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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