Ask UfYH: Roommate Sabotage?

Q: I’ve recently started trying to get my apartment clean, and my roommates are sabotaging my efforts. Every time I clean something, it’s messed up again by the next day. They leave their dirty dishes around after I’ve just run the dishwasher. How do I convince them to stop sabotaging me?

A: This is one of those times when I need to tell you something sort of blunt that will both make things better and make things worse: they aren’t sabotaging you. They either don’t notice, or they don’t care.I know that sucks, because you’re putting all of this effort in, and they’re messing stuff up again. But here’s the thing about people: we are inherently selfish. It’s likely not that they want to see you fail, it’s that they have no incentive or desire to help you out.

So what do you do with roommates who just mess things up again? Talk to them. Use your words. Passive-aggressive behavior, increasingly irate notes — none of that has ever worked in any situation, and all it does is breed resentment and make you seem irrational and petty. Sit down and have a conversation. Tell them you’re making an effort to keep the place cleaner, and it would be great if they could pitch in. Ask them if they’re OK with a designated place you can put stuff that’s theirs that isn’t where it belongs, and set a timeframe for when that will happen (every Sunday, or Tuesday and Thursday nights, whatever). And after the conversation, hold up your end of what you talked about. Don’t move your roommates’ shit without their permission. Clean what you can. Avoid dumping all of the dirty dishes on their beds, even though that’s the most satisfying thing you might want to do. Again, it will make you look irrational and petty. If you have dishes of your own that you keep clean and don’t want them to use, come up with some kind of storage within your space.

Roommate situations are always tricky. They almost always lead to someone being very angry. They can usually be solved, at least partially, by having a conversation that includes clear, unemotional statements and requests. Part of the price you pay for not paying rent all on your own is that you have to deal with other people and their stuff. Right now, you’re on board with keeping things clean. They may not be. The best thing you can do is talk to them, ask for help, but if they don’t give it, do your thing and don’t resort to passive-aggressive behavior.

Everyone was raised differently, everyone has different standards of cleanliness, different schedules, different priorities. Until you can make rent by yourself and not have to rely on other people to help out, you need to find a way to live with them that keeps you sane. Letting yourself think they’re sabotaging you is assigning intention on their part that probably isn’t there, and will result in you behaving in ways that stem from anger and frustration. Assume indifference rather than unkindness and work from there. Good luck.

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[E] Rachel

I punctuate sentences with Oxford commas, and I punctuate disagreements with changesocks. Proud curmudgeon. Get off my lawn.

5 thoughts on “Ask UfYH: Roommate Sabotage?”

  1. I hear the asker. It negatively affects my mental health when I live in a messy, chaotic space. I can tolerate it for a while, but that’s a short while. What I’ve found helps is clearly communicating to the people that I share space with this reality and working on some way of divvying up household chores. Even that will work differently depending on who’s involved. With my mom and brother, they just are messy people. It didn’t matter how may different ways we tried divvying up chores. The house was always a mess, and so it came to a point where I stopped trying because it just wasn’t happening. Solution? I moved out.

    With a previous roommate all we had to do is have a quick conversation about household chores, and that was that. My current roommate is naturally somewhat messy, and they require much more structure and we agreed on a chore chart. I hope the asker can figure something out.

  2. I’m not generally that asshole who suggests killing it with fire, but I’m going to be in this case. I spent YEARS living with people who did this. And I spent YEARS with them being annoyed and me being angry and you know the only thing that seemed to work? They moved out. And even then, they left piles of their stuff behind. Eventually, we (my fiance and I, sans roommates) moved to a new place and donated all their leftover stuff we couldn’t sell and it’s finally actually really over. So I guess my point is that sometimes, the only way to fix that particular problem is to go far, far away from it.

    1. Oh, I don’t disagree at all. Sometimes, you are just not compatible with a roommate and it’s best to just end that particular arrangement as soon as it’s feasible. Unfortunately, I think a lot of us have found ourselves in the position of having to make living situations work until we can change them.

  3. And sometimes it’s just timing. Like, you start the dishwasher right as they finish eating dinner, and they have to run to class/work/get something done, and INTEND to get it done “in a minute”. OR, maybe, the roommates in this situation are thinking “I was gonna wash the dishes, but Nonny did them RIGHT before I was done with this thing, I wish they would ask if anyone had dishes to go in the dishwasher before starting it”.

    99% of the time, it’s not malicious. It’s just a lack of communicating about this thing. Assuming that it’s just misunderstanding, maybe ask if a certain time (like, 8pm) is a good time to make sure all dishes are ready to go in the dishwasher so y’all can run one load.

  4. That’s the thing with everyday unfucking of one’s habitat. It’s never finished. You (and your roommates) need to eat, shower, use the toilet, and generally be around multiple times a day, and that is going to result in some mess. As PoM says, the key thing is to come up with a system that’s equitable and manageable so you don’t have to feel like you’re the only one who cares or that you live in a constant stage of grossness.

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