It’s tough for a cleanie and a messie to live together, whether it’s parent and child, roommates, or a married couple. It can really strain an otherwise good relationship. Living with someone in the opposite camp takes hard work, understanding, and diplomacy.
The one thing I think most acknowledged messies wish cleanies understood is that we don’t choose to be like this, just like many cleanies don’t choose to be cleanies… they just are. That’s not an excuse… I don’t think messies should just sit back and say, “Well, I don’t have to work on this… I was born this way.” But we do need the support of our cleanie friends, roommates, and family. Cleanies need to understand that “just clean it” doesn’t help us a bit. We need step-by-step instructions, move-by-move encouragement, and regular support.
The one thing I think most cleanies wish messies understood is that a messy house is very distressing… and that it doesn’t take as long to clean as it often takes to put off cleaning. Cleanies have a hard time understanding WHY we put off the 15 minute project, or why it is so hard for us to do 15 minutes of cleaning every day. To many cleanies, cleaning is as natural as breathing. I’m not saying they enjoy cleaning… many cleanies probably hate it more than messies do.
The ideal way for cleanies and messies to get along is to play to each others’ strengths.
Cleanie-Messie roommates… This is a tough combination. I once had a cleanie roommate who really didn’t like my messie habits- especially my book collection. She couldn’t understand why I liked to keep the books I read, while I couldn’t understand why she didn’t keep the books she read. The good thing, though, was that I watched her cleanie habits and was able to adopt some of them. If you are a cleanie with a messie roommate, it’s going to be hard… but there are a few things you can do to encourage good habits.
Try to set some ground rules when the two of you first move in together. If it’s too late for that, then set some rules now about where your messie roommate is “allowed” to be messie. You could agree that her room can be messie if the door stays closed and if she doesn’t leave food in there. You could agree that she can only use your dishes and plates if she washes them immediately afterward, and if she doesn’t, you can wash them and then lock them away from her.
When you’re taking your laundry to the laundromat, invite your roommate to come with you. Keep her there until her laundry is neatly folded, then when you get back to the place, encourage her to put her clothes away right away. (Of course this could work for guys, too!)
When you’re cleaning, encourage your roommate to clean as well.
Consider getting your roommate one of the good messie or organizing books, like Get Organized by Stephanie Winston or The New Messies Manual by Sandra Felton. (See the links to those books at http://www.mymessyhouse.com/messiebook.shtml. Depending on your relationship, you can either give the book directly to your roommate (especially if she has expressed interest in becoming a cleaner person) or you can leave the book lying around in a prominent place in a shared area.
If you’re the messie one of the roommates, then you have certain responsibilities. When your roommate is cleaning, you should jump up and clean something, too. When you borrow or use anything that belongs to your roommate, clean it immediately and return it in the same condition you borrowed it. Better yet, don’t borrow anything. Help maintain the public areas. Make your bed every day and don’t keep food in your bedroom. Keep your door closed.
Of course, there might come a time when you realize that the two of you just can’t live together. If you two can’t come to an agreement about managing your differing lifestyles, one of you needs to find another place to live. And both of you need to be more careful about how you choose roommates next time. (A hint, try to see how your potential roommate keeps her car, if she has one.)
This illustrates why it’s not a good idea to move in with a best friend or a workmate. It could ruin your relationship to have these kinds of problems come up.
By the way, if you’re a college-aged messie filling out one of those roommate selection forms, DO NOT put down that you are neat. That is an extremely unfair thing to do to the defenseless cleanie you get matched up with. Cleanies cannot tolerate the level of squalor that messies can (though we need to work on being less tolerant of messes.)