What is the happy medium?
August 17, 2012 5:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I come to terms with the fact that my apartment will never be as neat as I would like?

It feels like a spend a lot of energy trying to keep my apartment clean and neat, with not much to show for it. I love reading about minimalism and feel sadly envious when I do. My boyfriend has stuff - a normal amount, but still more than I do. I get irrationally cranky about this. Little things like empty cups being left in the living room or jeans left on the floor near the bed make me anxious and sad.

Whenever I have the apartment to myself for a few days, I love coming home. Everything that I had tidied is still tidy, and all of the dishes are out of the sink, and all of the surfaces that I try to keep clear and clean are just how I left them.

As I am writing this, I am thinking "my goodness, that sounds horribly OCD". I promise it may not be as bad as you are thinking. Cat hair and some dirt on the floor, fine. A few crumbs on the table, sure. I guess it comes down to the fact that my boyfriend has different ideas as to what a 'nice, clean house' looks like and things that bother me do not bother him.

Mefites, how have you resolved this in shared households? It is causing me some significant sadness and anxiety. I get resentful towards my boyfriend, who is a good boyfriend, and I don't like that. I don't feel comfortable in a home with stuff lying around everywhere and he does. Any help would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
If your boyfriend isn't finding neatness as easy as you do, then it might be a good idea to get him to focus on cleaning, rather than tidying. If you have things organised so that you know he's doing more of the cleaning stuff than you, it will make you less resentful about doing the tidying that he either finds hard or doesn't notice. You probably are going to have to compromise somewhat, but that can be a real compromise. Are there cleaning tasks you hate doing that he doesn't mind? You might be able to trade some of those off for you doing more of the tasks he's struggling with.

The other possibility is employing a cleaner. Someone coming in and taking on some of the tasks will lighten both your loads, and might act as a good incentive to get him to tidy up before they come in.
posted by howfar at 5:31 PM on August 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you asked him to work on some of his habits, because it would make you happy? There are surely preferences that he would like indulged in your shared space/life.

I don't think there's anything wrong with feeling as you do but I think you should work with him on it, find a solution.

Strategic indulgences/humoring go a long way. It's okay to ask to be humored.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:37 PM on August 17, 2012

I am thinking "my goodness, that sounds horribly OCD". I promise it may not be as bad as you are thinking.

It doesn't sound horrible, by the way. I think it doesn't sound as bad as you're thinking.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:40 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had to deal with this when I moved in with my now-husband and there are three approaches I took:

1. Talk to him frankly about what I wanted and ask him to help me out. We try to do a five minute pick-up before bed that ensures that the worst of it stays better. The mess doesn't bother him, but he gets that it bothers me - while he's not great about stopping it in the first place, he is ALWAYS willing to stop what he's doing to help me clean.

2. I clean/straighten a little more than he does, usually in the sense of picking-up-as-I-go, not actual deep cleaning. It's not really fair, but the mess bothers me more than it bothers him. This was the approach I took with roommates when I had them, and it worked well for me there. It still works, and it's easier to not be as resentful of him as I was of my roommates, because I love him.

3. I lowered my standards. The reality is, if that's the thing I'm "settling for", SO BE IT. He's practically perfect in every way, and if this is the qualifier, I will take it and be glad. For a while I tried smiling every time I saw his hoodie tossed on the couch AGAIN and thinking "Look! Evidence that I live with someone I love!" So corny. But it helped. Then we had to live apart for a few months while moving cross-country, and I found that I missed the little messes he left. That helped me chill out when we were back together.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:54 PM on August 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

I fought the wife for years on this and eventually realized she was never, ever going to change and I was going to have to get divorced if I really cared about it that much, and it turned out I didn't care about it that much.

However, I have set down ground rules. It has to get cleaned or picked up before it starts to smell or attract bugs. The time her towering pile of dirty dishes got us an ant infestation is not something she has lived down and she begrudgingly admitted that maybe she needed to police herself more.

Otherwise, I just lowered my standards.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:07 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my relationship over 10 years he's gotten a bit better and I've lightened up a bit. Neither of us are entirely happy but what can you do?

We employ a 2x a month cleaner for the big stuff.
posted by k8t at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depending on your exact preferences and your shared behavior patterns and so on, you might find it useful to focus on keeping one room in your apartment particularly tidy, to your standards, and letting the other rooms come closer to his standards. Maybe that's the living room. Maybe that's your bedroom. Maybe that's your study or workspace, if you have one.

Overall, it might be much more manageable to have rules like: "drop your clothes on the floor of the bedroom, not the living room" or "coffee cups go to the kitchen counter, not the end table."
posted by willbaude at 6:12 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

My wife and I deal with this by surrendering the idea that we both have to work equally hard on the same things to meet someone's standard.

She cooks, I clean. I keep certain areas tidy to my standards (like the kitchen), and that means cleaning up her messes; in exchange, she prepares most food and handles the cat's litter boxes.

The key to this arrangement is that we feel a certain parity has been achieved in terms of effort. We're both putting around the same amount of work into the maintenance tasks of the relationship, we're just doing it differently but with agreement between us that it's about even overall.

So: if you want it minimalist and neat, clean it yourself. Pick up after your boyfriend, after establishing with him that he makes some similar effort elsewhere to keep things feeling balanced.

Relationships are an ongoing process of negotiation, and this is just one of those things.
posted by fatbird at 6:16 PM on August 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

It's perfectly fine to want a neat and tidy house, it's not ok to get worked up about a coffee cup. It's not about the coffee cup. This is about control, control over your environment, control over your boyfriend. Figure out why you crave that control and start to release your white knuckled grip on it.

After a month long battle to get a roommate to wipe up the bit of toothbrush goo she would leave on the counter every night I had something of an epiphany. I was unhappy in my life and funnelling all that bad energy into Must Have Clean House, like that would fix anything. Associating that desperate desire to have order with encroaching mental health issues really took the wind out of those sails for me.
posted by Dynex at 6:20 PM on August 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding howfar. I'm a lot less neat than my girlfriend, but I have a much higher tolerance for gross cleaning jobs. So she does more of the straightening up, and I scrub anything that needs to be scrubbed, and unclog anything that needs to be unclogged. It all roughly comes out in the wash.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:46 PM on August 17, 2012

Your standards will meet somewhere in the middle, and you will decide that watching movies or having sex is more fun than fighting about dirty socks left on the floor for the nth time.
posted by desjardins at 6:49 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, but also, those super minimalist homes you're reading about are unrealizable fantasies. It's like looking at pictures of mansions. You're never going to live that way, and if you think ou might you're just going to make yourself miserable. Actually, forget the mansions. It's like watching a bunch of porn and then using that to measure your actual sex life.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:49 PM on August 17, 2012 [10 favorites]

Have you looked into a housekeeper. They're more affordable than you think.

Having someone come just once a month means that once a month, the house gets cleaned. We went from once a month to twice a month a year or so ago. It's really something to look forward to. "Oh, when I come home today, the house will be clean!"
posted by colin_l at 7:30 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible for you to have a room that is just for you, or one that he acknowledges as your "picture perfect" place? Maybe that would help you tolerate the every day clutter in the rest of the house.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:49 PM on August 17, 2012

Physics is what finally helped me...keep in mind that LITERALLY EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE IS CONSTANTLY IN MOTION and that the amount of disorder (entropy) in any system, be it a household or a galaxy, is always increasing. Always. And forever. Housework is a battle that you cannot, and will not, ever win. The single most powerful LAW of nature is against you .(Entropy is what makes TIME go FORWARD, btw...I don't care how much bleach is in that tile cleaner, you are going to lose.)
That's not to say you should just give up altogether, mind you, just keep in mind that you don't necessarily need to die on that hill.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:03 AM on August 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

This question sounds so much like something I could have posted that I actually just warned my fiance that if he sees this question, I *didn't* write it.

My strategy is basically the same as peanut_mcgillicuty's with one more step: I always keep in mind that he has really really good intentions, and dammit, the man TRIES so hard. He knows I'm a cleaning maniac and makes an effort to the extent he can.

Sure he leaves socks and crumpled up receipts strewn around, but you know what? I really hate washing dishes and knowing that, he does them Every. Single. Night. I hate going the dumpster in the building's scary basement so he always takes out the trash and the recycling.

I always let him know how grateful I am for his efforts (because I am!), and more importantly, that he puts up with my cleaning neuroses.

Incidentally yesterday he made the bed so well that I had to stop and think if *I* made the bed. Usually he just tosses the duvet any old how over everything but this time it was straightened out, pillows plumped etc. When I told him that I originally couldn't figure out who made it, he said "I watched you make the bed the other day and was really trying to pay attention to the details!"
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:40 AM on August 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think all messes are more annoying when they aren't yours. The things you're talking about - a coffee cup where you didn't leave it, a jacket thrown over the back of a chair - are things that I could see not bothering you if it's your coffee cup ("Right, that's there so that I can remember to fix that chip on the handle." or "Oh yeah, let me put that away"). It's in your control. With someone else's stuff, even if they don't mind you cleaning up after them, it still feels unpredictable; what is the next thing that will be surprisingly left out? I say this to point out that your own feelings also may not be "fair" (though they are still your feelings).

Nth-ing that the pictures of minimalist homes are unrealistic. Think how different a picture of any house staged for a photo shoot is from the day-to-day lived in state of that house. The pictures you see are what those homes look like 'as planned', when everything you own has had a Place defined for it and everything is put away. What about when you go and get a book from the library and it doesn't fit in to the carefully devised organizational scheme? Or when you have to take work home and it gets left out on the table while you go make yourself some dinner?

I liked peanut_mcgillicutty's approach of smiling every time you see the evidence that your partner lives with you. It's a nice way to think about it and it definitely helps me be cheerier about my boyfriend's stuff scattered about. I still like having the place to myself and cleaned to my standards when he's out of town, but I sure do love having him around when he comes back.
posted by Lady Li at 9:49 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bouncing off of the entropy point, I think it makes sense to think of a well-organized uncluttered house in terms of "workflow" and not in terms of "storage." The goal isn't to have all your stuff permanently hidden away out of sight. It's to have things ready at hand when you need them, but not in your way when you don't.

So like if there are dishes in the sink because you don't have a regular dishwashing routine, then that's a problem. But if there are dishes in your sink because your regular dishwashing routine goes like "during the day rinse dirty dishes and stack them in the sink, and then give them all a good washing with soap after dinner" then that's not clutter at all, that's everything being where it's supposed to be at the current moment in time.

I should mention that a lot of the time I'm a dishes-in-the-sink-because-there's-no-routine guy. The whole well-organized workflow thing is something I'm aspiring to, because it seems like a more attainable goal than just like "all of the surfaces in this house are flat and empty and clean at every moment in time and none of my possessions are ever visible." But we'll see...
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I could have written this question as well, but it probably would have come off with a lot more resentment than the OP (and so many of the respondents) - I give you all a lot of credit for stating this issue so gracefully and for reminding yourselves to be thankful for what you do have!

Lately I decided that there are certain things I'm just done dealing with, and I've somewhat "given up" a particular space or area to my partner's stuff. I've pared down/rearranged my own belongings in a way that makes me happy, and I don't have to deal with his stuff and the unhappy space anymore.

Having separate spaces works really well - he has a room that is "his" and I only insist on vacuuming at least once a week. I have a space that's mine and can keep as lovely as I want to because he almost never uses it. When we lived in a cheaper area we each had our own bathroom, and that was amazing. Our dream home would also have two sinks in the kitchen.

I hate the idea of a house cleaner because of the cost and the pride I feel in maintaining my own space to my own standards. Yes, I know it's all about control for me. Maybe with future babies/kids I'll cave to a cleaner.

I struggle with resentment over the idea that because tidiness is more important to me, I take on more of the work. When partner does help, I try to remember to thank him profusely (and deal with feelings of resentment over the fact that I think I don't hear thank you enough for what I do). He is way more important to me than a tidy home, but it's also really hard for my brain to function clearly in a non-tidy space, especially under stress.
posted by wannabecounselor at 4:20 PM on August 18, 2012

Here's a helpful post from Unfuck Your Habitat: How Do I Keep the Place Clean When No One Will Help Me?
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:21 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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