My house is a dump.
May 14, 2012 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I live in a complete dump. How can I make the best of my crappy living situation while I look for a new place?

I live in a dump of a group house. It's disgusting. Everyone's in their early to mid 20's. I took a room in it on a whim because I was desperate for a place to live, and because it's KIND OF cheap and the location is completely awesome. I'm on a completely different schedule from my 3 roommates so it's almost like I have the house to myself 80% of the time, which is nice.

But it's not nice, because the house is completely fucking out of control disgusting. None of the drains actually drain. There's no shower pressure so I can barely wash my hair. The roommates, though relatively cool and rarely around, can't even manage to move their dirty plates/empty beer cans/used glasses+silverware/trash from the living room table to the trashcan. You know how sometimes you have an annoying roommate that lets dishes pile up in the sink? These people don't even make it to the sink. They just leave their shit laying around to rot for days on end. I end up clearing things up from the table/counters once a week because there aren't any other surfaces to eat or drink off of and what am I supposed to do?

There are grimey pots and pans everywhere around the stove in the kitchen. No one takes out the trash, it just piles up. Same goes for running the dishwasher. There's a dining room that is so full of junk it looks like an episode of hoarders. My friends joke about how it's a "frat house" and I'll tell them I wish it was a frat house, frat kids are cleaner than this. The landlord is out of the picture, it seems (basically, a slumlord).

I'm currently looking for a new place, but it's really difficult. My question is: What can I do to improve the situation here while I search? Do I confront the roommates about this? They've all been living here for 3 years and I'm the new guy, so apparently they aren't phased by this type of living and the last thing I want to do is be the dude who cramps their lifestyle. Plus I knew what I was getting into, I just didn't realize it'd be this bad. Do I leave a note? Write an email? They're all on the lease and I'm month to month so I'm afraid of coming across like this bossy outsider. Besides clean up after them like I'm their mom week after week until I put in my 30 days notice - there must be a solution to this. What would you do?
posted by windbox to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just leave. I can't think of any other constructive thing to do unless you want to constantly do an inhuman amount of cleaning.
posted by threeants at 7:25 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stay out as much as you can. Make your room a fortress of cleanitude when you're home and don't let them in. Shower at the gym if you want water pressure and relative cleanliness. Because if everyone else is happy living in squalor and you try to make them shape up, you're going to be the odd one out. Find another place as soon as you can.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:29 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you're not on the lease, bail ASAP. Notes and e-mails and trying to train these people is going to be a total waste of your energy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:31 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hello - let me clarify in case I haven't enough that I am looking for a new place. Have been for the past 1 1/2 months.

Looking for any solutions that help me last until then.

Sorry if that sounds like I'm irritable - this living situation is starting to grate on me. I have not confronted anyone in the house about it yet - maybe there's a way?
posted by windbox at 7:33 PM on May 14, 2012

I didn't have it this bad, this is what I would do if the roommates are cooperative: schedule a meeting with them about housecleaning responsibilities. Ask them first about if they're happy about the situation, then bring up your concerns. Bring up the fact that you're doing a disproportionate amount of cleaning, and you'd like to divvy up the work, because this is a tragedy of the commons problem. Everyone signs up for a specific area to clean up "dishes in living room, dishwasher, living room floor" etc. The roommates that don't do their work will have to buy everyone else a pack of beer. Either you have a clean house, or you're too drunk to care.

(I did this once with cooperative roommates and it worked pretty well. We bought something else other than beer though.)
posted by Hawk V at 7:34 PM on May 14, 2012

Can you afford to join a gym or YMCA? You could shower there. Eat as many meals as possible outside the home. I don't think there's anything you can do to improve the actual conditions there, so I think you just have to stay out as much as possible until you find a new situation.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:35 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, don't even try email. Emails when you're living with a person comes off as passive-aggressive, same as notes. Reschedule an in-person meeting with whoever is available, and notify people in-person whenever possible.

I did this even though I was the new roommate, and it worked because I was on good terms with everybody, and I set a high standard for cleanliness.
posted by Hawk V at 7:37 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is no way. It's not your house, you're the newest one and will appear to the others as this strange creature that burst into their lives to harangue them. They're never around and have no reason to keep the place clean, outside of possibly placating you. Lay low, keep the dishes you need in your room, and enjoy the amazing location outside the house until you find a new place.

When I lived in a similar situation as you did, I was never horribly bothered by it as it felt completely transitional. Do you feel stuck? Reminding yourself the layers of pots and pans will only be your problem until you find a new place might make it easier. Also, do you feel judged by the house mess? Like the state of the kitchen reflects on you? I know I can't invite people over if my place isn't clean, something my roommate isn't remotely phased by. Having had roommates for over a decade, I can tell you it takes a very strong desire to master the Art of Letting It Go. I only hope it serves me well later in life.

On the practical side, when my water was out I started using the showers at my gym and they were amazing. They'll even be cleaner then the ones at your place. It would get you out, active, and clean!
posted by Dynex at 7:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would keep one part of the kitchen counter very clean for your personal use. Throw out things like beer cans which won't take THAT long. Don't bother with common areas like the living room. Only work on the bathroom, kitchen, and your bedroom. Don't wash their dishes or anything like that.

When cleaning the kitchen, say something like, "hey I'm cleaning the kitchen. Is it cool if I throw out these beer cans?" Then pile up all of their dishes to one side of the area. This can be used as a subtle hint as well, even if it comes across as passive-aggressive. Don't bother with an email or a note. It will go ignored.
posted by livinglearning at 7:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh man, have I been here (though, thankfully, never with more than one roommate at a time). You need to move out as soon as humanly possible. This is the only solution.

In the meantime, here are a few things I've discovered that can help to keep you sane in the (hopefully very short) interim:

1) Obtain the most absolute basic of kitchen necessities (one plate, one bowl, one fork, one knife, one glass, etc) and keep these in your room. Wash them after every meal and immediately take them back into your room. Tell yourself that these are the only dishes that are yours, and therefore the only dishes you can be responsible for (both in terms of cleaning AND in terms of mental energy). Everything else is the problem of your slovenly roommates, and you are therefore free to ignore it. Have one garbage can, and keep it in your room. Throw all of your trash in it and take it out often. All other garbage in the house is then free to ignore.

2) Make your bedroom your safe zone, and stay in it. If your bedroom is tiny, just deal with it. A tiny, clean room is better than a large, but chaotic and filthy, space. Eat your meals in your room. Don't venture outside unless it's strictly necessary.

3) Pick one (small) communal spot (for me it was always the bathroom) and work hard to keep it spotless. This way, when/if you do complain/mention your problem with the mess to your roommates, you can point to where you've put in your effort. This will also make it more tolerable for you to be in that communal spot when you have to be. (For instance, I personally can't stand going to get clean in a bathroom that's filthy, so a clean bathroom is a priority for me.)

4) Flat-out tell people that specific things are a problem. Sometimes messy people don't notice messes. You may have better luck saying, "Jane, your dishes have been in the sink for over a week. Please clean them," than, "Jane, please be more responsible cleaning the kitchen."

That said, this is a terrible, no-win situation. The only real advice I have for you is to separate your things from the group, retreat, and hide until it's all over. I can pretty much guarantee you that it will not get better.
posted by phunniemee at 7:39 PM on May 14, 2012 [23 favorites]

1) Pretend your bedroom is your entire apartment. Just go straight to your room when you get home. Eat in there and everything. Get a hotplate or a microwave or whatever, and a mini fridge, which you may be able to rent.
2) Suck it up and clean the bathroom yourself. It's the one shared area you can't really get away with not using. Get the toilet & sink clean enough to use.
3) Join a gym. This has two benefits: first, you can shower there; second, it gives you somewhere to go, any time. No need to have plans with friends, no need to have errands or work or classes. Just fill all your free time (or, rather, the time that you'd otherwise spend at home) at the gym. Bonus points of its a gym with couches in the locker room, so you can read a book or watch tv sometimes, and not be forced to turned into a crazy-constant-workout-machine, if you don't want to! (I did this when i lived with a roommate i hated, it was surprisingly effective.)
posted by Kololo at 8:05 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just realized i essentially echoed phunniemee. Oh well - at least i can say i agree with him/her!
posted by Kololo at 8:07 PM on May 14, 2012

This was me for one summer in college! If your room at all has the space, I would suggest getting a small table/chair so you can eat in there. Even an old card table and a folding chair would work for me, as long as it's clean. You could also buy a plastic bus-tub like they use at restaurants and stack up their nasty dishes in there, so at least you can use the sink/counter.

You can also wash your hair under the bath tap, which might give you a little better water pressure, or switch to using spray-on, leave-in conditioner. (I have thick hair and I know in places with low water pressure it's extra impossible to rinse out conditioner).
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:30 PM on May 14, 2012

I'm going to stick to the drain situation, because I happen to know how to take care of this, and I know from experience that non-draining drains make you miserable.

You will need:
- A plunger
- A drain "zipper." You can get this from any hardware store. It's a long plastic thing that has little teeth coming off it.
- A bleach-based cleaner.
- A rag/sponge/paper towels

Warning - this will probably be gross.

Use the zipper a bunch of times. What you're going to do is just keep sticking the plastic part with the teeth down the drain and pulling it out. It's going to grab any hair that's stuck down the drain.

Next (and here's the part I wouldn't have thought of if someone hadn't told me) - plunge the drain. Do it the same way you would a toilet. If there's standing water in the drain, you'll have to do this step first.

There's probably a lot of sand-looking stuff in the tub now. Don't think about what this is. Spray the hell out of it with the bleach and then wipe it up.

It's easiest to do this to the tub drain, but you can do it in a sink too, it's just harder to get the plunger in there.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:38 PM on May 14, 2012 [14 favorites]

Have you actually asked them? " hey guys, I know we tend to be a messy household, but just wondering if anyone is getting as tired if it as me? I'd be up for making it happen if you are." You never know. They might also want a cleaner house, but are kind of stuck in a rut and might actually be up for some cleaning inspiration.
posted by Vaike at 9:32 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in a place like this my last semester of college, and it was horrible. I feel for you.

My solution was to keep everything I possibly could in my room: I had a little tiny fridge where I kept as much of the stuff I wanted to keep cold as possible. I kept all of my pots, pants, dishes, and silverware in my room, too. I'd only cook when my fucking disgusting roommates weren't around, and then I'd wash everything of mine and take it back upstairs to my room when it was clean.

Similar story with the bathroom: put everything in a shower caddy and took it all with me. Everything. Towels, kept them in my room, too. Get shower shoes so you don't have to put your bare feet where their bare feet are.

Also, when it was time for me to leave, I just left some of my furniture there. After those gross people used it, I didn't want it anymore.

Fix the parts you need to fix to make it liveable, ie, clean the bathroom yourself and unstop the drains. Don't expect thanks. Don't even tell them you're doing this. Just do it, you're only going to be there a few more weeks or months.

Also, seconding joining a gym so you can shower there. That's a great idea.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:03 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Arrange to be out of the house as much as possible until you can move.

Consider if your expectations for where you will move are too high (maybe you need to check outside of your preferred locations, pay a higher price, or live in a tinier space than you want).

Then, move.
posted by nat at 10:29 PM on May 14, 2012

I actually think there is a lot you can do here. But no notes. No email. No passive-aggressiveness. No anger. Do not "confront" anyone. I can tell you are really angry and frustrated right now and I would be too. But you have to get that out somehow before you approach them because it will be really counterproductive.

And you will have to completely forget about what is "reasonable" to expect. You are going to have to meet them where they are, largely, and not expect them out of their comfort zone too much. Take what you can get.

Here is the first thing I would do. Broach the topic the roommate who seems the neatest, sometime when he is around. Say to him something really low pressure while you are just chatting and hanging out. Make sure that not only you say what you are thinking and feeling about the situation but ASK him about what he is thinking and feeling about the situation. Say to him something like, "Sometimes I think it would be great if we could raise our game here in this place, keep the place up a little more, make it more comfortable, cleaner. What do you think? Do you ever think it would be a good idea for us all to pitch in and do some cleaning once in a while?" If he's not entirely negative about that then ASK him the things he would like to see cleaner, ask him his suggestions for how you all as a house should handle it, and the frequency that he would see you guys all pitching in for cleaning. By all means tell him your own suggestions but make sure to really ask him about his first. Then decide on a time where you will talk to the next neatest house member about it. Make sure to set a firm time when you KNOW the two of them will be there so nobody flakes and you will not have to take on the role of trying to chase them down and nag them for the talk as they avoid it.

So with the next housemate it should go the same way. Low stakes. No pressure. No forcing. Everyone is saying what their preferences are. Everyone is buying in to the plan. Nobody is having anything they don't want to do forced on them. Because guess what if it is, they might "yes" you on it but they'll never do it.

Here are some of my ideas on VERY simple things you can suggest that might make a big difference.

-Everyone switches to disposable plates and utensils.
-You get some HUGE garbage cans for each room and maybe put basketball hoops on top of them or something.
-You all agree that any dishes, pots and pans left unwashed for a week get thrown out. (If you don't like to be wasteful you can secretly wash them then donate them or hide them, whatever.)
-Some people have more success with chore wheels but I think for the truly unmotivated it is better to have a time where everyone is cleaning together at the same time. And for a very short period of time. So can you set a day/time maybe every week or every other week, when everyone will get together and clean whatever you can clean in 15 or 20 minutes? Then stop no matter how much mess still remains. Baby steps. You will really just be getting them in the habit of regular cleaning at this stage and if you try to do too much they will probably freak out and resist you. Make sure to also make this is also a flake-proof time when you KNOW everyone will be home.
posted by cairdeas at 11:05 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

None of the drains actually drain. There's no shower pressure so I can barely wash my hair.

Two easy things to do:

1) Get a Costco sized container of Liquid Drano. Unclog the drains. It won't work for long with the amount of crud that's probably in there, but it will dissolve the hair monster growing in there.
2) Spend $10 and replace the showerhead, if it's easy to do so. It probably has 10 years worth of mineral buildup in it, if the water pressure is ok in other areas.

Don't even bother with assigning chores. Keep a bathroom and your room clean, and spend all the rest of your time on getting out.
posted by benzenedream at 12:43 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're screwed. Move as soon as you can.
posted by flabdablet at 3:41 AM on May 15, 2012

How much does a "cleaning lady" cost? Assuming you could find one who would be willing to take this on?
posted by evilmomlady at 4:23 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the kitchen sink is one of the places not draining properly, have a look underneath it. If there's a U bend or P-trap there that looks like it would come off (and go back on again in the same number of pieces), this needs cleaning. It's fifteen minutes of grossness for OH SO MUCH improvement in the kitchen situation (I had to do this while sharing a student flat with two Very Nice Girls, one of whom had always lived with either a cook/housekeeper or the kind of sink with a garbage disposal. She didn't know that tipping leftover rice down the sink was not a clever thing to do).

You will need: a bucket or washing up bowl, a scrubbing brush (if the kitchen has a brush for dishes, buy a new one, use the old one, and make sure it's never used for dishes again because eww; an old toothbrush may also be handy), some kind of cleaning product (Flash or whatever, you may as well use washing up liquid / dish soap if that's all there is) and you will probably want some rubber gloves.

Put the bowl under the trap and undo it. Water will come out, along with slime and disgustrousness. If you have to leave the room to clean the trap (flush the sliminess down the loo or something) it's probably a good idea to tape off the sink so no-one tries to use it when there's no drain on it. Clean everything you can reach and put it back together again, making sure that any o-rings are still in place, they help make the seal. If they need replacing, it's probably easiest to take the old ones or even the clean bit of pipe to the shop to make sure you get the right size.

This method should work on a bathroom sink too, but if you pull lots of hair out of it, don't flush that down the loo, put it in the bin so that it doesn't cause more problems. Good luck.
posted by Lebannen at 4:47 AM on May 15, 2012

When I have been in a living situation with roommates I didn't like, I took the opportunity to get a second job. Nothing like a couple of shifts of retail or waiting tables to get you out of the house. Volunteering is also good.

So, basically I agree that you should spend as much time out of the house as possible and get out of there as quickly as possible. You can't fix this. Except the drains - the advice above for fixing the drains is pretty good.
posted by mskyle at 4:48 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I second getting another job. Perhaps something temporary, or volunteer for a candidate or something. Getting out and staying out is key.

In my youth, when I had energy, I'd just clean the hell out of that house. I hate a mess. My method was to put on a double-album (this is how long ago I was young) of Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter, and pull on my gloves and get to work.

I'd start with the bathroom, since that's a place we all HAVE to use. Then the kitchen. Their own rooms, they're on their own for that. The living room would be last.

I'd use a strong cleaner and paper-towels. It's wasteful, but some stuff will be so grody that you won't want to keep trying to rinse if from a cloth or a sponge. Viva towels are best, they feel like cloth.

I'd do the baseboards, I'd even shampoo the rug.

Then I'd do daily upkeep on it until it was time for me to move.

I also nth cleaning the drains and replacing the showerhead. There's a great water-saver called Great Head, and it's cheap. I'd post a link but I can't google it at work. Another option is to use CLR and see if that helps. If it really is a water pressure issues, call the landlord and complain.

Next time, a small studio with no roommates might be the way to go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on May 15, 2012

I'll get flak for this, but in case you need to hear it: don't worry too much about the environment-- just get garbage out of your house. Throw the beer bottles away if you dont have an empty sink to rinse them for recycling. It's temporary, and when you come right down to it, the individual approach to saving the environment is really a way of deflecting responsibility from the corporate marauders who could do more in a day to help the environment than you'll do in a lifetime of recycling beer bottles.

Do what you can when you can for the environment. But for now, get the garbage out of your house.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:12 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have lots of housemates, suggest you all chip in for a cleaning lady.
posted by bq at 7:57 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh hi this was me in college. Frat boy roommates, beer bottles EVERYWHERE, ALWAYS, sink full of mystery water, rug coated in unidentified substances, neighbors downstairs who partied literally every night, sometimes with jam sessions, often with people passed out on the lawn, landlord who literally did not care and was possibly derelict. This is what I did:

1. Keep your room spotless, even if you don't normally. This is your sanctuary. It is your oasis in the midst of filth. If you're going to be moving into a place that's unfurnished, you might consider getting a chair and floor lamp now, just so you have a place to chill out free from filth.

2. The two priorities, in this order: bathroom, kitchen. The shower pressure might be a bust (could you get a different shower cap?) and I don't know what the sink and toilet's like -- for one month our sink was literally cracked until the repair person finally got there to fix it -- but if you can spend an hour or so cleaning it until it's usable, that is time well spent.

The kitchen seems like more of a lost cause. You could try putting detergent into the sink so at least it's soaking in soap and not filth; you can try clearing off the stove area so you can at least cook. But I suspect you'll want to get really familiar with cheap-but-decent pre-prepared stuff (Trader Joes, maybe?). And you might also want to get a mini-fridge for your room.

3. Cleaning anywhere else is a lost cause. You honestly just need a path to the door.

4. When you leave, don't clean a thing (except your room.) Not. A. THING. It's not your place. Their lease, their job; don't turn yourself into the free hired help.
posted by dekathelon at 8:16 AM on May 15, 2012

Shell out for a cleaning company to come in and do a deep clean of the place--or just the bathrooms & kitchen, if you'd prefer. Have carpet/upholstery cleaners come in and do any carpets and furniture in the house. Then you have a clean place to start from. It doesn't sound like you're going to get any help from your roommates, so you will have to decide if you want to be the one to keep on top of trash, dishes, and regular cleaning if it bothers you enough.

Everyone else has good advice about the drains. If you can do the drain zippers, it seems like they work, but require bravery and a very strong stomach. I admire your fortitude. Poke around on the internet and see what you can find out about the water pressure. Is it the pipes or just the fixture itself? Can you fix it yourself or will it require a plumber? Again, sounds like you'll be the one to have to shell out for that. You could try taking it out of your rent, but I doubt your housemates would be amenable to that since they don't seem to see it as necessary in the first place.

Messy people who have been living like this since before you moved in are just not going to change. You will waste a lot of energy and patience trying to get them to care. If you really want it clean, you're going to have to do it yourself, or learn to ignore as much as you can until you get a new place.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 8:37 AM on May 15, 2012

My first apartment (with oh god the horror 6 filthy stoner guys) was like this. Eventually I just said FUCK THIS SHIT FOREVER and threw away all the ancient food-encrusted dishes and donated the rest of the kitchen stuff to the local thrift shop and made everyone eat takeaway off of paper plates for the rest of the year.
posted by elizardbits at 10:12 AM on May 15, 2012

Until I got to "dude" and "guy" I was sure you were female, because I've known female roommates in a houseful of guys who were just expected to be "mom" and clean up. If you have been cleaning up at all, you're now in this role. Subconsciously, they might be thinking "Eh, I'll just leave this here, Joe will clean it up."

I agree with elizardbits in that all the dishes get thrown away. ALL. If they ask why and you can't bear to tell them they're disgusting pigs, lie and tell them you saw roaches. Go to Sam's Club and buy copious amounts of paper plates and plastic silverware.

Personally, I'd pile all that shit in their rooms, but that will probably start a war that you won't be able to win.
posted by desjardins at 10:24 AM on May 15, 2012

Can you possibly convince everyone to chip in for a monthly cleaning service? An other alternative: Clean everything yourself. The whole house, except the bedrooms. Once. Make sure you move out by the time it gets gross again.
posted by Kololo at 11:35 AM on May 15, 2012

Chiming in late here - but to the issue of low water pressure.

1. Remove the shower head and see if there is anything blocking the filter. Water pipes often have tiny pebbles/sand bits that will accumulate in the filter and eventually block it.

2. If you have hard water or mineral water, try replacing the shower head all together. They are cheap and it's an easy fix.
posted by trixare4kids at 1:49 PM on May 15, 2012

Put all the dirty dishes in the tub. Shower elsewhere. They will get the hint.
posted by jmd97 at 3:37 PM on May 15, 2012

Get a Costco sized container of Liquid Drano. Unclog the drains.

Do not use Drano or any other caustic chemical. Use the drain zipper mentioned above, a drain snake, a plunger, or some other mechanical means.

Out of consideration for the plumber who will eventually have to deal with the nastiness, please do not use Drano.
posted by Lexica at 6:31 PM on May 15, 2012

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