Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
I’ve been married to my husband for almost a year now and we’ve lived together in our tiny apartment for the past three years. We have a great relationship, he is the most loving, kind and supportive person I know but there is one thing that just drives me crazy – his cleaning habits, or should I say his lack of cleaning habits. It starts in the morning with the beard trimmings and toothpaste blobs in the bathroom sink and splatters all over the vanity mirror. He leaves his day(s)-old lunch tupperware in his messenger bag overnight and then tosses it in the sink before heading to work. He does not clean up as he cooks, leaving the kitchen a mess. He never cleans the toilet (just swishing the bowl with the toilet brush doesn’t count!), never refills the Brita water pitcher, never sweeps up the kitty litter crumbles outside the litter box, or wipes his crumbs off the counter — I feel like I’m constantly cleaning up after him (and the cat)! While we are living in such a small space it’s really hard to relax and enjoy being at home when things are scuzzy and dishes are piled up in the sink. How to I tell my husband to start cleaning up after himself without nagging?
-Nagging Neat Freak
Dear Nagging Neat Freak,
Oh my but do I hear you. I’m not just the sensible one in my house, I’m the neat one too, and there are now two slobs messing it up on a daily basis (my son is by nature a messy guy, although at least with children you can force them to fight it).
I’m going to give it to you straight: this is an uphill battle. You can make inroads, but it is a long process with lots of frustration along the way. In my experience, the messy will always be messy. They just don’t even see the mess the way the neat do.
That said, it is very sensible of you to want to avoid nagging. You’re not his mother, after all.
I suggest you pick one thing. Just one. Choose a time when that thing is not happening/you are not noticing it. Let’s say it’s the morning bathroom thing that’s getting you down. Perhaps at dinner you could bring up the fact that you are an insane crazy person and the beard trimmings really gross you out. Could he possibly remember to wipe the sink after he shaves? It would mean a lot to you to not have to deal with that anymore.
Then when he does it, you thank him. Profusely and sincerely.
And when he does it again, you thank him again.
And you keep doing that. And after awhile you can ask him to do something else.
It is annoying to the neat to realize that these completely reasonable and sensible requests we are making of fellow grown-ups to do what seem to us to be basic grown-up things are, in fact, requests to do things they do not care about. Taking a moral high ground doesn’t help. Acting like they “have” to do these things is counter-productive. And playing the “someone has to do it” card, while it seems true to us, is, in fact, patently false.
Along with getting the worst habits out of the way, at a certain point it does become a situation where you’re either living in what you experience as squalor or cleaning up after someone else, both of which can lead to bitterness. Don’t let that happen and don’t nag. Simply calmly and cheerfully ask that he help you out when you’re doing stuff. “Do you think you could do the dishes while I deal with this kitty litter and get dinner going?” is the kind of request I’m thinking of. The kind that’s difficult to beg off.
Some people find chore wheels or charts useful.
In the end, though, a sensible Midwesterner also knows that if you want a toilet cleaned properly, you’re probably going to have to do it yourself.