What to do when I'm the only one that cares to clean the house?
January 14, 2015 1:56 PM   Subscribe

I am in my mid-20s currently living with my older sister and mom. Well, as years have passed and my mom and sister are getting older, they care less about cleaning the house. It also appears that there is less care between one another and towards me, which i feel is connected to not caring about how the house looks either. I have been the one that does about 90% of the cleaning and it has been difficult, and I am tired.

I have no job right now and I am looking for one at the moment, I already have a plan to save up money and move out on my own. It may take some time and I feel I am really done with cleaning up after everyone and spending hours cleaning up extremely dirty areas of the house due to a long time of neglect. No one helps, no one offers to help, I've asked for help and its always that they don't want to clean right now , or they don't have the time. There never is a right time to ask, as I've tried every time possible to ask for help.

I've tried to have us set a cleaning schedule, but no one wants to feel that they are "set" to do something. They always say they will clean, IF and WHEN they feel like it.. which is Never. I have cried to them about how frustrating it is that they don't help or pitch in , I have yelled about it, I have talked calmly and respectfully. I have tried it all and nothing seems to make them want to change to clean up the house with me and not leave me to do it all.

My question here is, what can I do now ? I still have to be here for possibly another year or so, until I save enough money to be on my own. How can I handle this ? In the past, the only thing I could do was mainly cry about it or be very upset, but I am tired of feeling either of those feelings towards these people that could care less about seeing me constantly picking up after them and cleaning everything and not feel a pull to want to help or do something themselves.

They always say that they just don't have time, or that cleaning is not something that is important to them. They don't mind to live in a very dirty house. That just isn't a good way to live and it worries me that they care sooo little now for even their own environment, it's really sad to see that of two people I love so much.

How should I go about handling this now ? Any help, tips, ideas, personal stories is appreciated.

Oh and so far, the only thing I could think to do was to just stop cleaning, and let every part of the house (except my own room of course) get very very dirty.. I haven't let it get that far because I can't stand it so I start cleaning. I figure that Maybe then, one of Them will feel like doing something about it. But I dont know.. this could not be the case, they might just let it get horribly, horribly dirty :(
posted by little_miss_m to Human Relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is your house very big? I'm just wondering how dirty it can really be if you have spent so much time cleaning it. Is it possible you have unrealistic expectations?
Do you pay rent to your mother? Perhaps you could ask for a portion to be used to pay for a cleaner to help out instead?
posted by KateViolet at 2:01 PM on January 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't think they will change, so you essentially have two options. You can keep doing all the cleaning and decide not to be angry about it. It's temporary, and it's the only way that the house is going to be clean, so you're just going to do it and keep your eyes on the prize, which is moving out. And the other possibility is that you can let the house get dirty and keep your own space clean. I think you should figure out which of those two options is the less likely to make you miserable, and then run with it. And then focus on moving out, because it will be great to have your own space where you're only cleaning up your own mess.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

Choose your sanctuaries, places that need to be clean in order for you to live safely (and relatively comfortably). I'd choose your room, the kitchen, and the bathroom that you use (if there is more than one bathroom).

Keep your sanctuaries clean, ignore the rest. It should be possible to make a schedule (for yourself) to keep those places clean with maybe 15-20 minutes attention per day. It's not fair that you have to do this yourself. And it's not fair that your family members will take advantage of the free service that you're providing to the public spaces. But you need to take care of yourself, and these are things you'd need to do even if you were on your own.

Good luck.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:03 PM on January 14, 2015 [17 favorites]

You've just got to accept that they really don't care, and they don't wish to contribute. And you cannot, cannot, cannot change them. All you can do is do the level of housework You need in order to be happy at home, and move out.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:03 PM on January 14, 2015 [17 favorites]

(As for your peace of mind, think of it as good practice for when you move out, as obviously you'll be on your own for the cleaning then, too.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:04 PM on January 14, 2015

I don't mean this to be mean, but if you are living somewhere rent-free, I sort of think you have less ability to complain about things like chores. That's not to say it is easy to be unemployed or that your situation isn't very difficult. But, presumably someone not-you is paying your living expenses if you aren't working, and so it probably also grates on that person to have you complaining about their cleanliness standards in a place they pay for you to live in.

If I were in this situation, I would put the majority of my effort toward a) finding a job and b) moving out, possibly into a roommate situation so that the moving could happen sooner. Although there are various roommate pitfalls, you can at least talk to people about their expecations for cleaning and try to find a better match than what you have now.

Then, I'd focus any cleaning efforts on high-impact areas/issues. For example, you need dishes to be cleaned in order to cook meals, so if no one else is willing to do it, you might need to be in charge of loading/unloading the dishwasher. But clutter in the living room could be skipped. For example, I am NOT a neat person by nature, but I like my living space to be non-gross/dirty/etc. And I can accomplish that in my (small) apartment for maybe a few hours a week? It's certainly not a full time job that's taking up all of my energy. Let go of making all the common areas sparkling and focus on what's important to you for feeling like you can live and function in the space. And, keep the "moving out" as your number one priority so you can keep telling yourself this isn't forever. If you have to choose between scrubbing the bathroom floor versus filling out a job application, choose the job application every time.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:05 PM on January 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

If you're not paying rent then look upon the cleaning as your contribution to the household. Honestly, it's the least you can do. If you are paying an equal share of rent, then suggest that you'll pay less and do all of the cleaning. Win-Win.

Other than that, there is nothing you can do to make adults give a shit. Some adults can't even see when something is dirty. I have friends that keep their house so dirty....I can't even. I'll get a picture of some new decorating project, and there will be a tumble weed of dog hair, 6 empty pop bottles, a pile of papers, and 700 Legos in it. Some people have no home training.

So your Mom and Sister are, as we say in Yiddish, nicht balabusta. I'm a balabusta, you're a balabusta. Yay! I'm queen of the house!

Reframe your view of this essential and very personal service. Look at it as a love language. You show how much you love your Mom and Sister by keeping their home clean for them. Is it always fun? No, but it is important and it shows that you appreciate their letting you live in the home with them. (Or with your mom, your sister is just mooching off of your efforts.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on January 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Unfuck Your Habitat has an article about situations like this: How do I keep the place clean when no one will help me?
posted by Jem and the Hooligans at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I ask this as delicately as possible, but if you are not working right now, why don't you have time to clean? I am a teacher and don't work in the summer, so I find that during that time, my tolerance for doing stuff that normally would merit a 'I am your wife, not your maid' comment doesn't bother me so much. I mean, if he is going off to work and I am not, why is it so terrible to throw in a load of laundry for him?

I think the best plan for someone in your shoes is to a) perhaps lower your standards a little and focus, as others have suggested, just on the must-dos for yourself (such as a habitable bathroom and bedroom) and b) to set up your private area in a way that allows you to spend more of your time there. Set it up like a dorm room---when I lived in a dorm, we even had a mini fridge and a few pantry staples in ours for Sundays when the cafeteria was closed. Yes, the common room kitchen was disgusting, but if we were just popping in there to boil water for the instant noodle cups, who cares?

Perhaps a mental reframing of the situation might help you too. I know at least two young folks your age who for various reasons have no parent's home to live in. Having that year you need to get your ducks in a row really is a luxury, and it's one that not everyone has. That is worth keeping in mind even when the situation isn't perfect.
posted by JoannaC at 2:17 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can technology help? Go splitsie on a neato and then at least you'll have vacuuming covered.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a hard problem to solve with roommates. It's completely impossible to solve with family members, especially parents. You're just not ever going to get them to do anything they don't want to do, even if you're 100% objectively right about the house being unacceptably filthy (which we don't really know enough to comment about). There's too much power difference there, especially if you're not paying rent (and I agree that you can't really complain much if you're not paying rent, although I also don't think you're obligated to clean up after them).

Focus on moving out and let that get you through the unpleasantness of living in a messy environment until then. Let me repeat - you cannot change them. You can't make them care. Clean or don't clean, clean some areas only, whatever, but focus on yourself, not them. And yes, you're right that passive-aggressively not cleaning is doomed to fail - they most likely will let it get "horribly" dirty (by whatever standard you're using) and you won't be any happier.

I am totally speaking from experience here - I moved out at 21, as soon as I could possibly afford it, after a couple years living with a parent who not only didn't clean in the chores sense, but was also a hoarder easily as severe as those on that show. The combination meant that the few areas of bare floor/counter space (in between piles of clutter and literal garbage) were encrusted with years of grime that my basic cleaning efforts couldn't really budge. And any progress I made was quickly re-dirtied. Neither the cleaning nor the hoarding problem was something I could fix, although I wasted enough energy trying. I was a million times happier after moving out, and you probably will be too (even if your situation is less extreme).
posted by randomnity at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

Would hiring a maid service be doable? Get them in once a week or so. If you can't afford it on your own, would Mom and your sister split the cost?
posted by easily confused at 2:26 PM on January 14, 2015

I agree with everyone who says there is nothing you can do to make other people clean. There are a few things going on.

1. Everyone has different levels of cleanliness they require to feel good. Some people are absolutely fine with unmade beds, wet towels on the floor, and a sink full of dishes. It is literally impossible to impose your own requirements on others unless you have authority over them--ie: they are your child or your employee. And even then it can be very difficult.

2. If you lived alone, you would be cleaning the entire house yourself. You might say, Self, I would never let it get this dirty so it would never be a huge chore! Self is lying to you. My cousin, who lives alone in a smallish townhome and is one of the neatest and cleanest people I know still spends several hours every weekend cleaning her home from top to bottom. Like most homeowners I know, she is the type who wipes down every surface whether it is visibly dirty and/or dusty or not. I suspect that you are similar. So, if cleaning is important to you and no one else, it is your job to do it to your standards, as sucky and unfair as that may be. This goes double if you live there rent-free while you're unemployed.

There is a middle ground between utter filth and perfect cleanliness. If I were in your situation, I would keep my own room the way I like it and keep the bathrooms I use and the kitchen sanitary. If I spent a lot of time in a common area, like the living room, I would purchase four small laundry baskets to sort clutter into so that dusting and vacuuming can happen. Put mom's crap in one basket, sister's crap in the other basket, and deliver to their rooms. Then take the two empty baskets and leave them out to toss their clutter in the next week. Just keep dumping clutter into the baskets you've left upstairs in their rooms. If they've lost something, they'll know where to find it. It's important to not be passive aggressive about this, though. Don't toss in sister's knitting project that she works on every night or mom's kindle that she reads while watching tv. Only remove stuff that literally does not belong in the living room or the kitchen--mom's socks from last week or sister's nail polish remover.
posted by xyzzy at 3:28 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

They always say that they just don't have time, or that cleaning is not something that is important to them. They don't mind to live in a very dirty house. That just isn't a good way to live and it worries me that they care sooo little now for even their own environment, it's really sad to see that of two people I love so much.

When someone tells you who they are, believe them. Your family members are telling you that they don't care about cleaning, and that they like the house the way it is, and that they're fine with it.

You, on the other hand, are being judgmental and mean. When you say "that just isn't a good way to live," you're expressing an opinion. It's not a fact that spending tons of time cleaning is good and that being messy is bad; it's an opinion. They disagree. And when you say that it's "sad" to see them "care so little," you're saying things that are condescending and disrespectful. They care the amount that is right for them. The fact that it's not right for you doesn't make it sad.

If I were your family, I'd really, really want to kick you out. You live rent-free, and you spend all your time nagging other people to do chores they've already told you aren't a priority for them. And apparently when you don't get your own way, you cry and yell at them, and you imply that these people who have taken you in when you need them don't care about you. It's a deeply, deeply unfair way to treat people who have helped you.

You need to back way off. You need to never again say another word criticizing your family members' choices about how much time to spend on housekeeping. Do the chores you want to do. Don't do the chores you don't want to do. And stop being so judgmental of other people who have different priorities than you do.
posted by decathecting at 5:36 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

It also appears that there is less care between one another and towards me,

Can you explain this part a bit more?
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:51 PM on January 14, 2015

You're not working.
Key question: Are they?
The entire answer to your question depends on this.
posted by LonnieK at 7:26 PM on January 14, 2015

This whole question hinges on who's paying rent in the house.

If you're living rent-free in your mother's house, you don't get to criticize her housekeeping, no matter how bad it is. (Although I disagree with someone's opinion above that it's "mean" to observe that a dirty house is gross. It's not mean to know that some choices are disgusting.) But, again, even if it is gross, if you're living rent free in her house, you don't get to ask her to do things differently. You don't even get to ask another person in the house to clean up if it's not your house, and it's not your house if someone else is footing the bill.

Now if you do pay rent, it changes your moral footing, but not the practicality. You could reasonably demand that they clean; but they aren't going to, so you're back where you started.

Best bet, as someone said above, is to realize that they do not value what you value. The cleaning you do is for you. You clean the areas that matter to you, just as you would in your own home, and that's it. If it makes you feel better, there ARE rewards to having a clean house, and you will reap them when you get a job and your own place.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:38 PM on January 14, 2015

I'm living in similar circumstances (my son wont clean or do dishes) and I hate conflict so I do it all but I resent the hell out of it - especially just 3 seconds ago when he was signing loudly because there were no clean teaspoons and all the cutlery was soaking in hot water, which I did while I put on a load of washing and put away the shopping.

I snapped at him - that is, I spoke quite abruptly for me - suggesting he add more cold water to the sink so he could let the water out and retrieve the teaspoon - and he abandoned his search for a teaspoon, huffed an insincere apology and slunk back into his room, which I ever look into, but I try not to, has a floor covered with Pepsi tins (they breed in our house, and the only person who can put them in the bin is me!)

So, I'm not thinking you're mean or unreasonable or judgemental. I'm guessing you probably more than pull your weight and -financial agreements (if any) aside- cleaning for everyone and picking up their rubbish and dealing with the consequences of their inaction (insect activity, smells) is really draining.

I'm very sorry - I have no solution (obviously) other than those already suggested - either do it all and try not to resent being a servant to your relatives who create even more obstacles (leaving you feeling disrespected at the very least) or pick the very least you can bear to do. It sucks. It really sucks.
posted by b33j at 3:03 AM on January 15, 2015

There's a lot of good comments above, and I think you need to spend some time considering them, as they are showing you a different point of view.

Now, I can tell you for sure that back in the days when I was living at home rent free and jobless, my mother definitely expected me to contribute by cleaning the house, as she was working fulltime and was tired at the end of her day. To her it was a reasonable way for me to earn my room and board, and if I didn't do those chores she let me know that she resented my ingratitude.

Of course, she raised me and taught me to clean, so she and I pretty much shared the same comfort levels with regard to standards of "clean" and "well, that's good enough for now".

So my first question is, do you share those same standards of clean with your family members? If your standards are higher than theirs, that's on you, and it's your responsibility to get over that disconnect, it's not their job to meet your standards.

But my second question is a little bit of a curve: if up until now you've been doing all of the cleaning, why the hell would they want to clean anyway? I once had a job where they wouldn't hire anyone to help because I just kept getting the work done, via unpaid overtime. Once I finally put my foot down and stated that I would no longer work overtime, paid or unpaid, they hired someone lickety-split. If you are doing the job of cleaning everything, there is no incentive for your family members to clean. So if you really believe that they are being unreasonable and that you are absolutely in the right, just stop cleaning up after them. Learn to live with the mess until you can move out. Just know that if you go down that road, you may be asked to move out sooner than expected.
posted by vignettist at 8:30 AM on January 15, 2015

If they do clean something, what is your reaction?
a) Thank them for doing it.
b) Don't say anything
c) Tell them how they should be doing this all the time, or how they should have done this a week ago
d) Critique how they've done the job, and possibly re-do it if what they've done is not up to your standards.

If you answered c or d, you might want to re-think your approach. There, you're complaining and criticizing if they don't clean, and complaining and criticizing if they do. Why should they clean if it's not important to them, if that's the case? You might need to work on accepting things done someone else's way. You don't get to delegate the job and set the standards for how it will be done, not unless you're dealing with children or paying for it to be done. If you chose b, you might want to try offering some acknowledgement. It doesn't cost you anything, and some people really like it.

Have you brought up the idea of hiring someone to clean? How did they react to that? If you can't pay for this to happen, you will need to do the legwork of finding someone. You will also need to accept it if they say no, they don't want to pay for someone to clean.

How did you introduce the idea of a chore schedule? Did you start a discussion of how the current state of the house is affecting you negatively, and ask what might be a good way to divide up the chores and ensure they get done? Or did you just say "we need a chore schedule"? If it was the latter, you overstepped your bounds. You don't get to set a schedule for other adults unless you are paying them, or otherwise have authority that they acknowledge. You don't have that authority over your mother and sister. They're not your kids, your employees, or your tenants.

Not everybody likes schedules. Even fewer people like schedules that are imposed on them by someone else. There's not anything wrong or bad about not liking to be on a schedule.

Some people would rather work alone than work with other people, or work with other people watching them. Again, there's nothing wrong or bad about this, it's just the way some people are.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:34 AM on January 15, 2015

Seconding cleaning your "sanctuaries" and letting the rest of it go. If you share a bathroom, this will entail cleaning up after your mom and sister, as a matter of course. Ditto the kitchen. To make this easier to swallow, remember that you're doing it for you, not for them. Then, every time you enter one of your clean, safe spaces, appreciate the cleanliness and order. Apply the time and energy you'll save to things that will help move you forward (job searches, resume-tweaking, LinkedIn-updating, etc.)
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 10:19 AM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The comments here are really surprising to me. I can easily understand your situation and I feel with you. However, some of the advice is spot-on.
In my family home, no-one ever cleaned except me, and it was disgusting. There was much too much for me to take on, so I focused on my own room, the kitchen and the bathroom, with the idea that whatever was important for my siblings' and my own health was most important.

Then when I moved out into a student house with 14 lodgers, it turned out that several of my roommates shared my parents' disregard for health and safety. However, three of my roommates agreed with me, and we decided that since we were the ones who cared, we would also take care. We became great friends and had a good time. Yes, that meant we cleaned up after the others. And yes, sometimes we were angry. But we were taking care of our needs, not theirs. And when school was over, I was able to create a home based on my values, and avoid those other people. Just don't marry a slob.
posted by mumimor at 2:48 PM on January 15, 2015

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