I recently wrote an article on how to live with a messy person. This is article is in direct request from several people who wanted their own version. I had many emails from people wondering how to deal with living with an especially neat person. Living with a neat person can require it's own modifications of lifestyle and attitude. And for those who are more laissez-faire with their cleaning habits and routines, it can become especially important to communicate with those who are more rigid and consistent with their cleaning. These strategies can help.
1. Understanding Neatness vs. Compulsive Behavior
Neat people wash dishes when they are dirty. They may breathe easier in a room that is clutter free. Neat people will forgo activities that they enjoy in order to quickly clean up their homes and spaces. It can become difficult for some neat people to enjoy themselves in a cluttered or messy setting.
Compulsive people may clean even when there is no need. A messy situation may give them actual anxiety attacks. People with compulsive behavior may be unable to allow a sink full of dishes to wait for any length of time. Often this compulsive behavior becomes a serious issues in their relationships with other people.
While these strategies may help in dealing with people who are neat, compulsive behavior may require more advanced help.
2. Communicate With Each Other
If you've already had emotional issues because of your difference in cleaning styles, it might seem as though the best course of action would be to bury the problem. In reality, however, speaking with each other is the first step to compromise.
Set a time to sit down together and discuss the problem. Allow each person to share their ideas for compromise. The truth is that someone who is especially neat can make the life of a normal person a little unbearable at times. The neat person will have to understand that things won't always be done on their timetable, but will be done. In addition, someone who isn't neat may need to understand the pet peeves that can be corrected, increasing the happiness of both parties.
3. Understand Messy vs. Dirty
Dirt is not okay. Dirt invites germs, bugs, and damage to surfaces. A home can be messy without being dirty. It's important to define these two terms so that both people understand them. It's perfectly acceptable for someone to want things to be clean, but not as set in stone that every item be in its place every minute of every day. Don't be afraid to make a list of what makes a clean/not dirty home. There will always be things that need to be cleaned each day.
4. Create a Compromise
Now here is the difficult part. Come up with a plan that is acceptable to both people. When will dishes be washed? Can they be left for a little while if they are pre-rinsed? Which common areas will be picked up daily? What projects will be allowed to be left out? Who is responsible for cleaning what, and how often? Asking these questions now will save a lot of grief later. How will you define and decide what is clutter?
5. Common Spaces vs. Personal Spaces
Be aware that most homes are made up of shared common spaces and non-shared personal spaces. We have to find ways to respect the personal spaces of other people in our home. That doesn't mean that obvious fire hazzards and/or actual dirt should be allowed, but slight disorganization or even hyper-organized color coding files and closets aren't as big of an issue.
6. Avoid Nagging and Mocking
While we more typically think of a neat person as the one doing the nagging, messy people can be nags as well. More commonly, those who are more casual with their messes may end up making fun of their neat roommates. Be careful with this. If you don't enjoy having your sock drawer critiqued, there's a good chance that your neat friend won't enjoy it either. Just as you can't understand why they would color coordinate their closet, they don't understand how you can find anything in that thing you call a junk drawer. We have to practice tolerance and acceptance with those we live with. Try thinking about how it is for someone who is neat to live with a messy person.
7. Avoid Excuses
If you are experienced at avoiding responsibility by giving excuses, it's time to give them up. The fact is, we are all busy. We are all strapped for time. If you don't know how to clean something, it is simple to learn. And the fact that something will become messy again when it is used again is not a good enough excuse to keep you from cleaning it in between. Throw your excuses not to clean out the window and deal with the real issues of delegation and compromise.