“Among people living together, it doesn’t matter whether they are both super clean or super dirty, but so what does It matters if their thresholds for disorder are the same or different,” says Sarah Riforgiet, PhD, an associate professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee whose research focuses on the division of domestic labor. “The greater the difference between those thresholds in two people, the more conflict they will have.”
Dr. Reforgiate says the dynamic plays out like this: The neat person can’t help but see the ever-present mess as an encroachment on their would-be sanctuary. When they repeatedly encounter things like dishes in the sink or dust on the floor, they become frustrated, take on cleaning or organizing tasks themselves, and become angry at their roommate or partner—rocket fuel for a blowout fight.
These two people are also experiencing very different lives in their homes. While a person with a low threshold is seeing and acting excitedly about whatever disorder is occurring, a person with a high threshold probably doesn’t realize that there is any cleaning or organizational work being done because of their threshold. is never met.
“[Making] Negative attributions about a disruptive partner or roommate can worsen arguments and make it difficult to change their behavior.” – Sarah Reforgiate, Ph.D., communication expert
As a result, it can seem like the messy person is ignoring the issue, which can make a Netter person feel really negative, Dr. Says Reforgiate. (As in, “Wow, they didn’t take out the trash again? They must not care about me or respect me.”) “These negative perceptions spoil arguments and make it difficult to change the disordered person’s behavior,” she says.
Learning to live with someone who has a different tolerance for mess means understanding that difference, and then building a household system that takes it into account. If you find yourself in this situation here are some tips to help you get started.
How to address organizational differences with a partner or roommate
1. Start by asking questions to understand the other person’s point of view
Usually, the natter person initiates the conversation about organizational differences (because they are the ones whose tolerance for mess is exceeded). If that’s you, you feel the need to advise your partner on how they can do better around the house, or even criticize their messes. But that’s exactly what you are doesn’t happen Do, says clinical psychologist Abby Medcalf, PhD.
Dr. “The number-one problem people have when they’re having this conversation is that they see things as right and wrong,” says Medcalf. “But if you’re a neat person, you still have to look at your organizational style as a priority and nothing else.” With that mindset, you’re more likely to start a conversation about your feelings about the mess without immediately putting your partner or roommate on the defensive.
Dr. Medcalf suggests starting with a few questions to show them that you’re as eager to find a solution that works for them as you are to find one that works for you. For example, you might ask, “When you leave the kitchen at night, do you notice anything missing on the counters?” or “After cleaning the bathroom, did you notice that the toilet was still dirty?” That way, you’re allowing them space to say, “Actually, I didn’t see that” (remember, they have a low tolerance for confusion) or clarify their version of the story.
From there, you can suggest asking them you Similar questions to your approach to home cleaning or organization. And that’s when you can take the floor to describe how their prolonged mess or failure to clean makes you feel and why.
In that scenario, you can expect them to be very receptive to your points, Dr. Medcalf says. “When you go into a conversation trying to learn something, not prove something, it takes both of you out of a power struggle that might otherwise be a fight.”
2. Use your “threshold for disorder” to explain your differences
The idea that there are different thresholds for the disorder can serve as helpful language in conversations about household chores, Dr. Says Reforgiate. It’s a way to talk about a situation without being accusatory. It’s not that you’re clean (and therefore good) and they’re a slob, but instead you just have a low threshold for disorder. And because it hits more quickly, you end up doing more work around the house — but wish that would change.
This way of looking at the problem also eliminates some of the potential for negative attributions you might otherwise make about your partner or roommate. It’s not that this person disrespects you or is trying to make your life hell by messing with you; They are not noticing the mess that is accumulating because of their high threshold for disorder. As a result, they may not even recognize that you’re going in to have it cleaned periodically, Dr. Says Reforgiate. “That’s where you can say, ‘I don’t know if you know how many times I’ve been doing this, but going forward, I want to do it more often.’
3. Get specific on your preferences and expectations
Find non-negotiables in cleanliness and organization (and where you’re willing to give them some leeway) instead of just noticing the mess or asking a partner or roommate if they could be “cleaner” or “more organized.” “Maybe you insist on emptying the papers on the kitchen counter at the end of each day, or you can’t stand the shoes piled up by the front door,” says Nicole Anzia, founder of Netnik Services. “Your best bet is to create specific, attainable, and enforceable guidelines for places you or your partner feel strongly about.”
4. Avoid the trap of “owning” a job you don’t like
Because of the way people with low tolerance for disruption respond to disruption, they often end up being assigned tasks they don’t like because they’ve “always done it,” Dr. Says Reforgiate.
For example, if the dishes in the sink really bother you, you can start washing as soon as you see the dishes hanging around. Over time, you’ll start doing it more and more often, so you’ll become faster and more efficient at it. “The better you get at a task, the more invisible the labor for that task is, so that the other person cannot recognize the amount of effort you put into it,” Dr. Says Reforgiate. Eventually, you’ll be taking care of it so often and so quickly that they’ll take it for granted Like Doing the dishes, leading them to volunteer less and less.
“This pattern creates a division of labor where we specialize in specific tasks that bother us the most,” Dr. Says Reforgiate. So, if something like dirty dishes really bugs you, stop doing the task often and discuss with your partner or roommate how they can take steps to fill the void. That way, you won’t accidentally dig yourself into the ditch of owning that job for good.
5. Acknowledge other people’s contributions is make up (of a place or in relation to you)
It may seem obvious, but recognize that your messy roommate or partner is not only Mess up and possibly contribute something positive to your home and/or relationship that will help you feel things are more balanced. “When we think about equity, we don’t just say, ‘Well, you’re going to clean the bathroom this week, and I’m going to clean the bathroom next week,'” Dr. Says Reforgiate. “We’re talking about, when you look at your overall relationship, what are the benefits you get from that relationship, and overall, do they outweigh the costs?”
In the case of a messy roommate, perhaps this person cooks too often or deals with the shops for annoying neighbors or communal decorations. And if they’re your friend, they probably contribute more than that to your relationship—all of which can offset some of the negative aspects of their messiness.
With a romantic partner, of course, those benefits can be just as great or greater. “You didn’t fall in love with your partner because, for example, they cleaned the sink well or knew how to really vacuum,” Dr. Medcalf says. Just because they don’t take as much time as cleaning the house to contribute to other things in your daily life — say, positivity or creativity — doesn’t mean they aren’t as valuable, she says.
Considering all of these non-organizational upsides of a messy roommate or partner can only help assure that you’re getting your fair share of the partnership, Dr. That can help you feel more comfortable sharing space with them, says Reforgiate. .
3 Cleaning tips for people who are organized and living together, but have different tolerances for mess
1. Make it as simple as possible
In an attempt to control a chaotic situation, neat people often add unnecessary layers to the organizational system. Think: color-coded boxes, drawer dividers, compartments within bins. But, ironically, these tend to work better for people who are already clean than for messes, says Kelly McMenamin. Organize your way. Instead, he suggests building one-step procedures for as many household tasks as possible by constantly asking if the extra component is absolutely necessary to make the system work (and removing it if not).
An example: a laundry hamper, which can be located with or without a lid. “A disorganized person can pile clothes on top of a hamper lid, but without a lid, clothes often end up in the hamper,” says McMenamin. The same principle applies to the various containers and dividers inside the refrigerator. “It’s probably a waste of time that someone with a high tolerance for messes might not notice them or follow the system as closely as an organized person would,” she says.
2. Create personal areas to contain clutter
Even if common areas cannot be maintained Exactly Designated personal areas can certainly be how you would keep them if you were living alone. These are areas you open up to each person — because your needs aren’t necessarily greater than your partner’s, and vice versa, says Brandy Larson, co-founder of the service Home+Short. That way, you can have areas that are guaranteed to be free of clutter, like the kitchen counter or the bathroom, and your partner can have areas to live in while he’s uncluttered, she says.
This system also helps in reducing the power struggle of the home organization. “Everyone finds a place where they can be their own ‘shoes-off’ and completely follow someone else’s organizational system,” says McMenamin.
3. Set a schedule for key cleaning tasks and jobs
Having a different tolerance for clutter than your partner or roommate means you’ll both recognize that something is dirty or messy at different points in time, Dr. Says Reforgiate. To minimize the gap between when you’re in the bathroom and when your partner does it, for example, set a schedule for key chores and stick to it.
To determine a cadence for each task, talk about how often you’d ideally like to do it, and gauge how your partner or roommate can realistically contribute to it. So, consider what level of “machineness” you might be able to handle for a particular task you know Dr. Says Reforgiate. “If you can trust that your partner or roommate will take care of the dishes at least once a day, for example, then you might be better off letting some sit at the sink for a bit and giving them some leeway.”
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