Growing up I'd often heard the old saying, "Cleanliness is next to godliness." For
my freshman-year roommate Renee, cleanliness was next to impossible.
I assumed everyone felt obligated to make their beds in the morning. Renee
thought it was a waste of time.
My dirty laundry went straight to the laundry basket, while Renee's was spread
in little piles all over the room: a heap of socks by the bed, shirts and
jeans draped over the backs of chairs, pajamas covering the closet floor.
I kept my papers in notebooks or files; Renee's were scattered all over the
place, from the chemistry lab notes stacked on the TV to the
junk mail she routinely stashed under the bed.
I expected to share cleaning duties. It took an act of Congress to get Renee
to take out the garbage (including the boxed remains of a five-day-old pizza
wedged among the junk under her desk). It was a nightmare. Classes had barely
started when I was on the phone to Mom, complaining, "Yeah, she's nice. She's
just kind of
I didn't think I had unreasonable ideas of cleanliness. I wasn't expecting
living quarters that could ace a white-glove inspection, but at the same
time, I didn't want to live on an obstacle course. I was, I thought, an average,
middle-of-the-road, clean kid. Renee thought I was a "neat freak." Ouch.
Obviously, Renee and I had different ideas about what cleanliness meant.
This led, of course, to a fair share of roomie tiffs about the state of the
dorm room. Eventually, we called a cease-fire by both agreeing to compromise
a little. And our room was transformed from a war zone into a pretty cozy
place to live.
If you, too, are yoked with a messier-than-thou roommate, take heart: It's
never too late to deal with the situation. Actually, even if you are
the messy one, the following tips may help you find a comfortable and successful
way to approach the subject with your roommate. However you decide to deal
with it, remember to be diplomatic. After all, you'll probably be living
with this person for a considerable amount of time, and you don't want a
relationship that's even messier than your room.
Define "clean." To some people, an unmade bed means the occupant
is disgusting, lazy, sloppy, etc. To others, it may be considered a sign
of genius ("I hear Einstein never made his bed," they'll say). When it comes
to defining "clean" and "neat," not everyone has the same standards.
The "How clean is clean enough?" question was a big problem for Renee and
me. We simply had different ideas about what constituted basic standards
of cleanliness. It would have made things much easier for both of us if we
had known from the get-go what one another's expectations were. I was way
off base when I assumed that my definition of neatness would jibe with Renee's
In the best-case scenario, roommates will find common ground and then stick
to their shared standards. You both have to live there, so you should both
be comfortable there. Decide early on what's OK and what's not, then stick
Share the work. If you're the only one doing the dirty work, there's
a good chance you'll start to bear a grudge against your slacker roomie.
Believe me. I basically did all the chores myself for two months, silently
resenting Renee for not helping me out. Make it clear to your roommate that,
even though you're the one who's always spiffing up the place, you want and
One suggestion that some friends shared with me was the chore chart idea.
Make a list of housekeeping duties and then divvy them up. Post it on the
wall so you know who's got which duty each week. You can even set up a reward
system if you wantjust like Mom and Dad used to do.
Needless to say, this is something that you and your roommate should plan
out together. Don't try writing a note that says "Hey, Chris, I've assigned
you to clean the toilet for the rest of the semester. Also, please mop the
floor every other day and scrub the tile grout with a toothbrush (yours,
not mine) three times a week. I'll be in charge of watering the plants. See
ya." I really doubt that arrangement will fly.