Living with other people can be hard for many reasons, but it can be especially difficult if they don't hold the same standards of cleanliness as you do. After spending my first two years of university living in some conditions I would rather not have as a result of those I lived with, not through choice I may add, I thought I'd put a little post together in the hope it may help anyone else experiencing the same situation. Whether you are currently in student accommodation or in another shared living arrangement, hopefully you’ll find these tips useful.
For many students, university is the first time that they’ve ever lived away from home, without their family. This can be quite the challenge, as we are all aware, suddenly being responsible for doing your own laundry, dish-washing, hoovering, dusting, cooking etc can come as a big shock! Not only can this mean having to learn completely new skills, like how to cook without setting off the fire alarms, but it can also be very time consuming. I’m sure we all feel that we hardly have enough time to study, socialise, cook, exercise and relax let alone clean up after ourselves. While some of us will soon learn to manage our time and multi-task there will always be others that prefer to take a more… shall we say effortless route?
At first it’s completely understandable when dishes are left undone, or there’s the odd splodge of pasta sauce left on the hob. Its fresher’s after all and what with all that time being spent nursing hangovers, or creating new ones, no one is on their best behaviour. So of course nothing is expected to be in ‘tip-top’ shape. After that there’s the whole settling into university and the new lifestyle, which can be overwhelming. Suddenly serious deadlines and examinations comes along and panic strikes us all, and surviving university by whatever means necessary becomes out priority even if that means consuming way too much takeaway to save time cooking or going grocery shopping.
We both know and appreciate this, so we attempt to be patient and hope that things will change. But as time goes on, can we really be blamed for getting a little annoyed or agitated at conditions we have to live in? No, of course not! But these situations can be a little tricky to handle, and you can ruin the strongest friendships if you don’t negotiate them correctly. This is why, in an attempt to save you from such tragedy, I’ve written this post!
First of all, is there really a problem? If you’re in a bad mood, or stressed about something then the smallest things can start to bother you. I’m not saying that your feelings aren’t valid, feelings are always valid, just make sure that there is really a problem before you react to it. Think about what’s really bothering you, and isolate those things. Is it just one little nag or is there a whole list of annoyances going on? Next, why are these things affecting you? Look at the bigger picture and make sure you know what the problem is and why it’s a problem before you approach a person. If your housemate has a habit of leaving the odd dirty plate for 24 hours, I’d say you need to calm down a little! But on the other hand if there’s mould growing on their huge stack of dirty plates, or on the food in the fridge then I’d say you’ve got yourself a case.
What I mean to say is just because you may have a higher standard of cleaning than others doesn’t mean you can automatically hold everyone else to it. Obviously if there’s a real issue in poor housekeeping by all means address it, otherwise just try and reach a happy medium that doesn’t infringe on health and safety. (I’m think death by bleach fumes as much as some nasty lime scale infection.)
Once you’re figured out the issue, if there really is one, it’s time to take action! Like everything in life there are multiple ways to approach the situation, and in this particular case there’s a lot of wrong ways to! So let me go through some of the most popular bad ways of handling messy housemates, from the worst to the pretty bad.
Being ‘the mom’
This option really doesn’t help you at all, as it doesn’t solve the problem. It just means that instead of looking at the mess, you end up spending all your spare time it cleaning up. Like your poor mother that spent up too much of her life cleaning up after you, you’ll now be cleaning up after your messy flatmates just without the joys of teaching them their first words or getting breakfast in bed on mother’s day. Of course this just becomes time consuming and it won’t take long before you probably end up exploding under the strain of it all. All you had on before plus cleaning up after a whole household, the shining counter tops might bring a smile to your face at first but soon the time spent on them will have an effect on your grades and general happiness. Not just that, there’s a small chance your housemates might not welcome this approach, due it making them feel childish, quite rightly so.
Make it their problem
If you want to know how to make the situation worse, then here you go! Second on my list of not-to-dos is the best way to break up friendships and start arguments in no time at all! This is most often a natural progression from my first no-no, when you get tired of playing maid and want to subtly get your own back. If you haven’t actually tried talking to your housemates about the things you’re finding issues with to find no result, it’s understandable wanting let out your frustrations. The issue is that following this path can quickly result in an in-house war. It starts with you moving their dirty dishes to somewhere they’re in the other person’s way, then leaving them outside their room, next thing you know you’re at each other’s throats or going out of your way to make each other’s lives miserable.
Passive Aggressive Post-it Notes
This tends to be your medium option, on the surface it causes no harm. You get away with having your say with zero confrontation… or that’s what you’d like to think. It quite easy to think there’s no real repercussions to leaving the odd reminder around the house, what’s the harm in leaving a little note like ‘clean dishes please’ or ‘shower needs a clean!’ for the next person to find? The impersonal, and passive aggressive approach can put people’s backs up. If you’re not aware there’s been any problems in your house until you suddenly start finding shitty little post it notes everywhere pointing out where you’ve messed up or been slacking, well I’m sure you wouldn’t be too impressed!
Depending whether if you’re in university accommodation or halls, then you might just be able to get a mediator, or higher power involved. I have to say I have taken this option before and it didn’t really make any difference to my situation at all. I had a clean kitchen for 2 days and then it was back to chaos, as my flatmates were only motivated when faced with fines or the threat of our residency manager's temper. Of course the idea of me playing snitch did not help our strained friendships at that time, which was not worth the temporary illusion of cleanliness. I would always say it’s best to be honest and open with those you’re living with and deal with any issues yourself, it allows for the maintenance of trust in your relationships. That said, if you’re desperate and the conditions are extreme it might be worth getting a more authoritative figure involved, but there’s no promise of real results!
Get over it
This might not even be possible, but it’s a choice you can try and make. Basically stop letting it bother you and let go of all the tension you feel. Easier said than done, right? Sometimes you need to pick your battles and some things just aren’t worth the hassle. If you think you can take a deep breath and just adapt to a new way of living then there’s one easy solution, just don’t hold it against anyone later!
So now I’ve gone through all the ‘don’t-dos’, I should probably actually share my actual general advice! So here it is, broken down into convenient little top tips:
1. Deal with the Situation ASAP.
The longer you leave things the harder it can become to face them, plus resentment can build up fast making the situation more awkward and the environment more hostile. If there’s a problem don’t put off talking about it because it could get better, or you haven’t reached your breaking point yet, take the first appropriate opportunity there is to say something.
2. Be honest.
Your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid, so if something is bugging you speak up. Don’t minimise the issue, or try and backtrack over things you’ve said. Most people will appreciate you approaching them and expressing yourself to them in a mature and calm way. Plus you’ll feel better for getting it all off your chest! Honesty is always the best policy!
3. Think about the other person’s feelings and/or situation.
All that stuff I said about your feelings, well it’s applicable for other party too. I don’t think many people will like being told that they're dirty, so as you express yourself be careful not to say anything which could either offend or embarrass them. There could be genuine reasons for them being a bit messy, maybe they simply don’t know how to clean properly, never really noticed or just lack a little organisation to their schedule to make time for cleaning. You don’t want to be pointing out things that someone is doing wrong but more what is upsetting you, so rather than ‘Your habit of leaving teabags on the side is gross’ you want to be saying something more along the lines of ‘It bothers me when you do X, so could you please do Y because Z’. Suggesting an alternative form of behaviour that isn't too much of an imposition on your housemate is a sure way to get results, especially if you can explain the benefits such actions will have to the both of you. But make sure you don’t sound too patronising!
4. Think about what you want to say beforehand.
Simple one over here. Think about that you want to say before you say it, and think about what you want the outcome to be as well as what compromises you might be willing to make. Having a plan of what you want to say in your mind will help you cover everything and not get distracted or even wimp out and back track.
5. Don’t get bitchy or spiteful.
A conversation doesn’t have to be an argument, so stay calm. If things start to get a bit heated it’s always best to hit pause, calm down and come back to it later. You may feel the situation you are in is pretty bad but it can always get worse if the relationships with the people you’re living with break down! It’s never the end of the world so try not to get too emotional, as it’s the easiest way to loose the person you’re talking to.
Let me know your experiences in shared housing in the comments or any advice you’d like to add! Also I’m hoping to maybe set up a form of agony aunt feature to my blog, let me know your thoughts!
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