Monday, April 26, 2010

Whose Turn To Do The Dishes?

Dear Jocelyn,
I live with three other girls, we’re all in college (two of us in grad school), and we usually get along well. The kitchen is consistently dirtier than I prefer, but it’s only occasionally awful. I try to let them clean up after themselves so they don’t rely on me, but once it got out of control, and I spent 3+ hours cleaning. One girl was home and didn’t say anything, but she told another girl, who thanked me and said she would have helped.

To keep them informed, I sent out an email (we’re never home at the same time) listing the dirtiest things and how to clean them; I don’t expect them to know automatically. I explained why we should clean each item, like leaving food in the stove could start a fire. I made the email funny, I used “we” instead of “you,” and my point was everyone doing her part means no extra work. But nobody acknowledged it.

Then this past weekend, I went out of town and came back to a repeat of the earlier situation, but I feel like I can’t send out another email. My roommates hate confrontation, and we’re going to live together next year, too. What can I do without being a nagging mom?
-Doesn’t Want Bugs

Dear Bugs,
As many people know, living with roommates can be a very difficult or a very rewarding experience...and sometimes both! One of the hardest parts is that each person has their own threshold for dirtiness - some people might cringe at a single dish left in the sink, while others might not ever notice if the kitchen developed its own ecosystem.

I assume that your statement about never being home at the same time is hyperbole, and that there is at least 1/2 hour during the week that your paths cross. If so, a good first step is to send another email to your roommates, asking for a meeting to discuss something you ought to have settled the first week of living together - house rules. These include various chores, when one's own dishes must be cleaned, having friends over, no-noise times, etc. Be sure to listen to others' suggestions before offering your own in order to keep your roommates from becoming defensive.

I realize that some people will simply not listen to reason, and will continue to leave their mess for others to clean up. This is one of the downsides to having roommates - you must figure out whether you're willing to ignore their shortcomings, or cover their share of household duties. If your roommates continue to neglect their housework and you find that you cannot live with a messy kitchen, then you must either do the work yourself, or find an escape route. You said that you plan to live together next year; if you find that after the roommate meeting (and several helpful hints) these roommates do not shape up, try to find a replacement roommate for next year. You are under no obligation to be a live-in maid if you can (legally) find a way out.

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