takes the individual differences out of it.
posted by bizzyb at 5:53 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually, a version of your put-it-in-a-box thing worked well for me and a housemate a long time ago. We agreed that if his things were in my way, I could put them in a milk crate we kept for the purpose; he could then find his stuff, I could tidy enough to feel comfortable without feeling overly responsible for his stuff. We agreed that if the milk crate got full, I could give him 24 hours notice to make room in it for more stuff, and if he didn't do something with that in the 24 hours, I could empty the whole thing into the trash (it never came to that).

It doesn't address the whole issue. But it was a practical solution to that frustration I felt at either having to live among his mess, or be responsible for cleaning up somebody else's mess in order to be comfortable in my home.
posted by not that girl at 6:11 PM on October 11, 2010

I don't think you are a neat freak at all, or that you should have to bend over backwards to make some plan. She is a slob and better suited to being with another slob or someone who does not care.
posted by meepmeow at 6:11 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, my boyfriend could have written this question except that I like watching Hoarders on my own. I absolutely agree with the others that you (and my boyfriend) should take a chill pill, but beyond that, one thing that has made it work between us is a chore chart, as dumb as that sounds. He made a list of chores that he thought should happen, how often they should be done, and how long they should take. I edited them towards reality. He doesn't give me any crap about cleaning as long as I do enough chores to add up to 3 hours each week. It sounds controlling, but we're engineer-types, so it makes sense to us.

What didn't work was him trying to impose his idea of clean on me. We had to find a compromise that we could both live with.
posted by parkerjackson at 6:13 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just found out that Twitter and Remember the Milk can team up to send reminders from my to do list. Would your GF respond to consistent reminders from an external source? I'd set up the reminders to go to both of you so you could hold up your phone & say "the cow says it's time to mop and dust!" got me into the reminders for cleaning.
posted by dragonplayer at 6:29 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've made a significant effort and she hasn't changed her habits, which means there's a good chance she won't change ever. The way I see it, you have three options: you can stay with her and do the housework yourself and accept it, you can stay with her and do the housework yourself and resent it, or you can decide that you can't live this way and leave.
posted by easy_being_green at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2010

I had a college roommate like that. I'm glad I didn't marry him.

I think nothing will happen till this gets out of the instant-fight zone. Right now probably everything you say about it sounds to her like the beginning of a fight.

Everything has two sides, and it might help to figure out what it looks like to her. Maybe she doesn't like being told what to do; maybe she's overwhelmed by the problem; maybe she's pissed off because you keep messing up her stuff in guise of "cleaning up"... we can't tell, and you won't either so long as your belief is that all the change has to happen on her side.

Try to agree on some small steps and follow through. Like, get into the habit of cleaning the dishes together once a day. Or agree on places for the most common offenders (the shoes go there, the mail goes there) so you can move the damn things when you see them. The key word is "agree" though; she's not going to immediately follow your idea of how things should work.

Your annoyance is understandable, and she should certainly have a more mature attitude about dishes and disposing of packaging. But she's also another human being and just isn't going to share your own desire to have everything look tidy all the time.
posted by zompist at 6:55 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you tried having Designated Cleaning Time together? Maybe a few times a week, tell her something like "honey, let's clean for half an hour before we go get lunch - I'll scrub the bathroom if you do the dishes" and then put on some happy music and maybe a timer and do it. Then when she's done the dishes, give her lots of kisses and tell her how happy you are about the clean kitchen. Go overboard on the positive reinforcement. Be silly about it.

I know this is a long way from initiative-taking person you wish she was, but it is a start. Maybe the good habits will sink in eventually and if not, at least it is something you can do together and you'll wind up with a clean house afterward. If she won't get up and help you out in that situation then I would think about having the "this is making me crazy and might be a dealbreaker" talk with her.
posted by beandip at 7:08 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm your girlfriend. She probably knows this bothers you, and maybe she even half-heartedly tries sometimes, but you know that angry twitch you probably get whenever she unthinkingly deposits her stuff all over the house, picking something up and putting it elsewhere and not even realizing it? She never has that twitch. I don't. So this means I need a lot of external reinforcement about cleaning the house.

I know it bothers my boyfriend and that what he wants, more than anything, is to come home to a clean house with everything in its proper place. I sympathize with you, but some of your actions sound pretty passive aggressive to me. Please don't take her stuff and put it in a box. In all likelihood she knows exactly where all of her things are, or at least she can figure it out in two minutes of rifling. So stop that!

What you need to do (and what my boyfriend and I have done) is to set up a schedule BEFORE any actual cleaning occurs. And it needs to be something that BOTH of you agree on. I don't think you sound like a neat freak at all - in fact, your expectations sound very reasonable. And she doesn't necessarily sounds like a slob either, just careless. This is not something you should break up over. This is something you need to clearly lay out, with input from both sides, and specific, concrete expectations of how often you expect certain tasks to be done. I mean it. You want to clean the bathroom once every week and she thinks once every month is enough? Clean it every two weeks, and clean it together, or assign SPECIFIC DATES on a calendar about when you should do it. Maybe someone needs to do the dishes that have piled up every three days. Agree what days are best for both of you before the sink even gets messy, and write it down on this calendar.

I knew for a long time how important this was to my boyfriend, and I had the best of intentions about keeping the house clean. But when it came down to the daily tasks of picking stuff up one day, sweeping the kitchen floor the next, I really just couldn't do it - I wanted to and meant to do it, but something else always seemed more important. So unless there is a concrete, agreed-upon-beforehand schedule of what tasks to do, and when, these tasks never get done.

All of this is assumes that your girlfriend agrees with you about these standards and means to change, but just can't seem to do it. That's the impression I get when you say she, in good faith, says she'll clean and doesn't follow through. So keep your expectations as concrete as possible, and agree upon a mutual set of these expectations, and then write it all down, again, making sure it's a compromise both of you agree on. If she doesn't do her assigned task, gently remind her, explicitly, and please please please don't wait around getting more and more angry without saying anything. Because that doesn't help anyone.
posted by leedly at 7:09 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

People dont change.
in positive reinforcement training, we reward dogs for the behavior we want. the first time a dog goes potty in the yard, we throw a potty party. treats, praise.
catch your girlfriend doing something good.
reward her when she does one little good thing.
read books by Karen Pryor.
look into clicker training for dogs and TAG teaching for kids.
posted by saragoodman3 at 7:33 PM on October 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

7 words. Don't put it down, put it away.

Write this on a post it on the back door of the dunny. She will read it, it will get into her psych and slowly she may just get it. Then again...
posted by TheOceanRefusesNoRiver at 7:41 PM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wow, I thought many people were really harsh on you here! And I say that as the slob of my house. (Huge, freakish, like should-be-in-therapy levels of slobbishness.) And yes people have tried all those tactics on me, with varying degrees of success. Often not much.

I do agree with almost everyone however that someone cleaning your house once a week (or more!) is the best form of life and relationship management that is available in the whole world. I don't know where you live but in many parts of the U.S. that can happen for $50 or under; that's $25 for each of you. Or, you know: $50 from her.

That being said... habits form, yes, but people don't really get "trained" so well. There is a basic relationship understanding that we each must think of the other. I understand that my partner's life becomes crappy to him when I destroy the house in the manner that I so enjoy, so I do less of it. I'm sorry that what you describe as rational, adult-style talking about responsibilities and the like didn't work out.

I think in your marriage conversations that you have to honestly and quietly say: "I am not a person who is capable of living with clutter for the rest of my life."
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:17 PM on October 11, 2010

I'm like your girlfriend, and the only thing that works with me is at-this-moment directions. "Could you do the dishes while I empty this garbage?" works a lot better than "you should do the dishes more often".
posted by theraflu at 8:19 PM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

I hear you. My dad is a recovering clutterer. His doctor has described it as a symptom of his ADD, and though he has always been aware of the problem and had a non-zero desire to change, my mother has basically had to deal with it for as long as I can remember.

From the sounds of it, you can theoretically do the cleaning of the house by yourself, but you can't deal with the clutter by yourself. In addition, it's an exponentially larger task to clean when there's significant clutter in the way. I get that it's really frustrating.

You love this woman, right? Regardless of how it makes you feel, you need your actions and language surrounding this whole cleanliness discrepancy to be loving and respectful. In that vein, you two should have a conversation about how you are different people in this area, and discuss what you each need in order to maintain your sanity. Obviously what you've been doing as a couple isn't working. If you want real change to happen in the way you live your life together, then you need to agree on concrete actions. Maybe she can agree to taking 5 minutes before bed every night to remove clutter from the common areas; or agree to a scheduled once-a-week removal of clutter; or that she'll confine her clutter to one room only, in order to help you maintain your sanity. Maybe you can agree to a schedule for taking care of the clutter, so she can keep on top of things. I would guess that you'll need to offer/agree to take on the majority of the cleaning, as dealing with clutter in the way you need is going to be a significant undertaking for her.

Whatever works for you both to keep your sanity, but it needs to be concrete. Continue to be loving and respectful, knowing that you both are trying to be better partners. Help each other along, and re-assess as necessary.
posted by hootenatty at 8:24 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you spell D-I-V-O-R-C-E? You will never be happy together. Please break up now. Please. Set her free. I'm sure that she will make somebody happy. Somebody who is not you.
posted by ovvl at 8:28 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

the online program "flylady" covers this, I would do that and stop focusing on her mess. If this is a dealbreaker for you, that is another issue - otherwise, you're going to have to figure out how to stop resenting her, and hope that by keeping up with a schedule like flylady she'll eventually join in. Unequal shares in housework is an issue with many, if not most, couples, my parents included - the flylady program addresses this, but assumes couples are always hetero.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 8:45 PM on October 11, 2010

>empty food containers on the kitchen counter, stacks of empty boxes filled with packing material left over from online shopping escapades.

This is just goddamned adolescent piggyness and no one should have to live with that.

I'm a Swedish neat-freak minimalist who moved in with a mad scientist/clutterbug who has relatives that qualify as hoarders. Mr. Cyndigo is CLEAN -- no gross bathroom or dirty dishes -- but had clutter to the level of no one having been in his place for a year or two. STUFF. Dear God, the stuff.

I made it very clear that I had no intention of living in clutter. Then I moved in and raised absolute hell for about a year. A lot of that was imposing systems to get to "a place for everything and everything in its place." (Why yes, I *am* an ENTJ. How did you know?) I did also learn when I was pushing too hard and how to work with him so that he has the THINGS he needs and I have the aesthetic I need.

TL;DR: I still *manage* but I try to respect and nudge gently (and fortunately, as I said, he's not a gross slob). I love the space now, he's happy, it's rarely a source of conflict. (I do perform the majority of the housework, but that's part of our division and that doesn't bother me.)

He loved me enough to work with me and mitigate his clutter. I loved him enough to put the work in to make it happen. But not for God or Robert Redford would I have lived with things the way they were.

Good luck to you! (And feel free to MeMail me ... I may have a sneaky trick or two to share.)
posted by cyndigo at 9:07 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

To piggyback on Acer_saccharum, I found the idea of 15 minutes of cleaning a day from FlyLady super-helpful. I'm definitely a clutterer. I also work a lot of hours, coming home drained and just wanting to relax. But I can do 15 minutes a day of something, be it scrubbing the sink and doing the counters, clearing my desk, doing the bathroom, vacuuming, etc. It makes a difference, and while it won't meet your strict standards, it would drastically improve your situation.

But really, the only thing that's going to work is a sit-down conversation and working this out together. 'Cause everything you wrote up top is very ME ME ME and not we we we.

(I understand that you were probably just venting, but sometimes I learn some pretty sad things about my own thought patterns by listening to the language I use when I'm going off about something.)
posted by smirkette at 9:21 PM on October 11, 2010

For all of you suggesting a cleaning lady - what does a cleaning lady do with the half-finished projects and packing receipts that are being stored on the floor?

This is the biggest reason that I never hired one. It would be nice to have help with the cleaning chores once a week, but honestly the problem in my house is the daily clutter, and a once-a-week cleaning is not going to solve that.
posted by CathyG at 9:41 PM on October 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Everything that's been said on here is true and valuable - I only have personal experience to add. I'm a very messy person, but for some reason need to have the kitchen - and everything in it - spotless. My boyfriend doesn't mind a horrifically dirty kitchen sink, but his bedroom and living room are painfully neat. In the beginning of our relationship, these issues were a point of contention, but we managed to make those flaws the basis of our compromise: I clean his kitchen messes whenever I'm over at his place, and he takes care of my laundry and makes my bed instead of being naggy/snarky/pissy about my untidiness. It's done wonders for both of our living spaces, too. Also, I used to be messy as a kid/adolescent/ teenager, but finally straightened myself out (pun intended?) when I began living alone during college.

Also from personal experience, a cousin of mine and her husband were married for 6 years and had three kids. She was messy, so messy that when guests were over everyone would stand around awkwardly in the living room looking for a place to sit (he worked a full-time job as a lawyer, she was a stay-at-home mom). They divorced a year ago, and while no one even realized he couldn't handle her habits, one of the reasons he cited was her lack of care for her personal surroundings and home.

There are countless other stories I've heard of couples getting into it because their house is messy/ dirty/ untidy/ slovenly... and they work around it. Or not, but I think that's when the two parties involved are completely at opposite ends of the messiness spectrum. You have to find a compromise - and honestly, if you can't, and the thought of marrying her and having to deal with this is scaring you - then like any other reason why a couple isn't compatible, this would be the dealbreaker.
posted by Everydayville at 10:43 PM on October 11, 2010

Oh good Jesus Christ. I read about 20 comments in and got outrage fatigue.

Anonymous, you are not a bad person for wishing things a certain way in your home. That's called aspiration. You are not a bad person for asking your girlfriend to help you accomplish that. You have different standards, yes, and you both need to compromise, yes, but you are not a bad person for wanting this, and you are not a bad person for asking the question.

I am not a neat freak. In fact, I struggle to maintain the very minimal level of tidyness that I somehow manage. And my partner -- a total slob. Trash on the floor, doesn't pick it up kind of slob. It's really hard for me to continually ask for those minimum standards to be maintained, because I don't always feel like I have a lot of grounds for making the request.

But you know what? I do. It's well within my rights to request that my partner pick up trash that falls on the floor after her dresser gets so full of trash that stuff starts falling off the edge. Even if I haven't folded my clothes. It's well within my rights to ask that wadded up paper towels not be left on the coffee table after a meal, even if I don't wash the dishes right after eating. If my unfolded laundry and unwashed dishes caused her some discomfort, I'd want to know about it. (They don't, but other things do, and I hear about those regularly.)

This is all a give and take. You are not bad for asking her to engage regarding this stuff. We all have our own stuffs.

Will you change her? I don't know. Good luck. If you do, memail me and tell me how, because I could have written that question.

Are you a bad person/partner for asking? Hell no. You're right for asking. You're doing the right thing -- seeking information on how to solve the problem, rather than trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.

And to some of the rest of you: How much do you think housekeepers cost? "Not that expensive"? One person's "not that expensive" is another person's "keeps food on the table for the last week of the month." The housekeeper is the quick, easy fix. Do you think he/she would have asked the question if that was legitimately on the table?

Seriously. The world is not built on you own tenuous realities.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:05 PM on October 11, 2010 [15 favorites]

1) Talk. You two need to be on the same page and want to be good to each other. If you are Angry Parent and she is Stubborn Child neither of you will be happy in the relationship. So get a basic agreement that she wants to do more cleaning but can't do it for whatever reason.

2) Agree on a way to deal with clutter that makes it easy on both of you. For instance with my husband's agreement I instituted the rule that any stuff of his I found where it shouldn't be would go on his bed. That includes dirty mugs. I felt better because I didn't have to waste time sorting his mess, he was ok with it because he always knew where to find his stuff!

3) helphim find a space for all his stuff. Husband is not a natural organiser and the idea that "everything has its own home" and "stuff you need often goes in front, stuff you don't goes in the back" was a bit of a revelation to him.

4) leave him space for his mess
posted by Omnomnom at 11:44 PM on October 11, 2010

"her" not "him" of course.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:45 PM on October 11, 2010

I don't have an answer for you, but just to say that I have been you in a relationship. I don't chase people with coasters, or have complex cleaning routines involving different coloured cleaning clothes. I just like that the dishes make it into the dishwasher, rather than being left around the house, the rubbish goes in the bin every day rather than being left where it was created, and the kitchen and bathroom are made somewhat hygienic once a week. I don't agree at all with those who say you are being fussy. I tried many of the suggestions above, and was unable to negotiate a solution.

If this bothers you (and that's fine), and if she will not work with you on a solution that solves at least some of it (you may have to compromise too), you might have bigger issues - in that, if you cannot work out a way within your relationship to solve problems, that is a problem.

The only story I have heard of getting someone to do this stuff without having actual discussions about it was around positive reinforcement training where the wife would grit her teeth and not mention all the stuff that hadn't been done, but would lavish praise on her husband that explained a) what he had done that she had noticed, and b) why it was great - "Thanks so much for putting your dishes in the dishwasher, because I feel less tired when I come home to a clean house". It apparently took a few months of doing this before the effects really kicked in. I couldn't bring myself to do it; if I wanted to do that, I'd have children or a dog.
posted by AnnaRat at 11:56 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been on both sides of this situation, although never quite that messy.

What helps is calmly asking for something well defined that can be done easily right now. "Could you put these boxes in the bin?". If you're doing something yourself at the same time, even better. "I'm going to do the hoovering, could you put these boxes in the bin please".

This works better if you do it when the messy person isn't engaged in something, reading a book, on the internet, or whatever. Do it as they come down the stairs or when they have been to the bathroom and are already distracted. If they say "I'll do it later", you say "Can you just sort it out now, then I can get on with the hoovering".

If it doesn't get done, ask again later. The same calm tone of voice, no recriminations, "Could you put those boxes in the bin?".

Don't aim for HALF the housework getting done by magic. Just aim to work out how you can get anything at all done without descending into arguments. Once you reach this point you can work up slowly.

Finally, when you're having one of those "what were you up to today?" conversations, include the housework you did. "Well, we got that big contract at work, and I've cleaned the kitchen and mopped the floors, oh and there was an ENORMOUS accident on the bypass this morning...."
posted by emilyw at 1:52 AM on October 12, 2010

I don't think you can actually get her to do anything. She'll either do it or not. And my money's on not.

Here's the thing: nobody's "right" or "wrong" about messiness, but the messy person will always impose their standards on the "neat freak". Similarly, the loud person will always impose their volume on the person who prefers quiet. The late person will always keep the punctual people waiting. The big spender controls the net worth of the household. And so on.

If you want tidiness, quiet, punctuality, solvency, and so on, the answer is never to control the other person, because that isn't even possible. It also isn't morally right to try.

My mother is a very messy person. She also spends up to eight hours a day cleaning and has an elaborate routine whereby Mondays get eight hours and are for washing floors, Tuesdays get four hours and are for ironing, Wednesdays are her day off so the grocery shopping gets done then because it takes place outside the house and therefore isn't housework, etc. Despite this the house is a perpetual mess. I do not want to paint the wrong picture here because my mother is a very generous person and she does an awful lot for me. However, I have found her messiness to be a real source of problems that wouldn't go away just by my ignoring them (important items lost or destroyed, not being able to have visitors at times when visits were really needed, etc). My every attempt to resolve the conflict over the years (including and especially doing the cleaning myself, which is taken as an implicit criticism, since you don't clean something unless you think it's dirty) has had ugly results despite my best and worst efforts. A level of resolution was reached, but at the cost of a nuclear confrontation which only the mother-daughter relationship would be strong enough to withstand.

Based on my experience I don't even think maid service is a solution. It would also cost me about 10% of my income to pay someone to come in for two hours a week, and I really doubt that anyone could make a lasting difference to the cleanliness of our house in that amount of time. Besides which, I can clean a sink and two minutes later go back and find it splattered with toothpaste and soap scum and the mirror splattered with flossing-projectile debris. It would be just as quick and easy to undo anything a cleaner could do, and it would be undone because that is the level of mess that my mother thinks is sustainable and acceptable.

Your SO may not be that messy, but she still obviously enjoys being messy, would not want to change even if she could, and has the full support of society in her perfect right as a free citizen to be messy. As long as you live with her, she will always impose her mess on you and she will always do it faster than you can clean it up. No matter how much anybody says "yes, but..." it is your choice to accept this or leave. Sorry.
posted by tel3path at 4:10 AM on October 12, 2010

I was her when I was 25. My partner was you, OP. He did everything you have done to "get" me to care about keeping things neat and clean, to no avail. I would agree to whatever he wanted because I really wanted to make him happy. I would mean it, too. I meant it when I said I would keep things picked up, when I agreed to clean more. I just never really understood what the big deal was. De-cluttering didn't seem important to me, because it wasn't. It didn't bother me. I didn't change until it mattered to me. That's not a self-centered or selfish thing, it's human nature. I eventually started cleaning more and de-cluttering because it made my partner happy, but I ended up realizing it made me happier, too. My brain can only handle so much clutter, internal and external, before I start needing to clean.

My larger point is that you can't change people. They have to want to change, and until she wants to change, you're going to keep feeling the way you feel now. You can't get her to do things she just doesn't want to do.
posted by cooker girl at 5:00 AM on October 12, 2010

This sounds like another communication/compromise thing to me, that has nothing to do with cleaning and everything to do with how you negotiate your differences with each other. FlyLady is for people who want to be clean but struggle to pull it off due to the chaos of life - that's not the problem you have here.

How do you guys work together when you've lost the car in a parking lot or someone has to take time off for the Sears guy to deliver the new washing machine or one person wants Chinese and the other Italian? How do you decide what temperature to set the heater to in the winter? Do you rinse your spaghetti? Assuming you work well in those instances, do that with this.

Clutter is not a moral failing, it's something to be worked out amongst the adults in a living space.
posted by SMPA at 5:27 AM on October 12, 2010

Every relationship has some aspect where one person cares more than the other. Personally, I think humoring each other on these items makes for a happy relationship. There's stuff I don't give a crap about that drives Mr. Llama nuts and vice versa. If it drives one person nuts, then it's on the other to do what they can to remedy the situation. Surely your girlfriend has stuff she cares about that you don't and maybe you can convince her that the road to happiness includes at least a little humoring the other person.

She doesn't have to think being tidy is important, she has to think making you happy is important.

I'm less tidy than Mr. Llama but I suck it up and meet him halfway because it makes him happier.

It's a two way street, though, so you might want to take a look at any cars that might be coming past you if you know what I mean.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:50 AM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who isn't a *slob* by any means, but is "cleanliness challenged" who lives with the King of Neat Freaks: you both have to compromise. I've done my absolute best to accommodate Mr. Sonika wanting to live in a clean house, but he's also had to meet me half way and recognize that sometimes, I really am just too friggin' tired to clean my desk because a messy desk just doesn't bother me enough to take the top priority on my "To-Do" list.

Cleaning together is a great suggestion and what works best for us. We also have strictly divided the chores so there's no grey area over who does what and who is slacking off. This happened very naturally for us as there are things that one of us loathes to the very core of our being that the other person honestly doesn't mind. Vaccuuming is his since I can't stand the noise, the bathroom is mine since he doesn't like scrubbing the toilet and I really wouldn't want to clean it with my face or anything, but cleaning it bothers me way less than having a gross toilet. I cook and he washes the dishes afterwards. We both do laundry, but I fold and put it away since he can't fold to save his life. He takes care of general kitchen cleanliness - stovetop, floors, counters, fridge. It really worked out to a 50/50 split. So, on weekends, I'll clean the bathroom while he vaccuums and it's like having cleaning moral support. If he's *also* cleaning, I'm more motivated to do my share.

The place where we have to compromise is definitely clutter. He can't stand it, but I'm not bothered by a few piles of books or the occasional shirt lying around. We're not talking anything massive, and it sounds like I'm not as bad as your girlfriend (usually you can eat at the table without having to move anything, though you might end up staring at my purse and two days worth of my mail), but he's had to learn that living with me means sometimes things aren't going to get put away RIGHT NOW. I deeply respect his desire to have a clean home and do my best, but he also has to respect that cleaning up isn't my first priority and when I get home from work exhausted I'm way more agreeable if I take a shower and eat a sandwich than if I'm pestered to put each and every item of mine in its proper place.

The ways that you've tried approaching the subject would never work for me if that's how Mr. Sonika had approached me. What worked is honest, but caring, confrontation on "Look, you need to put away that pile of crap because it's making me mental." If you're honest with her without making it sound like she's a *bad person* for being sloppy, you'll have better results than making her watch Hoarders. (And really? Hoarders is creepy as fuck and doesn't make me want to clean my house so much as it makes me want to wash with bleach, hide under the bed, and never come out.)

Another thing that I use is a molded plastic serving tray, like a chip & dip but with about 5 compartments. I keep one on my nightstand for the get-into-bed ritual (earrings, bracelets, chapstick, hair accessories, eyedrops, etc) because i *know* that i "dump" stuff... but now, instead of it being in a big pile, it's pre-divided into little piles, and i can deal with those much more easily.

Yes, I do things like this. There are a lot of repurposed small boxes and spice racks around my house for "small pieces of crap that need to go SOMEWHERE." It helps a ton. I have at least three jewelry boxes of different sizes for earrings, necklaces, and bracelets in addition to even more small boxes for chapstick and hair ties. Having a specific *place* for these things is the only way that they're not ALL over the house. (And even then, I swear hair ties are feral. That and the cat plays with them.)

I'm like your girlfriend, and the only thing that works with me is at-this-moment directions. "Could you do the dishes while I empty this garbage?" works a lot better than "you should do the dishes more often".

Yes, though this needs to be timed well. Mr. Sonika has now realized that yes, this works, but the time to mention to me that the bathroom needs some attention is NOT the moment I've walked in the door. Gauge her mood and ask her to do something when she's fairly relaxed and this shouldn't be problematic at all. If I'm not stressed or JUST WALKED IN THE DOOR, I have no problem being politely asked to put away the laundry. Works much better than hinting around at it.

Also: a cleaning person will only hope down the line when you've got a baseline of cleanliness. They're not going to sort her clutter. What you'd have now is pristine floors... and cluttered tables. Which doesn't sound to me like what you want and certainly not what you want to be spending money on.
posted by sonika at 7:08 AM on October 12, 2010

I'd say a cleaning chart. That's based on a non-scientific reflection on what might have resolved this issue in my marriage if this had been the only and most important issue.

If this is really the only issue in an otherwise happy relationship, praise be. My ex's clutter and filth and stink annoyed me, but my entreaties and pleading and weekend cleaning rampages annoyed be more because he would not listen to me and did not care about my concerns. Is THIS a real issue for you as well?

Then he finally moved out and I shoveled out his crap. Two and a half years house is still a wreck. There are still dirty dishes and dust bunnies and dirty litter boxes. While it sounds like you are certainly the more diligent one when it comes to housework, take the time to really evaluate what it is you want her to do -- are those dishes that *you* left in the sink? Is even some of your stuff out on the surfaces when you're asking her to pick up her stuff? Because I'd be damned if I clean up after someone who nags at me all the time to clean up after myself. (And I suddenly understand how my ex must have felt.) That said, in a two-person household there should be a different baseline of picking up after yourself since there is a good chance that another person will have to see your dirty dish or toothpaste spatter first.

You can't change her, but you can let her know that her refusal to listen to you and meet you halfway hurts you and the relationship. Sit together, talk about it when everyone is calm. You may find that her mess drives her crazy and drags her down but she doesn't know where to start. Read Fly Lady together and start at the beginning together -- take it slow and together and you'll both be developing good habits.
posted by motsque at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2010

As a slob living with a slightly slobbier slob, cleaning together works best for us. I'll say "I'd like to give the bathroom and a kitchen a good going-over tomorrow, can you manage the bathroom while I do the kitchen?" etc. Big tasks get a day's notice in advance, little tasks are requested as needed, e.g. "Honey, can you do the dishes while I'm making dinner? Thanks!")
Part of this is also having figured out what cleaning tasks he can do well and which I really prefer to do myself 'cause he just can't see the dirt the way I can, so he's responsible for those tasks which he can do well - he cleans the litter on garbage days so it can be taken out, he does the dishes on request or when he notices, while I handle laundry and rearranging-type cleaning. Etc.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:31 AM on October 12, 2010

Oh, and you may have noticed that I only ask him to clean when I am also cleaning, so it's always a we're-in-it-together thing.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:32 AM on October 12, 2010

So I was the selfish person in my relationship. The wife cleaned/cooked and took care of the kids. For me I tend to have huge mental blocks. For example, I viewed cleaning as her responsibility. Because of that I never wanted to clean or help at all. Momentum kept me from helping her even when I knew that I should be doing something.

The way we got over our my issue was we did a weeklong experiment. For one week she gave me a to-do list each day. She could put anything on the list. It could be fun, goofy, serious, helpful, whatever. Part of her list each day for me was cleaning.

The next week I gave her my lists. For the most part I just had her do things that I always wished she would do. One example, was I had her cook an awesome recipe that I had been wanting to try. Another more goofy example was I had her get her hair braided.

The end result of our experiment was that both of us changed our habits for the better. I realized that I like having a really clean house. So now I am motivated to keep it up. Before when everything got messy I tended to give up since it seemed like too much work.

So that's what got me over my hump.
posted by rdurbin at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

You can't change other people. You can only change yourself. What habits about you annoy her? Do you think that you are perfect? Think of those whenever some boxes and mail bother you. Think about all the things that you like about her. Then do something nice for her, then ask yourself again if it's really that important.
posted by heatherly at 9:12 AM on October 12, 2010

Husband and I are both clutterers. I think it's the ADD; if we put things away, we forget we have it and go without or buy another. We leave things where we use them. We leave things where we are. We cover every available surface with clutter--all in piles, of course, and hey! We know what's in the piles and where to find stuff.

The problem is that our clutter is together. When I go digging for something I know is halfway down this pile right here, I disturb his piles on either side. And when he goes looking for something of his, stuff of mine gets displaced and lost for years. And you know, with every available surface covered, we don't have anywhere to put NEW things...oh, and we can't actually use the surfaces either. And yeah, it's messy. Ugh.

So. I'm organizing. But I'm trying to do a better job this time than all the previous times. THIS time, I'm going to find ways to put things away while still being able to use them. So I'm getting, for example, a wire letter holder for the wall just inside the door, so we have somewhere to put unopened mail. I'm getting shelves, so we can put things away; we'll still be able to see them, but they will be out of the way and maybe even kind of tidy. I'm going to try to get a hanging pot/pan holder for the kitchen, so I can reclaim some of that counter space. I have a clear drawer set for things that can be stuck into drawers but I can still look at the drawers and see what's in there. I'm trying to come up with a *usable* solution to all of these things that have nowhere to be stored, because their default storage is "that surface right there."

But most of all, I'm putting these various organizational solutions where I will keep the stuff anyway, not elsewhere--where I'll never see it, never remember it, and really, will never actually go to put it away. To be effective, I need to put stuff "away" approximately where it already is. Then going through and organizing will be effective, instead of just clearing the way for us to clutter up all the surfaces again.

We also went through a period where we didn't have much money, and I saved *everything* in case we needed to re-use it--and I did reuse a LOT of stuff. Do you know how much a box and shipping peanuts costs? But I need to stop doing that now. Organizing is a more important priority now.
posted by galadriel at 8:51 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm really surprised at the people that are getting pissed off at you and saying that you're a neat freak. Half-eaten food containers left all over the counter is acceptable? You're a neat freak and passive aggressive because you don't want papers dumped on the FLOOR? And she gets mad at *you* for quietly cleaning up because now she can't find anything that she didn't bother to put away in the first place?

Your girlfriend sounds like she is content to live in squalor and is not interested in following through with any real effort to change. Getting a housekeeper sounds like a good idea but in reality, I think it's just enabling the girlfriend to continue in what many will consider to be an unhealthy manner. Is this really the only big issue that you two have or are there other issues with this just being one of them?

YOU can't change her if she doesn't want to change, and that's how it sounds. I vote for the nuclear option, unless you're going to change yourself and be OK with living in a pigpen.
posted by drstein at 1:24 PM on October 13, 2010

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