The secret to solving the group housing cleaning problem

  • Posted on: 1 September 2016
  • By: lyanabu

“But at the end, there are always the damned dishes.” – Marilyn French, The Women’s Room

If you've ever lived with other people, you probably have this problem: Your roommates are slobs.

When I was in college, I lived in a house with eight other people. I loved living with my friends: we made dinners together, we had philosophical conversations, and it was cheaper than living alone. It was great.  

However, when you live with other people the dirt level grows exponentially. Grime in the kitchen, dirty floors, disgusting hairballs, filthy bathrooms. How can you make your housemates do their fair share? Have a meeting? Assign cleaning jobs? Have everyone pitch in to pay for a housecleaning service?

After living with people for several years, I have discovered the secret of dealing with other people's messiness:

Change your mindset. Get over yourself and do it.

My Grandma's crazy cleaning obsession

My grandmother was an extremely clean person. She was Japanese, so it may have been cultural, but the house was always spic and span. They had a garden so whenever you walked in the house you took your shoes or boots off and wiped your feet on the damp cloth in front of the door. She was constantly sweeping and mopping the wooden floors. She even wiped the baseboards and the telephone daily.

I'm saying this to show where I come from, but also that if I lived with my grandmother it would be a lot of time devoted to a level of clean I did not think was necessary.

Putting myself in the place of my housemates, they probably did not think it was necessary to clean to my level of cleanliness. Otherwise, they would be cleaning!

The Solution!

So… the solution was to clean the house whenever it bothered me. Try to avoid feeling resentment over why your housemates don't do their share, or that they enjoy a clean house without doing any work.

My attitude was, I would not like it if they said, you have to clean to my standard, whatever that may be.

The benefit of this approach was that a) the house was clean to my satisfaction, and b) it did not require my housemates to change. And then I was happier because I could enjoy my housemates without resentment.

Level Up: Gratitude

The next level of this is if you can reach the point of feeling grateful and happy to clean. I like to clean, it makes me feel good to do something positive and tangible. Though it is temporary, I get a lot of satisfaction out of a stack of clean dishes, a dust-free floor, sparkling windows. There's a good Zen essay about the experience of running some hot water, caring for your things, turning dirty into clean. Your dirty housemates will give you that opportunity to practice your spiritual discipline.  

Lastly, there is no point in trying to set a good example hoping that others will "feel guilty" and do some cleaning. If in the rare instance your housemate does any cleaning, you can be pleasantly surprised and encourage it with praise and compliments, but this is not the goal. Your goal is to get good with it for yourself.

Related link: NY Times: How to be Mindful Doing the Dishes