Tips and Tricks for Living With Roommates
June 2, 2005 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I live with three roommates in a large apartment, and we need a system to help us split the chores and get along.

What techniques have you used to make sure everyone pulls their own weight in a roommate situation? How do you make sure the trash gets out and the rent gets paid and everyone gets along? Right now we have no system, and people just clean when they feel like it, but that seems to lead inevitably to one person doing the lion's share of the chores, and then that person starts to resent being the house maid, and the other people start to resent being nagged to take the trash out, etc. etc. Advice? Tips? Tricks? How can we make communal living work?
posted by bonheur to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The person who cares about a clean apartment cleans. Those that do not are obligated to buy the alcohol and marijuana.
posted by rocketman at 1:24 PM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: When I lived with two other people, we made an excel-style chart with all the chores that needed to be done down one side and our names across the top. When you do a chore, you write the date in the corresponding box below your name, and cross out the date that the last person wrote. For things like taking the trash out, it's useful just for knowing who's turn it is, but for dusting/vacuuming/etc. it also lets you know how long it's been since someone did it so you can say (with proof), "Hey, I vacuumed two weeks ago and it's your turn." It tends to be really easy to lose track of things that only need to be done every so often.
We didn't do anything about rent, everyone just paid me their share on the 31st. The only problem we had with this system was with the dishes because we had different ideas about how often they should be done, but otherwise it worked pretty well.
posted by Who_Am_I at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When in college, we used to have a set schedule of 'you will do this this week, and that next week' and so on. But, frankly, it became clear that some people hated vacuuming but didn't mind cleaning the bathroom, and some people hated to take out the trash, but didn't mind vacuuming. We ended up going half and half. Everyone picked one thing they didn't mind doing all the time, and committed to a schedule to do it on. The other things, the ones that people really didn't want to do, were parcelled up via schedule.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2005

It's all about the weekly chore wheel, baby.
posted by Specklet at 1:28 PM on June 2, 2005

I'm in the same situation, so i'm interested to see the answers here. The way it works with us is as you described - the responsible people end up doing the work. One answer I remember seeing with dish doing was to put a card of everyone's name above the kitchen sink. If your name is at the top of the list and there's dishes in the sink, you do all the dishes, if not, then you move your name to the back of the list. A bit dorky, but the idea is to do your dishes right after you dirty them.
Also, we all chip in for a cleaning service every 2 weeks. It's actually just one mildly retarded guy, so it works out nicely that he gets some work and we get a cleaner place. It's still not enough to keep the place constantly clean though. You could threaten a cleaning service and see who grabs a broom to avoid paying.
posted by hellbient at 1:29 PM on June 2, 2005

Break down the repetitive chores - bathroom, kitchen, common living areas - how often they should be done. Decide what the performance criteria is - how clean/how often. Make up a table of who does what each alternating day/week. & post it on the fridge. If someone has to skip their turn they get to double up, or you can play Risk for it. No one leaves dishes more than overnight & no one spews in the toilet without cleaning it up. The house gets mojoed Friday or Saturday, without fail. Girlfriends cannot stand in for your scheduled duty.
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:31 PM on June 2, 2005

What if everyone agrees (in writing) that if they miss a chore and don't discuss it in advance with the roomies, they have to contribute another $5 to the rent (or buy everyone beer or dinner). If they can't even abide by that then likely you'll be thinking about tossing them out anyway.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2005

We had a "come to Jesus" and established who didn't mind doing what. We then established a schedule, and posted it (yay, Excel!). If you didn't want to do your chore or couldn't for some reason, you had to swindle someone else into doing it and put his or her name down. Generally this involved a trade.

As for dishes, we were a communal food/cooking house, so the only real rule was that whomever cooked didn't have to do the dishes, and those that usually didn't cook had to figure out amongst themselves whose turn it was.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:39 PM on June 2, 2005

Who_Am_I's idea is pretty good. When we wanted to get out tow kids into the act, my wife and I wrote down all the chores and weighted them (most of them are weighted equally at 1, but others were worth more). Then we went around the table in this order: 1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1-... until all the chores were picked by someone. We would change up chores at least every three months. That way, if someone prefers to clean bathrooms, and someone else likes laundry, they can do what they please. By letting the people pick, they take ownership of their chores.
posted by Doohickie at 1:51 PM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: 1) Agree about what needs to be done, and how often. Neat-freaks and slobs will both have to compromise (yes, bathrooms need to be scoured more than once every 2 months, yes, dishes can sit in the sink until the next morning, etc.).

2) As mentioned above, figure out if there are things that people hate doing. I don't wash other peoples' dishes by hand, for example, but I don't mind scouring bathrooms. Are there things people can't do? If you have a roommate that has classes all day and works all weekend, he may not be able to mow the lawn, ever, but he may be first awake in the mornings, and able to take the trash and recylcing out to the curb.

3) Figure out the rules. How late can one person be before they're delinquent? What about chore trading? Will there be penalties? Do chores have to be done on a certain day or by a certain day of the week? My last set of roommates decided on Thursdays, so that the house would always been clean before the weekend. Several of my roommates also talked their boyfriends into doing yardwork on their scheduled weeks. Not everyone is going to be cool with this, so it's important to chat about it.

4) Come up with a schedule.

5) If it's not working, do something different! The worst times I've had have been when everyone's agreed on a plan, saw it not work work, then been too stuborn to look at what isn't working, and take a stab at actually fixing it.
posted by asnowballschance at 1:56 PM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: Arguing about doing chores reduces everyone to 7 year olds living at home, when you should be acting like adults:

Get a maid.
Add the cost to the monthly rent.
Solves many a roommate problem.

Then you can get on to arguing about the really important things like "Hey, who drank all the beer/milk/OJ"?
posted by madajb at 2:21 PM on June 2, 2005

Snowballschance said everything I was going to say like some kind of mind reader. Particularly 1, 2, and 5.
posted by desuetude at 2:30 PM on June 2, 2005

I live with four other people. We tried a chore schedule and it didn't work--we've had better results with fairly permanent assignments, which tend to be switched only when someone new moves in (because it isn't fair to assume the new person will like the old person's chore). Some people still won't do what they ought to and those people are just assholes. Nothing you can do will change that. My house breaks down into two conscientous, two medium, and one asshole. Basically everyone makes up for that last person and I'm bitter and no one else cares. But no matter what we've tried over three years, she won't change. So I'm working on not caring.
posted by dame at 3:03 PM on June 2, 2005

I like the idea about the slobs having to pay more rent.

I also really like living alone.
posted by elisabeth r at 3:12 PM on June 2, 2005

the people who care will have to do it and may turn have more political capital - but lazy people will never clean
posted by a thousand writers drunk at the keyboard at 4:01 PM on June 2, 2005

This has only ever worked with one roommate, but it worked REALLY well, so I'll share: We split the house in two (basically, living areas and kitchen/bathroom), and each week we traded who cleaned them. The only rule was the cleaning had to be done some time between Thursday and Saturday. Each person was responsible (or not) for her own bedroom.

We also always did our own dishes.

I think it worked mainly because we were each pretty clean, but we focused on different stuff when we cleaned, and we had been second-guessing the other's cleaning style. If you know that you'll get to go back over it in a week to get anything the other person missed, it's a bit easier to chill out on a non-perfect job. Ditto if the person ends up missing a week.
posted by occhiblu at 4:57 PM on June 2, 2005

In college I lived in three apartments with five-six people each. Tiny little apartments. Anyway, the only system that ever worked was a chore chart in which you moved a tack/magnet/whatever to the next person on the list after you had done your agreed chore. (Our chores were : trash, dishes, clean the living room, clean the bathroom, vaccuum - some needed to be done more often than others and as we had five people, no one was usually saddled with more than one chore per week.)

Sometimes breakdowns in the system would occur, leading to the, er, most lax person having ALL of the chores at one given time and there would have to be an intervention, but that was much less painful than constantly trying to figure out who was doing what.

We traded chores around a lot depending on schedules/who prefered doing what, but in the end, we managed to keep things liveable. Except for finals week, but that hardly counts.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:54 PM on June 2, 2005

Best answer: We split chores according to who doesn't mind doing what. This takes care of most of the chores. The rest we split and usually shift them around according to who is having the busiest week and/or who is going to the store [our biggest chore hassle is running out of TP/dish soap, etc]. The key is that chore enforcement is in and of itself one of the chores, once everyone has agreed on what needs to get done.

If there are chores that are not all agreed upon [i.e. someone really really wants the towels washed every few days, other people are okay putting them in the regular wash] then the person who needs that chore done needs to do it.

Anything date sensitive [i.e. trash to curb] needs to be on some sort of calendar so that not only do people know who is supposed to do it, then know what day the trash goes out on AND what day it actually is.

These things tend to break down for a few reasons: people disagree on what needs to be done or how often, some people say they will do stuff and never do it, some people care too much about how other people do their jobs. Sometimes just having a chore day can fix some of this, where an hour or two every Sunday is for doing the chores that aren't time sensitive and everyone pitches in.
posted by jessamyn at 6:34 PM on June 2, 2005

As already noted, splitting chores on who doesn't mind what is the best way.

My only other comment here is that I don't like doing the dishes when the person cooking knows they won't be doing the dishes, because it usually results in twice as many dishes getting dirtied as when you know you'll be both cooking and cleaning. Not sure what the solution to that is. When I was in a flat, I basically said "I am normally off the dish washing register, but I promise I will not dirty any clean dishes", as I found it easier to wash what I needed from the (always considerable) pile of other people's dishes waiting to be washed, as I needed them, use them, and return them to the pile. Basicially doing my dishes before my meal instead of after. It leaves some flatmates suspicious, because it was hard for them to verify I was keeping my promise, but it worked for me. I realise most people hate cooking that way, but just saying - you might have some weirdos to accomodate :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:26 PM on June 2, 2005

For dishes, we had "the rotation". It worked thusly:

When it was your turn, you had to at least wait until there was a sinkfull of dishes until you did them (wash+dry+put away). You could wait as long as you wanted to, which sometimes resulted in huge piles of dishes covering the whole counter, and which led to the washing of specific items that you needed to cook your meal. As soon as you did them, it became the next person in the rotation's turn to do them.

It was a perfect system for us. Quite often you would walk in to the kitchen to see huge mounds of dishes and have a good laugh with another roommate over the predicament the current dishwasher had gotten themself in.
posted by davey_darling at 9:45 PM on June 2, 2005

Try the schedule of chores thing, but expect it not to work. Like Dame said, if somebody doesn't want to do chores they won't, trust me on this one. Way back in the day I had a roommate who truly believed that in any roommate situation the "lowest common denominator" had to be respected. Of course when it came to cleaning up, he was the lowest common denominator. So it worked out well for him. Eventually noone cleaned up and we lived like pigs for a year until I moved out.
posted by sic at 3:23 AM on June 3, 2005

I created a web site to share links and files with my roommates and added a sidebar with whose turn it was to do what and made it so compelling that we all made it our home page. This may not be the best choice if you have less free time than I did, but it worked for us (so far as conveying the information--we're still all slobs).
posted by jewzilla at 7:33 PM on June 3, 2005

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