Responsibility for cleaning shared office and how to ask for help
September 8, 2017 10:34 AM   Subscribe

My wife's officemate made a mess in their shared office yesterday. How does she get her officemate to clean it up with minimal drama? (Or, is there another solution?)

My wife is a grad student who shares an office with another woman (henceforth Officemate). Officemate has a 2-month old baby and is more or less on maternity leave. My wife and officemate are friendly but not exactly friends (this is my interpretation). Colleagues is probably the right word.

This morning my wife arrived in her office to find that the small shared refrigerator had been unplugged and left open sometime after she left yesterday afternoon, presumably to allow the accumulated ice to melt. There was a container propped up to catch the water but it was at a sharp angle and it quickly overflowed, so there is water all over the place. Likely scenario is that Officemate's husband went to the office to retrieve some stuff so Officemate could work at home and unplugged the fridge then. It is not directly affecting my wife's stuff but there is water on the floor, on the cabinet that the fridge was sitting on, and probably elsewhere (I haven't seen it directly).

The options seem to be:
(a) Email Officemate to ask her/her husband to come clean it up. My wife is having a hard time phrasing this request.
(b) Clean it up herself.
(c) Just leave the water sitting there.

What to do? If (a) is the answer, some help with a non-passive-aggressive way to phrase the request would be much appreciated. (b) seems obnoxious since she didn't make the mess herself, and (c) also seems... not ideal. Please help! Other ideas also welcome.
posted by number9dream to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Contact the facilities team for the offices? If there's carpet or anything they definitely want to know about it anyway, and they have like... mops and stuff. Presumably there is some sort of facilities/custodial support?
posted by brainmouse at 10:39 AM on September 8, 2017 [16 favorites]

Officemate has a 2 month old.

Based on this description the clean up should take approximately 10 minutes.

After clean up, I'd email officemate and say 'hey, what's up with the fridge being defrosted? Did something go wrong? There was a huge puddle on the floor. I cleaned it up but wanted to check in case the fridge is broken.'
posted by k8t at 10:40 AM on September 8, 2017 [108 favorites]

Clean it up herself and let the officemate know what happened. There's no other path that's a grownup thing to do.
posted by something something at 10:40 AM on September 8, 2017 [34 favorites]

She has a 2 month old? Oh come on, the answer is B. Ask someone else to help if it's a big mess. Consider it a gift.
posted by vunder at 10:41 AM on September 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

B is the only option forward here. Perhaps a quick note to officemate/husband afterward just to check if there was something up with the fridge that truly necessitated unplugging.
posted by anderjen at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's not obnoxious to clean up a mess that someone with an infant made inadvertently. It's doing her colleague a solid.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:44 AM on September 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Even if officemate didn't have a baby, I think your wife should clean it up and kindly let officemate know that she might want to come in and check her stuff for water damage.

Options A and C are good ways to turn "friendly but not friends" into "chilly."
posted by kimberussell at 10:44 AM on September 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Fwiw, I share a mini fridge, microwave, and sink with the grad students (I'm faculty and only use them once every few weeks). I clean them every quarter. I defrost them twice a year. Because that is what people do.
posted by k8t at 10:45 AM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

The other reason to just clean it up is to ensure that it gets done quickly. IMO that kind of mess is not the sort of thing you want to wait around in to see when someone else can get to it. Especially if that someone else is a new parent.
posted by bunderful at 10:50 AM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

In the time it took to write this question it probably could have been cleaned up already. No, it's not fair, but sometimes life isn't fair and you just do something just...because. I wouldn't even let the other person know. This is not a big deal.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 10:55 AM on September 8, 2017 [13 favorites]

Call facilities and see what they say - ask for a mop and rags at the very least. I had a water-related university office problem and handled it this way - I did the immediate clean-up, they took away mop and rags and cleaned the carpet.
posted by Frowner at 10:55 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Hey, could you do me a favor and clean up the mess you made?"

Works wonders around my office.
posted by tgrundke at 10:56 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would advise her to contact facilities and tell them everything that you told us. In case there is any damage done by the standing water, she wants to make sure that she doesn't get in trouble for it.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:57 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I vote you go help your wife clean up and get the husband of the year award. :)

(In all seriousness, this doesn't sound like something that's liable to repeat, so I'd just clean it up.)
posted by warriorqueen at 10:57 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Forgetting about the baby, because obviously people with babies are still responsible for their actions and people without babies should still be treated with kindness, I would 100% clean up this mess by myself (or with the help of the facilities staff).

Obviously the husband was acting in good faith, left a receptacle for the water, and something just went wrong. Dragging someone back into the office for this type of cleanup is over the line.

I would definitely email the officemate as a courtesy with the message phrased as a heads-up, like "Hey the receptacle overflowed so there is a bit of water damage on the cabinet, and I moved and put back some stuff while mopping. Just wanted to give you a heads up so you know why things in your space might seem a little off!"
posted by lalex at 10:58 AM on September 8, 2017 [15 favorites]

Water can lead to mold. If there is carpet, the carpet and pad underneath may need to be removed/replaced. Even if it is hard flooring, water sitting there overnight could mean the flooring needs to be replaced. I would call facilities and let them clean it up.

I'd follow up with an email to your wife's supervisor ccing officemate to state the facts: She came in this morning to find the fridge open and standing water had been on the floor overnight. Facilities has been called to deal with the water damage and remediation.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:59 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Good gods, just clean it up and email the colleague to let her know what happened.
posted by desuetude at 11:13 AM on September 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

So, are you sure it was the husband? A friend had an issue with our dorm fridge in college- maintenance would unplug it when they came in to vacuum and at one point, they forgot to replug it in. This led to a witch hunt of massive proportions between 4 roommates and their friends.
posted by Torosaurus at 11:13 AM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Please don't email the colleague about it.
posted by vunder at 11:23 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody.

I guess some more details would have been useful:

* there is no carpet
* maintenance definitely didn't do it, they never touch the fridge or anything else, they basically just empty the trash on Mondays
* my wife's advisor will not care about this in the slightest and would probably be annoyed to hear about it
* the fridge was basically a solid block of ice, it is not a 10-minute cleanup job, and the container used was obviously inadequate for holding the meltwater

I vote you go help your wife clean up and get the husband of the year award. :)

I work from home and am paid hourly, so, while it would be nice, no. We have a young child too and are not exactly swimming in money or free time.

Anyway, she is going to clean up as best she can and try to get the facilities people to at least provide some supplies. But there are heavy cabinets that she can't move by herself to look behind.
posted by number9dream at 11:24 AM on September 8, 2017

Wipe up what you can, email colleague to let her know, contact your department admin (whoever is in charge of assigning office space) and ask if YOU can contact facilities (admin will love you for this) or who you should report it to because of the cabinets issue.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:28 AM on September 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd say, write off your irritation at the guy - he probably has new-baby brain. (I mean, what a ridiculous thing, why defrost the fridge right then?)

Contact facilities and the dept admin and stress that there is more water than is reasonable for you to clean up, even if they give you a mop and rags. (I mean, it's not reasonable to give you a big bucket mop and tell you to clean up several gallons.) At least around here, that would prompt them to take care of it.
posted by Frowner at 11:37 AM on September 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

Are you for real? This is just water. Clean water, even. This does not even come close to qualifying as a major mess. And it's water from something that needed to be done, ie defrosting the fridge. Mop up the water, let facilities or the office admin know to check for remaining water under cabinets and any mold damage, and let the officemate know what happened. You don't even know for sure that the officemate or her husband were involved; that's just conjecture.

Frankly, if the fridge was a solid block of ice your wife bears some responsibility for letting it get to that stage. Both occupants of the office are on the hook for maintaining the appliances in a usable state.
posted by Liesl at 12:12 PM on September 8, 2017 [15 favorites]

This internet stranger gives your wife permission to be irritated at this situation - I would be - and to not feel obligated to care about whether or not having a baby factors in. She's not a bad person for being annoyed here.

Even so, I'd treat this situation the same as if it had been caused by a leak or other totally impersonal mishap - in other words, I'd do pretty much the same thing everyone else here is suggesting. Take a first pass at cleaning it up - and depending on the size of the mess and the collegiality of her department, perhaps she could even recruit a few fellow grad students to help. Next, let facilities and the dept admin know, and then email the office mate to let her know what happened and that the situation is now taken care of. If she knows the office mate had anything in the cabinet that got leaked on, maybe take a peek inside so she can let her know the status of her stuff.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:34 PM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

People shouldn't get a free pass out in the world for having an infant, that is irrelevant to this annoying situation. But your wife should just clean it up because it's the right thing to do and it's water. Then she should email her colleague to say the fridge is defrosted and good to use again.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 1:01 PM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Did I miss somewhere that you actually established that the Officemate / Officemate's husband did this? If Officemate is on maternity leave, it seems weird to assume that she is at fault here.

You could use this to your advantage after your wife cleans it up and play dumb about it - email Officemate and say "Hope everything is going well with baby! As an FYI, it looks like someone unplugged our minifridge and I came in to an office covered in a puddle of water this morning. I cleaned it up as best I could and it looks like nothing was ruined [and/or insert 'and it looks like the only damage might be....]. Not sure if you were planning on coming in soon, so just wanted to give you the heads up." And then leave the ball in Officemate's court. I'm sure, if it was her or her husband, they will be terribly embarrassed and apologetic. Or you can establish it wasn't them and figure out who it was.
posted by CharlieSue at 1:05 PM on September 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

it is not a 10-minute cleanup job,
Maybe I am not understanding the gravity of this situation, but it's a small fridge, so even completely iced up would be, say, a couple of gallons of water when it completely defrosts, no? You're not cleaning up after Harvey, get 59c worth of paper towels and get on with your day.
posted by sageleaf at 1:21 PM on September 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

Why would Husband decide to defrost the office refrigerator, even if he did come into to the office to pick up some work stuff for Officemate?

Why would Officemate even think about the refrigerator while she's at home on leave?

In the real world, it's a mystery who unplugged the refrigerator. Without more facts, it's not likely to be solved. See CharlieSue and Liesl above.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Let maintenance know about the water, clean up the water as best you can, and then see if you should run one of those powerful carpet-drying fans (that maintenance have) to get any missed water thats behind/under heavy furniture.
posted by blueberry at 2:48 PM on September 8, 2017

Response by poster: Just to wrap up, my wife spent 2 hours this morning cleaning up. She contacted the facilities people and nobody has gotten back to her or come by to help or even bring cleaning supplies. She did politely email everybody whose stuff might have been affected.

We are pretty sure it was Officemate's husband because he had some of his own stuff stored there (just found this out from my wife), which was there yesterday afternoon but is now gone. That's not a smoking gun but it's pretty unlikely that anybody else entered the office and unplugged the fridge in that timeframe.
posted by number9dream at 3:19 PM on September 8, 2017

If it was officemate's husband, here's my guess.
The fridge belonged to them. They want it to store pumped milk or gifted casseroles or whatever.
He went to go pick it up, realized it needs to be defrosted before it is moved.
He defrosted it in a way that made a mess.

2 hours to clean up? Maybe this is a bigger mini fridge, but I've dealt with plenty of frozen over mini fridges in my life and yes they make a mess but not a 2 hour mess.

Maybe email officemate and say 'hey, I was in the office today and it seems like the mini fridge was defrosted. Do you know anything about this?' when she replies, note that it made a big mess.

posted by k8t at 8:14 PM on September 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Repeating something something's suggestion Clean it up herself and let the officemate know what happened. There's no other path that's a grownup thing to do.,
and adding a thought.

No grown up with only even part of their marbles together de-frosts a fridge without making sure to stay around until the job is done and the last water dried off. So this was either some sort of an act of passive-aggressiveness (like, "this fridge has been in need of de-frosting since Charlemagne's days And I'm Doing It Now and let them deal with the aftermath."), or some top-of-the-list "funny fails"-stupidity in action. The first is better not adressed (why escalate?), the second could be addressed by setting rules:

Tell them what happened. There needs to be no anger, no passive-aggressiveness, on your part, but be really firm about joint fridge-using rules and fridge-handling mandates.
posted by Namlit at 4:28 AM on September 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it did take two hours to clean up, yeah, it's worth bringing it up - and worth an email to the department admin, although a nicely worded one since this was a holiday week. (I used to be a department admin, and I would want to know so that I could suggest a better resolution if it ever happened again.) I tend to think that this whole question would not have arisen if this were a truly dinky mini-fridge that just leaked, like, a gallon of water, because I am familiar with academic environments and mini-fridges and have cleaned one after a can of soda froze and exploded. Although even cleaning that was a real pain, far worse than it would have been at home!

Cleaning things in academia is difficult because you're not at home, have to coax lumps of paper towel out from the holders (or god forbid, coax yards of them out from an electric dispenser) and are not near a sink. Also, mini-fridges have gotten a lot less mini since I had one - bigger freezers, bigger spaces, heavier, etc - we have one in the central workspace now which, honestly, would be enough fridge for a single adult to use for real cooking/eating/storage - you could store gallon ice cream containers in the freezer, for instance, and it's about 2/3 my height.
posted by Frowner at 5:18 AM on September 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

« Older Persuading partner to use rear-facing car seat   |   Daughter just started Grade 3 and is having a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.