How much should I clean up after my housemates?
August 19, 2019 7:02 AM   Subscribe

So, I've recently moved into a new place, but I'm only here for a few months, so I can't go making big changes to the way things work. Thereis no schedule for housework in place, people mostly keep to their rooms when alone, but the kitchen and bathroom in particular need some remedial work. I'm happy to just do what I feel needs doing, but am concerned about getting my housemates offside if they take my cleaning up after them as unspoken critique.

I have experience living in such shared accomodation, but in previous circumstances, we had at least rough schedules for housework and I was not the cleanest person there - here it appears that I'm going to be the one itching for things to get done.

I've cleaned this house a bit before, just as a visitor, feeling like I was contributing to the mess, but even then I was discouraged, and as I said above, I'm concerned about upsetting my housemates by cleaning up after them.

Worth noting, the place will never be spotless. Four people live here, people smoke indoors, and between partners and friends there's something happening most evenings, everyone is young, etc, I'm not expecting perfection. I just think perhaps there needn't be layered grime on the stove or toilet. I'm thinking of just setting a personal schedule that I'll do a round of cleaning every fortnight and not worry about what happens in-between, but I'm worried about shaking up people's habits and the like. These people are my friends as well as house-mates, and I'll likely still be seeing them when I've moved out.

I'm not a germ worrier type, the agent isn't likely to come around, everyone else seems fine with it, but I end up with a lot of gendered shame and the like if I perceive my home as abnormally dirty, and historically begin to feel very uncomfortable about seeing other people at all if it risks them seeing the filth. While I'm sure most of my friends are inclined to understand, everything goes smoother when you don't have to negotiate a dirty sink and the like while obtaining clean glasses. Yet just the act of doing the washing up makes me a little nervous - what if they had special plans for that mug, what if they think I've done it because I was angry at them, rather than just because I was waiting for the kettle to boil.

I should note that I'm not particularly worried about the more usual line of frustration here, where I get slowly irritated with their habits and grow to hate them for leaving me with all the work. I'm perfectly capable of washing my hands of it all if need be, and I'm really not someone who puts a whole lot of effort into these things - it's come as quite a surprise that I'm this person in this circumstance. Yet I can see already that I'm going to be doing a bunch of cleaning that others aren't, because these things more to me than them, apparently, and thought perhaps I should seek the hivemind's advice on how exactly to negotiate this difficult terrain. Would you care if I washed your dishes? Is every now and then fine, but if it happens regularly, would it get on your nerves?

Just for clarity: I'm not looking to organise a schedule between us all, single out perpetrators, or really change anyone else's behaviour much at all. Nonetheless, I worry that it creates a sort of feeling of "forced debt" which can lead to resentment on their part if I go around interfering in their affairs regularly.
posted by Acid Communist to Human Relations (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to live in a clean place and other people aren't cleaning, then clean it. If you can actually manage your own resentment about other people living like slobs you're already on your way towards canonization, and this internet stranger gives you permission to not worry about if they'll resent YOU cleaning up after their childish, selfish, filth-leaving ways.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:13 AM on August 19, 2019 [33 favorites]

I think it's necessary, in a shared space, to at least draw up or agree upon some sort of division of labor that's able to be implemented. It may seem overly regimented to draw up a cleaning schedule, and if that doesn't work for your group, so be it, but then I'd see if there are other ways to make the cleaning experience more equitable.

In a shared household from years ago for me, we had different tubs that we stored under the sink for dirty dishes. If you didn't want to clean up your dishes after a meal, you could put them in your bin and wash them when you wanted to.

In other shared households, cleaning was distributed by space, in that one person was responsible for the bathroom, one for kitchen stuff, one for cat boxes, etc. And the other housemates could say, "Hey, the bathroom's getting gross, Xingcat, can you get back to cleaning it?" because I'd agreed to do so.

Without any rules in place, it becomes a chaotic system that means it'll be a game of chicken or one person (who cares the most about it) will take the burden of all the work, and either way, that becomes unfair pretty quickly.
posted by xingcat at 7:18 AM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I will die of surprise if anyone even notices, much less acknowledges, your contribution.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:19 AM on August 19, 2019 [60 favorites]

I lived in a shared apartment for a short-term lease with roommates who were strangers to me but great guys and we got along as roommates well. Unfortunately they were very messy and perhaps too busy to clean up (they were in an intense academic program and when I found myself in a similar situation later, I understood the time crunch). The kitchen and bathroom were frankly disgusting and finally a few months in I decided I couldn't deal with it anymore and cleaned it myself even though the only thing I hate more than cleaning messes I make is cleaning up after other people. One of the roommates was on vacation at that time and the other was home. He seemed a bit sheepish next time we ran into each other. We never discussed it. There was a tiny bit more effort on their end to keep the kitchen clean afterwards and I continued the regular and quick (now that years of grime had been erased) preventative maintenance in the bathroom.

You're only there for a short time, clean up as much as you need to feel comfortable and the others can sort their feelings around it on their own time (I'm guessing they'll feel slightly embarrassed like my old roommates did).
posted by sevenofspades at 7:25 AM on August 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

(The initial plan, which I told the roommates about when I moved in, was to have a cleaning service come and get things back to an optimal state of cleanliness which I would pay for. The landlord didn't pay to have cleaners come out like other places I had lived in did when someone new moved in, so that was the reasoning I gave my roommates. Well, the cleaning service came and was supposed to follow up with an estimate a few days later. The follow up never happened; I am guessing they figured it wasn't worth their money! Hence why it was left to me to clean up months after my move-in or contine to let it get under my skin.)
posted by sevenofspades at 7:33 AM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

In my experience in houseshares people don't really notice what other people do, only what they do. This goes even more so for messy people. My rule for myself was just to get on with it up to the point at which I felt resentful, when I'd stop. I feel like as long as you're not actually resentful which it sounds like you aren't, people wont mind you doing stuff. Nice touches like buying fresh herbs for the kitchen or something can also make it seem like you're wanting to contribute to a positive atmosphere rather than quietly seething at how disgusting everyone is.
posted by mosswinter at 7:34 AM on August 19, 2019

I'm only here for a few months, so I can't go making big changes to the way things work.

If this were a longer term rental I'd be a bit more concerned about equity and fairness. I think for a few months I'd just try to adjust your mindset "I like having things clean, I am willing to clean them, I have cleaned this, this is nice" and just move forward in that way. Forced debt often accumulates when someone is resentful and muttering about how they do more work than others blablabla. Be low key, don't make a thing about it. If asked just say "Oh I just was going to use the sink so I washed up what was in it."
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 AM on August 19, 2019 [11 favorites]

I've had a number of roommates cycle in and out of my apartment (New Yorker who's been hanging onto her lease like grim death, all my roommates have been in more transitional life states). I've had roommates who had a higher standard of cleanliness than I, and I've had roommates who had a lower standard.

For those who've had a slightly higher standard than I did, if they cleaned up I would feel either a tiny bit guilty or grateful rather than feeling criticized. The most I've done is to apologize if I walked in and saw someone cleaning ("eesh, sorry, I was going to be getting to that in a minute") and they just waved it off.

I wouldn't do like a deep-clean complete with Hazmat suits or anything, but a maintenance-level 20-minute tidy would probably be fine, and appreciated. Mind you, if you feel like your roommates start to take advantage of you, then you may want to speak up, but otherwise I think you're fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

You're only there for a short time, clean up as much as you need to feel comfortable and the others can sort their feelings around it on their own time

I came by to say this. You're living there now, even if it's only for a short time, and you're entitled to take care of your own comfort. If they don't like it, tough.

I would be concerned if you were there long-term, though, since those types of roommates are generally only too happy to have the magical elves take care of their messes for them.
posted by rpfields at 8:25 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I will die of surprise if anyone even notices, much less acknowledges, your contribution.

Same. My experience has been that messy roommates do not notice grime, do not notice when it's gone, and are generally fine with their mug magically cleaning itself.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:34 AM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Same. My experience has been that messy roommates do not notice grime, do not notice when it's gone, and are generally fine with their mug magically cleaning itself.

I am sometimes the messy roommate, and my reaction when this happens is generally a very ashamed "thank you for cleaning the bathroom! [I'm a monster oh god]"
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:21 AM on August 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have been the “I’m a monster, oh god,” roommate (twenty years later, I still feel guilty about the one clean woman in that apartment.) If you cheerfully let people off the hook by accepting apologies if offered, that is the absolute most anyone can expect of you. And anyone who doesn’t apologize probably didn’t notice the cleaning.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:03 AM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Grime covering appliances and dirty dishes in the sink interfere with your ability to use those things comfortably. They probably won't even notice, but if they do, they have no reason to be offended: As long as you're paying rent it's your house too and you have the right to use it without their mess getting in the way. If they don't want you cleaning their dishes they can clean them first.

If this was a long term situation I would suggest that you work out a cleaning schedule so that you don't become their maid, or pitch in together to hire a cleaning service, but you've made the decision that that isn't worth it for just a few months and ... I get that.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:04 AM on August 19, 2019

Like most other responders, my guess is that the roommates would do some combination of (1) not notice (2) be grateful and/ or (3) feel guilty. It makes me curious what in your past relationships gave you the idea, "what if they think I've done it because I was angry at them, rather than just because I was waiting for the kettle to boil." I am assuming you are clear that you are doing this for yourself and not expecting anything from them. So, I would suggest doing a reality check - given what you know about your actual current housemates, is it more likely that they will respond the same was as the average MeFi person or is there evidence that they are likely to interpret your helpful activity as personal attack. (Yes, there are people who do, you may have known some but hopefully they aren't living with you in the current house) Good luck!!
posted by metahawk at 11:40 AM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would probably not wash their specific objects (mugs, etc) or throw away anything you're not sure about. But grime? If they even notice, no one will complain.
posted by Lady Li at 12:00 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

This seems to be a tense game of who will crack first and clean up the others' mess. For the bathroom, I'd clean the bits you use enough so that you're just okay with them. For the sink, if there's other people's stuff in the way of what you need to clean after use, temporarily transfer the sink junk into a bus tray, wash your stuff up, then put the sink junk back.

Don't become the free cleaner, 'cos your roommates will just leave stuff out for you to clean.
posted by scruss at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

if they take my cleaning up after them as unspoken critique.
It sounds like the critique is legitimate and sincere. If they find out about it in the nicest possible way, it can't hurt. (Except to the extent that doing extra work can hurt you, which is worth thinking carefully about and perhaps not deciding to volunteer for anything more than the absolute minimum needed to make you comfortable.) Anybody who feels insulted that a roomate cleaned up their mess deserves to feel insulted. I'd argue they deserve to be covered in syrup and feathers. But, you'd probably have to clean the floor afterward.
posted by eotvos at 2:14 PM on August 19, 2019

A few years ago I moved into a very dirty apartment with 2 other people. The main tenant had really let things go and the other new tenant was crazy busy. I spent several days cleaning the common areas top to bottom.

No one cared. If they had, I would have shrugged and told them cleaning is relaxing for me and that I hoped they wouldnt mind. I didnt toss anything or reorganize, just cleaned up accumulated grime.

I've done this in both long and short term rentals. I've never had any of my numerous housemates complain, if they even noticed.

I now live the blessed life of having roommates who also enjoy clean spaces and make time to keep it that way without the need for a chore rota. It can happen :)
posted by ananci at 4:05 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nonetheless, I worry that it creates a sort of feeling of "forced debt" which can lead to resentment on their part if I go around interfering in their affairs regularly.

Bluntly, if they are males, especially cis males, especially cis straight males, chances are really really really good that guilting them into some kind of "forced debt" situation by cleaning up their mess is not a thing that will happen in a million billion years. They might not even really notice or thank you - things are made clean by magic fairies the same as the rest of their lives.

what if they think I've done it because I was angry at them

Again, probably won't even occur to them - young men tend not to operate on this subtle level of messaging.

what if they had special plans for that mug

OK, I see your point here, kinda, and that seems like the most likely negative thing to happen - "I can't find my favorite mug because you washed it and put it in the cupboard instead of leaving it in the sink !!" Which, 1) situation easily defused by you saying, "Oh, sorry dude, I won't mess with your mug in the future" and 2) for all that you're not intending to guilt them about anything and are a short term roommate, it's not gonna kill them to have someone point out, "dude, the sink was disgusting, I can't cook dinner with the kitchen like this, you're welcome."

TL:DR - if you're willing to drop it if they make a stink, go ahead and clean as much as you like to make yourself comfortable until & unless they complain about it. Worry a lot less - like none at all - about any kind of guilt or seething resentment that might (but probably won't) build up over time because you're cleaning stuff.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:07 PM on August 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think what will happen is that after you leave they'll slowly start to wonder why the fairies stopped doing things for them. Do what works for you, they aren't going to be unhappy.
posted by kitten magic at 4:16 PM on August 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thanks everyone, I've done some stuff and it has gone uncommented on and that is how I prefer it. I'm going to try and not do too much, but you've reassured me that they're probably not going to be upset by it.

I'm surprised that people say they wouldn't notice? I've been kept up mortified by a remembered dirty cup left somewhere in the past. But I guess I'll take your word for it.

Also, only one of the other people is a man, and while I'm aware gender is never irrelevant, I'm not comfortable sharing all of those details unnecessarily.
posted by Acid Communist at 5:31 AM on August 20, 2019

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